Myson the Misanthrope, And Other Sages

Diogenes Laertius recounts that one day Myson of Chenae (fl. 6th c. B.C.), one of the early Greek philosophers, “was seen laughing to himself in a lonely spot; and when someone suddenly appeared and asked him why he laughed when no one was near, he replied, ‘That is just the reason.’” Considered one of the “Seven Sages” of antiquity, this contemplative farmer turned grumpy philosopher left only a handful of sayings to posterity; among them the adage: “We should not investigate facts by the light of arguments, but arguments by the light of facts.”

Another of the sages, Anacharsis (fl. 6th c. B.C.) was half Scythian, and thus a barbarian in the eyes of his contemporaries. When a Greek reproached him for his background, he replied, “Well, granted that my country is a disgrace to me, you are a disgrace to your country.” To the question, “What among men is both good and bad?” his answer was “The tongue.” He also said, “It is better to have one friend of great worth than many friends worth nothing at all.”

Cleobuline was the daughter of Cleobulus (c. 600 B.C.). She was unusual for the time in that she was philosophically instructed and known for writing riddles and poetry. A play, by the Athenian poet Cratinus, was named after her. On this account Cleobulus would make the rather daring assertion: “We ought to give our daughters to husbands maidens in years but women in wisdom.” According to Diogenes, this meant “that girls should be educated as well as boys.”

Solon (c. 630 – c. 560 B.C.), the famous Athenian lawgiver, offered the following maxims: “Put more trust in nobility of character than in an oath. Never tell a lie. Pursue worthy aims. Be led by reason. Shun evil company.” He also said “Do not be rash to make friends and, once they are made, do not drop them.” Yet when he advises that in giving advice we should “seek to help, not to please” our friends, one wonders if this would inadvertently result in dropping some of our acquaintances. Solon opposed the tyrant Pisistratus and chided his fellow Athenians in a letter:

If you have suffered sadly through your own wickedness, lay not the blame for this upon the gods. For it is you yourselves who gave pledges to your foes and made them great; this is why you bear the brand of slavery…. You look to the speech of a flatterer, paying no regard to any practical result.

The preceding anecdotes are taken from Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of Eminent Philosophers (available in an online edition and the original Loeb hardback volume). See my previous comments on Thales of Miletus.

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