Peithô's Web   Lives index  



I. ARISTOTLE was the son of Nicomachus and Phaestias, a citizen of Stagira; and Nicomachus was descended from Nicomachus, the son of Machaon, the son of Aesculapius, as Hermippus tells us in his treatise on Aristotle; and he lived with Amyntas, the king of the Macedonians, as both a physician and a friend.

II. He was the most eminent of all the pupils of Plato; he had a lisping voice, as is asserted by Timotheus the Athenian, in his work on Lives. He had also very thin legs, they say, and small eyes; but he used to indulge in very conspicuous dress, and rings, and used to dress his hair carefully.

III. He had also a son named Nicomachus, by Herpyllis his concubine, as we are told by Timotheus.

IV. He seceded from Plato while he was still alive; so that they tell a story that he said, "Aristotle has kicked us off, just as chickens do their mother after they have been hatched." But Hermippus says in his Lives, that while he was absent on an embassy to Philip, on behalf of the Athenians, Xenocrates became the president of the school in the Academy; and that when he returned and saw the school under the presidency of some one else, he selected a promenade in the Lyceum, in which he used to walk up and down with his disciples, discussing subjects of philosophy till the time for anointing themselves came; on which account he was called a Peripatetic.1 But others say that he got this name because once when Alexander was walking about after recovering from a sickness, he accompanied him and kept conversing with him. But when his pupils became numerous, he then gave them seats, saying :

It would be shame for me to hold my peace,
And for Isocrates to keep on talking.

And he used to accustom his disciples to discuss any question which might be proposed, training them just as an orator might.

V. After that he went to Hermias the Eunuch, the tyrant of Atarneus, who, as it is said, allowed him all kinds of liberties; and some say that he formed a matrimonial connection with him, giving him either his daughter or his niece in marriage, as is recorded by Demetrius of Magnesia, in his essay on Poets and Prose-writers of the same name. And the same authority says that Hermias had been the slave of Eubulus, and a Bithynian by descent, and that he slew his master. But Aristippus, in the first book of his treatise on Ancient Luxury, says that Aristotle was enamoured of the concubine of Hermias, and that, as Hermias gave his consent, he married her; and was so overjoyed that he sacrificed to her, as the Athenians do to the Eleusinian Ceres. And he wrote a hymn to Hermias, which is given at length below.

VI. After that he lived in Macedonia, at the court of Philip, and was entrusted by him with his son Alexander as a pupil; and he entreated him to restore his native city which had been destroyed by Philip, and had his request granted; and he also made laws for the citizens. And also he used to make laws in his schools, doing this in imitation of Xenocrates, so that he appointed a president every ten days. And when he thought that he had spent time enough with Alexander, he departed for Athens, having recommended to him his relation Callisthenes, a native of Olynthus; but as he spoke too freely to the king, and would not take Aristotle's advice, he reproached him and said

Alas! my child, in life's primeval bloom,
Such hasty words will bring thee to thy doom.2

And his prophecy was fulfilled, for as he was believed by Hermolaus to have been privy to the plot against Alexander, he was shut up in an iron cage, covered with lice, and untended; and at last he was given to a lion, and so died,

VII. Aristotle then having come to Athens, and having presided over his school there for thirteen years, retired secretly to Chalcis, as Eurymedon, the hierophant had impeached him on an indictment for impiety, though Favorinus, in his Universal History, says that his prosecutor was Demophelus, on the ground of having written the hymn to the beforementioned Hermias, and also the following epigram which was engraven on his statue at Delphi:

The tyrant of the Persian archer race,
Broke through the laws of God to slay this man;
Not by the manly spear in open fight,
But by the treachery of a faithless friend.

And after that he died of taking a draught of aconite, as Eumelus says in the fifth book of his Histories, at the age of seventy years. And the same author says that he was thirty years old when he first became acquainted with Plato. But this is a mistake of his, for he did only live in reality sixty-three years, and he was seventeen years old when he first attached himself to Plato. And the hymn in honour of Hermias is as follows:

O Virtue, won by earnest strife,
        And holding out the noblest prize
That ever gilded earthly life,
        Or drew it on to seek the skies;
For thee what son of Greece would not
Deem it an enviable lot,
To live the life, to die the death
That fears no weary hour, shrinks from no fiery breath?

