The lives and opinions of eminent philosophers

By Diogeners Laertius

I. THEOPHRASTUS was a native of Eresus, the son of Melantas, a fuller, as we are told by Athenodorus in the eighth book of his Philosophical Conversations.

II. He was originally a pupil of Leucippus, his fellow citizen, in his own country; and subsequently, after having attended the lectures of Plato, he went over to Aristotle. And when he withdrew to Chalcis, he succeeded him as president of his school, in the hundred and fourteenth Olympiad.

III. It is also said that a slave of his, by name Pomphylus, was a philosopher, as we are told by Myronianus of Amastra, in the first book of Similar Historical Chapters.

IV. Theophrastus was a man of great acuteness and industry, and, as Pamphila asserts in the thirty-second book of her Commentaries, he was the tutor of Menandar, the comic poet. He was also a most benevolent man, and very affable.

V. Accordingly, Cassander received him as a friend; and Ptolemy sent to invite him to his court. And he was thought so very highly of at Athens, that when Agonides ventured to impeach him on a charge of impiety, he was very nearly fined for his hardihood. And there thronged to his school a crowd of disciples to the number of two thousand. In his letter to Phanias, the Peripatetic, among other subjects he speaks of the court of justice in the following terms: "It is not only out of the question to find an assembly (panêgyrus), but it is not easy to find even a company (synedrion) such as one would like; but yet recitations produce corrections of the judgment. And my age does not allow me to put off everything and to feel indifference on such a subject." In this letter he speaks of himself as one who devotes his whole leisure to learning.

And though he was of this disposition, he nevertheless went away for a short time, both he and all the rest of the philosophers, in consequence of Sophocles, the son of Amphiclides, having brought forward and carried a law that no one of the philosophers should preside over a school unless the council and the people had passed a resolution to sanction their doing so, if they did, death was to be the penalty. But they returned again the next year, when Philion had impeached Sophocles for illegal conduct; when the Athenians abrogated his law, and fined Sophocles five talents, and voted that the philosophers should have leave to return, that Theophrastus might return and preside over his school as before.

VI. His name had originally been Tyrtanius, but Aristotle changed it to Theophrastus, from the divine character of his eloquence.( From theios divine and phrasis diction.)

VII. He is said also to have been very much attached to Aristotle's son, Nicomachus, although he was his master; at least, this is stated by Aristippus in the fourth book of his treatise on the Ancient Luxury.

VIII. It is also related that Aristotle used the same expression about him and Callisthenes, which Plato, as I have previously mentioned, employed about Xenocrates and Aristotle himself. For he is reported to have said, since Theophrastus was a man of extraordinary acuteness, who could both comprehend and explain everything, and as the other was somewhat slow in his natural character, that Theophrastus required a bridle, and Callisthenes a spur.

IX. It is said, too, that he had a garden of his own after the death of Aristotle, by the assistance of Demetrius Phalerius, who was an intimate friend of his.

X. The following very practical apophthegms of his are quoted. He used to say that it was better to trust to a horse without a bridle than to a discourse without arrangement. And once, when a man preserved a strict silence during the whole of a banquet, he said to him, "If you are an ignorant man, you are acting wisely; but if you have had any education, you are behaving like a fool." And a very favourite expression of his was, that time was the most valuable thing that a man could spend.

XI. He died when he was of a great age, having lived eighty-five years, when he had only rested from his labours a short time. And we have composed the following epigram on him:

The proverb then is not completely false,
That wisdom's bow unbent is quickly broken;
While Theophrastus laboured, he kept sound,
When he relaxed, he lost his strength and died.

They say that on one occasion, when dying, he was asked by his disciples whether he had any charge to give them; and he replied, that he had none but that they should "remember that life holds out many pleasing deceits to us by the vanity of glory; for that when we are beginning to live, then we are dying. There is, therefore, nothing more profitless than ambition. But may you all be fortunate, and either abandon philosophy (for it is a great labour), or else cling to it diligently, for then the credit of it is great; but the vanities of life exceed the advantage of it. However, it is not requisite for me now to advise you what you should do; but do you yourselves consider what line of conduct to adopt." And when he had said this, as report goes, he expired. And the Athenians accompanied him to the grave, on foot, with the whole population of the city, as it is related, honouring the man greatly.

