Diogenes Laertius : Lives of Stoic Philosophers

Sections 160-202

The Lives of the Philosophers, by Diogenes Laertius, is the most comprehensive ancient account of the lives of the early Greek philosophers. Book 7 contains the lives and doctrines of the Stoic philosophers.

This translation is by C.D.Yonge (1895). The section numbers in the Greek text are shown in red and the section numbers in the translation are shown in green. Click on the G symbols to go to the Greek text for each section.

Lives of:   Ariston of Chios,   Herillus,   Dionysius of Heracleia,   Cleanthes,   Sphaerus and   Chrysippus

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[160] G   The following are the points in which some of [the Stoics] disagreed with the rest.


{1} Ariston the Bald, a native of Chios, surnamed the Siren, said, that the chief good was to live in perfect indifference to all those things which are of an intermediate character between virtue and vice; making not the slightest difference between them, but regarding them all on a footing of equality. For that the wise man resembles a good actor; who, whether he is filling the part of Agamemnon or Thersites, will perform them both equally well. {2} And he discarded altogether the topic of physics, and of logic, saying that the one was above us, and that the other had nothing to do with us; and that the only branch of philosophy with which we had any real concern was ethics. [161] G   {3} He also said that dialectic reasonings were like cobwebs; which, although they seem to be put together on principles of art, are utterly useless.

{4} And he did not introduce many virtues into his scheme, as Zenon did; nor one virtue under a great many names, as the Megaric philosophers did; but defined virtue as consisting in behaving in a certain manner with reference to a certain thing. {5} And as he philosophized in this manner, and carried on his discussions in the Cynosarges, he got so much influence as to be called a founder of a sect. Accordingly, Miltiades and Diphilus were called Aristoneans. {6} He was a man of very persuasive eloquence, and one who could adapt himself well to the humours of a multitude. On which account Timon says of him:
  And one who, from Ariston's wily race,
  Traced his descent.

[162] G   Diocles, the Magnesian, tells us that Ariston having fallen in with Polemon, passed over to his school, at a time when Zenon was lying ill with a long sickness. The Stoic doctrine to which he was most attached, was the one that the wise man is never guided by opinions. But Persaeus argued against this, and caused one of two twin brothers to place a deposit in his hands, and then caused the other to reclaim it; and thus he convicted him, as he was in doubt on this point, and therefore forced to act on opinion. He was a great enemy of Arcesilaus. And once, seeing a bull of a monstrous appearance, having a womb, he said, "Alas! here is an argument for Arcesilaus against the evidence of his senses." [163] G   On another occasion, when a philosopher of the Academy said that he did not comprehend anything, he said to him, "Do not you even see the man who is sitting next to you?" And as he said that he did not, he said:
  Who then has blinded you, who's been so harsh,
  As thus to rob you of your beaming eyes?

{7} The following works are attributed to him.

But Panaetius and Sosicrates say, that his only genuine writings are his letters; and that all the rest are the works of Ariston the Peripatetic.

[164] G   {8} It is said that he, being bald, got a stroke of the sun, and so died. And we have written a jesting epigram on him in choliambic verse, as follows:
  Why, O Ariston, being old and bald,
  Did you allow the sun to roast your crown?
  Thus, in an unbecoming search for warmth,
  Against your will, you've found out chilly Hell.

{9} There was also another man of the name of Ariston; a native of Iulis, one of the Peripatetic school. And another who was an Athenian musician. A fourth who was a tragic poet. A fifth, a native of Halae, who wrote a treatise on the Oratorical Art. A sixth was a peripatetic Philosopher of Alexandria.


[165] G   {1} Herillus, a native of Carthage, said that the chief good was knowledge; that is to say, the always conducting one's self in such a way as to refer everything to the principle of living according to knowledge, and not been misled by ignorance. He also said that knowledge was a habit not departing from reason in the reception of perceptions.

On one occasion, he said that there was no such thing as a chief good, but that circumstances and events changed it, just as the same piece of brass might become a statue either of Alexander or of Socrates. And that besides the chief good or end (telos), there was a subordinate end (hypotelis) different from it. And that those who were not wise aimed at the latter; but that only the wise man directed his views to the former. And all the things between virtue and vice he pronounced indifferent. {2} His books contain but few lines, but they are full of power, and contain arguments in opposition to Zenon. [166] G   {3} It is said, that when he was a boy, many people were attached to him; and as Zenon wished to drive them away, he persuaded him to have his head shaved, which disgusted them all. {4} His books are as follows.


