Part 2

The Enemies of Epicurus

by Diogenes Laertius

VI. Diocles, in Book 3 of his Excursion, says[428] that they all lived in the most simple and economical manner;

“They were content,” says he, “with a small cup of light wine, and all the rest of their drink was water.” He also tells us that Epicurus would not allow his followers to throw their property into a common stock, as Pythagoras did, who said that the possessions of friends were held in common.

For he said that such a doctrine as that was suited rather for those who distrusted one another; and that those who distrusted one another were not friends. But he himself in his letters, says that he is content with water and plain bread, and adds, “Send me some Cytherean cheese, that if I wish to have a feast, I may have the means.” This was the real character of the man who laid down the doctrine that pleasure was the chief good; whom Athenæus thus mentions in an epigram:—

O men, you labour for pernicious ends; And out of eager avarice, begin Quarrels and wars. And yet the wealth of nature Fixes a narrow limit for desires, Though empty judgment is insatiable. This lesson the wise child of Neocles Had learnt by heart, instructed by the Muses, Or at the sacred shrine of Delphi’s God. And as we advance further, we shall learn this fact from his dogmas, and his apophthegms.

VII. Of all the ancient philosophers he was, as we are told by Diocles, most attached to Anaxagoras (although in some points he argued against him); and to Archelaus, the master of Socrates.

And he used, Diocles adds, to accustom his pupils to preserve his writings in their memory. Apollodorus, in his Chronicles, asserts that he was a pupil of Nausiphanes, and Praxiphanes; but he himself does not mention this; but says in his letter to Euridicus, that he had been his own instructor. He also agreed with Hermarchus in not admitting that Leucippus deserved to be called a philosopher; though some authors, among whom is Apollodorus, speak of him as the master of Democritus. Demetrius, the Magnesian, says that he was a pupil of Xenocrates also.

VIII. He uses in his works plain language with respect to anything he is speaking of, for which Aristophanes, the grammarian, blames him, on the ground of that style being vulgar.[429] But he was such an admirer of perspicuity, that even in his treatise on Rhetoric, he aims at and recommends nothing but clearness of expression.

In his letters, instead of the usual civil expressions, “Greeting,” “Farewell,” and so on, he substitutes, “May you act well,” “May you live virtuously,” and expressions of that sort. Some of his biographers assert that it was he who composed the treatise entitled the Canon, in imitation of the Tripod of Nausiphanes, whose pupil they say that he was, and add that he was also a pupil of Pamphilus, the Platonist, at Samos.

IX. They further tell us that he began to study philosophy at twelve years of age, and that he presided over his school thirty-two years. And he was born as we are told by Apollodorus, in his Chronicles, in the third year of the hundred and ninth olympiad, in the archonship of Sosigenes, on the seventh day of the month Gamelion, seven years after the death of Plato.

When he was thirty-two years of age, he first set up his school at Mitylene, and after that at Lampsacus; and when he had spent five years in these two cities, he came to Athens; and he died there in the second year of the hundred and twenty-seventh olympiad, in the archonship of Pytharatus, when he had lived seventy-two years. And Hermarchus, the son of Agemarchus, and a citizen of Mitylene, succeeded him in his school.

He died of the stone, as Hermarchus mentions in his letters, after having been ill a fortnight; and at the end of the fortnight, Hermippus says that he went into a brazen bath, properly tempered with warm water, and asked for a cup of pure wine and drank it; and having recommended his friends to remember his doctrines, he expired. And there is an epigram of ours on him, couched in the following language:—

Now, fare-ye-well, remember all my words; This was the dying charge of Epicurus: Then to the bath he went, and drank some wine, And sank beneath the cold embrace of Pluto. Such was the life of the man, and such was his death.

X. He made his will in the following terms:—

“According to this my will, I give all my possessions to Amynomachus, of Bate, the son of Philocrates, and to Timocrates, of Potamos, the son of Demetrius; according to the[430] deed of gift to each, which is deposited in the temple of Cybele; on condition that they make over my garden and all that is attached to it to Hermarchus, of Mitylene, the son of Agemarchus; and to those who study philosophy with him, and to whomsoever Hermarchus leaves as his successors in his school, that they may abide and dwell in it, in the study and practice of philosophy;

I give it also to all those who philosophize according to my doctrines, that they may, to the best of their ability, maintain my school which exists in my garden, in concert with Amynomachus and Timocrates; and I enjoin their heirs to do the same in the most perfect and secure manner that they can; so that they also may maintain my garden, as those also shall to whom my immediate successors hand it down. As for the house in Melita, that Amynomachus and Timocrates shall allow Hermarchus that he may live in it during his life, together with all his companions in philosophy.