XII. But Favorinus says, that when he was very old he used to go about in a litter; and that Hermippus states this, quoting Arcesilaus, the Pitanaean, and the account which he sent to Lacydes of Cyrene.

XIII. He also left behind him a very great number of works, of which I have thought it proper to give a list on account of their being full of every sort of excellence. They are as follows:

Three books of the First Analytics; seven of the Second Analytics; one book of the Analysis of Syllogisms; one book, an Epitome of Analytics; two books, Topics for referring things to First Principles; one book, an Examination of Speculative Questions about Discussions; one on Sensations; one addressed to Anaxagoras; one on the Doctrines of Anaxagoras; one on the Doctrines of Anaximenes; one on the Doctrines of Archelaus; one on Salt, Nitre, and Alum; two on Petrifactions; one on Indivisible Lines; two on Hearing; one on Words; one on the Differences between Virtues; one on Kingly Power; one on the Education of a King; three on Lives; one on Old Age; one on the Astronomical System of Democritus; one on Meteorology; one on Images or Phantoms; one on Juices, Complexions, and Flesh; one on the Description of the World; one on Men; one, a Collection of the Sayings of Diogenes; three books of Definitions; one treatise on Love; another treatise on Love; one book on Happiness; two books on Species; on Epilepsy, one; on Enthusiasm, one; on Empedocles, one; eighteen books of Epicheiremes; three books of Objections; one book on the Voluntary; two books, being an Abridgment of Plato's Polity; one on the Difference of the Voices of Similar Animals; one on Sudden Appearances; one on Animals which Bite or Sting; one on such Animals as are said to be Jealous; one on those which live on Dry Land; one on those which Change their Colour; one on those which live in Holes; seven on Animals in General; one on Pleasure according to the Definition of Aristotle; seventy-four books of Propositions; one treatise on Hot and Cold; one essay on Giddiness and Vertigo and Sudden Dimness of Sight; one on Perspiration; one on Affirmation and Denial; the Callisthenes, or an essay on Mourning, one; on Labours, one; on Motion, three; on Stones, one; on Pestilences, one; on Fainting Fits, one; the Megaric Philosopher, one; on Melancholy, one; on Mines, two; on Honey, one; a collection of the Doctrines of Metrodorus, one; two books on those Philosophers who have treated of Meteorology; on Drunkenness, one; twenty-four books of Laws, in alphabetical order; ten books, being an Abridgment of Laws; one on Definitions; one on Smells; one on Wine and Oil; eighteen books of Primary Propositions; three books on Lawgivers; six books of Political Disquisitions; a treatise on Politicals, with reference to occasions as they arise, four books; four books of Political Customs; on the best Constitution, one; five books of a Collection of Problems; on Proverbs, one; on Concretion and Liquefaction, one; on Fire, two; on Spirits, one; on Paralysis, one; on Suffocation, one; on Aberration of Intellect, one; on the Passions, one; on Signs, one; two books of Sophisms; one on the Solution of Syllogisms; two books of Topics; two on Punishment; one on Hair; one on Tyranny; three on Water; one on Sleep and Dreams; three on Friendship; two on Liberality; three on Nature; eighteen on Questions of Natural Philosophy; two books, being an Abridgment of Natural Philosophy; eight more books on Natural Philosophy; one treatise addressed to Natural Philosophers; two books on the History of Plants; eight books on the Causes of Plants; five on