{1} Dionysius, the Deserter (Metathemenos), as he was called, asserted that pleasure was the chief good, from the circumstance of his being afflicted with a complaint in his eyes. For, as he suffered severely, he could not pronounce pain a thing indifferent.

{2} He was the son of Theophantus, and a native of Heracleia. {3} He was a pupil, as we are told by Diocles, first of all of Heracleides, his fellow citizen; after that of Alexinus, and Menedemus; and last of all of Zenon. [167] G   And at first, as he was very devoted to learning, he tried his hand at all kinds of poetry. Afterwards, he attached himself to Aratus, whom he took for his model. Having left Zenon, he turned to the Cyrenaics, and became a frequenter of brothels, and in other respects indulged in luxury without disguise. {3} When he had lived near eighty years, he died of starvation. {5} The following books are attributed to him.

These now are the chief men who differed from the Stoics. But the man who succeeded Zenon in his school was Cleanthes, whom we must now speak of.


[168] G   {1} Cleanthes was a native of Assos, and the son of Phanias. He was originally a boxer, as we learn from Antisthenes, in his Successions. And he came to Athens, having but four drachmas, as some people say, and attaching himself to Zenon, he devoted himself to Philosophy in a most noble manner; and he adhered to the same doctrines as his master. {2} He was especially eminent for his industry, so that as he was a very poor man, he was forced to undertake mercenary employments, and he used to draw water in the gardens by night, and by day he used to exercise himself in philosophical discussions; on which account he was called Phreantles [from phrear, a well, and antleō, to draw water]. They also say that he was on one occasion brought before a court of justice, to be compelled to give an account what his sources of income were from which he maintained himself in such good condition: and that then he was acquitted, having produced as his witness the gardener in whose garden he drew the water; and a woman who was a meal-seller, in whose establishment he used to prepare the meal. [169] G   And the judges of the Areopagus admired him, and voted that ten minae should be given to him; but Zenon forbade him to accept them. They also say that Antigonus presented him three thousand drachmas. And once, when he was conducting some you men to some spectacle, it happened that the wind blew away his cloak, and it was then seen that he had nothing on under it; on which he was greatly applauded by the Athenians according to the account given by Demetrius the Magnesian, in his essay on People of the same Name. And he was greatly admired by them on account of this circumstance. They also say that Antigonus, who was a pupil of his, once asked him why he drew water; and that he made answer, "Do I do nothing beyond drawing water? Do I not also dig, and do I not water the land, and do all sorts of things for the sake of philosophy ? For Zenon used to accustom him to this, and used to require him to bring him an obol by way of tribute. [170] G   And once he brought one of the pieces of money which he had collected in this way, into the middle of a company of his acquaintances, and said, "Cleanthes could maintain even another Cleanthes if he were to choose; but others who have plenty of means to support themselves, seek for necessaries from others; although they only study philosophy in a very lazy manner." And, in reference to these habits of his, Cleanthes was called a second Heracles.

{3} He was then very industrious; but he was not well endowed by nature, and was very slow in his intellect. On which account Timon says of him   {in parody of Homer, Il_3'196}:
  What stately ram thus measures o'er the ground,
  And master of the flock surveys them round?
  What citizen of Assos, dull and cold,
  Fond of long words, a mouth-piece, but not bold.

And when he was ridiculed by his fellow pupils, he used to bear it patiently.

{4} He did not even object to the name when he was called an ass; but only said that he was the only animal able to bear the burdens which Zenon put upon him. [171] G   And once, when he was reproached as a coward, he said, "That is the reason why I make but few mistakes." He used to say, in justification of his preference of his own way of life to that of the rich, "That while they were playing at ball, he was earning money by digging hard and barren ground." And he very often used to blame himself. And once, Ariston heard him doing so, and said, "Who is it that you are reproaching ?" and he replied, "An old man who has grey hair, but no brains." When some one once said to him, that Arcesilaus did not do what he ought, "Desist," he replied, "and do not blame him; for if he destroys duty as far as his words go, at all events he establishes it by his actions." Arcesilaus once said to him, " I never listen to flatterers." " Yes," rejoined Cleanthes, "I flatter you, when I say that though you say one thing, you do another." [172] G   When some one once asked him what lesson he ought to inculcate on his son, he replied, "The warning of Electra"   {Euripides, Orest_140}:
  Silence, silence, gently step.