“Out of the income which is derived from that property, which is here bequeathed by me to Amynomachus and Timocrates, I will that they, consulting with Hermarchus, shall arrange in the best manner possible the offerings to the manes in honour of the memory of my father, and mother, and brothers, and myself, and that my birth-day may be kept as it has been in the habit of being kept, on the tenth day of the month Gamelion;

The re-union of all the philosophers of our school, established in honour of Metrodorus and myself, may take place on the twentieth day of every month. They shall also celebrate, as I have been in the habit of doing myself, the day consecrated to my brothers, in the month Poseideon; and the day consecrated to the memory of Polyænus, in the month Metageitnion.

“Amynomachus and Timocrates, shall be the guardians of Epicurus, the son of Metrodorus, and of the son of Polyænus, as long as they study philosophy under, and live with, Hermarchus.

They shall be the guardians of the daughter of Metrodorus, and when she is of marriageable age, they shall give her to whomsoever Hermarchus shall select of his companions in philosophy, provided she is well behaved and obedient to Hermarchus.

Amynomachus and Timocrates shall, out of my income, give them such a sum for their support as shall appear sufficient year by year, after due[431] consultation with Hermarchus. And they shall associate Hermarchus with themselves in the management of my revenues, in order that everything may be done with the approval of that man who has grown old with me in the study of philosophy, and who is now left as the president of all those who have studied philosophy with us.

As for the dowry for the girl when she is come to marriageable age, let Amynomachus and Timocrates arrange that, taking for the purpose such a sum from my property as shall seem to them, in conjunction with Hermarchus, to be reasonable. And let them also take care of Nicanor, as we ourselves have done; in order that all those who have studied philosophy with us, and who have assisted us with their means, and who have shown great friendship for us, and who have chosen to grow old with us in the study of philosophy, may never be in want of anything as far as our power to prevent it may extend.

“I further enjoin them to give all my books to Hermarchus; and, if anything should happen to Hermarchus before the children of Metrodorus are grown up, then I desire that Amynomachus and Timocrates, shall take care that, provided they are well behaved, they shall have everything that is necessary for them, as far as the estate which I leave behind me shall allow such things to be furnished to them. And the same men shall also take care of everything else that I have enjoined; so that it may all be fulfilled, as far as the case may permit.

“Of my slaves, I hereby emancipate Mus, and Nicias, and Lycon: I also give Phædrium her freedom.”

And when he was at the point of death, he wrote the following letter to Idomeneus:—

“We have written this letter to you on a happy day to us, which is also the last day of our life. For strangury has attacked me, and also a dysentery, so violent that nothing can be added to the violence of my sufferings. But the cheerfulness of my mind, which arises from the recollection of all my philosophical contemplations, counterbalances all these afflictions. And I beg you to take care of the children of Metrodorus, in a manner worthy of the devotion shown by the youth to me, and to philosophy.”

Such then as I have given it, was his will.

XI. He had many students. The most[432] eminent were:

  • Metrodorus, the Athenian
  • Timocrates
  • Sandes, of Lampsacus

Sandes, from the time that he first became acquainted with him, never left him, except once when he went home for 6 months; after which he returned to him.

He was a virtuous man in every respect, as Epicurus tells us in his Fundamental Principles. He also bears witness to his virtue in the third book of his Timocrates.

Being a man of this character, he gave his sister Batis in marriage to Idomeneus; and he himself had Leontium, the Attic courtesan, for his concubine. He was very unmoved at all disturbances, and even at death; as Epicurus tells us, in the first book of his Metrodorus.

He died 7 years before Epicurus himself, at 53.

Epicurus himself, in the will which I have given above, gives many charges about the guardianship of his children, showing by this that he had been dead some time. He also had a brother whom I have mentioned before, of the name of Timocrates, a trifling, silly man.