Juices; one on Mistaken Pleasures; one, Investigation of a proposition concerning the Soul; one on Unskilfully Adduced Proofs; one on Simple Doubts; one on Harmonies; one on Virtue; one entitled Occasions or Contradictions; one on Denial; one on Opinion; one on the Ridiculous; two called Soirees; two books of Divisions; one on Differences; one on Acts of Injustice; one on Calumny; one on Praise; one on Skill; three books of Epistles; one on Self-produced Animals; one on Selection; one entitled the Praises of the Gods; one on Festivals; one on Good Fortune; one on Enthymemes; one on Inventions; one on Moral Schools; one book of Moral Characters; one treatise on Tumult; one on History: one on the Judgment Concerning Syllogisms; one on Flattery; one on the Sea; one essay, addressed to Cassander, Concerning Kingly Power; one on Comedy; one on Meteors; one on Style; one book called a Collection of Sayings; one book of Solutions; three books on Music; one on Metres; the Megades, one; on Laws, one; on Violations of Law, one; a collection of the Sayings and Doctrines of Xenocrates, one; one book of Conversations; on an Oath, one; one of Oratorical Precepts; one on Riches; one on Poetry; one being a collection of Political, Ethical, Physical, and amatory Problems; one book of Proverbs; one book, being a Collection of General Problems; one on Problems in Natural Philosophy; one on Example; one on Proposition and Exposition; a second treatise on Poetry; one on the Wise Men; one on Counsel; one on Solecisms; one on Rhetorical Art; a collection of sixty-one figures of Oratorical Art; one book on Hypocrisy; six books of a Commentary of Aristotle or Theophrastus; sixteen books of Opinions on Natural Philosophy; one book, being an Abridgment of Opinions on Natural Philosophy; one on Gratitude; one called Moral Characters; one on Truth and Falsehood; six on the History of Divine Things; three on the Gods; four on the History of Geometry; six books, being an Abridgment of the work of Aristotle on Animals; two books of Epicheiremes; three books of Propositions; two on Kingly Power; one on Causes; one on Democritus; one on Calumny; one on Generation; one on the Intellect and Moral Character of Animals; two on Motion; four on Sight; two on Definitions; one on being given in Marriage; one on the Greater and the Less; one on Music; one on Divine Happiness; one addressed to the Philosophers of the Academy; one Exhortatory Treatise; one discussing how a City may be best Governed; one called Commentaries; one on the Crater of Mount Etna in Sicily; one on Admitted Facts; one on Problems in Natural History; one, What are the Different Manners of Acquiring Knowledge; three on Telling Lies; one book, which is a preface to the Topics; one addressed to Aeschylus; six books of a History of Astronomy; one book of the History of Arithmetic relating to Increasing Numbers; one called the Acicharus; one on Judicial Discourses; one on Calumny; one volume of Letters to Astyceron, Phanias, and Nicanor; one book on Piety; one called the Evias; one on Circumstances; one volume entitled. Familiar Conversations; one on the Education of Children; another on the same subject, discussed in a different manner; one on Education, called also, a treatise on Virtue, or on Temperance; one book of Exhortations; one on Numbers; one consisting of Definitions referring to the Enunciation of Syllogisms: one on Heaven; two on Politics; two on Nature, on Fruits, and on Animals. And these works contain in all two hundred and thirty-two thousand nine hundred and eight lines. These, then, are the books which Theophrastus composed.

