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59 Connors (1998) 5.
132 victori a ri me ll
nostalgic regression and recontextualisation, but experimental reordering
and rewriting “ and I have tried to show that this is also precisely what we
are made to engage in as readers in recalling a series of previous episodes in
the text, only to have to reweigh our ¬rst impressions. The past comes back
to haunt us, just as it does for the freedmen, and for Encolpius himself,
whose scrapes and af¬‚ictions are all apparently retributions for his initial
error of offending Priapus.
To conclude, if we learn anything from the Satyricon, it is lessons we
have been forced to teach ourselves. This is an encyclopedia conspicuously
devoid of expertise, authority and prescription of any kind, disabling any
attempt to resolve whether it re¬‚ects, enacts or opposes the decline, corrup-
tion and transformation in contemporary education to which it frequently
refers. Instead, the brilliant prank of extended ¬rst-person narration has the
effect of situating readers inside that ¬ctional world, in the hull of Eumol-
pus™ sinking Neronian ship “ buffeted on one ¬‚ank by the literary storms of
old, on the other by the seditious poetics of civil war. Putting knowledge up
for sale makes for a participatory kind of reading “ the Satyricon lets us taste
˜Neronian excess™ up close. And in many ways, Amazon™s recent sales-pitch
for Schott™s Miscellany (˜every toilet should have one™) also captures this text
to the tee, as a liberating mish-mash aptly focused on bodily process, tai-
lored to both bitty sampling and lengthier rumination. But when Petronius
vandalises literary memory (and the pedagogic systems underpinning its
construction), he ensures that his elite readership can never be immune to
the limitations and snares built into hyper-creativity: those already occluded
from positions of (creative) power are exposed to uncensored rearrangings
of their world, while the tyrant/author swaps Callimachean exclusivity for
anxieties of ownership. Trimalchio™s clownish alibi (stupidity) cleaves plenty
of space for escapist experimentation “ but not without its risks.
chapter 6

Diogenes La¨rtius, biographer of philosophy
James Warren

˜Tell them I™ve had a wonderful life.™
L. Wittgenstein

One way to ˜organise knowledge™ is to write a history of a discipline or
area of study, tracing its development from its origins to its present state.
By choosing what to include and what to exclude the author of such a
history delimits that area of knowledge and makes clear those ¬gures or
groups thought to have contributed to its development, and arranges them
in a way which presents their relationship to one another as practitioners
or inquirers into this area of study.
Philosophy, a notoriously dif¬cult practice to de¬ne, attracts organisers
and history-writers. Philosophers themselves have always been interested in
the history of philosophy. That is not to say, of course, that they always agree
about how one ought to be interested in the history of philosophy. Charac-
teristically, they ask questions about the history of philosophy. First, should
philosophy essentially be concerned with its own history? Is an awareness
of the history of philosophy essential to one™s being a philosopher and
being engaged in thinking philosophically?1 (Some philosophers are inter-
ested in the history of philosophy only to the extent of actively dismissing
it as relevant to what they do as philosophers). Secondly, what ought to
count as the history of philosophy? Should the history of philosophy be
narrowly conceived as the history of a certain agreed set of philosophical
problems and how they have been addressed by a certain agreed set of
philosophers?2 Or should the history of philosophy be expanded to cover a

My thanks to Jason K¨ nig, David Sedley, Tim Whitmarsh, and the readers for the Press for their
comments on earlier versions of this essay.
1 See Taylor (1984).
2 Cf. R´e (1978) 21 who argues well against the approach exempli¬ed by, for example, Russell (1961):
˜The “historical approach” offered by the History of Philosophy simply means discussing positions

