BMCR 2000.07.09

Diogenes Laertius: Vitae Philosophorum, 2 vols., Vol. I: Libri I-X; Vol. II: Excerpta Byzantina

, Diogenes Laertius: Vitae Philosophorum, 2 vols., Vol. I: Libri I-X; Vol. II: Excerpta Byzantina. Stuttgart and Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1999. l, 826; 346. $125.00.

1999 was a good year for Diogenes Laertius. His lives of eighty-two “notable philosophers” were translated by a French équipe, drawn mainly from the Centre Nationale de Recherche Scientifique.1 Though based on H.S. Long’s discredited OCT of 1964, this version included a survey of the manuscript tradition by Tiziano Dorandi, who is preparing a new Budé edition.2 But, more importantly, 1999 saw Miroslav Marcovich bring out his Teubner edition, a major project that this distinguished scholar3 deserves every praise for completing under difficult circumstances (see Praefatio xvii).

This edition’s strength lies in its thorough reports of the principal manuscript sources, and its use of the indirect tradition, to which it also contributes in Vol. II, with a fragment of Photius, excerpts from the Suda lexicon, assorted biographica attributed to Hesychius of Miletus and, most importantly, the “Magnum Excerptum”, a biographical compendium based on Diogenes. Byzantinists will find such material, which is unusual as part of a critical edition, a valuable ancilla. The apparatus criticus records exhaustively (“omnes variae lectiones”, xvii) the contents of three manuscripts and the Magnum Excerptum. The manuscripts are B (Neap. III B 29), P (Par. gr. 1759) and F (Med.-Laur. 69.13), of which B and P are superior. A “recensio vulgata” is also represented by extensive reports of ms. D (Neap. III B 28). These labors have produced an apparatus of considerable size, augmented by another containing fontes, and, on occasion, parallels and references.4 The text to apparatus ratio is generally around 3:2, though it is sometimes reversed, notably in Book 10, where Epicurus’ unique prose is on display. Marcovich’s standards of reporting belong to another universe of scholarship from Long’s, as, for example, in the distinctions drawn between multiple secondary hands in manuscripts P and F, where we are even informed of their location on the page.

This remarkable achievement is not matched, nor designed to be, by the Praefatio on the manuscript tradition. Here manuscripts are described summarily,5 and the stemma codicum (xviii) is clearly open to refinement; see Dorandi’s summary, which draws pro tem. on D. Knoepfler’s study of the life of Menedemus.6 The Pontifical Institute’s listings7 also reveal numerous recentissimi that Marcovich has neglected, in addition to a ninth-century manuscript containing part of Book 3 (Vindob. phil. gr. 314) that Dorandi reported in 1995. Dorandi’s numerous Vorstudien suggest that his Budé edition will provide a much richer account of the manuscript tradition.

While Marcovich’s edition offers a welcome range of primary evidence, his textual criticism may be more controversial. He frequently puts his finger on genuine problems, but on occasion crosses the line between emendation and explication, and intervenes in ways that suggest no plausible internal rationale for change but rely on an implicit principle that this text is constitutionally open to expansion. Yet while Diogenes’ compilation is an epitome in which lacunae and obscurities might be expected, these can sometimes reflect the inherent nature of the text, or the character of later Greek scholastic prose, and not necessarily be problems needing solutions. In the ten notes below I shall mainly discuss places where I find Marcovich’s interventions questionable.8 This is, of course, only one aspect of his work, so let it be said that, while this edition cannot be definitively judged until Dorandi’s appears, it has significantly raised the quality of editorial work on Diogenes, and given scholars a challenging, and sometimes provocative, basis for further research.

Appendix. Notes on selected passages, cited by book and section number, followed by page and line numbers of the edition of Marcovich (hereafter M). TF = Traduction française (see n. 1 above).

1.20 (15.15). M.’s addition of ἀγωγήν from a parallel in Sextus Empiricus ( PH 1.17) is unnecessary. The sentence at 15.13 says that a αἵρεσις is “that which follows or seems to follow a principle based on what appears.” This defining participial phrase may implicitly refer to an ἀγωγήν as it does in Sextus, but our existing text, epitomized though it may be, is nonetheless intelligible. The parallel in Sextus should be reserved for comparison rather than misused for emendation.

2.81 (148.4). When asked why he was criticized by the tyrant Dionysius, Aristippus responded as follows: οὗ ἕνεκαοἱ ἄλλοι ἐλέγχουσιν. TF (284 n. 2) notes the ambiguity: i.e., we do not know whether others criticized Dionysius or Aristippus. M., however, supplies an object, < αὐτὸν >, for the verb, so that we know that Dionysius victimized the philosopher because he himself had been criticized. This is historically unlikely. Also, Aristippus’ response could mean that Dionysius was simply jumping on the bandwagon. That is, criticism was something that others did, and Dionysius was copying them. In that case, the absence of an object is no problem at all.

