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Diogenes Laertius: Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Volume II, Books 6-10…

by Diogenes Laertius

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Here are the ancient philosophers. Their biographies encapsulates their positions on reality. Wonderful read, but should not be used as a shortcut to reading their works. ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
On the Importance of Gossip

This is yet another Loeb book where I have shamefully lost the companion volume! This is volume II of the 'Lives of Eminent Philosophers' and it has, among many others, sections on Pythagoras, Parmenides, Heraclitus, Zeno, Epicurus and Diogenes - this last is the philosopher-cynic, not our author Diogenes Laertius, who is really little more than a sophisticated gossip. But actually, that is more than a little harsh, this collection of anecdotes is not only fun but it gives us information that is often only mentioned by our author, D. Laertius. Unfortunately, without confirmation, much of what he testifies to is either not accepted or, at the very least, open to question. But for those of us interested in the philosophers, and the relations between them and their ways of philosophizing, this book really is both educational and entertaining.

For instance, on Diogenes (the philosopher-cynic, not our author, the gossip) we read, "Being reproached with begging when Plato did not beg, 'Oh yes,' says he [that is, Diogenes the Philosopher says] 'he does, but when he does so -He holds his head down close, that none may hear.'" It seems that many of the first generation of 'Socratics' were contemptuous of what might be best described as Plato's (ahem) 'kowtowing' to popular opinion. 'Begging' here means (probably) Plato's attempt to influence the City and its Nomos. For many of the other Socratics there was on the one hand Philosophy and there was on the other hand Law (Nomos) and never the two shall meet. But Plato, through his cautious writing, intends to 'influence' the City in order to make it more philosophical - or, at the very least, more friendly to philosophy. Recall that Kojeve once remarked (something to the effect) that once Socrates set foot and began speaking in the marketplace modernity itself becomes inevitable. We always need to add that this supposed 'inevitability' vanishes entirely if Plato chose to live like the philosopher Diogenes did...

But the squabbles and banter between the Socratics Diogenes and Plato can be quite interesting:

"Others tell us that what Diogenes said was, 'I trample upon the pride of Plato,' who retorted, 'Yes Diogenes, with pride of another sort'."

To Plato, who had given him more than he asked, Diogenes said, "So, it seems, you neither give as you are asked nor answer as you are questioned."

"As Plato was conversing about Ideas using the nouns 'tablehood' and 'cuphood,' he said, 'Table and cup I see; but your tablehood and cuphood, Plato, I can nowise see.' 'That's readily accounted for,' said Plato, 'for you have the eyes to see the visible table and cup; but not the understanding by which ideal tablehood and cuphood are discerned'."

So we see that Diogenes is not ready to follow Plato into his Ideal world. Diogenes questions, as he did obliquely in our first quote above, the 'honesty' of Plato. It seems that Plato is 'purposefully' unclear. And keep in mind that it isn't only Diogenes who thinks so. Epicurus goes so far as to refer to Plato's school as 'the toadies of Dionysius'!

Nietzsche has a wonderful comment on this remark of Epicurus that might be apposite here:

How malicious philosophers can be! I know of nothing more venomous than the joke Epicurus permitted himself against Plato and the Platonists; he called them Dionysiokolakes. That means literally - and this is the foreground meaning -"flatterers of Dionysius," in other words, tyrant's baggage and lickspittles; but addition to this he also wants to say, "they are all actors, there is nothing genuine about them" (for Dionysiokolax was a popular name for an actor). And the latter is really the malice that Epicurus aimed at Plato: he was peeved by the grandiose manner, the mise en scene at which Plato and his disciples were so expert - at which Epicurus was not an expert - he, that old schoolmaster from Samos who sat, hidden away, in his little garden at Athens and wrote three hundred books - who knows? perhaps from rage and ambition against Plato? It took a hundred years until Greece found out who this garden god, Epicurus, had been - did they find out? (Beyond Good & Evil, Section 7)

So you see, the 'malicious' little joke by Epicurus that D. Laertius mentions in his 'Lives' (and the pride that aimed the remark) were worth a comment by a philosopher of the stature of Nietzsche. The joke, btw, is that Plato flattered the powerful by 'acting' (i.e., writing) in a manner they would consider both flattering and wise; and thus, hopefully, influencing the behavior of the powerful by the wise. It is in this manner that the few dozen dialogues of Plato began a tendency in Philosophy that results in, as Kojeve said, our 'enlightened' modernity.

You see what clues are available even in the gossip that has grown up around the philosophers! One stands in awe of how different the world would be if Plato had followed Diogenes and lived like a dog... ( )
  pomonomo2003 | Jan 26, 2007 |
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Diogenes Laertiusprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hicks, R. D.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0674992040, Hardcover)

This rich compendium on the lives and doctrines of philosophers ranges over three centuries, from Thales to Epicurus (to whom the whole tenth book is devoted); 45 important figures are portrayed. Diogenes Laertius carefully compiled his information from hundreds of sources and enriches his accounts with numerous quotations.

Diogenes Laertius lived probably in the earlier half of the 3rd century CE, his ancestry and birthplace being unknown. His history, in ten books, is divided unscientifically into two 'Successions' or sections: 'Ionian' from Anaximander to Theophrastus and Chrysippus, including the Socratic schools; 'Italian' from Pythagoras to Epicurus, including the Eleatics and sceptics. It is a very valuable collection of quotations and facts.

The Loeb Classical Library edition of Diogenes Laertius is in two volumes.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:44:40 -0400)

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