134 j a me s wa rre n
wider scope, embracing ˜intellectual history™ more broadly conceived, the
various intellectual, social and cultural trends which affect and are affected
by philosophical ideas? Thirdly, if one is engaged in studying the history of
philosophy “ whatever that is thought to be “ must one be a philosopher
oneself? Is the history of philosophy itself a philosophical discipline?3 (One
would not insist, I suppose, that an historian of medicine ought to be a
These questions are outlined here as a background against which I will
consider the practice of one historian of ancient philosophy, indeed an
ancient historian of philosophy: Diogenes La¨rtius. Diogenes™ importance
as a source for those working on the history of ancient philosophy has
never been in doubt, but his credentials as a philosophical historian have
not been so universally accepted. Often, Diogenes is praised for the virtue of
having collected and ordered information from other, mainly Hellenistic,
sources, and is thanked for his compilation but excused for his lack of
philosophical acumen.4 Of course, such damning criticism of his approach
is possible only once we have established some more concrete answers to
the sorts of questions with which I began, questions about how the history
of philosophy ought to be written. I make no effort to do that here. In
any case, although I cannot attempt to articulate fully and defend the view
here, I suspect that there is no single de¬nitive or superior conception of
how the history of philosophy ought to be written. Rather, I will ask why
Diogenes wrote as he did. What does the organisation of the work tell us
about his conception of philosophy and its history? My central contention
will be that Diogenes™ work is an example of one way of writing and
conceiving the history of philosophy “ in terms of biography. But he does
not limit himself to telling the life-stories of philosophers; he also wishes
to construct from these philosophers™ lives the ˜life-story™ of philosophy

in the chronological order in which they happen to have been occupied by Great Philosophers and
adding a little human interest by sketching something of the lives of the Philosophers; it does not
mean discussing the history of the positions themselves™. Rorty (1984) 61“7 is similarly critical of this
approach, which he calls ˜doxography™ (a term which I will reserve for a particular ancient genre). He
identi¬es a mistaken belief that ˜philosophers™ and ˜philosophical questions™ are two natural kinds.
Compare Frede (1992) 323“5 on ˜historical™ and ˜philosophical™ historiographies of philosophy.
3 See Aubenque (1992) and Brunschwig (1992). Further thoughts are offered by Barnes (2002).
4 E.g., Mejer (1978) 1: ˜Indeed, nobody would deny that it is more appalling to imagine what the
history of Greek philosophy would look like if Diogenes was our primary source than to think of
what we would know without Diogenes.™ Cf. Rorty (1984) 62: ˜Diogenes La¨rtius gave doxography
a bad name by insisting on answering the question “What did X think the good was?” for every X in
an antecedently formulated canon.™
Diogenes La¨rtius, biographer of philosophy
e 135

When thinking about composing his work Diogenes was faced with a con-
siderable range of options. There were examples available of a number of
different approaches to writing about philosophical history. Earlier philoso-
phers had themselves demonstrated an interest in previous philosophies and
some even set out to picture themselves and their place in relation to what
had gone before. In particular, in addition to his lost work On philosophy
(perª jilosoj©av), Aristotle is often keen at the beginning of his physi-
cal and metaphysical treatises to offer reviews of his predecessors™ views in
order “ in the main “ to show their failings and his innovations.5 This
is a critical engagement with one™s predecessors, not a purely ˜historical™
enterprise, but it does view philosophy as having a past and also sees phi-
losophy in terms of gradual development, if not progress.6 Later there arose
the practice we now, after Diels, call doxography, or the Placita-tradition:
the collection and presentation of different philosophers™ opinions on a
particular range of topics. This offers a more static view. The philoso-
phers™ views are listed without criticism or discussion and, although they
sometimes appear in chronological order, the intention is not to describe a
development but to present a range of opinions on a given topic.7
Two more kinds of work should be added “ the biography and the
˜successional list™ (diadochˆ, diadocž). These two enjoyed a vogue in the
Hellenistic period, from which most of Diogenes™ sources derive (and, it
must be noted, our knowledge of them is to a large extent founded on
what is preserved in Diogenes). Diogenes is by no means unique in writing
philosophical biographies. (Indeed, philosophers have even been known to
write autobiographies).8 Even in his general interest in the lifestyle of these
philosophers, in particular in their unorthodox and unusual behaviour,
Diogenes is following a strong literary and artistic tradition stretching back