Such fruit hast thou of heavenly bloom,
        A lure more rich than golden heap,
More tempting than the joys of home,
        More bland than spell of soft-eyed sleep.
For thee Alcides, son of Jove,
And the twin boys of Leda strove,
With patient toil and sinewy might,
Thy glorious prize to grasp, to reach thy lofty height.

Achilles, Ajax, for thy love
        Descended to the realms of night;
Atarneus' King thy vision drove,
        To quit for aye the glad sun-light,
Therefore, to memory's daughters dear,
His deathless name, his pure career,
Live shrined in song, and link'd with awe,
The awe of Xenian Jove, and faithful friendship's law.3

There is also an epigram of ours upon him, which runs thus:

Eurymedon, the faithful minister
Of the mysterious Eleusinian Queen,
Was once about t' impeach the Stagirite
Of impious guilt. But he escaped his hands
By mighty draught of friendly aconite,
And thus defeated all his wicked arts.

Favorinus in his Universal History, says that Aristotle was the first person who ever composed a speech to be delivered in his own defence in a court of justice, and that he did so on the occasion of this prosecution, and said that at Athens:

Pears upon pear-trees grow; on fig-trees, figs.

Apollodorus in his Chronicles, says that he was born in the first year of the ninety-ninth Olympiad, and that he attached himself to Plato, and remained with him for twenty years, having been seventeen years of age when he originally joined him. And he went to Mitylene in the archonship of Eubulus, in the fourth year of the hundred and eighth Olympiad. But as Plato had died in the first year of this same Olympiad, in the archonship of Theophilus, he departed for the court of Hermias and remained there three years. And in the archonship of Pythodotus he went to the court of Philip, in the second year of the hundred and ninth Olympiad, when Alexander was fifteen years old; and he came to Athens in the second year of the hundred and eleventh Olympiad, and presided over his school in the Lyceum for thirteen years; after that he departed to Chalcis, in the third year of the hundred and fourteenth Olympiad, and died, at about the age of sixty-three years, of disease, the same year that Demosthenes died in Calumia, in the archonship of Philocles.

VIII. It is said also that he was offended with the king. because of the result of the conspiracy of Calisthenes against Alexander; and that the king, for the sake of annoying him, promoted Anaximenes to honour, and sent presents to Xenocrates. And Theocritus, of Chios, wrote an epigram upon him to ridicule him, in the following terms, as it is quoted by Ambryon in his account of Theocritus:

The empty-headed Aristotle rais'd
This empty tomb to Hermias the Eunuch,
The ancient slave of the ill-us'd Eubulus.
[Who for his monstrous appetite, preferred
The Bosphorus to Academia's groves.]

And Timon attacked him too, saying of him:

Nor the sad chattering of the empty Aristotle.
Such was the life of the philosopher.

