Zeno of Elea


26. He was a truly noble character both as philosopher and as politician.

Again, he plotted to overthrow Nearchus the tyrant (or, according to others, Diomedon) but was arrested: so Heraclides in his epitome of Satyrus. On that occasion he was cross-examined as to his accomplices and about the arms which he was conveying to Lipara; he denounced all the tyrant's own friends, wishing to make him destitute of supporters. Then, saying that he had something to tell him about certain people in his private ear, he laid hold of it with his teeth and did not let go until stabbed to death, meeting the same fate as Aristogiton the tyrannicide.

27. Demetrius in his work on Men of the Same Name says that he bit off, not the ear, but the nose. According to Antisthenes in his Successions of Philosophers, after informing against the tyrant's friends, he was asked by the tyrant whether there was anyone else in the plot; whereupon he replied, "Yes, you, the curse of the city!?; and to the bystanders he said, "I marvel at your cowardice, that, for fear of any of those things which I am now enduring, you should be the tyrant's slaves." And at last he bit off his tongue and spat it at him; and his fellow-citizens were so worked upon that they forthwith stoned the tyrant to death.[50] In this version of the story most authors nearly agree, but Hermippus says he was cast into a mortar and beaten to death.

You wished, Zeno, and noble was your wish, to slay the tyrant and set Elea free from bondage. But you were crushed; for, as all know, the tyrant caught you and beat you in a mortar. But what is this that I say? It was your body that he beat, and not you.

In all other respects Zeno was a gallant man; and in particular he despised the great no less than Heraclitus. For example, his native place, the Phocaean colony, once known as Hyele and afterwards as Elea, a city of moderate size, skilled in nothing but to rear brave men, he preferred before all the splendour of Athens, hardly paying the Athenians a visit, but living all his life at home.

We are told that once when he was reviled he lost his temper, and, in reply to some one who blamed him for this, he said, "If when I am abused I pretend that I am not, then neither shall I be aware of it if I am praised."

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