5 See especially the opening books of the Physics, De anima, and Metaphysics. Aristotle™s own credentials
as a historian of philosophy were famously challenged by Cherniss (1935), (1944). Guthrie (1957) offers
a critical response.
6 See especially Metaph. 982b11ff. It would be misleading to think, of course, that Plato did not engage
with his predecessors in a similarly critical fashion, but his choice of the dialogue form crucially
affects how this engagement is presented. See, e.g., McCabe (2000).
7 See, of course, Diels (1879) and Mansfeld and Runia (1997).
8 For example, see the successful biographies of Russell and Wittgenstein by Ray Monk: Monk (1990),
(1996), (2000). See Monk (2001), (2002) for his views on philosophical biography. For philosophers™
autobiographies see, e.g., Russell (1967“9) and, more recently, Warnock (2000), Honderich (2001),
McGinn (2003).
136 j a me s wa rre n
at least to the classical period. The genre of biography, of poets, states-
men and intellectuals of all kinds, can be traced back at least as far as the
¬fth century bce, and persisted as a popular form of writing throughout
classical antiquity. Diogenes himself had various models of such writing
to consider, from Xenophon™s Agesilaos, through the works of Antigonus
of Carystus and Philodemus, through to Plutarch and Philostratus.9 His
models could therefore be found not only among Hellenistic writers con-
temporary with the sources for much of his philosophical information, but
also among writers “ such as Philostratus “ closer to his own time, which we
can roughly date to the early third century ce. Biography, therefore, is not
a method of writing con¬ned to Diogenes™ own age, or even recent past.
Nor is Diogenes the ¬rst to write biographies of philosophers. Nevertheless,
however much his biographies sit squarely in the general ancient tradition
of using anecdotal episodes to re¬‚ect and illustrate the particular literary or
intellectual output of the individual in question,10 Diogenes is neverthe-
less perhaps unusual in concentrating solely on philosophers and solely on
the biographies of philosophers. For example, Antigonus of Carystus, the
source of much of Diogenes™ biographical information, did not solely write
biographies of philosophers, producing in addition works on art history,
an On animals, and an On diction (perª l”xewn).11 In contrast, Diogenes,
so far as we know, wrote only about philosophers, whether in his work on
their lives or in his poetry. His interests are quite speci¬c and he excludes
other intellectual pursuits “ poetry, oratory, mathematics, medicine and so
on “ from his history. In philosophy, Diogenes found something for which
the biographical mode of writing ¬tted perfectly. It allows him to concen-
trate both on the peculiar nature of those who practise philosophy (since
philosophers behave differently and look different from non-philosophers)
but also allowed a way of explaining the history and transmission of that
The second kind of work, the successional list (diadochˆ), is another
form of categorisation of philosophical traditions. Sometimes containing
chronological or biographical information and anecdote, in their most
concise form they appear as a simple line of philosophers which proceeds
chronologically, each link in the chain being cast in terms of master“pupil
relationships. The motivations for composing such lists are diverse. They are
not only the product of Hellenistic scholarship trying to organise previous
9 10 See the discussion in Fairweather (1974).
See Momigliano (1993).
11 The best recent treatment of Antigonus is the introduction to Dorandi (1999).
12 See, e.g., Pl. Tht. 174a4“176a1. For depictions of philosophers in ancient art see Zanker (1995).
Compare the photographic portraits of modern philosophers by Pyke (1993).
Diogenes La¨rtius, biographer of philosophy
e 137
philosophical history but also owe a great deal to the Hellenistic schools™
own desire to fashion for themselves an antique and venerable philosophical
It is clear, therefore, that Diogenes was offered a series of paradigms for
works of philosophical history and his own work is clearly indebted to each
of these different forms to some degree. The imprint of a variety of previous
methods of organising, understanding and presenting the philosophical
past can be seen very clearly throughout the work.
The imprint of the successional literature is evident in Diogenes™ organ-
isation of the work into two distinct lineages, the ˜Ionian™ and the ˜Italian™
(1.13“15) and in the constant refrain at the beginning of each Life which gives
some combination of the philosopher™s toponym, patronym and philosoph-
ical master, the last introduced often by the verb ˆko…ein or di†kouein, (˜to
listen to™, ˜be a student of™) a favourite of the writers of diadochai.14 He also
includes some more narrowly de¬ned doxographical sections, notably the
long exposition of Stoic philosophy (7.39“160).15
Since it bears the unmistakable signs of the use of and dependence on
all these different kinds of earlier works of philosophical history and cat-
egorisation, Diogenes™ work is a treasury for those who like to indulge in
Quellenforschung, encouraged no doubt by Diogenes™ willingness to name
his sources. Beyond this mining of the text, no one who cares to think
about Diogenes himself would deny that he combines successional litera-
ture™s interest in philosophical lineages with biography™s interest in colourful
anecdotes which supposedly illustrate the philosopher and his outlook. But
this is about as far as many writers on Diogenes have been prepared to ven-
ture, leaving him as the culmination and combination of a number of other
traditions of works which survive only in piecemeal fashion. If Diogenes is
accorded any credit at all it is as someone who attempted an amalgamation
of these forms and he is to be thanked for preserving information which
would otherwise have been lost.16