When a Lacedaemonian once said in his hearing, that labour was a good thing, he was delighted, and addressed him   {in parody of Homer, Od_4'611}:
  Oh, early worth, a soul so wise and young
  Proclaims that you from noble blood are sprung.

Hecaton tells us in his Apophthegms, that once when a young man said, "If a man who beats his stomach gastrizei, then a man who slaps his thigh mērizei", he replied, "Do you stick to your diamērizei, but analogous words do not always indicate analogous facts." Once when he was conversing with a youth, he asked him if he felt; and as he said that he did, "Why is it then," said Cleanthes, "that I do not feel that you feel?" [173] G   When Sositheus, the poet, said in the theatre where he was present, "Men whom the folly of Cleanthes urges -" he continued in the same attitude; at which the hearers were surprised, and applauded him, but drove Sositheus away. And when Sositheus expressed his sorrow for having abused him in this manner, he answered him gently, saying that it would be a preposterous thing for Dionysus and Heracles to bear being ridiculed by the poets without any expression of anger, and for him to be indignant at any chance attack. He used also to say, that the Peripatetics were in the same condition as lyres, which though they utter sweet notes, do not hear themselves. And it is said, that when he asserted that, on the principles of Zenon, one could judge of a man's character by his looks, some witty young men brought him a profligate fellow, having a hardy look from continual exercise in the fields, and requested him to tell them his moral character; and he, having hesitated a little, bade the man depart; and, as he departed, the man sneezed. "I have the fellow now," said Cleanthes, "he is a debauchee." [174] G   He said once to a man who was conversing with him by himself, "You are not talking to a bad man." And when some one reproached him with his old age, he rejoined, "I too wish to depart, but when I perceive myself to be in good health in every respect, and to be able to recite and read, I am content to remain." They say too, that he used to write down all that he heard from Zenon on oyster shells, and on the shoulder-blades of oxen, from want of money to buy paper with. {5} And though he was of this character, and in such circumstances, he became so eminent, that, though Zenon had many other disciples of high reputation, he succeeded him as the president of his School.

And he left behind him some excellent books, which are these.

{6} These are his writings. [176] G   And he died in the following manner. His gums swelled very much; and, at the command of his physicians, he abstained from food for two days. And he got so well that his physicians allowed him to return to all his former habits; but he refused, and saying that he had now already gone part of the way, he abstained from food for the future, and so died; being, as some report, eighty years old, and having been a pupil of Zenon nineteen years. And we have written a playful epigram on him also, which runs thus:
  I praise Cleanthes, but praise Hades more;
  Who could not bear to see him grown so old,
  So gave him rest at last among the dead,
  Who had drawn such loads of water while alive.


[177] G   {1} Sphaerus, a native of the Bosporus, was, as we have said before, a pupil of Cleanthes after the death of Zenon.

{2} And when he made a considerable advance in philosophy he went to Alexandria, to the court of Ptolemy Philopator. And once, when there was a discussion concerning the question whether a wise man would allow himself to be guided by opinion, and when Sphaerus affirmed that he would not, the king, wishing to refute him, ordered some pomegranates of wax to be set before him; and when Sphaerus was deceived by them, the king shouted that he had given his assent to a false perception. But Sphaerus answered very neatly, that he had not given his assent to the fact that they were pomegranates, but to the fact that it was probable that they might be pomegranates. And that a perception which could be comprehended differed from one that was only probable. Once, when Mnesistratus accused him of denying that Ptolemy was a king, he said to him, "That Ptolemy was a man with such and such qualities, and a king."

[178] G   {3} He wrote the following books.


[179] G   {1} Chrysippus was the son of Apollonius, and a native of either Soli or Tarsus, as Alexander tells us in his Successions; and he was a pupil of Cleanthes. Previously he used to practise running as a public runner; then he became a pupil of Zenon or of Cleanthes, as Diocles and the generality of authors say, and while he was still living he abandoned him, and became a very eminent philosopher.

