This opening line from Diogenes Laertius (as translated
by Robert Drew Hicks) neatly sums up the approach of
Diogenes in compiling this amazing amount of material
about the ancient philosophers. Some of the material
is valuable, some is stuff...but even the "stuff" is
pretty interesting coming from such an "ancient"
compilier (one dating for Diogenes is (ca. A.D. 225-
According to Herbert S. Long in his "Introduction"
to Vol. 1 (there are 2 volumes in the complete set of
the Loeb Classical Library Diogenes published by Harvard
Univ. Press -- Vol. 1: ISBN 0-674-99203-2 and Vol. 2:
ISBN 0-674-99204-0) -- Diogenes ranges from being a
source of valuable information about the lives of the
ancient philosophers to a source of highly readable,
even entertaining, but sometimes unreliable thought
A few things Long has to say are: "His account of Plato,
one of his longest, clearly shows how superficial and
unreliable he was [sigh...]." "The tone of his work as
a whole suits better a man of the world who happened to
be interested in philosophers, but more as men and writers
than as philosophers in a technical sense." Which means
that Diogenes can appeal to the general reader who is
interested in anecdotes and fascinating out-of-the-way
puns and "gossip" about the philosophers (as compiled
from tomes of secondary and tertiary sources)-- as well
as to the scholar interested in seeing the effect of
a compiler/synthesizer as a source of information.
According to Long, again, "Diogenes has acquired an
importance out of all proportion to his merits because
the loss of many primary sources and of the earlier
secondary compilations has accidentally left him the
chief continuous source for the history of Greek
Volume I of the 2-volume set includes Books I through
V, containing a "Prologue" and going from the beginning
with Thales in Book I to Aristotle at the beginning of
Book V. Volume II begins with Book VI and goes through
Book X, with Antisthenes at the beginning of Book VI
and ending with the entire Book X devoted to Epicurus.
Diogenes starts out his work by taking to task those
who claim that philosophy arose among the barbarians,
who rest their claims with the Persians and their Magi,
the Babylonians and Assyrians with their Chaldaeans,
the Indians with their Gymnosophists, and the Celts
and Gauls with their Druids.
But Diogenes assertively states: "These authors forget
that the achievements which they attribute to the
barbarians belong to the Greeks, with whom not merely
philosophy but the human race itself began." [!!!]
One example of his interesting material concerns
the ancient figure of "Linus": "Linus again was (so
it is said) the son of Hermes and the Muse Urania. He
composed a poem describing the creation of the world,
the courses of the sun and moon, and the growth of
animals and plants. * * * Linus died in Euboea, slain
by the arrow of Apollo, and this is his epitaph:
Here Theban Linus, whom Urania bore,/ The fair-
crowned Muse, sleeps on a foreign shore."
Very provocative...certainly worth deeper
investigation...so, why not plunk down your dollars and
have a go at Diogenes!
Volume 2 of this edition of Diogenes Laertius' work is invaluable to students of Epicureanism who want to access Epicurus' thoughts in the original Greek. Diogenes Laertius has faithfully copied three of his letters and a collection of maxims: the sum Athenian philospher's intact works. Hicks' translation provides an excellent gloss of the Greek, but not a very good crib because he resolves Epicurus' compact and tortured Greek into smoother English. This is a first-rate edition from the excellent Loeb collection. A great companion to the Loeb edition of Lucretius!