13 On the diadochai see von Kienle (1961), Giannantoni (1981) and Giannattasio Andria (1989). There
are discussions of Diogenes™ use of such works and whether he had access to the original full version
of, e.g., Sotion, in Mejer (1978) 62“81 and Aronadio (1990). Cf. Desbordes (1990) vol. i, 7“46.
14 4.24: ˜Crantor of Soli was admired in his own country but moved to Athens to study under Xenocrates
as a fellow student of Polemon™. For other examples see: 6.20“21 (Diogenes the Cynic), 7.2 (Zeno
of Citium), 9.21 (Parmenides).
15 Diog. Laert. 7.38: ˜I decided to give a general account of all the Stoic doctrines in the Life of Zeno
since he was the founder of this school™.
16 See, e.g., Mejer (1978) 1“2, who tries to defend Diogenes against the accusation of being a poor
historian of Greek philosophy, not by asking what sort of history this is but by denying that it is
a history of philosophy at all. Cf. Giannattasio Andria (1989) 28. The closest cousin to Diogenes™
work is Philodemus™ contribution to the history of philosophy, the Index of philosophers, s…ntaxiv
138 j a me s wa rre n

Let us try to begin from an alternative starting-point. Faced with this
range of possibilities, Diogenes must have made an active decision to offer
a work in the form that he did. Even if he is an amalgamator of some
sort, his amalgamation was surely designed for some end and not merely
the product of someone led by a peculiar curiosity for a peculiar group “
philosophers “ and their peculiar lives.17 What might that end be?
There are major dif¬culties to be faced in answering this question. Above
all, Diogenes is not an author who makes his own presence felt strongly
within the text. He gives no indication of his own biography, where he is
working, or any personal philosophical allegiance.18 There is relatively little
¬rst-personal intervention within the work. Diogenes offers no program-
matic explanation of why he has written this work, nor does he offer any
detailed explanation of why the work has taken the form it has, instead
launching immediately into a discussion of some other authors™ mistaken
view that philosophy ¬rst emerged among the non-Greeks.19 Rather, his
own personal intervention within the work is limited in the main to the
short epigrams which he sometimes offers on particular philosophers, and
only occasionally will he offer his own view on matters of philosophical
history or comment on the plausibility or otherwise of the information he