IX. We have also met with his will, which is couched in the following terms: "May things turn out well; but if any thing happens to him, in that case Aristotle has made the following disposition of his affairs. That Antipater shall be the general and universal executor. And until Nicanor marries my daughter, I appoint Aristomedes, Timarchus, Hipparchus, Dioteles, and Theophrastus, if he will consent and accept the charge, to be the guardians of my children and of Herpyllis, and the trustees of all the property I leave behind me; and I desire them, when my daughter is old enough, to give her in marriage to Nicanor; but if any thing should happen to the girl which may God forbid, either before or after she is married, but before she has any children, then I will that Nicanor shall have the absolute disposal of my son, and of all other things, in the full confidence that he will arrange them in a manner worthy of me and of himself. Let him also be the guardian of my daughter and son Nicomachus, to act as he pleases with respect to them, as if he were their father or brother. But if anything should happen to Nicanor, which may God forbid, either before he receives my daughter in marriage, or after he is married to her, or before he has any children by her, then any arrangements which he may make by will shall stand. But, if Theophrastus, in this case, should choose to take my daughter in marriage, then he is to stand exactly in the same position as Nicanor. And if not, then I will, that my trustees, consulting with Antipater concerning both the boy and girl, shall arrange everything respecting them as they shall think fit; and that my trustees and Nicanor, remembering both me and Herpyllis and how well she has behaved to me, shall take care, if she be inclined to take a husband, that one be found for her who shall not be unworthy of us; and shall give her, in addition to all that has been already given her, a talent of silver, and three maidservants if she please to accept them, and the handmaid whom she has now, and the boy Pyrrhaeus. And if she likes to dwell at Chalcis, she shall have the house which joins the garden; but if she likes to dwell in Stagira, then she shall have my father's house. And whichever of these houses she elects to take, I will that my executors do furnish it with all necessary furniture, in such manner as shall seem to them and to Herpyllis to be sufficient. And let Nicanor be the guardian of the child Myrmex, so that he shall be conducted to his friends in a manner worthy of us, with all his property which I received. I also will that Aubracis shall have her liberty, and that there shall be given to her when her daughter is married, five hundred drachmas, and the handmaid whom she now has. And I will that there be given to Thales, besides the handmaiden whom she now has, who was bought for her, a thousand drachmas and another handmaid. And to Timon, in addition to the money that has been given to him before for another boy, an additional slave, or a sum of money which shall be equivalent. I also will that Tychon shall have his liberty when his daughter is married, and Philon, and Olympius, and his son. Moreover, of those boys who wait upon me, I will that none shall be sold, but my executors may use them, and when they are grown up then they shall emancipate them if they deserve it. I desire too, that my executors will take under their care the statues which it has been entrusted to Gryllion to make, that when they are made they may be erected in their proper places; and so too shall the statues of Nicanor, and of Proxenus, which I was intending to give him a commission for, and also that of the mother of Nicanor. I wish them also to erect in its proper place the statue of Arimnestus which is already made, that it may be a memorial of her, since she has died childless. I wish them also to dedicate a statue of my mother to Ceres at Nemea, or wherever else they think fit. And wherever they bury me, there I desire that they shall also place the bones of Pythias, having taken them up from the place where they now lie, as she herself enjoined. And I desire that Nicanor, as he has been preserved, will perform the vow which I made on his behalf, and dedicate some figures of animals in stone, four cubits high, to Jupiter the saviour, and Minerva the saviour, in Stagira."

These are the provisions of his will.

X. And it is said that a great many dishes were found in his house; and that Lycon stated that he used to bathe in a bath of warm oil, and afterwards to sell the oil. But some say that he used to place a leather bag of warm oil on his stomach. And whenever he went to bed, he used to take a brazen ball in his hand, having arranged a brazen dish below it; so that, when the ball fell into the dish, he might be awakened by the noise.

XI. The following admirable apophthegms are attributed to him.

He was once asked, what those who tell lies gain by it; "They gain this," said he, "that when they speak truth they are not believed."

On one occasion he was blamed for giving alms to a worthless man, and he replied, "I did not pity the man, but his condition."

He was accustomed continually to say to his friends and pupils wherever he happened to be, "That sight receives the light from the air which surrounds it, and in like manner the soul receives the light from the science."

Very often, when he was inveighing against the Athenians, he would say that they had invented both wheat and laws, but that they used only the wheat and neglected the laws.

It was a saying of his that the roots of education were bitter, but the fruit sweet.

Once he was asked what grew old most speedily, and he replied, "Gratitude."

On another occasion the question was put to him, what hope is? and his answer was, "The dream of a waking man."

Diogenes once offered him a dry fig, and as he conjectured that if he did not take it the cynic had a witticism ready prepared, he accepted it, and then said that Diogenes had lost his joke and his fig too; and another time when he took one from him as he offered it, he held it up as a child does and said, "O great Diogenes;" and then he gave it to him back again.

He used to say that there were three things necessary to education; natural qualifications, instruction, and practice.

Having heard that he was abused by some one, he said, "He may beat me too, if he likes, in my absence."

He used to say that beauty is the best of all recommendations, but others say that it was Diogenes who gave this description of it; and that Aristotle called beauty, "The gift of a fair appearance;" that Socrates called it "A short-lived tyranny;" Plato, "The privilege of nature;" Theophrastus, "A silent deceit;" Theocritus, "An ivory mischief;" Carneades, "A sovereignty which stood in need of no guards."

On one occasion he was asked how much educated men were superior to those uneducated; "As much," said he, "as the living are to the dead."