4.43 (288.3). M. here makes a major advance on a problem in the life of Arcesilaus, who περιὼν δὲ οὔτε γύναιον εἰσηγάγετο οὔτε ἐπαιδοποιήσατο. Wilamowitz marked περιών as a crux, but noted περιιών, which has subsequently been adopted and rather implausibly translated as “in all his life” (Hicks), “nel corso della sua vita” (Gigante), and “de toute sa vie” (TF).9 περιιών as a supplementary participle can at best refer to incessant, and often offensively prolonged, activity; see my comments on some Platonic texts at BMCR 8.2 (1997) 171. Its application to the duration of a life may have been inspired by the verb’s astronomical use (LSJ II.2), but there it refers to repeated cycles, not a single duration. M., however, rightly suggests interpreting περιών with reference to 4.38 (285.4) where Arcesilaus is said to have acquired περιουσία. But he then emends to περιὼν δε < τῇ οὐσίᾳ > (“Despite having a surplus of wealth etc.”). But περιών can surely bear this meaning in an absolute form when the immediate context concerns wealth, specifically various bequests. So by unnecessary emendation M. spoils an excellent insight based on a telling parallel.

4.48 (291.13). Bion of Borysthenes’ saw, τὴν δόξαν ἐτῶν μητέρα εἶναι, has long been recognized as open to emendation. As it stands, it is either too Heracleitean, or too banal (“time flies when you’re successful,” perhaps). Reiske’s ἀνιῶν has been a popular replacement for ἐτῶν, though Donald Russell (at CR n.s. 15 [1965] 175), whom M. fails to credit (despite having this item in his Bibliography, xliv), proposed the more plausible, and easily explicable, αἰτιῶν (“charges”), which Gigante (whom M. cites) presented as his own in the “epimetron” to the second edition (1983) of his translation (at p. 640). TF 526 n. 9 credits Russell, but translates in unorthodox (and even Parmenidean) fashion as “la fausse opinion … la mère des fautes”; most take δόξα as “glory” or “renown,” which better fits Russell’s suggestion: i.e., “glory gives birth to accusations.” M. meanwhile chooses to enrich this text with δόξαν < ἀνιῶν ἀσχ > έτων μητέρα, which may well be true, however δόξα is taken, but not perhaps true to Bion’s thought.

7.42 (470.20). After being told that the Stoics “used ( παραλαμβάνειν) the area [of philosophy] ( εἶδος understood from the preceding sentence) involving kanons and kriteria to find the truth”, at 470.20-471.1 we learn that “in this area ( ἐν αὐτῷ)” they did something described by ἀπευθύνειν to the distinctions between φαντασίαι. M. deletes ἐν, and so implies, I think, that the verb means “adjust” or “coordinate” φαντασίαι with this area of philosophy. But with ἐν retained it can surely mean “rank” or “arrange”; ἀπευθύνειν has this meaning in a military context (see LSJ I.1b), and so could be used figuratively here in the sense of categorizing. Cf. SVF 2.61 (= Diog. Laert. 7.51) for a classification of φαντασίαι. I doubt that it means “il justifient” (TF) or “stabiliscono le regole per …” (Gigante); these versions unduly elaborate the figurative sense of “straighten out” that is the verb’s core meaning.

7.134 (523.8-20). This is a paragraph of major importance for Stoic cosmology. Long and Sedley ( The Hellenistic Philosophers [Cambridge 1987] 44B) wisely left it intact, but not M. Thus at 523.11-12 he can’t tolerate a Stoic God “who constructs every single thing throughout the whole of matter” ( διὰ πάσας αὐτῆς [sc. τῆς ὕλης ] δημιουργεῖν ἕκαστα) (tr. Long and Sedley), and so has him doing so by “[going through] the whole of matter.” That is, M. supplies > διήκοντα < before δημιουργεῖν, a better position relative to the main verb than before διά, as M. proposed at Gnomon 58 [1986] 294. Now διήκειν is found in descriptions of the dynamic Stoic continuum (e.g., SVF 1.159, 2.441 and 310), but its presence here clarifies rather than plausibly emends the text. It essentially plays the role assigned it in the following paraphrastic translation: “[God], being eternal and [penetrating] all of matter, is the craftsman of all things,” L.P. Gerson and B. Inwood, Hellenistic Philosophy: Introductory Readings, 2nd edition (Indianapolis and Cambridge 1997) 132.

Then at 523.19-20 M. tries to retouch a sentence in which the eternal and indestructible Stoic ἀρχαί are said to be bodies “and without form” ( καὶ ἀμορ/φους). He reads ἄμορφα so that the are now “formless bodies.” This again is emendation instead of commentary. For while our text may imply the proposition that M. imposes on it, it actually says that in addition to being bodies the ἀρχαί lack form, unlike the elements, described in the coordinated clause (firmly coordinated if we accept M.’s μὲν at 523.19), which have form imposed on them ( μεμορφῶσθαι). Why eliminate the emphasis on the character of the ἀρχαί even if the bodies that they are said to be are, a fortiori, formless?