t¤n jilos»jwn, referred to by Diogenes himself at 10.3. This work, or group of works, contained
the Index academicorum (PHerc. 1021 and 164; see Gaiser (1988), Dorandi (1991)), the Index stoicorum
(PHerc. 1018; see Dorandi (1994)) and perhaps others. For an overview see Dorandi (1990) and
Arrighetti (2003). It is clear from the less fragmentary works that they share with Diogenes an
interest in biographical anecdote as well as philosophical tradition. Philodemus often uses the same
source as Diogenes. See, e.g., their use of Antigonus of Carystus as a source for the story of Polemo™s
conversion, discussed in Warren (2002) 161“3. Cf. Gigante (1986) 25“34.
17 So, Mejer (1992) 3561.
18 The fact that Diogenes concludes with a book dedicated to Epicurus has been seen by some as an
indication of an Epicurean allegiance, but this is not necessary. There is also the famous address to a
certain ˜lover of Plato™ at 3.47, but this person cannot be securely identi¬ed. See Goulet (1999) 45“6
and Desbordes (1990) vol. i, 316“32.
Diog. Laert. 1.1: ˜Some say that the business of philosophy originated among barbarians™ (t¼ t¦v
jilosoj©av ›rgon ›nio© jasin ˆp¼ barb†rwn Šrxai).
20 E.g., Diog. Laert. 2.45: ˜I think Socrates also talked about natural philosophy, since he talks about
providence too, as even Xenophon says, who nevertheless also says Socrates talked only about ethics™.
Mejer (1978) 55 collects seventeen occasions on which Diogenes comments directly on his sources.
On Diogenes™ poetry see Mejer (1978) 46“50, Gigante (1986) 34“44, Goulet-Caz´ (1999) 16“17. His
poetical work had at least two books (1.39, 63) of poems in various metres which may have been
exclusively about philosophers (a more complimentary version, perhaps, of Timon of Phlius™ Silloi
“ which Diogenes also ¬nds room to cite). Critics have in general been unimpressed by Diogenes™
poetic abilities, a reaction he perhaps anticipated: see his remarks at 4.15.
Diogenes La¨rtius, biographer of philosophy
e 139
In constructing Diogenes™ approach to writing the history of philosophy,
therefore, and in the absence of strong authorial signposts within the text,
we are for the most part left looking at the form, content and organisation
of the work itself.
First, the title of the work can offer some clues.21
Diogenes La¨rtius: Lives and Opinions of the eminent philosophers and a brief
collection of the views of each school. (Index in Parisinus graecus 1759)22
The title promises a dual exposition of philosophers™ lives and thoughts,
bioi and gnˆmai. Diogenes is interested not merely in events and facts
about the individuals™ lives but also in what sets them apart as philoso-
phers, namely the thoughts and theories they propounded. Of course, a
strict separation between these two aspects is not possible: the anecdotes
offered about the philosophers are intended to illustrate and re¬‚ect that
person™s view of the world, their values and outlook. Clearly, philosophers™
lives are different because philosophers view the world differently. This
is the premise behind Diogenes™ biographical interest, and is what makes
biography a viable method for the presentation of philosophical history.23
To be a philosopher is to live one™s life in a certain way. Philosophy is a
kind of life, a b©ov.24
Secondly, we should again notice that Diogenes was perfectly aware that
he could have chosen other methods of arranging his material. First we
have a brief presentation of the contents of the work (1.13“15): the seven
(plus four)25 sages, the Ionian school founded by Anaximander, pupil of
Thales, which ends with Clitomachus (of the Academy), Chrysippus (of the
Stoa) and Theophrastus (of the Lyceum), and the Italian school, founded
by Pythagoras, which ends with Epicurus. But then Diogenes offers other
classi¬catory modes (1.16“18). Philosophers could be sorted into dogmatists
and sceptics,26 or into those who left writings and those who did not (and

