Sun

17

May

2015

Diogenes Laertius: Book I, Prologue

I just started reading Diogenes Laertius' Lives of Eminent Philosophers, which I find affinity with Chinese Chan (Zen) histories such as those with titles of Transmission of Lamps. The prologue is quite fascinating.


1. It starts with the question of where philosophy begins, and recounts some who say that it is started by Persians, Babylonians/Assyrians/Chaldaeans, Indians, Celts/Gauls, and 3 specific Phoenician, Thracian and Libyan. Then it gives a specific name / date of an Egyptian (Hephaestus), followed by that for Zoroaster (and his successors). 


2. Then he turns to his view that it starts with Greeks, focusing on Musaeus of Athens (genealogy of the gods, construct a sphere, all things proceed from unity and are resolved again into unity), and Linus of Thebes (poem describing the creation of the world, courses of the sun and moon, and growth of animals and plants), complete with epitaphs. (Epitaphs are similar to the Transmission of Lamps genre when obscure verses are used to vaguely describe and gave credence to the figure being described.) It is mentioned that Anaxagoras borrowed Linus' ideas. "And thus it was from the Greeks that philosophy took its rise: its very name refuses to be translated into foreign speech."


3. Then it reverts back to barbarians (i.e. non-Greeks) by naming Orpheus the Thracian whose talk about gods that the author brushes aside, but he also has his epitaph, before going back to describe roughly what the Indians (Gymnosophists), Celts/Gauls (Druids), Chaldaeans, and Persians (Magi) believed - with focus on the Magi (and in passing mention the Jews as potentially originated from Magi), and then the Egyptians, whose beliefs include "that the moon is eclipsed when it falls into the earth's shadow" (which I find interesting.)


4. "But the first to use the term, and to call himself a philosopher or lover of wisdom, was Pythagoras." Also mentioned sophists as another name for philosophers, but can refer as the same time to poets.


5. Then a listing of the "seven sages": Thales, Solon, Periander, Cleobulus, Chilon, Bias, Pittacus. Quickly turned to twofold origins and lineage of philosophy (among Greeks):

a. (Ionian) Thales -> Anaximander -> Anaximenes -> Anaxagoras (who borrowed Linus' ideas per above) -> Archelaus -> Socrates -> (socratics) Plato -> Speusippus / Xenocrates -> Polemo -> Crantor -> Crates -> Arcesilaus (founder of Middle Academy) -> Lacydes (founder of New Academy) -> Carnies -> Clitomachus

(... ->) Socrates -> Antisthenes -> Diogenes the Cynic -> Crates of Thebes -> Zeno of Citium -> Cleanthes -> Chrysippus

(... ->) Plato -> Aristotle -> Theophrastus

b. (Italian) Pherecydes -> Pythagoras -> (his son) Telauges -> Xenophanes -> Parmenides -> Zeno of Elea -> Leucippus -> Democritus (who had many pupils -> NAusiphanes / Naucydes -> Epicurus

This idea of "lineage" of philosophers are also interesting, and similar to the Chinese Chan transmission trees and branches.


6. Then it distinguishes between dogmatists and skeptics; and those who wrote (and how much) and those who didn't. Then the prologue introduces the concept of schools and how they get their names from different sources. And talks about 3 parts of philosophy: physics, ethics, and dialectic=logic, what these branches are and key names involved, especially for the 10 (or 9) schools for ethics. Notice that some of the school founders are not named in the "lineages" above - e.g. Aristippus of Cyrene, Phaedo of Elis, Euclides of Megara, Menedemus of Eretria (the above are ethics school, possibly all "socratics"?). (Pyrrhonians also didn't have a lineage, and the author struggled to say if they really have a school or not because they don't have positive doctrines.)  It took Archelaus and Socrates as the breakpoint between (end of) physics and (beginning of) ethics, with Zeno of Elea as beginning of logic (and if one believes in Plato that Socrates was young when Parmenides was teaching, then Zeno of Elea probably overlaps chronologically with Socrates).


7. At the end, it announces the purpose of the prologue: "So much for the beginnings of philosophy, its subsequent developments, its various parts, and the number of the philosophic sects." Then he talks. about Eclectic school introduced by Potamo of Alexandria not long ago.


8. The first philosopher with a "Live" dedicated is Thales, whom Diogenes stated clearly that he learnt from the Egyptians.


The prologue quotes many books, and also lays out the different attributions according to different authors. Highly interesting early work of intellectual history!


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