Aristippus


Diogenes Laertius, Book II Aristippus

he was the first of the followers of Socrates to charge fees and to send money to his master. And on one occasion the sum of twenty minae which he had sent was returned to him, Socrates declaring that the supernatural sign would not let him take it; the very offer, in fact, annoyed him.

66. He was capable of adapting himself to place, time and person, and of playing his part appropriately under whatever circumstances. Hence he found more favour than anybody else with Dionysius, because he could always turn the situation to good account. He derived pleasure from what was present, and did not toil to procure the enjoyment of something not present.

He is said to have ordered a partridge to be bought at a cost of fifty drachmae, and, when someone censured him, he inquired, "Would not you have given an obol for it?" and, being answered in the affirmative, rejoined, "Fifty drachmae are no more to me." 67. And when Dionysius gave him his choice of three courtesans, he carried off all three, saying, "Paris paid dearly for giving the preference to one out of three." And when he had brought them as far as the porch, he let them go. To such lengths did he go both in choosing and in disdaining. Hence the remark of Strato, or by some accounts of Plato, "You alone are endowed with the gift to flaunt in robes or go in rags." He bore with Dionysius when he spat on him, and to one who took him to task he replied, "If the fishermen let themselves be drenched with sea-water in order to catch a gudgeon, ought I not to endure to be wetted with negus in order to take a blenny?"

68. Diogenes, washing the dirt from his vegetables, saw him passing and jeered at him in these terms, "If you had learnt to make these your diet, you would not have paid court to kings," to which his rejoinder was, "And if you knew how to associate with men, you would not be washing vegetables." Being asked what he had gained from philosophy, he replied, "The ability to feel at ease in any society." Being reproached for his extravagance, he said, "If it were wrong to be extravagant, it would not be in vogue at the festivals of the gods."

Being once asked what advantage philosophers have, he replied, "Should all laws be repealed, we shall go on living as we do now." 69. When Dionysius inquired what was the reason that philosophers go to rich men's houses, while rich men no longer visit philosophers, his reply was that "the one know what they need while the other do not." When he was reproached by Plato for his extravagance, he inquired, "Do you think Dionysius a good man?" and the reply being in the affirmative, "And yet," said he, "he lives more extravagantly than I do. So that there is nothing to hinder a man living extravagantly and well." To the question how the educated differ from the uneducated, he replied, "Exactly as horses that have been trained differ from untrained horses." One day, as he entered the house of a courtesan, one of the lads with him blushed, whereupon he remarked, "It is not going in that is dangerous, but being unable to go out."

70. Some one brought him a knotty problem with the request that he would untie the knot. "Why, you simpleton," said he, "do you want it untied, seeing that it causes trouble enough as it is?" "It is better," he said, "to be a beggar than to be uneducated; the one needs money, the others need to be humanized." One day that he was reviled, he tried to slip away; the other pursued him, asking, "Why do you run away?" "Because," said he, "as it is your privilege to use foul language, so it is my privilege not to listen." In answer to one who remarked that he always saw philosophers at rich men's doors, he said, "So, too, physicians are in attendance on those who are sick, but no one for that reason would prefer being sick to being a physician."

71. It happened once that he set sail for Corinth and, being overtaken by a storm, he was in great consternation. Some one said, "We plain men are not alarmed, and are you philosophers turned cowards?" To this he replied, "The lives at stake in the two cases are not comparable." When some one gave himself airs for his wide learning, this is what he said: "As those who eat most and take the most exercise are not better in health than those who restrict themselves to what they require, so too it is not wide reading but useful reading that tends to excellence." An advocate, having pleaded for him and won the case, thereupon put the question, "What good did Socrates do you?" "Thus much," was the reply, "that what you said of me in your speech was true."

72. He gave his daughter Arete the very best advice, training her up to despise excess. He was asked by some one in what way his son would be the better for being educated. He replied, "If nothing more than this, at all events, when in the theatre he will not sit down like a stone upon stone." When some one brought his son as a pupil, he asked a fee of 500 drachmae. The father objected, "For that sum I can buy a slave." "Then do so," was the reply, "and you will have two." He said that he did not take money from his friends for his own use, but to teach them upon what objects their money should be spent. When he was reproached for employing a rhetorician to conduct his case, he made reply, "Well, if I give a dinner, I hire a cook."

73. Being once compelled by Dionysius to enunciate some doctrine of philosophy, "It would be ludicrous," he said, "that you should learn from me what to say, and yet instruct me when to say it." At this, they say, Dionysius was offended and made him recline at the end of the table. And Aristippus said, "You must have wished to confer distinction on the last place." To some one who boasted of his diving, "Are you not ashamed," said he, "to brag of that which a dolphin can do?" Being asked on one occasion what is the difference between the wise man and the unwise, "Strip them both," said he, "and send them among strangers and you will know." To one who boasted that he could drink a great deal without getting drunk, his rejoinder was, "And so can a mule."

