Peithô's Web   Lives index  

BOOK I.

INTRODUCTION.

I. SOME say that the study of philosophy originated with the barbarians. In that among the Persians there existed the Magi,1 and among the Babylonians or Assyrians the Chaldaei,2 among the Indians the Gymnosophistae,3 and among the Celts and Gauls men who were called Druids4 and Semnothei, as Aristotle relates in his book on Magic, and Sotion in the twenty-third book of his Succession of Philosophers. Besides those men there were the Phoenician Ochus, the Thracian Zamolxis,5 and the Libyan Atlas. For the Egyptians say that Vulcan was the son of Nilus*, and that he was the author of philosophy, in which those who were especially eminent were called his priests and prophets.

II. From his age to that of Alexander, king of the Macedonians, were forty-eight thousand eight hundred and sixty-three years, and during this time there were three hundred and seventy-three eclipses of the sun, and eight hundred and thirty-two eclipses of the moon.

Again, from the time of the Magi, the first of whom was Zoroaster the Persian, to that of the fall of Troy, Hermodorus the Platonic philosopher, in his treatise on Mathematics, calculates that fifteen thousand years elapsed. But Xanthus the Lydian says that the passage of the Hellespont by Xerxes took place six thousand years after the time of Zoroaster,6 and that after him there was a regular succession of Magi under the names of Ostanes and Astrampsychos and Gobryas and Pazatas, until the destruction of the Persian empire by Alexander.

III. But those who say this, ignorantly impute to the barbarians the merits of the Greeks, from whom not only all philosophy, but even the whole human race in reality originated. For Musaeus was born among the Athenians, and Linus among the Thebans; and they say that the former, who was the son of Eumolpus, was the first person who taught the system of the genealogy of the gods, and who invented the spheres; and that he taught that all things originated in one thing, and when dissolved returned to that same thing; and that he died at Phalerum, and that this epitaph was inscribed on his tomb:

Phalerum's soil beneath this tomb contains
Musaeus dead, Eumolpus' darling son.

And it is from the father of Musaeus that the family called Eumolpidae among the Athenians derive their name. They say too that Linus was the son of Mercury and the Muse Urania; and that he invented a system of Cosmogony, and of the motions of the sun and moon, and of the generation of animals and fruits; and the following is the beginning of his poem,

There was a time when all the present world
Uprose at once.

From which Anaxagoras derived his theory, when he said that all things had been produced at the same time, and that then intellect had come and arranged them all in order.

They say, moreover, that Linus died in Euboea, having been shot with an arrow by Apollo, and that this epitaph was set over him:

The Theban Linus sleeps beneath this ground,
Urania's son with fairest garlands crown'd.

IV. And thus did philosophy arise among the Greeks, and indeed its very name shows that it has no connection with the barbarians. But those who attribute its origin to them, introduce Orpheus the Thracian, and say that he was a philosopher, and the most ancient one of all. But if one ought to call a man who has said such things about the gods as he has said, a philosopher, I do not know what name one ought to give to him who has not scrupled to attribute all sorts of human feelings to the gods, and even such discreditable actions as are but rarely spoken of among men; and tradition relates that he was murdered by women;7 but there is an inscription at Dium in Macedonia, saying that he was killed by lightning, and it runs thus:

Here the bard buried by the Muses lies,
        The Thracian Orpheus of the golden lyre;
Whom mighty Jove, the Sovereign of the skies,
        Removed from earth by his dread lightning's fire.

V. But they who say that philosophy had its rise among the barbarians, give also an account of the different systems prevailing among the various tribes. And they say that the Gymnosophists and the Druids philosophize, delivering their apophthegmns in enigmatical language, bidding men worship the gods and do no evil, and practise manly virtue.

