Diogenes Laertius, Book V - Demetrius

75. Demetrius, the son of Phanostratus, was a native of Phalerum. He was a pupil of Theophrastus, but by his speeches in the Athenian assembly he held the chief power in the State for ten years and was decreed 360 bronze statues, most of them representing him either on horseback or else driving a chariot or a pair of horses. And these statues were completed in less than 300 days, so much was he esteemed. He entered politics, says Demetrius of Magnesia in his work on Men of the Same Name, when Harpalus, fleeing from Alexander,[48] came to Athens. As a statesman he rendered his country many splendid services. For he enriched the city with revenues and buildings, though he was not of noble birth. 76. For he was one of Conon's household servants,[49] according to Favorinus in the first book of his Memorabilia; yet Lamia, with whom he lived, was a citizen of noble family, as Favorinus also states in his first book. Further, in his second book Favorinus alleges that he suffered violence from Cleon, while Didymus in his Table-talk relates how a certain courtesan nicknamed him Charito-Blepharos ("having the eyelids of the Graces"), and Lampito ("of shining eyes"). He is said to have lost his sight when in Alexandria and to have recovered it by the gift of Sarapis; whereupon he composed the paeans which are sung to this day.

For all his popularity with the Athenians he nevertheless suffered eclipse through all-devouring envy. 77. Having been indicted by some persons on a capital charge, he let judgement go by default; and, when his accusers could not get hold of his person, they disgorged their venom on the bronze of his statues. These they tore down from their pedestals; some were sold, some cast into the sea, and others were even, it is said, broken up to make bedroom-utensils. Only one is preserved in the Acropolis. In his Miscellaneous History Favorinus tells us that the Athenians did this at the bidding of King Demetrius.

78. And in the official list the year in which he was archon was styled "the year of lawlessness," according to this same Favorinus.

Hermippus tells us that upon the death of Casander, being in fear of Antigonus, he fled to Ptolemy Soter. There he spent a considerable time and advised Ptolemy, among other things, to invest with sovereign power his children by Eurydice. To this Ptolemy would not agree, but bestowed the diadem on his son by Berenice, who, after Ptolemy's death, thought fit to detain Demetrius as a prisoner in the country until some decision should be taken concerning him. There he lived in great dejection, and somehow, in his sleep, received an asp-bite on the hand which proved fatal.

Heraclides in his epitome of Sotion's Successions of Philosophers says that Ptolemy himself wished to transmit the kingdom to Philadelphus, but that Demetrius tried to dissuade him, saying, "If you give it to another, you will not have it yourself." At the time when he was being continually attacked in Athens, Menander, the Comic poet, as I have also learnt, was very nearly brought to trial for no other cause than that he was a friend of Demetrius. However, Telesphorus, the nephew of Demetrius, begged him off.

82. His style is philosophical, with an admixture of rhetorical vigour and force. When he heard that the Athenians had destroyed his statues, "That they may do," said he, "but the merits which caused them to be erected they cannot destroy." He used to say that the eyebrows formed but a small part of the face, and yet they can darken the whole of life by the scorn they express. Again, he said that not only was Plutus blind, but his guide, Fortune, as well; that all that steel could achieve in war was won in politics by eloquence. On seeing a young dandy, "There," quoth he, "is a four-square Hermes for you, with trailing robe, belly, beard and all."[52] When men are haughty and arrogant, he declared we should cut down their tall stature and leave them their spirit unimpaired. Children should honour their parents at home, out-of-doors everyone they meet, and in solitude themselves. 83. In prosperity friends do not leave you unless desired, whereas in adversity they stay away of their own accord. All these sayings seem to be set down to his credit.

The foregoing were prose authors. Of poets bearing this name the first belonged to the Old Comedy; the second was an epic poet whose lines to the envious alone survive:

While he lives they scorn the man whom they regret when he is gone; yet, some day, for the honour of his tomb and lifeless image, contention seizes cities and the people set up strife;

Back To Top

Back to Collected Wisdom

Home Page