Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- There are some who say that the study of philosophy had its beginning among the barbarians. They urge that the Persians have had their Magi, the Babylonians or Assyrians their Chaldaeans, and the Indians their Gymnosophists; and among the Celts and Gauls there are the people called Druids or Holy Ones, for which they cite as authorities the Magicus of Aristotle and Sotion in the twenty-third book of his Succession of Philosophers.
The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, was written in Greek and professes to give an account of the lives and sayings of the Greek philosophers. The work doesn't have an exact title in the manuscripts and appears in various lengthy forms.
Although it is at best an uncritical and unphilosophical compilation, its value, as giving us an insight into the private lives of the Greek sages, led Montaigne to write that he wished that instead of one Laërtius there had been a dozen. On the other hand, modern scholars have advised that we treat Diogenes' testimonia with care, especially when he fails to cite his sources.
Organization of the work
Laërtius treats his subject in two divisions which he describes as the Ionian and the Italian schools. The biographies of the former begin with Anaximander, and end with Clitomachus, Theophrastus and Chrysippus; the latter begins with Pythagoras, and ends with Epicurus. The Socratic school, with its various branches, is classed with the Ionic; while the Eleatics and sceptics are treated under the Italic. He also includes his own poetic verse, albeit pedestrian, about the philosophers he discusses.
The work contains incidental remarks on many other philosophers, and there are useful accounts concerning Hegesias, Anniceris, and Theodorus (Cyrenaics); Persaeus (Stoic); and Metrodorus and Hermarchus (Epicureans). Book VII is incomplete and breaks off during the life of Chrysippus. From a table of contents in one of the manuscripts (manuscript P), this book is known to have continued with Zeno of Tarsus, Diogenes, Apollodorus, Boethus, Mnesarchides, Mnasagoras, Nestor, Basilides, Dardanus, Antipater, Heraclides, Sosigenes, Panaetius, Hecato, Posidonius, Athenodorus, another Athenodorus, Antipater, Arius, and Cornutus. The whole of Book X is devoted to Epicurus, and contains three long letters written by Epicurus, which explain Epicurean doctrines.
His chief authorities were Favorinus and Diocles of Magnesia, but his work also draws (either directly or indirectly) on books by Antisthenes of Rhodes, Alexander Polyhistor, and Demetrius of Magnesia, as well as works by Hippobotus, Aristippus, Panaetius, Apollodorus, Sosicrates, Satyrus, Sotion, Neanthes, Hermippus, Antigonus, Heraclides, Hieronymus, and Pamphila From the statements of the pseudo-Burlaeus, in the 14th-century work De vita et moribus philosophorum, the text of Diogenes seems to have been much fuller than that which we now possess.