Peithô's Web   Lives index  



I. THIS Menedemus was one of those who belonged to the school of Phaedo; and he was one of those who are called Theoprobidae, being the son of Clisthenes, a man of noble family, but a poor man and a builder. And some say that he was a tent-maker, and that Menedemus himself learned both trades. On which account, when he on one occasion brought forward a motion for some decree, a man of the name of Alexinius attacked him, saying that a wise man had no need to draw a tent nor a decree.

II. But when Menedemus was sent by the Eretrians to Megara, as one of the garrison, he deserted the rest, and went to the Academy to Plato; and being charmed by him, he abandoned the army altogether. And when Asclepiades, the Phliasian, drew him over to him, he went and lived in Megara, near Stilpo, and they both became his disciples. And from thence they sailed to Elis, where they joined Anchipylus and Moschus, who belonged to Phaedo's school. And up to this time, as I have already mentioned in my account of Phaedo, they were called Eleans; and they were also called Eretrians, from the native country of Menedemus, of whom I am now speaking.

III. Now Menedemus appears to have been a very severe and rigid man, on which account Crates, parodying a description, speaks of him thus :

And Asclepiades the sage of Phlius,
And the Eretrian bull.

And Timon mentions him thus:

Rise up, you frowning, bristling, frothy sage.

And he was a man of such excessive rigour of principle, that when Eurylochus, of Cassandra, had been invited by Antigonus to come to him in company with Cleippides, a youth of Cyzicus, he refused to go, for he was afraid lest Menedemus should hear of it; for he was very severe in his reproofs and very free spoken. Accordingly, when a young man behaved with boldness towards him, he did not say a word, but took a bit of stick and drew on the floor an insulting picture; until the young man, perceiving the insult that was meant in the presence of numbers of people, went away. And when Hierocles, the governor of the Piraeus, attacked him in the temple of Amphiaraus, and said a great deal about the taking of Eretria, he made no other reply beyond asking him what Antigonus's object was in treating him as he did.

On another occasion, he said to a profligate man who was giving himself airs, "Do not you know that the cabbage is not the only plant that has a pleasant juice, but that radishes have it also?" And once, hearing a young man talk very loudly, he said, "See whom you have behind you." When Antigonus consulted him whether he should go to a certain revel, he made no answer beyond desiring those who brought him the message, to tell him that he was the son of a king. When a stupid fellow once said something at random to him, he asked him whether he had a farm; and when he said that he had, and a large stock of cattle, he said, "Go then and look after them; lest, if you neglect them, you lose them, and that elegant rusticity of yours with them." He was once asked whether a good man should marry, and his reply was, "Do I seem to you to be a good man, or not?" and when the other said he did; "Well," said he, "and I am married." On one occasion a person said that there were a great many good things, so he asked him how many; and whether he thought that there were more than a hundred. And as he could not bear the extravagance of one man who used frequently to invite him to dinner, once when he was invited he did not say a single word, but admonished him of his extravagance in silence, by eating nothing but olives.

IV. On account then of the great freedom of speech in which he indulged, he was very near while in Cyprus, at the court of Nicocreon, being in great danger with his friend Asclepiades. For when the king was celebrating a festival at the beginning of the month, and had invited them as he did all the other philosophers; Menedemus said, "If the assemblage of such men as are met here to-day is good, a festival like this ought to be celebrated every day: but if it is not good, even once is too often." And as the tyrant made answer to this speech, "that he kept this festival in order to have leisure in it to listen to the philosophers," he behaved with even more austerity than usual, arguing, even while the feast was going on, that it was right on every occasion to listen to philosophers; and he went on in this way till, if a flute-player had not interrupted their discussion, they would have been put to death. In reference to which, when they were overtaken by a storm in a ship, they say that Asclepiades said, "that the fine playing of a flute-player had saved them, but the freedom of speech of Menedemus had ruined them.

V. But he was, they say, inclined to depart a good deal from the usual habits and discipline of a school, so that he never regarded any order, nor were the seats arranged around properly, but every one listened to him while lecturing, standing up or sitting down, just as he might chance to be at the moment, Menedemus himself setting the example of this irregular conduct.

VI. But in other respects, it is said that he was a nervous man, and very fond of glory; so that, as previously he and Asclepiades had been fellow journeymen of a builder, when

Asclepiades was naked on the roof carrying mortar, Menedemus would stand in front of him to screen him when he saw any one coming.