21 I use Marcovich™s text. The inscriptio to book 1 has similar wording. Cf. Dorandi (1992).
Laert(©ou) Diog”nouv b©oi kaª gn¤(mai) t¤n –n jilo[soj©aƒ] eÉdokimhs†ntwn kai t¤n –n –k†sth
a«r”sei ˆresk»ntwn –n –pit»mwƒ sunagwgž.
. . . ..
23 Gigante (1986) 17 terms this ˜biodoxography™.
24 Cf. LSJ s.v. ii. A recent provocative discussion of the relationship between a modern professional
philosopher™s philosophy and his life is offered by Honderich (2001), particularly in the coda to his
autobiography. Cf. Conant (2001).
25 Diogenes also includes Lives of Anacharsis, Myson, Pherecydes and Epimenides. Peisistratus,
included in the list by ˜some™, does not receive a separate Life but appears as a correspondent in
the Life of Solon.
26 Compare a similar classi¬cation in Sext. Emp. Pyr. 1.4. However, Sextus includes among the dog-
matists those who hold the view that things are unknowable (ˆkat†lhpta), Diogenes™ sceptics,
contrasting these with Pyrrhonists who ˜suspend judgement™.
140 j a me s wa rre n
those who did leave writings can be further organised in order of the number
of their publications),27 or into how the particular school is named, or even
according to their interest in the distinct parts of philosophy: physics,
ethics and dialectic.28 This is not simply the sign of Diogenes™ interest
in classi¬catory schemes;29 Diogenes™ mention of these possibilities serves
to emphasise his own particular choice of biographical and successional
presentation. In contrast to these other methods, Diogenes™ approach will
be resolutely diachronic: the history of philosophy from its origins to its
This is what the reader might indeed expect given the opening of the
work. Here, the concern is clearly about the origin of philosophy, its birth-
place. ˜Some say that the business of philosophy began with the barbarians™
(1.1). In fact, Diogenes goes to some lengths to explicate this view, citing
various authorities for the notion that philosophy arose in Persia, Assyria,
Egypt and the like. He considers carefully the claims of Orpheus the Thra-
cian to be a philosopher, and also the apparent positive result of this theory
of barbarian origins, namely its ability to explain the various forms of ˜phi-
losophy™ in different peoples since, presumably, its multiple origins among
different cultures would produce a diversity of forms of intellectual life
and inquiry which are nevertheless suf¬ciently related to one another to
be recognisable as philosophy. Still, although he is prepared to outline this
view, Diogenes sets out to correct the various authorities who have sought
to defend it.
But these people forget the excellent deeds30 of the Greeks, from whom not only
philosophy but also the human race began, assigning them instead to the barbar-
ians. (1.3)31
Diogenes later, famously, offers as evidence of the Greek-ness of philosophy
the purported fact that the Greek word for ˜philosophy™, jilosoj©a, cannot

27 Chrysippus wins, beating Epicurus, Aristotle and Democritus. The catalogue of Chrysippus™ works
is at Diog. Laert. 7.189“202. At 10.26“7, however, Epicurus is ˜very proli¬c™ (polugrajÛtatov)
and it is said that Chrysippus expressly set out to outdo him, resorting even to repeating himself in
multiple works.
28 Archelaus, Socrates™ teacher, marks a chronological turning-point in this respect. Socrates inaugurated
a primary interest in ethics rather than physics (1.18, 2.21). Diogenes is willing to point out that neat
divisions are not so easy to make. At 2.16 he agrees that Archelaus did some ethical thinking too.
29 Pace Mejer (1978) 52.
katorqÛmata is a word borrowed from Stoic ethical terminology. Diogenes™ choice of vocabulary
reinforces his claim for the achievements of Greek philosophical thought.
lanq†nousi d ¬ aÉtoÆv t‡ t¤n «Ellžnwn katorqÛmata, ˆj ¬ ¦n mŸ ‚ti ge jilosoj©a, ˆll‡ kaª
g”nov ˆnqrÛpwn §rxe, barb†roiv pros†ptontev.
Diogenes La¨rtius, biographer of philosophy
e 141
be translated into any other language (1.4).32 To be sure, this can be seen as
part of an ongoing concern with cultural possessions and more speci¬cally
with a restatement of a speci¬cally Greek intellectual heritage. But it also
can be seen as part of more speci¬c concerns. First, the origin of philosophy
had been a contested topic. Jewish and Christian writers, for example, had

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