Monday, May 26, 2014

Diogenes: Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, Vol. I

Socrates; statue at the Louvre.from Wikimedia.
How did Socrates pay his bills?

Most of our sources tell us that he didn't accept fees from his students. Hanging around the market place can't have generated too much income either. So where did the money come from?

There is a couple of potential answer's in Diogenes Laërtius' book. He provides a number of details about the mundane existence of many of the ancient philosophers, including their social standing and moneyed patrons.

No Need

Somewhat surprisingly, the most direct statement we get from Diogenes is that Socrates supported himself through usury:
Aristoxenus, the son of Spintharus, says of him that he made money; he would at all events invest sums, collect the interest accruing, and then, when this was expended, put out the principal again. (II. 20)
This implies that he should possess some measure of capital to lend; but Diogenes also emphasizes how simply and modestly he lived. Several pages are dedicated to discussing his ascetic lifestyle, and we hear that
He prided himself on his plain living, and never asked a fee from anyone. He used to say that he most enjoyed the food which was least in need of condiment, and the drink which made him feel the least hankering for some other drink; and that he was nearest to the gods in that he had the fewest wants. (II. 27)
But apparently, this notion that he did not charge for his teaching is contradicted by the portrayal in the Clouds of Aristophanes. (I haven't read the play, though.)

Also, Diogenes reports the following:
Aeschines said to him, "I am a poor man and have nothing else to give, but I offer you myself," and Socrates answered, "Nay, do you not see that you are offering me the greatest gift of all?" (II. 34)
Does this mean that one would have to apologize to Socrates for not paying tuition? Or apologize because one would in normal circumstances be expected to?

No Thanks

A recurring theme in Diogenes' narratives is Socrates being offered but rejecting gifts from rich and prominent people, often with a snappy one-liner:
Pamphila in the seventh book of her Commentaries tells how Alcibiades once offered him a large site on which to build a house; but he replied, "Suppose, then, I wanted shoes and you offered me a whole hide to make a pair with, would it not be ridiculous for me to take it?" (II. 24)
He showed his contempt for Archelaus of Macedon and Scopas of Cranon and Eurylochus of Larissa by refusing to accept their presents or to go to their court. (II. 25)
Again, when Charmides offered him some slaves in order that he derive an income from them, he declined the offer; (II. 31)
Apollodorus [the playwright?] offered him a beautiful garment to die in: "What," said he, "is my own good enough to live in but not to die in?" (II. 35)
Taken at face value, this means Socrates didn't actually enjoy any of these gifts; but at the same time, it indicates that there was a culture of patronage in Athens, with aristocrats and moneyed classes seemingly supporting their own favourite intellectuals.

Archelaus, king of Macedonia, 413–399; from Wikimedia.

But Yes

But a counterpoint to these anecdotes comes up in Diogenes' biography of Aristippus, the much more extravagant student of Socrates who was known for using perfume, eating luxurious foods, keeping multiple courtesans, etc.:
To the accusation that, although he was a pupil of Socrates, he took fees, his rejoinder was, "Most certainly I do, for Socrates, too, when certain people sent him corn and wine, used to take a little and return all the rest; and he had the most foremost men in Athens for his stewards, whereas mine is my slave Eutychides." (II. 74)
I presume the last sentence is a kind of cynical put-down, intended to excuse his own comfortable life as well as de-glamorize the ascetic life of Socrates by comparing his following to a staff of slaves; but I don't know for sure.

We also get the following little gem of an exchange illustrating just how much Aristippus differed from Socrates:
When he had made some money by teaching, Socrates asked him, "Where did you get so much?" to which he replied, "Where you got so little." (II. 80)
Pretty snappy too, it would thus appear.

All the Sweeter

Let's just stay with Aristippus for a bit. He offers such an illuminating contrast through which to understand the life and thought of Socrates. For instance,
Aristippus; apparently an 18th-century print.
… he was the first of the followers of Socrates to charge fees and to send money to his master. And on one occasion, the sum of twenty minae which he had sent was returned to him, Socrates declaring that the supernatural sign would not let him take it; the very offer, in fact, annoyed him. (II. 65)
Not surprisingly, he had little rapport with Diogenes the Cynic:
Diogenes, washing the dirt from his vegetables, saw him passing and jeered at him in these terms, "If you had learnt to make these your diet, you would not have paid court to kings," to which his rejoinder was, "And if you knew how to associate with men, you would not be washing vegetables." (II. 68)
Unfortunately, this anecdote is also attributed to a meeting between the Cynic philosopher Metrocles and the later philosopher Theodorus.

Money Not Books

Three other equally illuminating examples mentioned by Diogenes are:
When some one brought his son as a pupil, he asked a fee of 500 drachmae. The father objected, "For that sum I can buy a slave." "Then do so," was the reply, "and you will have two." (II. 72)
To one who reproached him with extravagance in catering, he replied, "Wouldn't you have bought this if you could have got it for three obols [= a tiny sum]?" The answer being in the affirmative, "Very well, then," said Aristippus, "I am no longer a lover of pleasure, it is you who are a lover of money." (II. 75)
16th-century French woodcut of
Dionysius; from Wikimedia.
He received a sum of money from Dionysius [the tyrant of Syracuse, his patron] at the same time that Plato carried off a book and, when he was twitted with this, his reply was, "Well, I want money, Plato wants books." (II. 81)
Finally, we get the following quite repulsive story about his incessant association with prostitutes:
A courtesan having told him that she was with child by him, he replied, "You are no more sure of this than if, after running through coarse rushes, you were to say you had been pricked by one in particular." Someone accused him of exposing his son as if it was not his offspring. Whereupon he replied, "Phlegm, too, and vermin we know to be of our own begetting, but for all that, because they are useless, we cast them as far from us as possible." (II. 81)

Some Indirect Evidence

While Diogenes gives us relatively little to go by with respect to Socrates, he does provide a few more hints with respect to some of the other Academic philosophers. For instance:
  • Plato had two different estates, a quite impressive amount of silver, and apparently four household slaves; (III. 41–42)
  • Arcesilaus, a later head of the Academy, "had a property in Pitane from which his brother Pylades sent him supplies." (IV. 38)
  • Aristotle was hired as a teacher for the young prince Alexander during the reign of Philip of Macedon (V. 4). Alexander was fifteen at the time, if I understand the chronology correctly (V. 10).
  • After he became king, Alexander apparently sent Xenocrates, then head of the Academy, "a large sum of money," and "he took three thousand Attic drachmas and sent back the rest to Alexander, whose needs, he said, were greater than his own, because he had a greater number of people to keep" (IV. 8).
  • About forty or fifty years prior to that, the Macedonian general Ptolemy Soter had made a similar proposition to the philosopher Stilpo of Megara: "Ptolemy Soter, they say, made much of him, and when he had got possession of Megara, offered him a sum of money and invited him to return with him to Egypt. But Stilpo would only accept a very moderate sum, and he declined the proposed journey, and removed to Aegina until Ptolemy set sail" (II. 115).
As with Socrates, there thus seems to be a pattern of rich, brutal rulers trying to ingratiate themselves with the intelligentsia, and that professional class then trying to hold on to some of that sweet, sweet money without building up too much of a dependency.

The best map of ancient Greece I could find; from Encyclopedia Britannica Kids.

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