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THE LIVES AND OPINIONS OF EMINENT PHILOSOPHERS

BY DIOGENES LAERTIUS, TRANSLATED BY C.D. YONGE

LIFE OF XENOCRATES



I. XENOCRATES was the son of Agathenor, and a native of Chalcedon. From his early youth he was a pupil of Plato, and also accompanied him in his voyages to Sicily.

II. He was by nature of a lazy disposition, so that they say that Plato said once, when comparing him to Aristotle,-- "The one requires the spur, and the other the bridle." And on another occasion, he said, "What a horse and what an ass am I dressing opposite to one another!"

III. In other respects Xenocrates was always of a solemn and grave character, so that Plato was continually saying to him,--"Xenocrates, sacrifice to the Graces." And he spent the greater part of his time in the Academy, and whenever he was about to go into the city, they say all the turbulent and quarrelsome rabble in the city used to make way for him to pass by. And once, Phryne the courtesan wished to try him and pretending that she was pursued by some people, she fled and took refuge in his house; and he admitted her indeed, because of what was due to humanity; and as there was but one bed in the room, he, at her entreaty, allowed her to share it with him; but at last, in spite of all her entreaties, she got up and went away, without having been able to succeed in her purpose; and told those who asked her, that she had quitted a statue and not a man. But some say that the real story is, that his pupils put Lais into his bed, and that he was so continent, that he submitted to some severe operations of excision and cautery.

IV. And he was a very trustworthy man; so that, though it was not lawful for men to give evidence except on oath, the Athenians made an exception in his favour alone.

V. He was also a man of the most contented disposition; accordingly they say that when Alexander sent him a large sum of money, he took three thousand Attic drachmas, and sent back the rest, saying, that Alexander wanted most, as he had the greatest number of mouths to feed. And when some was sent him by Antipater, he would not accept any of it, as Myornianus tells us in his Similitudes. And once, when he gained a golden crown, in a contest as to who could drink most, which was offered in the yearly festival of the Choes by Dionysius, he went out and placed the crown at the feet of the statue of Mercury, which was at the gate, where he was also accustomed to deposit his garlands of flowers. It is said also, that he was once sent with some colleagues as an ambassador to Philip; and that they were won over by gifts, and went to his banquets and conversed with Philip; but that he would do none of these things, nor could Philip propitiate him by these means; on which account, when the other ambassadors arrived in Athens, they said that Xenocrates had gone with them to no purpose; and the people were ready to punish him; but when they had learnt from him that they had now more need than ever to look to the welfare of their city, for that Philip had already bribed all their counsellors, but that he had been unable to win him over by any means, then they say that the people honoured him with redoubled honour. They add also, that Philip said afterwards, that Xenocrates was the only one of those who had come to him who was incorruptible. And when he went as ambassador to Antipater on the subject of the Athenian captives at the time of the Samian war, and was invited by him to a banquet, he addressed him in the following lines :

I answer, Goddess human, is thy breast
By justice sway'd, by tender pity prest?
Ill fits it me, whose friends are sunk to beasts,
To quaff thy bowls, or riot in thy feasts:
Me would'st thou please, for them thy cares employ,
And them to me restore, and me to joy?
        (Hom. Od. 10. 387. Pope's Version, 450)

And Antipater, admiring the appropriateness of the quotation, immediately released them.

VI. On one occasion, when a sparrow was pursued by a hawk, and flew into his bosom, he caressed it, and let it go again, saying that we ought not to betray a suppliant. And being ridiculed by Bion, he said that he would not answer him, for that tragedy, when ridiculed by comedy, did not condescend to make a reply. To one who had never learnt music, or geometry, or astronomy, but who wished to become his disciple, he said, "Be gone, for you have not yet the handles of philosophy." But some say that he said, "Be gone, for I do not card wool here." And when Dionysius said to Plato that some one would cut off his head, he, being present, showed his own, and said, "Not before they have cut off mine."

VII. They say too that once, when Antipater had come to Athens and saluted him, he would not make him any reply before he had finished quietly the discourse which he was delivering.

VIII. Being exceedingly devoid of every kind of pride, he often used to meditate with himself several times a day; and always allotted one hour of each day, it is said, to silence.

IX. And he left behind him a great number of writings, and books of recommendation, and verses, which are these,--six books on Natural Philosophy; six on Wisdom; one on Riches, the Arcadian; one volume on the Indefinite; one on a Child; one on Temperance; one on the Useful; one on the Free; one on Death; one on the Voluntary; two on Friendship; one on Courtesy; two on Contraries; two on Happiness; one on Writing; one on Memory; one on Falsehood; the Callicles one; two on Prudence; one on Oeconomy; one on Temperance; one on the Power of Law; one on Political Constitutions; one on Piety; one to show that Virtue may be transmitted; one about the Existent; one on Fate; one on the Passions; one on Lives; one on Unanimity; two on Pupils; one on Justice; two on Virtue; one on Species; two on Pleasure; one on Life; one on Manly Courage; one on The One; one on Ideas; one on Art; two on the Gods; two on the Soul; one on Knowledge; one on the Statesman; one on Science; one on Philosophy; one on the School of Parmenides; one the Archidemus, or an essay on Justice; one on the Good; eight of those things which concern the Intellect; ten essays in solution of the difficulties which occur respecting Orations; six books on the study of Natural Philosophy; the Principal, one; one treatise on Genus and Species; one on the doctrines of the Pythagoreans; two books of Solutions; seven of Divisions; several volumes of Propositions; several also about the method of conducting Discussions. Besides all this, there are one set of fifteen volumes, and another of sixteen, on the subject of those studies which relate to Speaking; nine more which treat of Ratiocination; six books on Mathematics; two more books on subjects connected with the Intellect; five books on Geometry; one book of Reminiscences; one of Contraries; one on Arithmetic; one on the Contemplation of Numbers; one on Intervals; six on Astronomy; four of elementary suggestions to Alexander, on the subject of Royal Power; one addressed to Arybas; one addressed to Hephaestion; two on Geometry; seven books of Verses.

X. But the Athenians, though he was such a great man, once sold him, because he was unable to pay the tax to which the metics were liable. And Demetrius Phalereus purchased him, and so assisted both parties, Xenocrates by giving him his freedom, and the Athenians in respect of the tax upon metics. This circumstance is mentioned by Myronianus of Amastra, in the first book of his chapters of Historical Coincidences.

XI. He succeeded Speusippus, and presided over the school for twenty-five years, beginning at the archonship of Lysimachides, in the second year of the hundred and tenth olympiad.

XII. And he died in consequence of stumbling by night against a dish, being more than eighty-two years of age. And in one of our epigrams we speak thus of him:

He struck against a brazen pot,
        And cut his forehead deep,
And crying cruel is my lot,
        In death he fell asleep,
So thus Xenocrates did fall,
The universal friend of all.

XIII. And there were five other people of the name of Xenocrates. One was an ancient tactician, a fellow citizen, and very near relation of the philosopher of whom we have been speaking; and there is extant an oration of his which is scribed, On Arsinoe, and which was written on the death of Arsinoe. A third was a philosopher who wrote some very indifferent elegiac poetry; and that is not strange, for when poets take to writing in prose, they succeed pretty well; but when prose writers try their hand at poetry, they fail; from which it is plain, that the one is a gift of nature, and the other a work of art. The fourth was a statuary; the fifth a writer of songs, as we are told by Aristoxenus.










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.

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