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THE LIVES AND OPINIONS OF EMINENT PHILOSOPHERS

BY DIOGENES LAERTIUS, TRANSLATED BY C.D. YONGE

LIFE OF BIAS



I. BIAS was a citizen of Priene, and the son of Teutamus, and by Satyrus he is put at the head of the seven wise men. Some writers affirm that he was one of the richest men of the city; but others say that he was only a settler: And Phanodicus says, that he ransomed some Messenian maidens who had been taken prisoners, and educated them as his own daughters, and gave them dowries, and then sent them back to Messina to their fathers. And when, as has been mentioned before, the tripod was found near Athens by some fishermen, the brazen tripod I mean, which bore the inscription—"For the Wise;" then Satyrus says that the damsels (but others, such as Phanodicus, say that it was their father,) came into the assembly, and said that Bias was the wise man—recounting what he had done to them: and so the tripod was sent to him. But Bias, when he saw it, said that it was Apollo who was "the Wise," and would not receive the tripod.

II. But others say that he consecrated it at Thebes to Hercules because he himself was a descendant of the Thebans, who had sent a colony to Priene, as Phanodicus relates. It is said also that when Alyattes was besieging Priene, Bias fattened up two mules and drove them into his camp; and that the king, seeing the condition that the mules were in, was astonished at their being able to spare food to keep the brute beasts so well, and so he desired to make peace with them, and sent an ambassador to them. On this Bias, having made some heaps of sand, and put corn on the top, showed them to the convoy; and Alyattes, hearing from him what he had seen, made peace with the people of Priene; and then, when he sent to Bias, desiring him to come quickly to him, "Tell Alyattes, from me," he replied, "to eat onions;"—which is the same as if he had said, "go and weep."

III. It is said that he was very energetic and eloquent when pleading causes; but that he always reserved his talents for the right side. In reference to which Demodicus of Alerius uttered the following enigmatical saying—"If you are a judge, give a Prienian decision." And Hipponax says, "More excellent in his decisions than Bias of Priene." Now he died in this manner:

IV. Having pleaded a cause for some one when he was exceedingly old, after he had finished speaking, he leaned back with his head on the bosom of his daughter's son; and after the advocate on the opposite side had spoken, and the judges had given their decision in favour of Bias's client, when the court broke up he was found dead on his grandson's bosom. And the city buried him in the greatest magnificence, and put over him this inscription—

Beneath this stone lies Bias, who was born
In the illustrious Prienian land,
The glory of the whole Ionian race.

And we ourselves have also written an epigram on him—

Here Bias lies, whom when the hoary snow
Had crowned his aged temples, Mercury
Unpitying led to Pluto's darken'd realms.
He pleaded his friend's cause, and then reclin'd
In his child's arms, repos'd in lasting sleep.

V. He also wrote about two thousand verses on Ionia, to show in what matter a man might best arrive at happiness; and of all his poetical sayings these have the greatest reputation:

Seek to please all the citizens, even though
Your house may be in an ungracious city.
For such a course will favour win from all:
But haughty manners oft produce destruction.

And this one too:

Great strength of body is the gift of nature;
But to be able to advise whate'er
Is most expedient for one's country's good,
Is the peculiar work of sense and wisdom.

Another is:

Great riches come to many men by chance.

He used also to say that that man was unfortunate who could not support misfortune; and that it is a disease of the mind to desire what was impossible, and to have no regard for the misfortunes of others. Being asked what was difficult, he said—"To bear a change of fortune for the worse with magnanimity." Once he was on a voyage with some impious men, and the vessel was overtaken by a storm; so they began to invoke the assistance of the Gods; on which he said, "Hold your tongues, lest they should find out that you are in this ship." When he was asked by an impious man what piety was, he made no reply; and when his questioner demanded the reason of his silence, he said, "I am silent because you are putting questions about things with which you have no concern." Being asked what was pleasant to men, he replied, "Hope." It was a saying of his that it was more agreeable to decide between enemies than between friends; for that of friends, one was sure to become an enemy to him; but that of enemies, one was sure to become a friend. When the question was put to him, what a man derived pleasure while he was doing, he said, "While acquiring gain." He used to say, too, that men ought to calculate life both as if they were fated to live a long and a short time: and that they ought to love one another as if at a future time they would come to hate one another; for that most men were wicked. He used also to give the following pieces of advice:—"Choose the course which you adopt with deliberation; but when you have adopted it, then persevere in it with firmness.—Do not speak fast, for that shows folly.—Love prudence.—Speak of the Gods as they are.—Do not praise an undeserving man because of his riches.—Accept of things, having procured them by persuasion, not by force.—Whatever good fortune befalls you, attribute it to the gods.—Cherish wisdom as a means of travelling from youth to old age, for it is more lasting than any other possession."

VI. Hipponax also mentions Bias, as has been said before; and Heraclitus too, a man who was not easily pleased, has praised him; saying, in Priene there lived Bias the son of Teutamus, whose reputation is higher than that of the others; and the Prienians consecrated a temple to him which is called the Teutamium. A saying of his was, "Most men are wicked."










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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