Arcesilaus


Diogenes Laertius, Book IV - Arcesilaus

When this man's mind gave way, Arcesilaus took him to his house and nursed him until he was completely restored He was highly axiomatic and concise, and in his discourse fond of distinguishing the meaning of terms. He was satirical enough, and outspoken. 34. This is why Timon speaks of him again as follows:

And mixing sound sense with wily cavils.[34]

Hence, when a young man talked more boldly than was becoming, Arcesilaus exclaimed, "Will no one beat him at a game of knuckle-bone?" Again, when some one of immodest life denied that one thing seemed to him greater than another, he rejoined, "Then six inches and ten inches are all the same to you?" There was a certain Hemon, a Chian, who, though ugly, fancied himself to be handsome, and always went about in fine clothes. He having propounded as his opinion that the wise man will never fall in love, Arcesilaus replied, "What, not with one so handsome as you and so handsomely dressed?" And when one of loose life, to imply that Arcesilaus was arrogant, addressed him thus:[35]

35. Queen, may I speak, or must I silence keep?

his reply was:[36]

Woman, why talk so harshly, not as thou art wont?

When some talkative person of no family caused him considerable trouble, he cited the line:[37]

Right ill to live with are the sons of slaves.

Of another who talked much nonsense he said that he could not have had even a nurse to scold him. And some persons he would not so much as answer. To a money-lending student, upon his confessing ignorance of something or other, Arcesilaus replied with two lines from the Oenomaus of Sophocles:[38]

Be sure the hen-bird knows not from what quarter the wind blows until she looks for a new brood in the nest.[39]

36. A certain dialectic, a follower of Alexinus, was unable to repeat properly some argument of his teacher, whereupon Arcesilaus reminded him of the story of Philoxenus and the brickmakers. He found them singing some of his melodies out of tune; so he retaliated by trampling on the bricks they were making, saying, "If you spoil my work, I'll spoil yours." He was, moreover, genuinely annoyed with any who took up their studies too late. By some natural impulse he was betrayed into using such phrases as "I assert," and "So-and-so" (mentioning the name) "will not assent to this."[40] And this trait many of his pupils imitated, as they did also his style of speaking and his whole address.

37. Very fertile in invention, he could meet objection acutely or bring the course of discussion back to the point at issue, and fit it to every occasion. In persuasiveness he had no equal, and this all the more drew pupils to the school, although they were in terror of his pungent wit. But they willingly put up with that; for his goodness was extraordinary, and he inspired his pupils with hopes. He showed the greatest generosity in private life, being ever ready to confer benefits, yet most modestly anxious to conceal the favour. For instance, he once called upon Ctesibius when he was ill and, seeing in what straits he was, quietly put a purse under his pillow. He, when he found it, said, "This is the joke of Arcesilaus." Moreover, on another occasion, he sent him 1000 drachmas.

38. Again, by introducing Archias the Arcadian to Eumenes, he caused him to be advanced to great dignity. And, as he was very liberal, caring very little for money, so he was the first to attend performances where seats were paid for, and he was above all eager to go to those of Archecrates and Callicrates, for which the fee was a gold piece. And he helped many people and collected subscriptions for them. Some one once borrowed his silver plate in order to entertain friends and never brought it back, but Arcesilaus did not ask him for it and pretended it had not been borrowed. Another version of the story is that he lent it on purpose, and, when it was returned, made the borrower a present of it because he was poor. He had property in Pitane from which his brother Pylades sent him supplies. Furthermore, Eumenes, the son of Philetaerus, furnished him with large sums, and for this reason Eumenes was the only one of the contemporary kings to whom he dedicated any of his works.

39. And whereas many persons courted Antigonus and went to meet him whenever he came to Athens, Arcesilaus remained at home, not wishing to thrust himself upon his acquaintance. He was on the best of terms with Hierocles, the commandant in Munichia and Piraeus, and at every festival would go down to see him. And though Hierocles joined in urging him to pay his respects to Antigonus, he was not prevailed upon, but, after going as far as the gates, turned back. And after the battle at sea,[41] when many went to Antigonus or wrote him flattering letters, he held his peace. However, on behalf of his native city, he did go to Demetrias as envoy to Antigonus, but failed in his mission. He spent his time wholly in the Academy, shunning politics.

40. Once indeed, when at Athens, he stopped too long in the Piraeus, discussing themes, out of friendship for Hierocles, and for this he was censured by certain persons.[42] He was very lavish, in short another Aristippus, and he was fond of dining well, but only with those who shared his tastes. He lived openly with Theodete and Phila, the Elean courtesans, and to those who censured him he quoted the maxims of Aristippus. He was also fond of boys and very susceptible. Hence he was accused by Ariston of Chios, the Stoic, and his followers, who called him a corrupter of youth and a shameless teacher of immorality. 41. He is said to have been particularly enamoured of Demetrius who sailed to Cyrene, and of Cleochares of Myrlea; of him the story is told that, when a band of revellers came to the door, he told them that for his part he was willing to admit them but that Cleochares would not let him. This same youth had amongst his admirers Demochares the son of Laches, and Pythocles the son of Bugelus, and once when Arcesilaus had caught them, with great forbearance he ordered them off. For all this he was assailed and ridiculed by the critics abovementioned, as a friend of the mob who courted popularity. The most virulent attacks were made upon him in the circle of Hieronymus the Peripatetic,[43] whenever he collected his friends to keep the birthday of Halcyoneus, son of Antigonus, an occasion for which Antigonus used to send large sums of money to be spent in merrymaking. 42. There he had always shunned discussion over the wine; and when Aridices, proposing a certain question, requested him to speak upon it, he replied, "The peculiar province of philosophy is just this, to know that there is a time for all things." As to the charge brought against him that he was the friend of the mob, Timon, among many other things, has the following:[44]

So saying, he plunged into the surrounding crowd. And they were amazed at him, like chaffinches about an owl, pointing him out as vain, because he was a flatterer of the mob. And why, insignificant thing that you are, do you puff yourself out like a simpleton?[45]

And yet for all that he was modest enough to recommend his pupils to hear other philosophers. And when a certain youth from Chios was not well pleased with his lectures and preferred those of the above-mentioned Hieronymus, Arcesilaus himself took him and introduced him to that philosopher, with an injunction to behave well.

43. Another pleasant story told of him is this. Some one had inquired why it was that pupils from all the other schools went over to Epicurus, but converts were never made from the Epicureans: "Because men may become eunuchs, but a eunuch never becomes a man," was his answer.

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