VI. Accordingly Clitarchus, in his twelfth book, says that the Gymnosophists despise death, and that the Chaldaeans study astronomy and the science of soothsaying--that the Magi occupy themselves about the service to be paid to the gods, and about sacrifices and prayers, as if they were the only people to whom the deities listen: and that they deliver accounts of the existence and generation of the gods, saying that they are fire, and earth, and water; and they condemn the use of images, and above all things do they condemn those who say that the gods are male and female; they speak much of justice, and think it impious to destroy the bodies of the dead by fire; they allow men to marry their mothers or their daughters, as Sotion tells us in his twenty-third book; they study the arts of soothsaying and divination, and assert that the gods reveal their will to them by those sciences. They teach also that the air is full of phantoms, which, by emanation and a sort of evaporation, glide into the sight of those who have a clear perception; they forbid any extravagance of ornament, and the use of gold; their garments are white, their beds are made of leaves, and vegetables are their food, with cheese and coarse bread; they use a rush for a staff, the top of which they run into the cheese, and so taking up a piece of it they eat it. Of all kinds of magical divination they are ignorant, as Aristotle asserts in his book on Magic, and Dinon in the fifth book of his Histories. And this writer says, that the name of Zoroaster being interpreted means, a sacrifice to the stars; and Hermodorus makes the same statement. But Aristotle, in the first book of his Treatise on Philosophy, says, that the Magi are more ancient than the Egyptians; and that according to them there are two principles, a good demon and an evil demon, and that the name of the one is Jupiter or Oromasdes, and that of the other Pluto or Arimanius. And Hermippus gives the same account in the first book of his History of the Magi; and so does Eudoxus in his Period; and so does Theopompus in the eighth book of his History of the Affairs of Philip; and this last writer tells us also, that according to the Magi men will have a resurrection and be immortal, and that what exists now will exist hereafter under its own present name; and Eudemus of Rhodes coincides in this statement. But Hecataeus says, that according to their doctrines the gods also are beings who have been born. But Clearchus the Solensian, in his Treatise on Education says, that the Gymnosophists are descendants of the Magi; and some say that the Jews also are derived from them. Moreover, those who have written on the subject of the Magi condemn Herodotus; for they say that Xerxes would never have shot arrows against the sun, or have put fetters on the sea, as both sun and sea have been handed down by the Magi as gods, but that it was quite consistent for Xerxes to destroy the images of the gods.

VII. The following is the account that authors give of the philosophy of the Egyptians, as bearing on the gods and on justice. They say that the first principle is matter; then that the four elements were formed out of matter and divided, and that some animals were created, and that the sun and moon are gods, of whom the former is called Osiris and the latter Isis, and they are symbolised under the names of beetles and dragons, and hawks, and other animals, as Manetho tells us in his abridged account of Natural Philosophy, and Hecataeus confirms the statement in the first book of his History of the Philosophy of the Egyptians. They also make images of the gods, and assign them temples because they do not know the form of God. They consider that the world had a beginning and will have an end, and that it is a sphere; they think that the stars are fire, and that it is by a combination of them that the things on earth are generated; that the moon is eclipsed when it falls into the shadow of the earth; that the soul is eternal and migratory; that rain is caused by the changes of the atmosphere; and they enter into other speculations on points of natural history, as Hecataeus and Aristagoras inform us.

They also have made laws about justice, which they attribute to Mercury, and they consider those animals which are useful to be gods. They claim to themselves the merit of having been the inventors of geometry, and astrology, and arithmetic. So much then for the subject of invention.

VIII. But Pythagoras was the first person who invented the term Philosophy, and who called himself a philosopher; when he was conversing at Sicyon with Leon, who was tyrant of the Sicyonians or of the Phliasians (as Heraclides Ponticus relates in the book which he wrote about a dead woman); for he said that no man ought to be called wise, but only God. For formerly what is now called philosophy (philosophia) was called wisdom (sophia), and they who professed it were called wise men (sophoi), as being endowed with great acuteness and accuracy of mind; but now he who embraces wisdom is called a philosopher (philosophos).

But the wise men were also called Sophists. And not only they, but poets also were called Sophists: as Cratinus in his Archilochi calls Homer and Hesiod, while praising them highly.

IX. Now these were they who were accounted wise men. Thales, Solon, Periander, Cleobulus, Chilo, Bias, Pittacus. To these men add Anacharsis the Scythian, Myson the Chenean, Pherecydes the Syrian, and Epimenides the Cretan; and some add, Pisistratus, the tyrant: These then are they who were called the wise men.

