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THE LIVES AND OPINIONS OF EMINENT PHILOSOPHERS

BY DIOGENES LAERTIUS, TRANSLATED BY C.D. YONGE

LIFE OF CLEANTHES



I. CLEANTHES was a native of Assos, and the son of Phanias. He was originally a boxer, as we learn from Antisthenes, in his Successions. And he came to Athens, having but four drachmas, as some people say, and attaching himself to Zeno, he devoted himself to Philosophy in a most noble manner; and he adhered to the same doctrines as his master.

II. He was especially eminent for his industry, so that as he was a very poor man, he was forced to undertake mercenary employments, and he used to draw water in the gardens by night, and by day he used to exercise himself in philosophical discussions; on which account he was called Phreantles.1 They also say that he was on one occasion brought before a court of justice, to be compelled to give an account what his sources of income were from which he maintained himself in such good condition; and that then he was acquitted, having produced as his witness the gardener in whose garden he drew the water; and a woman who was a mealseller, in whose establishment he used to prepare the meal. And the judges of the Areopagus admired him, and voted that ten minae should be given to him; but Zeno forbade him to accept them.

They also say that Antigonus presented him three thousand drachmas. And once, when he was conducting some young men to some spectacle, it happened that the wind blew away his cloak, and it was then seen that he had nothing on under it; on which he was greatly applauded by the Athenians, according to the account given by Demetrius, the Magnesian, in his essay on People of the same Name. And he was greatly admired by them on account of this circumstance.

They also say that Antigonus, who was a pupil of his, once asked him why he drew water; and that he made answer, "Do I do nothing beyond drawing water? Do I not also dig, and do I not water the land, and do all sorts of things for the sake of philosophy?" For Zeno used to accustom him to this and used to require him to bring him an obol by way of tribute.2

And once he brought one of the pieces of money which he had collected in this way, into the middle of a company of his acquaintances, and said, "Cleanthes could maintain even another Cleanthes if he were to choose; but others who have plenty of means to support themselves, seek for necessaries from others; although they only study philosophy in a very lazy manner." And, in reference to these habits of his, Cleanthes was called a second Heracles.

III. He was then very industrious; but he was not well endowed by nature, and was very slow in his intellect. On which account Timon says of him:

What stately ram thus measures o'er the ground,
And master of the flock surveys them round?
What citizen of Assos, dull and cold,
Fond of long words, a mouth-piece, but not bold.3

And when he was ridiculed by his fellow pupils, he used to bear it patiently.

IV. He did not even object to the name when he was called an ass; but only said that he was the only animal able to bear the burdens which Zeno put upon him. And once, when he was reproached as a coward, he said, "That is the reason why I make but few mistakes." He used to say, in justification of his preference of his own way of life to that of the rich, "That while they were playing at ball, he was earning money by digging hard and barren ground." And he very often used to blame himself. And once, Ariston heard him doing so, and said, "Who is it that you are reproaching?" and he replied, "An old man who has grey hair, but no brains."

When some one once said to him that Arcesilaus did not do what he ought, "Desist," he replied, "and do not blame him; for if he destroys duty as far as his words go, at all events he establishes it by his actions." Arcesilaus once said to him, "I never listen to flatterers." "Yes," rejoined Cleanthes, "I flatter you, when I say that though you say one thing, you do another." When some one once asked him what lesson he ought to inculcate on his son, he replied, "The warning of Electra:" -

Silence, silence, gently step.4

When a Lacedaemonian once said in his hearing, that labour was a good thing, he was delighted, and addressed him:

Oh, early worth, a soul so wise and young
Proclaims you from the sage Lycurgus sprung.5

Hecaton tells us in his Apophthegms, that once when a young man said, "If a man who beats his stomach gastrizei, then a man who slaps his thigh mêrizei," he replied, "Do you stick to your diamêrizei." But analogous words do not always indicate analogous facts. Once when he was conversing with a youth, he asked him if he felt; and as he said that he did, "Why is it then," said Cleanthes, "that I do not feel that you feel?"

When Sositheus, the poet, said in the theatre where he was present:

Men whom the folly of Cleanthes urges;

He continued in the same attitude; at which the hearers were surprised, and applauded him, but drove Sositheus away. And when he expressed his sorrow for having abused him in this manner, he answered him gently, saying, "That it would be a preposterous thing for Bacchus and Hercules to bear being ridiculed by the poets without any expression of anger, and for him to be indignant at any chance attack." He used also to say, "That the Peripatetics were in the same condition as lyres, which though they utter sweet notes, do not hear themselves." And it is said, that when he asserted that, on the principles of Zeno, one could judge of a man's character by his looks, some witty young men brought him a profligate fellow, having a hardy look from continual exercise in the fields; and requested him to tell them his moral character; and he, having hesitated a little, bade the man depart; and, as he departed, he sneezed, "I have the fellow now," said Cleanthes, "he is a debauchee."

He said once to a man who was conversing with him by himself, "You are not talking to a bad man." And when some one reproached him with his old age, he rejoined, "I too wish to depart, but when I perceive myself to be in good health in every respect, and to be able to recite and read, I am content to remain." They say too, that he used to write down all that he heard from Zeno on oyster shells, and on the shoulder-blades of oxen, from want of money to buy paper with.

V. And though he was of this character, and in such circumstances, he became so eminent, that, though Zeno had many other disciples of high reputation, he succeeded him as the president of his School.

VI. And he left behind him some excellent books, which are these. One on Time; two on Zeno's System of Natural Philosophy; four books of the Explanations of Heraclitus; one on Sensation; one on Art; one addressed to Democritus; one to Aristarchus; one to Herillus; two on Desire; one entitled Archaeology; one on the Gods; one on the Giants; one on Marriage; one on Poets; three on Duty; one on Good Counsel; one on Favour; one called Exhortatory; one on Virtues; one on Natural Ability; one on Gorgippus; one on Enviousness; one on Love; one on Freedom; one called the Art of Love; one on Honour; one on Glory; The Statesman; one on Counsel; one on Laws; one on Deciding as a Judge; one on the Way of Life; three on Reason; one on the Chief Good; one on the Beautiful; one on Actions; one on Knowledge; one on Kingly Power; one on Friendship; one on Banquets; one on the Principle that Virtue is the same in Man and Woman; one on the Wise Man Employing Sophisms; one on Apophthegms; two books of Conversations; one on Pleasure; one on Properties; one on Doubtful Things; one on Dialectics; one on Modes; one, on Categorems.

VII. These are his writings.

And he died in the following manner. His gums swelled very much; and, at the command of his physicians, he abstained from food for two days. And he got so well that his physicians allowed him to return to all his former habits; but he refused, and saying that he had now already gone part of the way, he abstained from food for the future, and so died; being, as some report, eighty years old, and having been a pupil of Zeno nineteen years. And we have written a playful epigram on him also, which runs thus:

I praise Cleanthes, but praise Pluto more;
Who could not bear to see him grown so old,
So gave him rest at last among the dead,
Who'd drawn such loads of water while alive.

1. From phrear, a well, and antileô, to draw water.

2. The Greek used is apophora; which was a term especially applied to the money which slaves let out to hire paid to their master.

3. This is a parody on Hom. Il. iii. 196. Pope's version, i. 260. The word olmos means the mouth-piece of a flute.

4. Taken from the Orestes of Euripides, i. 140.

5. This is parodied from Hom. Od. iv. 611. Pope's version, 1. 831.










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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