It was a saying of his that education was an ornament in prosperity, and a refuge in adversity. And that those parents who gave their children a good education deserved more honour than those who merely beget them: for that the latter only enabled their children to live, but the former gave them the power of living well.

When a man boasted in his presence that he was a native of an illustrious city, he said, "That is not what one ought to look at, but whether one is worthy of a great city."

He was once asked what a friend is; and is answer was, "One soul abiding in two bodies."

It was a saying of his that some men were as stingy as if they expected to live for ever, and some as extravagant as if they expected to die immediately.

When he was asked why people like to spend a great deal of their time with handsome people, "That," said he, "is a question fit for a blind man to ask."

The question was once put to him, what he had gained by philosophy; and the answer he made was this, "That I do without being commanded, what others do from fear of the laws."

He was once asked what his disciples ought to do to get on; and he replied, "Press on upon those who are in front of them, and not wait for those who are behind to catch them."

A chattering fellow, who had been abusing him, said to him, "Have not I been jeering you properly?" "Not that I know of," said he, "for I have not been listening to you."

A man on one occasion reproached him for having given a contribution to one who was not a good man (for the story which I have mentioned before is also quoted in this way), and his answer was, "I gave not to the man, but to humanity."

The question was once put to him, how we ought to behave to our friends; and the answer he gave was, "As we should wish our friends to behave to us."

He used to define justice as "A virtue of the soul distributive of what each person deserved."

Another of his sayings was, that education was the best viaticum for old age.

Favorinus, in the second book of his Commentaries, says that he was constantly repeating, "The man who has friends has no friend." And this sentiment is to be found also in the seventh book of the Ethics.

These apophthegms then are attributed to him.

XII. He also wrote a great number of works; and I have thought it worth while to give a list of them, on account of the eminence of their author in every branch of philosophy. Four books on Justice; three books on Poets; three books on Philosophy; two books of The Statesman; one on Rhetoric, called also the Gryllus; the Nerinthus, one; the Sophist, one; the Menexenus, one; the Erotic, one; the Banquet, one; on Riches, one; the Exhortation, one; on the Soul, one; on Prayer, one; on Nobility of Birth, one; on Pleasure, one; the Alexander, or an Essay on Colonists, one; on Sovereignty, one; on Education, one; on the Good, three; three books on things in the Laws of Plato; two on Political Constitutions; on Economy, one; on Friendship, one; on Suffering, or having Suffered, one; on Sciences, one; on Discussions, two; Solutions of Disputed Points, two; Sophistical Divisions, four; on Contraries, one; on Species and Genera, one; on Property, one; Epicheirematic, or Argumentative Commentaries, three; Propositions relating to Virtue, three; Objections, one; one book on things which are spoken of in various ways, or a Preliminary Essay; one on the Passion of Anger; five on Ethics; three on Elements; one on Science; one on Beginning; seventeen on Divisions; on Divisible Things, one; two books of Questions and Answers; two on Motion; one book of Propositions; four of Contentious Propositions; one of Syllogisms; eight of the First Analytics; two of the second greater Analytics; one on Problems; eight on Method; one on the Better; one on the Idea; Definitions serving as a preamble to the Topics, seven; two books more of Syllogisms; one of Syllogisms and Definitions; one on what is Eligible, and on what is Suitable; the Preface to the Topics, one; Topics relating to the Definitions, two; one on the Passions; one on Divisions; one on Mathematics; thirteen books of Definitions; two of Epicheiremata, or Arguments; one on Pleasure; one of Propositions; on the Voluntary, one; on the Honourable, one; of Epicheirematic or Argumentative Propositions, twenty-five books; of Amatory Propositions, four; of Propositions relating to Friendship, two; of Propositions relating to the Soul, one; on Politics, two; Political Lectures, such as that of Theophrastus, eight; on Just Actions, two; two books entitled, A Collection of Arts; two on the Art of Rhetoric; one on Art; two on other Art; one on Method; one, the Introduction to the Art of Theodectes; two books, being a treatise on the Art of Poetry; one book of Rhetorical Enthymemes on Magnitude; one of Divisions of Enthymemes; on Style, two; on Advice, one; on Collection two; on Nature, three; on Natural Philosophy, one; on the Philosophy of Archytas, three; on the Philosophy of Speusippus and Xenocrates, one; on things taken from the doctrines of Timaeus and the school of Archytas, one; on Doctrines of Melissus, one; on Doctrines of Alcmaeon, one; on the Pythagoreans, one; on the Precepts of Gorgias, one; on the Precepts of Xenophanes, one; on the Precepts of Zeno, one; on the Pythagoreans, one; on Animals, nine; on Anatomy, eight; one book, a Selection of Anatomical Questions; one on Compound Animals; one on Mythological Animals; one on Impotence; one on Plants; one on Physiognomy; two on Medicine; one on the Unit; one on Signs of Storms; one on Astronomy; one on Optics; one on Motion; one on Music; one on Memory; six on Doubts connected with Homer; one on Poetry; thirty-eight of Natural Philosophy in reference to the First Elements; two of Problems Resolved; two of Encyclica, or General Knowledge; one on Mechanics; two consisting of Problems derived from the writings of Democritus; one on Stone; one book of Comparisons; twelve books of Miscellanies; fourteen books of things explained according to their Genus; one on Rights; one book, the Conquerors at the Olympic Games; one, the Conquerors at the Pythian Games in the Art of Music; one, the Pythian; one, a List of the Victors in the Pythian Games; one, the Victories gained at the Olympic Games; one on Tragedies; one, a List of Plays; one book of Proverbs; one on the Laws of Recommendations; four books of Laws; one of Categories; one on Interpretation; a book containing an account of the Constitutions of a hundred and fifty-eight cities, and also some individual democratic, oligarchic, aristocratic, and tyrannical Constitutions; Letters to Philip; Letters of the Selymbrians; four Letters to Alexander; nine to Antipater; one to Mentor; one to Ariston; One to Olympias; one to Hephaestion; one to Themistagoras; one to Philoxenus; one to Democritus; one book of Poems, beginning:

Hail! holy, sacred, distant-shooting God.

A book of Elegies which begins:

Daughter of all-accomplish'd mother.

The whole consisting of four hundred and forty-five thousand two hundred and seventy lines.

XIII. These then are the books which were written by him. And in them he expresses the following opinions: that there is in philosophy a two-fold division; one practical, and the other theoretical. Again, the practical is divided into ethical and political, under which last head are comprised considerations affecting not only the state, but also the management, of a single house. The theoretical part, too, is subdivided into physics and logic; the latter forming not a single division, turning on one special point, but being rather an instrument for every art brought to a high degree of accuracy. And he has laid down two separate objects as what it is conversant about, the persuasive and the true. And he has used two means with reference to each end; dialectics and rhetoric, with reference to persuasion; analytical examination and philosophy, with reference to truth; omitting nothing which can bear upon discovery, or judgment, or use. Accordingly, with reference to discovery, he has furnished us with topics and works on method, which form a complete armoury of propositions, from which it is easy to provide one's self with an abundance of probable arguments for every kind of question. And with reference to judgment, he has given us the former and posterior analytics; and by means of the former analytics, we may arrive at a critical examination of principles; by means of the posterior, we may examine the conclusions which are deduced from them. With reference to the use or application of his rules, he has given us works on discussion, on question, on disputation, on sophistical refutation, on syllogism, and on things of that sort.

He has also furnished us with a double criterion of truth. One, on the perception of those effects, which are according to imagination; the other, the intelligence of those things which are ethical, and which concern politics, and economy, and laws. The chief good he has defined to be the exercise of virtue in a perfect life. He used also to say, that happiness was a thing made up of three kinds of goods. First of all, the goods of the soul, which he also calls the principal goods in respect of their power; secondly, the goods of the body, such as health, strength, beauty, and things of that sort; thirdly, external goods, such as wealth, nobility of birth, glory, and things like those. And he taught that virtue was not sufficient of itself to confer happiness; for that it had need besides of the goods of the body, and of the external goods, for that a wise man would be miserable if he were surrounded by distress, and poverty, and circumstances of that kind. But, on the other hand, he said, that vice was sufficient of itself to cause unhappiness, even if the goods of the body and the external goods were present in the greatest possible degree. He also asserted that the virtues did not reciprocally follow one another, for that it was possible for a prudent, and just, and impartial man, to be incontinent and intemperate; and he said, that the wise man was not destitute of passions, but endowed with moderate passions.