X. But of Philosophy there arose two schools. One derived from Anaximander, the other from Pythagoras. Now, Thales had been the preceptor of Anaximander, and Pherecydes of Pythagoras. And the one school was called the Ionian, because Thales, being an Ionian (for he was a native of Miletus), had been the tutor of Anaximander; --but the other was called the Italian from Pythagoras, because he spent the chief part of his life in Italy. And the Ionic school ends with Clitomachus, and Chrysippus, and Theophrastus; and the Italian one with Epicurus; for Anaximander succeeded Thales, and he was succeeded again by Anaximenes, and he by Anaxagoras, and he by Archelaus, who was the master of Socrates, who was the originator of moral philosophy. And he was the master of the sect of the Socratic philosophers, and of Plato, who was the founder of the old Academy; and Plato's pupils were Speusippus and Xenocrates; and Polemo was the pupil of Xenocrates, and Crantor and Crates of Polemo. Crates again was the master of Arcesilaus, the founder of the Middle Academy, and his pupil was Lacydes, who gave the new Academy its distinctive principles. His pupil was Carneades, and he in his turn was the master of Clitomachus. And this school ends in this way with Clitomachus and Chrysippus.

Antisthenes was the pupil of Socrates, and the master of Diogenes the Cynic; and the pupil of Diogenes was Crates the Theban; Zeno the Cittiaean was his; Cleanthes was his; Chrysippus was his. Again it ends with Theophrastus in the following manner:

Aristotle was the pupil of Plato, Theophrastus the pupil of Aristotle; and in this way the Ionian school comes to an end.

Now the Italian school was carried on in this way. Pythagoras was the pupil of Pherecydes; his pupil was Telauges his son; he was the master of Xenophanes, and he of Parmenides; Parmenides of Zeno the Eleatic, he of Leucippus, he of Democritus: Democritus had many disciples, the most eminent of whom were Nausiphanes and Nausicydes, and they were the masters of Epicurus.

XI. Now, of Philosophers some were dogmatic and others were inclined to suspend their opinions. By dogmatic, I mean those who explain their opinions about matters, as if they could be comprehended. By those who suspend their opinions, I mean those who give no positive judgment, thinking that these things cannot be comprehended. And the former class have left many memorials of themselves; but the others have never written a line; as for instance, according to some people, Socrates, and Stilpo, and Philippus, and Menedemus, and Pyrrho, and Theodorus, and Carneades, and Bryson; and, as some people say, Pythagoras, and Aristo of Chios, except that he wrote a few letters. There are some men too who have written one work only, Melissus, Parmenides, and Anaxagoras; but Zeno wrote many works, Xenophanes still more; Democritus more, Aristotle more, Epicurus more, and Chrysippus more.

XII. Again, of philosophers some derived a surname from cities, as, the Elians, and Megaric sect, the Eretrians, and the Cyrenaics. Some from the places which they frequented, as the Academics and Stoics. Some from accidental circumstances, as the Peripatetics; or, from jests, as the Cynics.

Some again from their dispositions, as the Eudaemonics; some from an opinion, as the Elenctic, and Analogical schools. Some from their masters, as the Socratic and Epicurean philosophers; and so on. The Natural Philosophers were so called from their study of nature; the Ethical philosophers from their investigation of questions of morals (peri ta ethê).

The Dialecticians are they who devote themselves to quibbling on words.

XIII. Now there are three divisions of philosophy. Natural, Ethical, and Dialectic. Natural philosophy occupies itself about the world and the things in it; Ethical philosophy about life, and the things which concern us; Dialectics are conversant with the arguments by which both the others are supported.

Natural philosophy prevailed till the time of Archelaus; but after the time of Socrates, Ethical philosophy was predominant; and after the time of Zeno the Eleatic, Dialectic philosophy got the upper hand.

Ethical philosophy was subdivided into ten sects; the Academic, the Cyrenaic, the Elian, the Megaric, the Cynic, the Eretrian, the Dialectic, the Peripatetic, the Stoic, and the Epicurean. Of the old Academic school Plato was the president; of the middle, Arcesilaus; and of the New, Lacydes:--the Cyrenaic school was founded by Aristippus the Cyrenian; the Elian, by Phaedo, of Elis; the Megaric, by Euclid, of Megara; the Cynic, by Antisthenes, the Athenian; the Eretrian, by Menedemus, of Eretria; the Dialectic by Clitomachus, the Carthaginian; the Peripatetic, by Aristotle, the Stagirite; the Stoic, by Zeno, the Cittiaean; the Epicurean school derives its name from Epicurus, its founder.