VII. When he applied himself to politics he was so nervous, that once, when setting down the incense, he actually missed the incense burner. And on one occasion, when Crates was standing by him and reproaching him for meddling with politics, he ordered some men to put him in prison. But he, even then, continued not the less to watch him as he passed, and to stand on tiptoe and call him Agamemnon and Hegesipolis.

VIII. He was also in some degree superstitious. Accordingly, once, when he was at an inn with Asclepiades, and had unintentionally eaten some meat that had been thrown array, when he was told of it he became sick, and turned pale, until Asclepiades rebuked him, telling him that it was not the meat itself which disturbed him, but only the idea that he had adopted. But in other respects he was a high minded man, with notions such as became a gentleman.

IX. As to his habit of body, even when he was an old man he retained all the firmness and vigour of an athlete, with firm flesh, and a ruddy complexion, and very stout and fresh looking. In stature he was of moderate size; as is plain from the statue of him which is at Eretria, in the Old Stadium. For he is there represented seated almost naked, undoubtedly for the purpose of displaying the greater part of his body.

X. He was very hospitable and fond of entertaining his friends; and because Eretria was unhealthy, he used to have a great many parties, particularly of poets and musicians. And he was very fond of Aratus and Lycophon the tragic poet, and Antagoras of Rhodes. And above all he applied himself to the study of Homer; and next to him to that of the Lyric poets; then to Sophocles, and also to Achaeus, to whom he assigned the second place as a writer of satiric dramas, giving Aeschylus the first. And it is from Achaeus that he quoted these verses against the politicians of the opposite party

A speedy runner once was overtaken
By weaker men than he. An eagle too,
Was beaten by a tortoise in a race.

And these lines are out of the satiric play of Achaeus called Omphale; so that they are mistaken who say that he had never read anything but the Medea of Euripides, which is found, they add, in the collection of Neophron, the Sicyonian.

XI. Of masters of philosophy, he used to despise Plato and Xenocrates, and Paraebates of Cyrene; and admired no one but Stilpo. And once, being questioned about him, he said nothing more of him than that he was a gentleman.

XII. Menedemus was not easy to be understood, and in his conversation he was hard to argue against; he spoke on every subject, and had a great deal of invention and readiness. But he was very disputatious, as Antisthenes says in his Successions; and he used to put questions of this sort, "Is one thing different from another thing?" "Yes." "And is benefiting a person something different from the good?" "Yes." "Then the good is not benefiting a person." And he, as it is said, discarded all negative axioms, using none but affirmative ones; and of these he only approved of the simple ones, and rejected all that were not simple; saying that they were intricate and perplexing. But Heraclides says that in his doctrines he was a thorough disciple of Plato, and that he scorned dialectics; so that once when Alexinus asked him whether he had left off beating his father, he said, "I have not beaten him, and I have not left off;" and when he said further that he ought to put an end to the doubt by answering explicitly yes or no, "It would be absurd," he rejoined, "to comply with your conditions, when I can stop you at the entrance."

When Bion was attacking the soothsayers with great perseverance, he said that he was killing the dead over again. And once, when he heard some one assert that the greatest good was to succeed in everything that one desires; he said, "It is a much greater good to desire what is proper." But Antigonus of Carystus, tells us that he never wrote or composed any work, and never maintained any principle tenaciously. But in cross-questioning he was so contentious as to get quite black in the face before he went away. But though he was so violent in his discourse, he was wonderfully gentle in his actions. Accordingly, though he used to mock and ridicule Alexinus very severely, still he conferred great benefits on him, conducting his wife from Delphi to Chalcis for him, as she was alarmed about the danger of robbers and banditti in the road.

XIII. And he was a very warm friend, as is plain from his attachment to Asclepiades; which was hardly inferior to the friendship of Pylades and Orestes. But Asclepiades was the elder of the two, so that it was said that he was the poet, and Menedemus the actor. And they say that on one occasion, Archipolis bequeathed them three thousand pieces of money between them, they had such a vigorous contest as to which should take the smaller share, that neither of them would receive any of it.

XIV. It is said that they were both married; and that Asclepiades was married to the mother, and Menedemus to the daughter; and when Asclepiades's wife died, he took the wife of Menedemus; and Menedemus, when he became the chief man of the state, married another who was rich; and as they still maintained one house in common, Menedemus entrusted the whole management of it to his former wife. Asclepiades died first at Eretria, being of a great age; having lived with Menedemus with great economy, though they had ample means. So that, when on one occasion, after the death of Asclepiades, a friend of his came to a banquet, and when the slaves refused him admittance, Menedemus ordered them to admit him, saying that Asclepiades opened the door for him, even now, that he was under the earth. And the men who chiefly supported them were Hipponicus the Macedonian, and Agetor the Lamian. And Agetor gave each of them thirty minae, and Hipponicus gave Menedemus two thousand drachmas to portion his daughters with; and he had three, as Heraclides tells us, the children of his wife, who was a native of Oropus.

