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THE LIVES AND OPINIONS OF EMINENT PHILOSOPHERS

BY DIOGENES LAERTIUS, TRANSLATED BY C.D. YONGE

LIFE OF POLEMO



I. POLEMO was the son of Philostratus, an Athenian, of the burgh of Aea. And when he was young, he was so very intemperate and profligate, that he used always to carry money about with him, to procure the instant gratification of his passions; and he used also to hide money in the narrow alleys, for this purpose. And once there was found in the Academy a piece of three obols, hidden against one of the columns, which he had put there for some purpose like that which I have indicated; and on one occasion he arranged beforehand with some young men, and rushed, adorned with a garland, and drunk, into the school of Xenocrates. But he took no notice of him, and continued his discourse as he had begun it, and it was in praise of temperance; and the young man, hearing it, was gradually charmed, and became so industrious, that he surpassed all the rest of the disciples, and himself became the successor of Xenocrates, in his school beginning in the hundred and sixteenth olympiad.

II. And Antigonus, of Carystus, says in his Lives, that his father had been the chief man of the city, and had kept chariots for the Olympic games.

III. He also asserts that Polemo was prosecuted by his wife, on the charge of ill-treatment, because he indulged in illicit pleasures, and despised her.

IV. But that when he began to devote himself to philosophy, he adopted such a rigorous system of morals, that he for the future always continued the same in appearance, and never even changed his voice, on which account Crantor was charmed by him. Accordingly, on one occasion, when a dog was mad and had bitten his leg, he was the only person who did not turn pale; and once, when there was a great confusion in the city, he, having heard the cause, remained where he was without fleeing. In the theatres too he was quite immoveable; accordingly, when Nicostratus the poet, who was surnamed Clytaemnestra, was once reading something to him and Crates, the latter was excited to sympathy, he behaved as though he heard nothing. And altogether, he was such as Melanthius, the painter, describes in his treatise on Painting; for he says that some kind of obstinacy and harshness ought to exist in works of art as in morals.

And Polemo used to say that a man ought to exercise himself in action, and not in dialectic speculations, as if one had drunk in and dwelt upon a harmonious kind of system of art, so as to be admired for one's shrewdness, in putting questions; but to be inconsistent with one's self in character. He was, then, a well-bred and high-spirited man, avoiding what Aristophanes says of Euripides, speeches of vinegar and assafoetida, such as he says himself:

Are base delights compared with better things?

V. And he did not use to lecture on the propositions before him while sitting down; but he would walk about, it is said, and so discuss them. And he was much honoured in the city because of his noble sentiments; and after he had been walking about, he would rest in his garden; and his pupils erected little cabins near it, and dwelt near his school and corridor.

VI. And as it seems, Polemo imitated Xenocrates in everything; and Aristippus, in the fourth book of his treatise on Ancient Luxury, says that Xenocrates loved him; at all events, Polemo used to be always speaking of him, and praising his guileless nature, and his rigorous virtues, and his chaste severity, like that of a Doric building.

VII. He was also very fond of Sophocles, and especially of those passages where, according to one of the comic poets, he seemed to have had a Molossian hound for his colleague in composing his poems; and when there was, to use the expression of Phrynichus:

No sweet or washy liquor, but purest Pramnian wine.

And he used to say that Homer was an epic Sophocles, and Sophocles a tragic Homer.

VIII. And he died when he was very old, of decline, having left behind him a great number of writings. And there is this epigram of ours upon him:--

Do you not hear, we've buried Polemo,
Whom sickness, worst affliction of mankind
Attacked, and bore off to the shades below;
Yet Polemo lies not here, but Polemo's body,
And that he did himself place here on earth,
Prepared in soul to mount up to the skies.









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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