But Hippobotus, in his Treatise on Sects, says that there are nine sects and schools: first, the Megaric; secondly, the Eretrian; thirdly, the Cyrenaic; fourthly, the Epicurean; fifthly, the Annicerean; sixthly, the Theodorean; seventhly, the sect of Zeno and the Stoics; eighthly, that of the Old Academy; and ninthly, the Peripatetic;--not counting either the Cynic, or the Eliac, or the Dialectic school. That also which is called the Pyhrronean is repudiated by many writers, on account of the obscurity of its principles. But others consider that in some particulars it is a distinct sect, and in others not. For it does appear to be a sect--for what we call a sect, say they, is one which follows, or appears to follow, a principle which appears to it to be the true one; on which principle we correctly call the Sceptics a sect. But if by the name sect we understand those who incline to rules which are consistent with the principles which they profess, then the Pyrrhonean cannot be called a sect, for they have no rules or principles.

These, then, are the beginnings, these are the successive masters, these are the divisions, and schools of philosophy.

XIV. Moreover, it is not long ago, that a new Eclectic school was set up by Potamo, of Alexandria, who picked out of the doctrines of each school what pleased him most. And as he himself says, in his Elementary Instruction, he thinks that there are certain criteria of truth: first of all the faculty which judges, and this is the superior one; the other that which is the foundation of the judgment, being a most exact appearance of the objects. And the first principles of everything he calls matter, and the agent, and the quality, and the place. For they show out of what, and by what, and how, and where anything is done. The end is that to which everything is referred; namely, a life made perfect with every virtue, not without the natural and external qualities of the body.

But we must now speak of the men themselves; and first of all about Thales.

Notes by Yonge

1. "The religion of the ancient Persians was the worship of fire or of the elements, in which fire was symbolical of the Deity. At a later period in the time of the Greeks, the ancient worship was changed into the adoration of the stars (Sabaeism), especially of the sun and of the morning star. This religion was distinguished by a simple and majestic character. Its priests were called Magi."-Tenneman's Manual of the History of Philosophy, Introd. 70.

2. "The Chaldeans were devoted to the worship of the stars and to astrology; the nature of their climate and country disposing them to it. The worship of the stars was revived by them and widely disseminated even subsequently to the Christian era."-- -Tenneman's Manual of the History of Philosophy, Introd. 71.

3. "Cicero speaks of those who in India are accounted philosophers, living naked and enduring the greatest severity of winter without betraying any feeling of pain, and displaying the same insensibility when exposed to the flames.'--Tusc. Quaest. v. 27.

4. "The religion of the Britons was one of the most considerable parts of their government, and the Druids who were their priests, possessed great authority among them. Besides ministering at the altar, and directing all religious duties, they presided over the education of youth; they possessed both the civil and criminal jurisdiction; they decided all controversies among states as well as among private persons, and whoever refused to submit to their decree was exposed to the most severe penalties. The sentence of excommunication was pronounced against him; he was forbidden access to the sacrifices of public worship; he was debarred all intercourse with his fellow citizens even in the common affairs of life: his company was universally shunned as profane and dangerous, he was refused the protection of law, and death itself became an acceptable relief from the misery and infamy to which he was exposed. Thus the bonds of government, which were naturally loose among that rude and turbulent people, were happily corroborated by the terrors of their superstition.

"No species of superstition was ever more terrible than that of the Druids; besides the several penalties which it was in the power of the ecclesiastics to inflict in this world, they inculcated the eternal transmigration of souls, and thereby extended their authority as far as the fears of their timorous votaries. They practised their rites in dark groves or other secret recesses, and in order to throw a greater mystery over their religion, they communicated their doctrines only to the initiated, and strictly forbade the committing of them to writing, lest they should at any time be exposed to the examination of the profane and vulgar. Human sacrifices were practised among them; the spoils of war were often devoted to their divinities, and they punished with the severest tortures whoever dared to secrete any part of the consecrated offering. These treasures they kept secreted in woods and forests secured by no other guard than the terrrors of their religion; and their steady conquest over human avidity may be regarded as more signal than their prompting men to the most extraordinary and most violent efforts. No idolatrous worship ever attained such an ascendant over mankind as that of the ancient Gauls and Britons. And the Romans after their conquest, finding it impossible to reconcile those nations to the laws and institutions of their masters while it maintained its authority, were at last obliged to abolish it by penal statutes, a violence which had never in any other instance been resorted to by those tolerating conquerors.'--Hume's History of England, chap. 1. 1.