{2} He was a man of great natural ability, and of great acuteness in every way, so that in many points he dissented from Zenon, and also from Cleanthes, to whom he often used to say that he only wanted to be instructed in the dogmas of the school, and that he would discover the demonstrations for himself. But whenever he opposed him with any vehemence, he always repented, so that he used frequently to say [in parody of Euripides, Orest_540]:
  In most respects I am a happy man,
  Excepting where Cleanthes is concerned;
  For in that matter I am far from fortunate.

[180] G   And he had such a high reputation as a dialectician, that most people thought that if there were such a science as dialectics among the Gods; it would be in no respect different from that of Chrysippus. But though he was so eminently able in matter, he was not perfect in style. {3} He was industrious beyond all other men; as is plain from his writings; for he wrote more than seven hundred and five books. And he often wrote several books on the same subject, wishing to put down everything that occurred to him; and constantly correcting his previous assertions, and using a great abundance of testimonies. So that, as in one of his writings he had quoted very nearly the whole of the Medeia of Euripides, and some one had his book in his hands; this latter, when he was asked what he had got there, made answer, "The Medeia of Chrysippus." [181] G   And Apollodorus the Athenian, in his Collection of Dogmas, wishing to assert that what Epicurus had written out of his own head, and without any quotations to support his arguments, was a great deal more than all the books of Chrysippus, speaks thus (I give his exact words). "For if any one were to take away from the books of Chrysippus all the passages which he quotes from other authors, his paper would be left empty." These are the words of Apollodorus; but the old woman, who lived with him, as Diocles reports, used to say that he wrote five hundred lines every day. And Hecaton says, that he first applied himself to philosophy, when his patrimony had been confiscated, and seized for the royal treasury.

[182] G   {4} He was slight in person, as is plain from his statue which is in the Cerameicus, which is nearly hidden by the equestrian statue near it; in reference to which circumstance, Carneades called him Cryxippus. [From kruptō, to hide, and hippos, a horse.] He was once reproached by some one for not attending the lectures of Ariston, who was drawing a great crowd after him at the time; and he replied, "If I had attended to the multitude I should not have been a philosopher." And once, when he saw a dialectician pressing hard on Cleanthes, and proposing sophistical fallacies to him, he said, "Cease to drag that old man from more important business, and propose these questions to us who are young." At another time, when some one wishing to ask him something privately, was addressing him quietly, but when he saw a multitude approaching began to speak more energetically he said to him [Euripides, Orest_253]:
  Alas, my brother! now your eye is troubled;
  You were quite sane just now; and yet how quickly
  Have you succumbed to frenzy.

[183] G   {5} And at drinking parties he used to behave quietly, moving his legs about however, so that a female slave once said, "It is only the legs of Chrysippus that are drunk." And he had so high an opinion of himself, that once, when a man asked him, "To whom shall I entrust my son?" he said "To me, for if I thought that there was any one better than myself, I would have gone to him to teach me philosophy." In reference to which anecdote they report that people used to say of him [Homer, Od_10'495]:
  He has indeed a clear and subtle head,
  The rest are forms of empty aether made.

And also:
  For if Chrysippus had not lived and taught,
  The Stoic school would surely have been naught.

{6} But at last, when Arcesilaus and Lacydes, as Sotion records in his eighth book, came to the Academy, he joined them in the study of philosophy;[184] G   from which circumstance he got the habit of arguing for and against a custom, and discussed magnitudes and quantities, following the system of the Academics.

{7} Hermippus relates, that one day, when he was teaching in the Odeium, he was invited to a sacrifice by his pupils; and, that drinking some sweet unmixed wine, he was seized with giddiness, and departed this life five days afterwards, when he had lived seventy-three years; dying in the hundred and forty-third Olympiad [208-205 B.C.], as Apollodorus says in his Chronicles. And we have written an epigram on him:
  Chrysippus drank with open month some wine
  Then became giddy, and so quickly died.
  Too little thought he of the Porch's weal,
  Or of his country's, or of his own dear life;
  And so descended to the realms of Hell.

[185] G   But some people say that he died of a fit of immoderate laughter. For that seeing his ass eating figs, he told his old woman to give the ass some unmixed wine to drink afterwards, and then laughed so violently that he died.

{8} He appears to have been a man of exceeding arrogance. Accordingly, though he wrote such numbers of books, he never dedicated one of them to any sovereign. And he was contented with one single old woman, as Demetrius tells us, in his People of the same Name. And when Ptolemy wrote to Cleanthes, begging him either to come to him himself or to send him some one, Sphaerus went to him, but Chrysippus slighted the invitation.

