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Diogenes Laertius

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Diogenes Laertius

Diogenes Laertius

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Definition: Diogenes Laertius is an invaluable source on the Pre-Socratic philosophers, but little is known about the man himself. He is thought to have come from a place called Laërte (possibly in Cilicia), from which C.D. Yonge (editor and translator of Diogenes Laërtius' The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers [1853]), says comes the appellation "Laertius" that follows, precedes, or stands in lieu of "Diogenes". Yonge says he may have lived at the end of the second century A.D. -- around the time of Alexander Severus (222-235)-- or possibly as late as the time of Emperor Constantine. Dates are based on both those men Diogenes names and those he doesn't, as well as writers who are thought to have come after Diogenes, since they name him. Of course, that someone is named doesn't mean he came earlier. He could be a contemporary. He could not, however, come later.

Diogenes Laertius wrote a history of Greek philosophers and philosophy in ten books. Because of the quality of the information on the school Diogenes is thought to have been an Epicurean. Besides philosophy, his anecdotes tell us something about Greek customs and the non-Greeks (barbarians).

He writes about the following philosophers:

  • Book I:

    Thales, Solon, Chilo, Pittacus, Bias, Cleobulus, Anacharsis the Scythian, Myson, Epimenides, Pherecydes,

  • Book II:

    Anaximander, Anaximenes, Archelaus, Socrates, Xenophon, Aeschines, Aristippus, Phoedo, Euclides, Stilpo, Crito, Simon, Glauco, Simias, Cebes, Menedemus,

  • Book III:

    Plato,

  • Book IV:

    Speusippus, Xenocrates, Polemo, Crates, Crantor, Arcesilaus, Bion, Lacydes, Carneades, Clitomachus,

  • Book V:

    Aristotle, Theophrastus, Strato, Lycon, Demetrius, Heraclides,

  • Book VI:

    Antisthenes, Diogenes, Monimus, Onesicritus, Metrocles, Hipparchia, Menippus, Menedemus,

  • Book VII:

    Zeno, Ariston, Herillus, Dionysius, Cleanthus, Sphaerus, Chrysippus,

  • Book VIII:

    Pythagoras, Empedocles, Epicharmus, Archytas, Alcmaeon, Hippasus, Philolaus, Eudoxus,

  • Book IX:

    Heraclitus, Xenophanes, Parmenides, Melissus, Zeno the Eleatic, Leucippus, Democritus, Protagoras, Diogenes of Apollonia, Anaxarchus, Pyrrho, Timon, and

  • Book X:

    Epicurus.

In his introduction, Diogenes Laertius says some believe peoples other than the Greeks developed philosophy. He says the Persians had the magi (the first of whom was Zoroaster), the Babylonians and Assyrians had Chaldaeans, the Indians had gymnosophists, and the Celts had druids. He adds that the Egyptians believed that the son of Nilus, Vulcan, was the creator of philosophy. Diogenes, however, believes the Greeks created philosophy, as well as the human race.

"I. Some say that the study of philosophy originated with the barbarians. In that among the Persians there existed the Magi, and among the Babylonians or Assyrians the Chaldaei, among the Indians the Gymnosophistae, and among the Celts and Gauls men who were called Druids 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, and the Libyan Atlas. ...

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
Musseus 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 nature, and the little world of man is perpetually shaken by vice and misfortune."

Also Known As: Laertius Diogenes, Diogenes, Laertius
Alternate Spellings: Διογένης Λαέρτιος, Diogenes Laertios, Diogenes Laërtius
Examples:
Be careful not to confuse Diogenes Laertius with Diogenes the Cynic. Both may be referred to by the simple name Diogenes.

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