He also used to define friendship as an equality of mutual benevolence. And he divided it into the friendship of kindred, and of love, and of those connected by ties of hospitality. And he said, that love was divided into sensual and philosophical love. And that the wise man would feel the influence of love, and would occupy himself in affairs of state, and would marry a wife, and would live with a king. And as there were three kinds of life, the speculative, the practical, and the voluptuous, he preferred the speculative. He also considered the acquisition of general knowledge serviceable to the acquisition of virtue. As a natural philosopher, he was the most ingenious man that ever lived in tracing effects back to their causes, so that he could explain the principles of the most trifling circumstances: on which account he wrote a great many books of commentaries on physical questions.

He used to teach that God was incorporeal, as Plato also asserted, and that his providence extends over all the heavenly bodies; also, that he is incapable of motion. And that he governs all things upon earth with reference to their sympathy with the heavenly bodies. Another of his doctrines was, that besides the four elements there is one other, making the fifth, of which all the heavenly bodies are composed; and that this one possesses a motion peculiar to itself, for it is a circular one. That the soul is incorporeal, being the first entelecheia; for it is the entelecheia of a physical and organic body, having an existence in consequence of a capacity for existence. And this is, according to him, of a twofold nature. By the word entelecheia, he means something which has an incorporeal species, either in capacity, as a figure of Mercury in wax, which has a capacity for assuming any shape; or a statue in brass; and so the perfection of the Mercury or of the statue is called entelecheia, with reference to its habit. But when he speaks of the entelecheia4 of a natural body, he does so because, of bodies some are wrought by the hands, as for instance, those which are made by artists, for instance, a tower, or a ship; and some exist by nature, as the bodies of plants and animals. He has also used the term with reference to an organic body, that is to say, with reference to something that is made, as the faculty of sight for seeing, or the faculty of hearing for the purpose of hearing. The capacity of having life must exist in the thing itself. But the capacity is twofold, either in habit or in operation. In operation, as a man, when awake, is said to have a soul; in habit, as the same is said of a man when asleep. That, therefore, he may come under his definition, he has added the word capacity.

He has also given other definitions on a great many subjects, which it would be tedious to enumerate here. For he was in every thing a man of the greatest industry and ingenuity, as is plain from all his works which I have lately given a list of; which are in number nearly four hundred, the genuineness of which is undoubted. There are, also, a great many other works attributed to him, and a number of apophthegms which he never committed to paper.

XIV. There were eight persons of the name of Aristotle. First of all, the philosopher of whom we have been speaking; the second was an Athenian statesman, some of whose forensic orations, of great elegance, are still extant; the third was a man who wrote a treatise on the Iliad; the fourth, a Siciliot orator, who wrote a reply to the Panegyric of Isocrates; the fifth was the man who was surnamed Myth, a friend of Aeschines, the pupil of Socrates; the sixth was a Cyrenean, who wrote a treatise on Poetry; the seventh was a schoolmaster, who is mentioned by Aristoxenus in his Life of Plato; the eighth, was an obscure grammarian, to whom a treatise on Pleonasm is attributed.

XV. And the Stagirite had many friends, the most eminent of whom was Theophrastus, whom we must proceed to speak of.

1. From peripateô, "to walk about."

2. Iliad 18, 95.

3. This very spirited version I owe to the kindness of my brother, the Rev. J. E. Yonge, of Eton College.

4. entelecheia, the actuality of a thing, as opposed to simple capability or potentiality (dunamis); a philosophic word invented by Aristotle . . . quite distinct from endelecheia, though Cicero (Tusc. i. 10,) confounded them." - L. & S. in voc.

Scanned and edited for Peithô's Web from The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, by Diogenes Laertius, Literally translated by C.D. Yonge. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853. Footnotes have been converted to endnotes. Some, but not all, of Yonge's spellings of ancient names have been updated.

All of the materials at Peithô's Web are provided for your enjoyment, as is, without any warranty of any kind or for any purpose.

 Peithô's Web   Top Lives index