74. To one who accused him of living with a courtesan, he put the question, "Why, is there any difference between taking a house in which many people have lived before and taking one in which nobody has ever lived?" The answer being "No," he continued, "Or again, between sailing in a ship in which ten thousand persons have sailed before and in one in which nobody has ever sailed?" "There is no difference." "Then it makes no difference," said he, "whether the woman you live with has lived with many or with nobody." To the accusation that, although he was a pupil of Socrates, he took fees, his rejoinder was, "Most certainly I do, for Socrates, too, when certain people sent him corn and wine, used to take a little and return all the rest; and he had the foremost men in Athens for his stewards, whereas mine is my slave Eutychides." He enjoyed the favours of Las, as Sotion states in the second book of his Successions of Philosophers. 75. To those who censured him his defence was, "I have Lais, not she me; and it is not abstinence from pleasures that is best, but mastery over them without ever being worsted." to one who reproached him with extravagance in catering, he replied, "Wouldn't you have bought this if you could have got it for three obols?" The answer being in the affirmative, "Very well, then," said Aristippus, "I am no longer a lover of pleasure, it is you who are a lover of money." One day Simus, the steward of Dionysius, a Phrygian by birth and a rascally fellow, was showing him costly houses with tesselated pavements, when Aristippus coughed up phlegm and spat in his face. And on his resenting this he replied, "I could not find any place more suitable."

76. When Charondas (or, as others say, Phaedo) inquired, "Who is this who reeks with unguents?" he replied, "It is I, unlucky wight, and the still more unlucky Persian king. But, as none of the other animals are at any disadvantage on that account, consider whether it be not the same with man. Confound the effeminates who spoil for us the use of good perfume." Being asked how Socrates died, he answered, "As I would wish to die myself." Polyxenus the sophist once paid him a visit and, after having seen ladies present and expensive entertainment, reproached him with it later. After an interval Aristippus asked him, "Can you join us today?" 77. On the other accepting the invitation, Aristippus inquired, "Why, then, did you find fault? For you appear to blame the cost and not the entertainment." When his servant was carrying money and found the load too heavy the story is told by Bion in his Lectures Aristippus cried, "Pour away the greater part, and carry no more than you can manage." Being once on a voyage, as soon as he discovered the vessel to be manned by pirates, he took out his money and began to count it, and then, as if by inadvertence, he let the money fall into the sea, and naturally broke out into lamentation. Another version of the story attributes to him the further remark that it was better for the money to perish on account of Aristippus than for Aristippus to perish on account of the money. Dionysius once asked him what he was come for, and he said it was to impart what he had and obtain what he had not. 78. But some make his answer to have been, "When I needed wisdom, I went to Socrates; now that I am in need of money, I come to you." He used to complain of mankind that in purchasing earthenware they made trial whether it rang true, but had no regular standard by which to judge life. Others attribute this remark to Diogenes. One day Dionysius over the wine commanded everybody to put on purple and dance. Plato declined, quoting the line:[68]

I could not stoop to put on women's robes.

Aristippus, however, put on the dress and, as he was about to dance, was ready with the repartee:

Even amid the Bacchic revelry True modesty will not be put to shame.[69]

79. He made a request to Dionysius on behalf of a friend and, failing to obtain it, fell down at his feet. And when some one jeered at him, he made reply, "It is not I who am to blame, but Dionysius who has his ears in his feet." He was once staying in Asia and was taken prisoner by Artaphernes, the satrap. "Can you be cheerful under these circumstances?" some one asked. "Yes, you simpleton," was the reply, "for when should I be more cheerful than now that I am about to converse with Artaphernes?" Those who went through the ordinary curriculum, but in their studies stopped short at philosophy, he used to compare to the suitors of Penelope. For the suitors won Melantho, Polydora and the rest of the handmaidens, but were anything but successful in their wooing of the mistress. 80. A similar remark is ascribed to Ariston. For, he said, when Odysseus went down into the under-world, he saw nearly all the dead and made their acquaintance, but he never set eyes upon their queen herself.

Again, when Aristippus was asked what are the subjects which handsome boys ought to learn, his reply was, "Those which will be useful to them when they are grown up." To the critic who censured him for leaving Socrates to go to Dionysius, his rejoinder was, "Yes, but I came to Socrates for education and to Dionysius for recreation." When he had made some money by teaching, Socrates asked him, "Where did you get so much?" to which he replied, "Where you got so little."

81. A courtesan having told him that she was with child by him, he replied, "You are no more sure of this than if, after running through coarse rushes, you were to say you had been pricked by one in particular." Someone accused him of exposing his son as if it was not his offspring Whereupon he replied, "Phlegm, too, and vermin we know to be of our own begetting, but for all that, because they are useless, we cast them as far from us as possible." He received a sum of money from Dionysius at the same time that Plato carried off a book and, when he was twitted with this, his reply was,, "Well, I want money, Plato wants books." Some one asked him why he let himself be refuted by Dionysius. "For the same reason," said he, "as the others refute him."

