Diogenes Laërtius  

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Diogenes Laërtius (fl. c. 3rd century), was a biographer of the Greek philosophers. Nothing is known about his life, but his surviving Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers is one of the principal surviving sources for the history of Greek philosophy.


Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers

The work by which he is known, 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. 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 exclaim that he wished that instead of one Laërtius there had been a dozen. On the other hand, modern scholars advise 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." Werner Jaeger damned him as 'that great ignoramus'.

Chiefly he is criticized for being overly concerned with superficial details of the philosophers' lives and lacking the intellectual capacity to explore their actual philosophical works with any penetration. However, according to statements of the 14th-century monk Walter Burley in his De vita et moribus philosophorum, the text of Diogenes seems to have been much fuller than that which we now possess.

Diogenes divides his subjects into two "schools" which he describes as the Ionian/Ionic and the Italian/Italic; the division is somewhat dubious and appears to be drawn from the lost doxography of Sotion. The biographies of the "Ionian school" begin with Anaximander and end with Clitomachus, Theophrastus and Chrysippus; the "Italian" 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.

It has been suggested that Diogenes was an Epicurean or a Skeptic. He passionately defends Epicurus in Book 10, which is of high quality and contains three long letters (attributed to Epicurus) explaining Epicurean doctrines. He is impartial to all schools (in the manner of the ancient skeptics), and he carries the succession of Pyrrhonism further than the other schools. At one point, he even seems to refer to the Skeptics as "our school." On the other hand, most of these points can be explained by the way he uncritically copies from his sources. It is by no means certain that he adhered to any school, and he is usually more attentive to biographical details.

In addition to the Lives, Diogenes was the author of a work in verse on famous men, in various metres.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Diogenes Laërtius" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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