The writings of Metrodorus are:

  • 3 books addressed to the Physicians
  • 1 essay on the Sensations
  • 1 addressed to Timocrates
  • 1 on Magnanimity
  • 1 on the Illness of Epicurus
  • 1 addressed to the Dialecticians
  • 1 against the Nine Sophists
  • 1 on the Road to Wisdom
  • 1 on Change
  • 1 on Riches
  • 1 against Democritus
  • 1 on Nobility of Birth.

XII. Likewise Polyænus, of Lampsacus, the son of Athenodorus, was a man of mild and friendly manners, as Philodemus particularly assures us.

XIII. His successor was Hermarchus, of Mitylene, the son of Agemarchus, a poor man; and his favourite pursuit was rhetoric. And the following excellent works of his are extant.

72 books of letters about Empedocles; an essay on Mathematics; A treatise against Plato; another against Aristotle. And he died of paralysis, being a most eminent man.

XIV. There was also Leonteus, of Lampsacus, and his wife Themista, to whom Epicurus wrote.

XV. There were also Colotes and Idomeneus; and these also were natives of Lampsacus. And among the most eminent philosophers of the school of Epicurus, were Polystratus, who succeeded Hermarchus, and Dionysius who succeeded him, and[433] Basilides who succeeded him. Likewise Apollodorus, who was nicknamed the tyrant of the gardens (κηποτύραννος), was a very eminent man, and wrote more than four hundred books.

There were the two Ptolemies of Alexandria, Ptolemy the Black, and Ptolemy the Fair. And Zeno, of Sidon, a pupil of Apollodorus, a very voluminous author; and Demetrius, who was surnamed the Lacedæmonian; and Diogenes, of Tarsus, who wrote the Select Dialogues; and Orion, and others whom the genuine Epicureans call Sophists.

XVI. There were also three other persons of the name of Epicurus; first, the son of Leonteus and Themista; secondly, a native of Magnesia; and lastly, a Gladiator.

XVII. Epicurus was a most voluminous author, exceeding all men in the number of his books; for there are more than 300 volumes of them.

In the whole of them there is not one citation from other sources, but they are filled wholly with the sentiments of Epicurus himself.

In the quantity of his writings he was rivalled by Chrysippus, as Carneades asserts, who calls him a parasite of the books of Epicurus; for if ever this latter wrote anything, Chrysippus immediately set his heart on writing a book of equal size; and in this way he often wrote the same thing over again; putting down whatever came into his head; and he published it all without any corrections, by reason of his haste. And he quotes such numbers of testimonies from other authors, that his books are entirely filled with them alone; as one may find also in the works of Aristotle and Zeno.

The chief works of Epicurus are:

  • 37 treatises on Natural Philosophy
  • 1 on Atoms, and the Vacuum
  • 1 on Love
  • 1 abridgment of the Arguments employed against the Natural Philosophers
  • Doubts in Contradiction of the Doctrines of the Megarians
  • Fundamental Propositions
  • 1 treatise on Choice and Avoidance
  • 1 treatise the Chief Good
  • 1 on the Criterion also called the Canon
  • the Chæredemus, a treatise on the Gods
  • 1 on Piety
  • The Hegesianax
  • 4 essays on Lives
  • 1 on Just Dealing
  • The Neocles
  • 1 essay addressed to Themista
  • The Banquet
  • The Eurylochus
  • 1 essay addressed to Metrodorus
  • 1 on Seeing
  • 1 on the Angle in an Atom
  • 1 on Touch
  • 1 on Fate
  • Opinions on the Passions
  • 1 treatise addressed to Timocrates
  • Prognostics
  • Exhortations
  • 1 treatise on Spectres
  • 1 on Perceptions
  • The Aristobulus
  • 1 essay on Music
  • 1 on Justice and the other Virtues
  • 1 on Gifts and Gratitude
  • The Polymedes
  • The Timocrates, a treatise in 3 books
  • The Metrodorus, in 5 books
  • The Antidorus, in 2 books
  • Opinions about the South Winds
  • 1 treatise addressed to Mithras
  • The Callistolas
  • 1 essay on Kingly Power
  • The Anaximenes
  • Letters.

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