XIV. I have also found his will, which is drawn up in the following terms:

May things turn out well, but if anything should happen to me, I make the following disposition of my property. I give everything that I have in my house to Melantes and Pancreon, the sons of Leon. And those things which have been given to me by Hipparchus, I wish to be disposed of in the following manner:- First of all, I wish everything about the Museum ( This was a temple of the Muses which he had built for a school.) and the statue of the goddesses to be made perfect, and to be adorned in a still more beautiful manner than at present wherein there is room for improvement. Then I desire the statue of Aristotle to be placed in the temple, and all the other offerings which were in the temple before. Then I desire the colonnade which used to be near the Museum to be rebuilt in a manner not inferior to the previous one. I also enjoin my executors to put up the tablets on which the maps of the earth are drawn, in the lower colonnade, and to take care that an altar is finished in such a manner that nothing may be wanting to its perfectness or its beauty. I also direct a statue of Nicomachus, of equal size, to be erected at the same time; and the price for making the statue has been already paid to Praxiteles; and he is to contribute what is wanting for the expense. And I desire that it shall be placed wherever it shall seem best to those who have the charge of providing for the execution of the other injunctions contained in this will. And these are my orders respecting the temple and the offerings. The estate which I have at Stagira, I give to Callinus and all my books I bequeath to Neleus. My garden, and my promenade, and my houses which join the garden, I give all of them to any of the friends whose names I set down below, who choose to hold a school in them and to devote themselves to the study of philosophy, since it is not possible for any one to be always travelling, but I give them on condition that they are not to alienate them, and that no one is to claim them as his own private property; but they are to use them in common as if they were sacred ground, sharing them with one another in a kindred and friendly spirit, as is reasonable and just. And those who are to have this joint property in them are Hipparchus, Neleus, Strato, Callenus, Demotimus, Demaratus, Callisthenes, Melantes, Pancreon, and Nicippus. And Aristotle, the son of Metrodorus and Pythias, shall also be entitled to a share in this property, if he likes to join these men in the study of philosophy. And I beg the older men to pay great attention to his education that he may be led on to philosophy as much as possible. I also desire my executors to bury me in whatever part of the garden shall appear most suitable, incurring no superfluous expense about my funeral or monument. And, as has been said before, after the proper honours have been paid to me, and after provision has been made for the execution of my will as far as relates to the temple, and the monument, and the garden, and the promenade, then I enjoin that Pamphylus, who dwells in the garden, shall keep it and everything else in the same condition as it has been in hitherto. And those who are in possession of these things are to take care of his interests. I further bequeath to Pamphylus and Threptes, who have been some time emancipated, and who have been of great service to me, besides all that they have previously received from me, and all that they may have earned for themselves, and all that I have provided for being given them by Hipparchus, two thousand drachmas, and I enjoin that they should have them in firm and secure possession, as I have often said to them, and to Melantes and Pancreon, and they have agreed to provide for this my will taking effect. I also give them the little handmaid Somatale; and of my slaves, I ratify the emancipation of Molon, and Cimon, and Parmenon which I have already given them. And I hereby give their liberty to Manes and Callias, who have remained four years in the garden, and have worked in it, and have conducted themselves in an unimpeachable manner. And I direct that my executors shall give Pamphylus as much of my household furniture as may seem to them to be proper, and shall sell the rest. And I give Carion to Demotimus, and Donar to Neleus. I order Eulius to be sold, and I request Hipparchus to give Callinus three thousand drachmas. And if I had not seen the great service that Hipparchus has been to me in former times, and the embarrassed state of his affairs at present, I should have associated Melantes and Pancreon with him in these gifts. But as I see that it would not be easy for them to arrange to manage the property together, I have thought it likely to be more advantageous for them to receive a fixed sum from Hipparchus. Therefore, let Hipparchus pay to Melantes and to Pancreon a talent a-piece; and let him also pay to my executors the money necessary for the expenses which I have here set down in my will, as it shall require to be expended. And when he has done this, then I will that he shall be discharged of all debts due from him to me or to my estate. And if any profit shall accrue to him in Chalcis, from property belonging to me, it shall be all his own. My executors, for all the duties provided for in this will, shall be Hipparchus, Neleus, Strato, Callinus, Demotimus, Callisthenes, and Ctesarchus. And this my will is copied out, and all the copies are sealed with the seal-ring of me, Theophrastus; one copy is in the hands of Hegesias the son of Hipparchus; the witnesses thereto are Callippus of Pallene, Philomelus of Euonymus, Lysander of Hybas, and Philion of Alopece. Another copy is deposited with Olympiodorus, and the witnesses are the same. A third copy is under the care of Adimantus, and it was conveyed to him by Androsthenes, his son. The witnesses to that copy are Arimnestus the son of Cleobulus, Lysistratus of Thrasos, the son of Phidon; Strato of Lampsacus, the son of Arcesilaus; Thesippus of Cerami, the son of Thesippus; Dioscorides of the banks of the Cephisus, the son of Dionysius.- This was his will.

XV. Some writers have stated that Erasistratus, the physician, was a pupil of his; and it is very likely.

Greek Links

Θεόφραστος , Διογένης Λαέρτιος, Βίοι και γνώμαι των εν φιλοσοφία ευδοκιμησάντων