Menedemus


When a young gallant would have taken liberties with him, he said not a word but picked up a twig and drew an insulting picture on the ground, until all eyes were attracted and the young man, perceiving the insult, made off. When Hierocles, who was in command of the Piraeus, walked up and down along with him in the shrine of Amphiaraus, and talked much of the capture of Eretria, he made no other reply beyond asking him what Antigonus's object was in treating him as he did.

128. To an adulterer who was giving himself airs he said, "Do you not know that, if cabbage has a good flavour, so for that matter has radish?" Hearing a youth who was very noisy, he said, "See what there is behind you." When Antigonus consulted him as to whether he should go to a rout, he sent a message to say no more than this, that he was the son of a king. When a stupid fellow related something to him with no apparent object, he inquired if he had a farm. And hearing that he had, and that there was a large stock of cattle on it, he said, "Then go and look after them, lest it should happen that they are ruined and a clever farmer thrown away." To one who inquired if the good man ever married, he replied, "Do you think me good or not?" The reply being in the affirmative, he said, "Well, I am married." 129. Of one who affirmed that there were many good things, he inquired how many, and whether he thought there were more than a hundred. Not being able to curb the extravagance of some one who had invited him to dinner, he said nothing when he was invited, but rebuked his host tacitly by confining himself to olives. However, on account of this freedom of speech he was in great peril in Cyprus with his friend Asclepiades when staying at the court of Nicocreon. For when the king held the usual monthly feast and invited these two along with the other philosophers, we are told that Menedemus said that, if the gathering of such men was a good thing, the feast ought to have been held every day; if not, then it was superfluous even on the present occasion. 130. The tyrant having replied to this by saying that on this day he had the leisure to hear philosophers, he pressed the point still more stubbornly, declaring, while the feast was going on, that any and every occasion should be employed in listening to philosophers. The consequence was that, if a certain flute-player had not got them away, they would have been put to death. Hence when they were in a storm in the boat Asclepiades is reported to have said that the fluteplayer through good playing had proved their salvation when the free speech of Menedemus had been their undoing.

He shirked work, it is said, and was indifferent to the fortunes of his school. At least no order could be seen in his classes, and no circle of benches; but each man would listen where he happened to be, walking or sitting, Menedemus himself behaving in the same way. 131. In other respects he is said to have been nervous and careful of his reputation; so much so that, when Menedemus himself and Asclepiades were helping a man who had formerly been a builder to build a house, whereas Asclepiades appeared stripped on the roof passing the mortar, Menedemus would try to hide himself as often as he saw anyone coming. After he took part in public affairs, he was so nervous that, when offering the frankincense, he would actually miss the censer.

132. He was also in a way rather superstitious. At all events once, when he was at an inn with Asclepiades and had inadvertently eaten some meat which had been thrown away, he turned sick and pale when he learnt the fact, until Asclepiades rebuked him, saying that it was not the meat which disturbed him but merely his suspicion of it. In all other respects he was magnanimous and liberal.

Hence he quoted against his political opponents the following lines:[91]

Ere long the swift is overtaken by the feeble,
And the eagle by the tortoise,

134. which are from the Omphale, a satiric drama of Achaeus.

Menedemus was difficult to see through, and in making a bargain it was difficult to get the better of him. He would twist and turn in every direction, and he excelled in inventing objections. He was a great controversialist, according to Antisthenes in his Successions of Philosophers. In particular he was fond of using the following argument: "Is the one of two things different from the other?" "Yes." "And is conferring benefits different from the good?" "Yes." "Then to confer benefits is not good."

135. It is said that he disallowed negative propositions, converting them into affirmatives, and of these he admitted simple propositions only, rejecting those which are not simple, I mean hypothetical and complex propositions. Heraclides declares that, although in his doctrines he was a Platonist, yet he made sport of dialectic. So that, when Alexinus once inquired if he had left off beating his father, his answer was, "Why, I was not beating him and have not left off"; and upon Alexinus insisting that he ought to have cleared up the ambiguity by a plain "Yes" or "No," "It would be absurd," he said, "for me to conform to your rules when I can stop you on the threshold." And when Bion persistently ran down the soothsayers, Menedemus said he was slaying the slain.

136. On hearing some one say that the greatest good was to get all you want, he rejoined, "To want the right things is a far greater good." Antigonus of Carystus asserts that he never wrote or composed anything, and so never held firmly by any doctrine. He adds that in discussing questions he was so pugnacious that he would only retire after he had been badly mauled. And yet, though he was so violent in debate, he was as mild as possible in his conduct. For instance, though he made sport of Alexinus and bantered him cruelly, he was nevertheless very kind to him, for, when his wife was afraid that on her journey she might be set upon and robbed, he gave her an escort from Delphi to Chalcis.

137. He was a very warm friend, as is shown by his affection for Asclepiades, which was hardly inferior to the devotion shown by Pylades. But, Asclepiades being the elder, it was said that he was the playwright and Menedemus the actor. They say that once, when Archipolis had given them a cheque for half a talent, they stickled so long over the point as to whose claim came second that neither of them got the money. It is said that they married a mother and her daughter; Asclepiades married the daughter and Menedemus the mother. But after the death of his own wife, Asclepiades took the wife of Menedemus; and afterwards the latter, when he became head of the state, married a rich woman as his second wife. Nevertheless, as they kept one household, Menedemus entrusted his former wife with the care of his establishment. 138. However, Asclepiades died first at a great age at Eretria, having lived with Menedemus economically, though they had ample means. Some time afterwards a favourite of Asclepiades, having come to a party and being refused admittance by the pupils, Menedemus ordered them to admit him, saying that even now, when under the earth, Asclepiades opened the door for him.

Lycophron in his satiric drama entitled Menedemus, which was composed as a tribute to him. Here is a specimen of it:[92]

And after a temperate feast the modest cup was passed round with discretion, and their dessert was temperate discourse for such as cared to listen.

On these grounds, then, and from his friendship for him in other matters, he was suspected of betraying the city to Antigonus, and, being denounced by Aristodemus, withdrew from Eretria and stayed awhile in Oropus in the temple of Amphiaraus. And, because some golden goblets were missing from the temple, he was ordered to depart by a general vote of the Boeotians.

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