Philosophy:Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers

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Dionysiou monastery, codex 90, a 13th-century manuscript containing selections from Herodotus, Plutarch and (shown here) Diogenes Laertius

Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (Greek: Βίοι καὶ γνῶμαι τῶν ἐν φιλοσοφίᾳ εὐδοκιμησάντων; Latin: Vitae Philosophorum) is a biography of the Greek philosophers by Diogenes Laërtius, written in Greek, perhaps in the first half of the third century AD.


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.[1] On the other hand, modern scholars have advised that we treat Diogenes' testimonia with care, especially when he fails to cite his sources: "Diogenes has acquired an importance out of all proportion to his merits because the loss of many primary sources and of the earlier secondary compilations has accidentally left him the chief continuous source for the history of Greek philosophy".[2]

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.

Books 1–7: Ionian Philosophy
Book 1: The Seven Sages
Thales, Solon, Chilon, Pittacus, Bias, Cleobulus, Periander, Anacharsis, Myson, Epimenides, Pherecydes
Book 2: Socrates, with predecessors and followers
Anaximander, Anaximenes, Anaxagoras, Archelaus, Socrates, Xenophon, Aeschines, Aristippus, Phaedo, Euclides, Stilpo, Crito, Simon, Glaucon, Simmias, Cebes, Menedemus of Eretria
Book 3: Plato
Book 4: The Academy
Speusippus, Xenocrates, Polemo, Crates of Athens, Crantor, Arcesilaus, Bion, Lacydes, Carneades, Clitomachus
Book 5: The Peripatetics
Aristotle, Theophrastus, Strato, Lyco, Demetrius, Heraclides
Book 6: The Cynics
Antisthenes, Diogenes of Sinope, Monimus, Onesicritus, Crates of Thebes, Metrocles, Hipparchia, Menippus, Menedemus
Book 7: The Stoics
Zeno of Citium, Aristo, Herillus, Dionysius, Cleanthes, Sphaerus, Chrysippus
Books 8–10: Italian Philosophy
Book 8: Pythagoreans
Pythagoras, Empedocles, Epicharmus, Archytas, Alcmaeon, Hippasus, Philolaus, Eudoxus
Book 9: Uncategorized (Eleatics, Atomists, Skeptics, etc.)
Heraclitus, Xenophanes, Parmenides, Melissus, Zeno of Elea, Leucippus, Democritus, Protagoras, Diogenes of Apollonia, Anaxarchus, Pyrrho, Timon
Book 10: Epicurus

The work contains incidental remarks on many other philosophers, and there are useful accounts concerning Hegesias, Anniceris, and Theodorus (Cyrenaics);[3] Persaeus (Stoic);[4] and Metrodorus and Hermarchus (Epicureans).[5] 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 of Athens, Sosicrates, Satyrus, Sotion, Neanthes, Hermippus, Antigonus, Heraclides, Hieronymus, and Pamphila[6][7]

Manuscript editions

There are many extant manuscripts of the Lives, although none of them are especially old, and they all descend from a common ancestor, because they all lack the end of Book VII.[8] The three most useful manuscripts are known as B, P, and F. Manuscript B (Codex Borbonicus) dates from the 12th century, and is in the National Library of Naples.[lower-alpha 1] Manuscript P (Paris) is dated to the 11th/12th century, and is in the Bibliothèque nationale de France.[10] Manuscript F (Florence) is dated to the 13th century, and is in the Laurentian Library.[10] The titles for the individual biographies used in modern editions are absent from these earliest manuscripts, however they can be found inserted into the blank spaces and margins of manuscript P by a later hand.[10]

There seem to have been some early Latin translations, but they no longer survive. A 10th-century work entitled Tractatus de dictis philosophorum shows some knowledge of Diogenes.[11] Henry Aristippus, in the 12th century, is known to have translated at least some of the work into Latin, and in the 14th century an unknown author made use of a Latin translation for his De vita et moribus philosophorum[11] (attributed erroneously to Walter Burley).

Printed editions

Title page of an edition in Greek and Latin, 1594

The first printed editions were Latin translations. The first, Laertii Diogenis Vitae et sententiae eorum qui in philosophia probati fuerunt (Romae: Giorgo Lauer, 1472), printed the translation of Ambrogio Traversari (whose manuscript presentation copy to Cosimo de' Medici was dated February 8, 1433[12]) and was edited by Elio Francesco Marchese.[13] The Greek text of the lives of Aristotle and Theophrastus appeared in the third volume of the Aldine Aristotle in 1497. The first edition of the whole Greek text was that published by Hieronymus Froben in 1533.[14] The Greek/Latin edition of 1692 by Marcus Meibomius divided each of the ten books into paragraphs of equal length, and progressively numbered them, providing the system still in use today.[10]

The first critical edition of the entire text, by H.S. Long in the Oxford Classical Texts, was not produced until 1964;[8] this edition was superseded by Miroslav Marcovich's Teubner edition, published between 1999 and 2002. A new edition, by Tiziano Dorandi, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2013.[15]

English translations

The first complete English translation was a late 17th-century translation by ten different persons.[16] A better translation was made by Charles Duke Yonge (1853),[17] but although this was more literal, it still contained many inaccuracies.[18] The next translation was by Robert Drew Hicks (1925) for the Loeb Classical Library,[19] although it is slightly bowdlerized. A new translation by Pamela Mensch was published by Oxford University Press in 2018.[20]

See also

  • Lives of the Sophists
  • Mochus
  • Successions of Philosophers


  1. The statement by Robert Hicks (1925) that "the scribe obviously knew no Greek",[9] was later rejected by Herbert Long. The more recent opinion of Tiziano Dorandi, however, is that the scribe had "little knowledge of Greek ... and limited himself to reproducing it in a mechanical way exactly as he managed to decipher it". A few years later an "anonymous corrector" with good knowledge of Greek rectified "many errors or readings that, rightly or wrongly, he considered erroneous" (Dorandi 2013).


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