8.70 (617.11). Empedocles is said to have handled a plague caused by a polluted river as follows: ἐπινοῆσαι τὸν Ἐμπεδοκλέα καὶ δύο τινὰς ποταμοὺς τῶν σύνεγγυς ἐπαγαγεῖν ἰδίαις δαπάναις. Since ἐπινοεῖν cannot be used in an absolute sense to describe the prelude to the activity identified in the coordinated clause, M. boldly supplies it with an object, λύσιν. But this is unnecessary since the καὶ that introduces the next clause can be taken epexegetically, and hence as providing an implicit object. Parse: “Empedocles devised [a plan], i.e. he united two adjacent rivers.” In other words, the second clause identifies the plan, and so ἐπινοῆσαι is not really used absolutely. See Hicks, “[he] conceived the plan of bringing two neighboring rivers” (Hicks), and, in similar vein, Gigante. TF mistakenly separates ἐπινοῆσαι from its complementary clause by translating: “Empédocle y réfléchit et détourna … deux rivières.”

9.85 (691.10). A Sceptic trope is redundantly illustrated here by the Sun’s being said to “appear at a distance ( πόρρωθεν) on account of its distance ( παρὰ τὸ διάστημα).” M. rejects ποδιαῖος (advocated by J. Annas and J. Barnes, The Modes of Scepticism [Cambridge 1985] 187-188) for πόρρωθεν. Yet this term is commonplace in contemporary descriptions of the minuscule appearance of the Sun, which the Epicureans notoriously believed was its real size (see my edition of Cleomedes, n.5 above, at II.1 passim). It might, however, have confused a later scribe unaware of this material, who then simplified it to πόρρωθεν, by attraction from the next sentence. M. adopts μικρός (Kuehn; also Hicks and Long), which reflects μικρά in the major premise of the trope at 691.7; but that would not have been as readily misunderstood as the less familiar ποδιαῖος. Philodemus De signis col. IX.15-20 (sct. 14 in De Lacys’ edition), gave Dionysius the Stoic’s view as that the Sun πολὺ μείζονα εἶναι διὰ τὸ ἀφ’ ἡμῶν ἀπόστημα (restoration marks omitted). This plays into the Sceptic’s hands perfectly by making distance the cause for bodies having contrasting sizes. It deserves a place in any apparatus of similia for Diogenes.

10.56-59: In this difficult text on minimal parts within the Epicurean atom M. ignores David Furley’s emendation of κατὰ τοιοῦτον (10.57; 748.17-18) to κατὰ τοῦτον,10 and David Sedley’s brilliant improvement of it to κατὰ τοσοῦτον. He also does not record Furley’s replacement of ἀμετάβολα at 10.59 (749.19) with μετάβολα. For Furley see Two Studies in the Greek Atomists (Princeton 1967) 16 and 26-27, and for Sedley, Long and Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers, vol. 2 (Cambridge 1987) 32-34.


1. Diogène Laërce: vie et doctrines des philosophes illustres, Traduction française sous la direction de Marie-Odile Goulet-Cazé (Paris 1999), herafter “TF”. I have not seen Fritz Jürss, Diogenes Laertios: Leben und Lehre der Philosophen (Stuttgart 1998).

2. This is at TF, 33-39, where Dorandi lists his numerous preparatory studies.

3. For a list of his publications see his Festschrift at Illinois Classical Studies 18 (1993) 1-17.

4. To suggest one addendum: at Diog. 1.35 (25.12) cf. Aristot. Phys. 222b17 for an echo of Thales’ saw.

5. Thus Marcovich does not identify (following Jürgen Wiesner at Menomosyne n.s. 29 (1976) 141 n. 29) the third hand in ms. F (Med. Laur. 69.13) that rewrote fol. 9-19. It is that of Camillus Venetus (Zanettus), the prolific later sixteenth-century Italian scribe, who worked principally for the Paduan savant Gian Vincenzo Pinelli (see M. Grendler, Renaissance Quarterly 33 [1980] 408-410). Further on F see R.B. Todd, Cleomedis Caelestia (Leipzig 1990) vi.

6. D. Knoepfler, La vie de Ménédème d’Erétrie de Diogène Laërce (Basel 1991).

7. R.E. Sinkewicz, Manuscript Listings for the Authors of Classical and Late Antiquity (Toronto 1990) at L-M18 and A-C19.

8. Some of his minor changes can also be queried. 471.13-14: the preposition εἰς does not need to be repeated, but can be understood from similar preceding phrases (as at 471.18). 518.10 and 519.18: the present does not have to be changed to the future in these conclusive apodoses. 471.16: εἰς τὸν περὶ can be understood from the preceding clause and does not need to be repeated. However, if emendation is going to be explicatory, why not at 471.5, for example, supply ἐπιστήμην εἶναι from the preceding clause before τοῦ ὀρθῶς διαλέγεσθαι ?

9. R.D. Hicks, Diogenes Laertius, 2 vols. (Loeb Classical Library: 1925); M. Gigante, Diogene Laerzio: Vite dei Filosofi, 2 vols., 2nd. enlarged edition (Rome and Bari 1983).

10. Furley’s rationale is that otherwise κατὰ τοιοῦτον would repeat οὕτω from the preceding clause. Gerson and Inwood, 11, make his point by translating both as “in this fashion”, thereby displaying the redundancy that emendation must try to eliminate.