XV. And he used to give banquets in this fashion :-- First of all, he would sit at dinner, with two or three friends, till late in the day; and then he would invite in any one who came to see him, even if they had already dined; and if any one came too soon, they would walk up and down, and ask those who came out of the house what there was on the table, and what o'clock it was; and then, if there were only vegetables or salt fish, they would depart; but if they heard it was meat, they would go in. And during the summer, mats of rushes were laid upon the couches, and in winter soft cushions; and each guest was expected to bring a pillow for himself. And the cup that was carried round did not hold more than a cotyla. And the second course consisted of lupins or beans, and sometimes fruits, such as pears, pomegranates, pulse, and sometimes, by Jove, dried figs. And all these circumstances are detailed by Lycophron, in his satiric dramas, which he inscribed with the name of Menedemus, making his play a panegyric on the philosopher. And the following are some of the lines:

After a temperate feast, a small-sized cup
Is handed round with moderation due;
And conversation wise makes the dessert.

XVI. At first, now, he was not thought much of, being called cynic and trifler by the Eretrians; but subsequently, he was so much admired by his countrymen, that they entrusted him with the chief government of the state. And he was sent on embassies to Ptolemy and Lysimachus, and was greatly honoured everywhere. He was sent as envoy to Demetrius; and, as the city used to pay him two hundred talents a year, he persuaded him to remit. fifty. And having been falsely accused to him, as having betrayed the city to Ptolemy, he defended himself from the charge, in a letter which begins thus :

"Menedemus to king Demetrius.-Health. I hear that information has been laid before you concerning us."

And the tradition is, that a man of the name of Aeschylus, who was one of the opposite party in the state, was in the habit of making these false charges. It is well known too that he was sent on a most important embassy to Demetrius, on the subject of Oropus, as Euphantus relates in his History.

XVII. Antigonus was greatly attached to him, and professed himself his pupil; and when he defeated the barbarians, near Lysimachia, Menedemus drew up a decree for him, in simple terms, free from all flattery, which begins thus:

"The generals and councillors have determined, since king Antigonus has defeated the barbarians in battle, and has returned to his own kingdom, and since he has succeeded in all his measures according to his wishes, it has seemed good to the council and to the people." ... And from these circumstances, and because of his friendship for him, as shown in other matters, he was suspected of betraying the city to him; and being impeached by Aristodemus, he left the city, and returned to Oropus, and there took up his abode in the temple of Amphiaraus; and as some golden goblets which were there were lost, he was ordered to depart by a general vote of the Boeotians. Leaving Oropus, and being in a state of great despondency, he entered his country secretly; and taking with him his wife and daughters, he went to the court of Antigonus, and there died of a broken heart.

But Heraclides gives an entirely different account of him; saying, that while he was the chief councillor of the Eretrians, he more than once preserved the liberties of the city from those who would have brought in Demetrius the tyrant; so that he never could have betrayed the city to Antigonus, and the accusation must have been false; and that he went to the court of Antigonus, and endeavoured to effect the deliverance of his country; and as he could make no impression on him, he fell into despondency, and starved himself for seven days, and so he died. And Antigonus of Carystus gives a similar account: and Persaeus was the only man with whom he had an implacable quarrel; for he thought that when Antigonus himself was willing to re-establish the democracy among the Eretrians for his sake, Persaeus prevented him. And on this account Menedemus once attacked him at a banquet, saying many other things, and among them, "He may, indeed, be a philosopher, but he is the worst man that lives or that ever will live."

XVIII. And he died, according to Heraclides, at the age of seventy-four. And we have written the following epigram on him:

I've heard your fate, O Menedemus, that of your own accord,
You starved yourself for seven days and died;
Acting like an Eretrian, but not much like a man,
       For spiritless despair appears your guide.

These men then were the disciples of Socrates, and their successors; but we must now proceed to Plato, who founded the Academy; and to his successors, or at least to all those of them who enjoyed any reputation.

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.

All of the materials at Peithô's Web are provided for your enjoyment, as is, without any warranty of any kind or for any purpose.

 Peithô's Web   Top Lives index