82. Dionysius met a request of his for money with the words, "Nay, but you told me that the wise man would never be in want." To which he retorted, "Pay! Pay! and then let us discuss the question;" and when he was paid, "Now you see, do you not," said he, "that I was not found wanting?" Dionysius having repeated to him the lines:

Whoso betakes him to a prince's court Becomes his slave, albeit of free birth,[70]

he retorted:

If a free man he come, no slave is he.[71]

This is stated by Diocles in his work On the Lives of Philosophers; other writers refer the anecdotes to Plato. After getting in a rage with Aeschines, he presently addressed him thus: "Are we not to make it up and desist from vapouring, or will you wait for some one to reconcile us over the wine-bowl?" To which he replied, "Agreed." 83. "Then remember," Aristippus went on, "that, though I am your senior, I made the first approaches." Thereupon Aeschines said, "Well done, by Hera, you are quite right; you are a much better man than I am. For the quarrel was of my beginning, you make the first move to friendship." Such are the repartees which are attributed to him.

He laid down as the end the smooth motion resulting in sensation.

Those then who adhered to the teaching of Aristippus and were known as Cyrenaics held the following opinions. They laid down that there are two states, pleasure and pain, the former a smooth, the latter a rough motion, and that pleasure does not differ from pleasure nor is one pleasure more pleasant than another. 87. The one state is agreeable and the other repellent to all living things. However, the bodily pleasure which is the end is, according to Panaetius in his work On the Sects, not the settled pleasure following the removal of pains, or the sort of freedom from discomfort which Epicurus accepts and maintains to be the end. They also hold that there is a difference between "end" and "happiness." Our end is particular pleasure, whereas happiness is the sum total of all particular pleasures, in which are included both past and future pleasures.

88. Particular pleasure is desirable for its own sake, whereas happiness is desirable not for its own sake but for the sake of particular pleasures. That pleasure is the end is proved by the fact that from our youth up we are instinctively attracted to it, and, when we obtain it, seek for nothing more, and shun nothing so much as its opposite, pain. Pleasure is good even if it proceed from the most unseemly conduct, as Hippobotus says in his work On the Sects. For even if the action be irregular, still, at any rate, the resultant pleasure is desirable for its own sake and is good. 89. The removal of pain, however, which is put forward in Epicurus, seems to them not to be pleasure at all, any more than the absence of pleasure is pain. For both pleasure and pain they hold to consist in motion, whereas absence of pleasure like absence of pain is not motion, since painlessness is the condition of one who is, as it were, asleep. They assert that some people may fail to choose pleasure because their minds are perverted; not all mental pleasures and pains, however, are derived from bodily counterparts. For instance, we take disinterested delight in the prosperity of our country which is as real as our delight in our own prosperity. Nor again do they admit that pleasure is derived from the memory or expectation of good, which was a doctrine of Epicurus. 90. For they assert that the movement affecting the mind is exhausted in course of time. Again they hold that pleasure is not derived from sight or from hearing alone. At all events, we listen with pleasure to imitation of mourning, while the reality causes pain. They gave the names of absence of pleasure and absence of pain to the intermediate conditions. However, they insist that bodily pleasures are far better than mental pleasures, and bodily pains far worse than mental pains, and that this is the reason why offenders are punished with the former. For they assumed pain to be more repellent, pleasure more congenial. For these reasons they paid more attention to the body than to the mind. Hence, although pleasure is in itself desirable, yet they hold that the things which are productive of certain pleasures are often of a painful nature, the very opposite of pleasure; so that to accumulate the pleasures which are productive of happiness appears to them a most irksome business.

91. They do not accept the doctrine that every wise man lives pleasantly and every fool painfully, but regard it as true for the most part only. It is sufficient even if we enjoy but each single pleasure as it comes. They say that prudence is a good, though desirable not in itself but on account of its consequences; that we make friends from interested motives, just as we cherish any part of the body so long as we have it; that some of the virtues are found even in the foolish; that bodily training contributes to the acquisition of virtue; that the sage will not give way to envy or love or superstition, since these weaknesses are due to mere empty opinion; he will, however, feel pain and fear, these being natural affections; 92. and that wealth too is productive of pleasure, though not desirable for its own sake.

They affirm that mental affections can be known, but not the objects from which they come; and they abandoned the study of nature because of its apparent uncertainty, but fastened on logical inquiries because of their utility. But Meleager in his second book On Philosophical Opinions, and Clitomachus in his first book On the Sects, affirm that they maintain Dialectic as well as Physics to be useless, since, when one has learnt the theory of good and evil, it is possible to speak with propriety, to be free from superstition, and to escape the fear of death. 93. They also held that nothing is just or honourable or base by nature, but only by convention and custom. Nevertheless the good man will be deterred from wrong-doing by the penalties imposed and the prejudices that it would arouse. Further that the wise man really exists. They allow progress to be attainable in philosophy as well as in other matters. They maintain that the pain of one man exceeds that of another, and that the senses are not always true and trustworthy.

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