{9} However, he sent for the sons of his sister, Aristocreon and Philocrates, and educated them; and he was the first person who ventured to hold a school in the open air in the Lyceium, as the before-mentioned Demetrius relates.

{10} [186] G   There was also another Chrysippus, a native of Cnidus, a doctor from whom Erasistratus testifies that he received great benefit. And another also who was a son of his, and the physician of Ptolemy; who, having had a false accusation brought against him, was apprehended and punished by being scourged. There was also a fourth who was a pupil of Erasistratus; and a fifth was an author of a work called Georgics.

{11} Now this philosopher used to delight in proposing questions of this sort. The person who reveals the mysteries to the uninitiated commits a sin; the hierophant reveals them to the uninitiated ; therefore the hierophant commits sin? Another was, that which is not in the city, is also not in the house; but a well is not in the city, therefore, there is not a well in the house. Another was, there is a certain head; that head you have not got; there is then a head that you have not got; therefore, you have not got a head. [187] G   Again, if a man is in Megara, he is not in Athens; but there is a man in Megara, therefore, there is not a man in Athens. Again, if you say anything, what you say comes out of your mouth; but you say "a wagon," therefore a wagon comes out of your mouth. Another was, if you have not lost a thing, you have it; but you have not lost horns; therefore, you have horns. Though some attribute this sophism to Eubulides.

{12} There are people who run Chrysippus down as having written a great deal that is very shameful and indecent. For in his treatise on the Ancient Natural Historians, he relates the story of Zeus and Hera very indecently, devoting six hundred lines to what no one could repeat without polluting his mouth. [188] G   For, as it is said, he composes this story, though he praises it as consisting of natural details, in a way more suitable to street walkers than to goddesses; and not at all resembling the ideas which have been adopted or cited by writers in paintings. For they were found neither in Polemon, nor in Hypsicrates, nor in Antigonus, but were inserted by himself. And in his treatise on the Republic, he allows people to marry their mothers, or their daughters, or their sons. And he repeats this doctrine in his treatise on those things which are not desirable for their own sake, in the very opening of it. And in the third book of his treatise on Justice, he devotes a thousand lines to bidding people devour even the dead. In the second book of his treatise on Life and Means of Support, where he is warning us to consider beforehand, how the wise man ought to provide himself with means, he says, [189] G   "And yet why need he provide himself with means? for if it is for the sake of living, living at all is a matter of indifference; if it is for the sake of pleasure, that is a matter of indifference too; if it is for the sake of virtue, that is of itself sufficient for happiness. But the methods of providing one's self with means are ridiculous; for instance, some derive them from a king; and then it will be necessary to humour him. Some from friendship; and then friendship will become a thing to be bought with a price. Some from wisdom; and then wisdom will become mercenary; and these are the accusations which he brings."

But since he has written many books of high reputation, it has seemed good to me to give a catalogue of them, classifying them according to their subjects. They are the following:

The first set of treatises on the Logical Topics, which concern things, contains: The second set contains: The third set contains: The fourth set contains: [192] G   The fifth set contains:

The next class of his writings refers to rules of Logic, with reference to words, and speech which consists of words. The first set of these contains:

The second set contains: The third set contains:

The next class is on the subject of that part of logic which is conversant about reasonings and modes. The first set of works in this class contains:

[195] G   The second set contains: The third set contains: The fourth set contains: The fifth set contains: The sixth set contains: The seventh set contains: The eighth set contains: The ninth set contains: The tenth set contains: There are, therefore, works on Logic, in the four grand classes which we have here enumerated, embracing various questions, without any connection with one another, to the number of thirty nine sets, amounting in the whole to three hundred and eleven treatises on Logic.

[199] G   The next division comprises those works which have for their object, the explanation of Moral Ideas. The first class of this division, contains:

The second set contains: The third set contains: The fourth set contains: The fifth set contains:

[201] G   The next division refers to Ethics, looked at in a general point of view, and to the different systems arising out of them, and to the Virtues. The first set contains:

The second set contains: The third set contains:

The next division refers to Ethics, as relating to Good and Evil. The first set contains:

{The remainder of the life of Chrysippus is lost.}

Book 10 →

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