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I. PHERECYDES was a Syrian, the son of Babys, and, as Alexander says, in his Successions, he had been a pupil of Pittacus.

II. Theopompus says that he was the first person who ever wrote among the Greeks on the subject of Natural Philosophy and the Gods. And there are many marvellous stories told of him. For it is said that he was walking along the sea-shore at Samos, and that seeing a ship sailing by with a fair wind, he said that it would soon sink; and presently it sank before their eyes. At another time he was drinking some water which had been drawn up out of a well, and he foretold that within three days there would be an earthquake; and there was one. And as he was going up to Olympia, and had arrived at Messene, he advised his entertainer, Perilaus, to migrate from the city with all his family, but that Perilaus would not be guided by him; and afterwards Messene was taken.

III. And he is said to have told the Lacedaemonians to honour neither gold nor silver, as Theopompus says in his Marvels; and it is reported that Hercules laid this injunction on him in a dream, and that the same night he appeared also to the kings of Sparta, and enjoined them to be guided by Pherecydes; but some attribute these stories to Pythagoras.

IV. And Hermippus relates that when there was a war between the Ephesians and Magnesians, he, wishing the Ephesians to conquer, asked some one, who was passing by, from whence he came? and when he said, "From Ephesus," "Drag me now," said he, "by the legs, and place me in the territory of the Magnesians, and tell your fellow countrymen to bury me there after they have got the victory; and that he went and reported that Pherecydes had given him this order. And so they went forth the next day and defeated the Magnesians; and as Pherecydes was dead, they buried him there, and paid him very splendid honours.

V. But some writers say that he went to Delphi, and threw himself down from the Corycian hill; Aristoxenus, in his History of Pythagoras and his Friends, says that Pherecydes fell sick and died, and was buried by Pythagoras in Delos. But others say that he died of the lousy disease; and when Pythagoras came to see him, and asked him how he was, he put his finger through the door, and said, "You may see by my skin." And from this circumstance that expression passed into a proverb among the philosophers, when affairs are going on badly; and those who apply it to affairs that are going on well, make a blunder. He used to say, also, that the Gods call their table thuôros.

VI. But Andron, the Ephesian, says that there were two men of the name of Pherecydes, both Syrians: one an astronomer, and the other a writer on God and the Divine Nature; and that this last was the son of Babys, who was also the master of Pythagoras. But Eratosthenes asserts that there was but one, who was a Syrian; and that the other Pherecydes was an Athenian, a genealogist; and the work of the Syrian Pherecydes is preserved and it begins thus:—"Jupiter, and Time, and Chthon existed externally." And the name of Cthonia became Tellus, after Jupiter gave it to her as a reward. A sun-dial is also preserved, in the island of Syra, of his making.

VII. But Duris, in the second book of his Boundaries, says that this epigram was written upon him:

The limit of all wisdom is in me;
And would be, were it larger. But report
To my Pythagoras that he's the first
Of all the men that tread the Grecian soil;
I shall not speak falsehood, saying this.

And Ion, the Chian, says of him:

Adorned with valour while alive, and modesty,
        Now that he's dead he still exists in peace;
For, like the wise Pythagoras, he studied
        The manners and the minds of many nations.

And I myself have composed an epigram on him in the Pherecratean metre :

The story is reported,
That noble Pherecydes
Whom Syros calls her own,
Was eaten up by lice;
And so he bade his friends,
Convey his corpse away
To the Magnesian land,
That he might victory give
To holy Ephesus.
For well the God had said,
(Though he alone did know
Th' oracular prediction),
That this was fate's decree.
So in that land he lies.
This then is surely true,
That those who're really wise
Are useful while alive,
And e'en when breath has left them.

VIII. And he flourished about the fifty-ninth Olympiad. There is a letter of his extant in the following terms:


May you die happily when fate overtakes you. Disease has seized upon me at the same time that I received your letter. I am all over lice, and suffering likewise under a low fever. Accordingly, I have charged my servants to convey this book of mine to you, after they have buried me. And do you, if you think fit, after consulting with the other wise men, publish it; but if you do not approve of doing so, then keep it unpublished, for I am not entirely pleased with it myself. The subject is not one about which there is any certain knowledge, nor do I undertake to say that I have arrived at the truth; but I have advanced arguments, from which any one who occupies himself with speculations on the divine nature, may make a selection; and as to other points, he must exercise his intellect, for I speak obscurely throughout. I, myself, as I am afflicted more severely by this disease every day, no longer admit any physicians, or any of my friends. But when they stand at the door, and ask me how I am, I put out my finger to them through the opening of the door, and show them how I am eaten up with the evil; and I desired them to come to-morrow to the funeral of Pherecydes.

These, then, are they who were called wise men; to which list some writers add the name of Pisistratus. But we must also speak of the philosophers. And we will begin first with the Ionic philosophy, the founder of which school was Thales, who was the master of Anaximander.

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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