5. Zamolxis, or Zalmoxis, so called from the bear-skin (zalmos) in which he was wrapped as soon as he was born, was a Getan, and a slave cf Pythagoras at Samos; having been emancipated by his master, he travelled into Egypt; and on his return to his own country he introduced the ideas which he had acquired in his travels on the subject of civilisation, religion, and the immortality of the soul. He was made priest of the chief deity among the Getae, and was afterwards himself worshipped as a divine person. He was said to have lived in a subterraneous cavern for three years, and after that to have re-appeared among his countrymen. Herodotus however, who records these stories (iv. 95), expresses his disbelief of them, placing him before the time of Pythagoras by many years, and seems to incline to the belief that he was an indigenous Getan deity.

6. The real time of Zoroaster is, as may be supposed, very uncertain, but he is said by some eminent writers to have lived in the time of Darius Hystaspes; though others, apparently on better grounds, place him at a very far earlier date. He is not mentioned by Herodotus at all. His native country too is very uncertain. Some writers, among whom are Ctesias and Ammian, call him a Bactrian, while Porphyry speaks of him as a Chaldaean, and Pliny as a native of Proconnesus;--Niebuhr considers him a purely mythical personage. The great and fundamental article of the system (of the Persian theology) was the celebrated doctrine of the two principles; a bold and injudicious attempt of Eastern philosophy to reconcile the existence of moral and physical evil with the attributes of a beneficent Creator and governor of the world. The first and original being, in whom, or by whom the universe exists, is denominated, in the writings of Zoroaster, Time without bounds. . . . From either the blind or the intelligent operation of this infinite Time, which bears but too near an affinity to the Chaos of the Greeks, the two secondary but active principles of the universe were from all eternity produced; Ormusd and Ahriman, each of them possessed of the powers of creation, but each disposed by his invariable nature to exercise them with different designs; the principle of good is eternally absorbed in light, the principle of evil is eternally buried in darkness. The wise benevolence of Ormusd formed man capable of virtue, and abundantly provided his fair habitation with the materials of happiness. By his vigilant providence the motion of the planets, the order of the seasons, and the temperate mixture of the elements are preserved. But the maker of Ahriman has long since pierced Ormusd's Egg, or in other words, has violated the harmony of his works. Since that fatal irruption, the most minute articles of good and evil are intimately intermingled and agitated together; the rankest poisons spring up among the most salutary Plants; deluges, earthquakes, and conflagrations attest the conflict of nature, and the little world of man is perpetually shaken by vice and misfortune. While the rest of mankind are led away captives in the chains of their infernal enemy, the faithful Persian alone reserves his religious adoration for his friend and protector Ormusd, and fights under his banner of light, in the full confidence that he shall, in the last day, share the glory of his triumph. At that decisive period, the enlightened wisdom of goodness will render the power of Ormusd superior to the furious malice of his rival; Ahriman and his followers, disarmed and subdued, will sink into their native darkness, and virtue will maintain the eternal peace and harmony of the universe.

. . . As a legislator, Zoroaster "discovered a liberal concern for the public and private happiness seldom to be found among the visionary schemes of superstition. Fasting and celibacy, the common means of purchasing the divine favour, he condemns with abhorrence as a criminal rejection of the best gifts of Providence."-Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, c. viii.

7. This is the account given by Virgil:

Spretae Ciconum quo munere matres
Inter sacra Deum nocturnique orgia Bacchi,
Discerptum latos juvenem sparsere per agros.-GEORG. IV.520.

Which Dryden translates:

The Thracian matrons who the youth accus'd,
Of love disdain'd and marriage rites refus'd ;
With furies and nocturnal orgies fir'd,
At length against his sacred life conspir'd ;
Whom ev'n the savage beasts had spar'd they kill'd,
And strew'd his mangled limbs about the field.

Scanned and edited for Peithô's Web from The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosopers, by Diogenes Laertius, Literally translated by C.D. Yonge. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853

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. Note that some of Yonge's spelling of ancient names are different than more modern versions. Footnotes have been converted to endnotes.

 Peithô's Web   Top Lives index