Xenocrates

, one of the most celebrated philosophers of ancient Greece, was born at Chalcedon, B. C. 400. He at first attached himself to Æschines, but afterwards became the disciple of Plato, and always retained a high degree of respect and attachment for that great man, whom he accompanied in a voyage to Sicily. When Dionysius the tyrant threatened Plato one day, saying, “that some person should behead him;” “Nobody shall do that,” said Xenocrates, “till they have first beheaded me.” This philosopher studied under Plato at the same time with Aristotle, but did not possess equal talents: for he had a slow genius and dull apprehension, while Aristotle’s genius was quick and penetrating, whence their master observed of them, “that one wanted a spur, and the other a bridle.” But however inferior Xenocrates might be to Aristotle in genius, he greatly excelled him in the practice of moral philosophy. | He was grave, sober, austere, and of a disposition so serious, and so far removed from the Athenian politeness, that Plato frequently exhorted him to “sacrifice to the graces.” He always bore his master’s reproofs with great patience, and when persuaded to defend himself, replied, “He treats me thus only for my good.Xenocrates is particularly celebrated for chastity, and is said to have acquired so great a command over his passions, that Phryne, the most beautiful courtezan of Greece, who had laid a wager that she would seduce him, could not effect her purpose. Being afterwards laughed at, and the wager demanded, she replied, “I have not lost it; for I undertook to seduce a man, and not a statue.” The conduct of Xenocrates exhibited an equal example of temperance in every other respect. He cared neither for pleasures, wealth, or fame; and was so moderate in his dietj that he often found it necessary to throw away his provisions because they were grown stale and mouldy; whence the proverb among the Grecians, of Xenocrates* s cheese, when they would describe any thing which lasted a long time. This philosopher succeeded Speusippus, who was Plato’s immediate successor in the‘ academy at Athens, in 339 B. C. He required his disciples to understand mathematics before they placed themselves under his care; and sent back a youth who was ignorant of that science, saying, “that he had not the key of philosophy.” So great was his reputation fqr sincerity and probity, that the magistrates accepted his testimony without an oath; a favour granted to him alone. Polemo, a rich young man, but so debauched, that his wife had begun a prosecution against him for his infamoqs conduct, rambling through the streets, one day, with his dissolute companions, after they had drank freely, entered our philosopher’s school, with an intention to ridicule and insult him. The audience were highly offended at this behaviour; but Xenocrates Continued perfectly calm, and immediately turning his discourse upon temperance, spoke of that virtue in terms so forcible, lofty, and elevated, that the young libertine made a sudden resolution to renounce his licentiousness, and devote himself to wisdom. From that moment, Polemo became the pupil of virtue, and a model of temperance, and at length succeeded Xenocrates in the philosophical chair. Hia conversion made much noise, and so increased the public veneration for Xenocrates, that when he appeared in the streets, no dissolute youths dared | to remain there, but turned aside that they might avoid meeting him. The Athenians sent this philosopher on an embassy to Philip, king of Macedon, and, a considerable time after, to Antipater; neither of whom could corrupt him by their presents, which circumstance made him doubly honoured. Alexander the Great so highly esteemed Xenocrates, that he sent him fifty talents, a large sum then; and when his messengers arrived at Athens, Xenocrates invited them to eat with him, but gaVe them only his common farel Upon their inquiring, next morning, to whom they should pay the fifty talents, he replied, “Has not lak night’s supper convinced you that I want no money?” intimating that he was contented with a little, and that money was necessary to kings, not to philosophers. But at the earnest entreaties of Alexander’s messengers, he accepted a small part of the sum, lest he should appear deficient in respect to that great monarch. It is astonishing that ‘the Athenians should suffer a philosopher of such exalted merit to be so ill treated by the collectors and receivers of their taxes 5 for though they were once fined for attempting to imprison Xenocrates, because he had not paid a certain tax imposed on foreigners, yet it is certain that the same collectors and receivers sold him at another time, because he had not enough to pay them. But Demetrius Phalereus, detesting so base an action; purchased Xenocrates’, gave hirri his freedom immediately, and discharged his debt to the Athenians. This philosopher died about 314 B.C. aged eighty-two, in consequence ’of falling in the dark into a reservoir of water. He 1 wrote, at the request of Alexander, *a small tract on the Art of Reigning; six books on Nature; MX books oh Philosophy one on Riches, &c, but none of these have come down to us. There is a tract on Death, under his name, in 'the Jamblicus of Aldus, 1497, folio. Xenocrates used to say, “That we often repent of having spoken, b,ut never of having kept silence; that true philosophers are the only persons who do willingly, and by their own choice, what others are constrained to do by fear of the laws; that it is as great a crime to look into our neighbour’s house as to enter it privately J that there was more necessity for putting iron-plates over the ears of children, to defend and preserve them from hearing vicious discourse, than of gladiators, to guard them from blows,” c. As to his philosophical system, it was truly Platonic; but in his’ method of teaching he made use of the language of the | Pythagoreans. He made Unity and Diversity principles in nature, or gods; the former of whom he represented as the father, and the latter as the mother, of the universe. He taught, that the heavens are divine, and the stars celestial gods; and that besides these divinities, there are terrestrial daemons, of a middle order between the gods and man, which partake of the nature both of mind and body, and are therefore, like human beings, capable of passions, and liable to diversity of character. After Plato, he probably conceived the superior divinities to be the Ideas, or intelligible forms, which immediately proceeded from the supreme Deity, and the inferior gods or daemons, to be derived from the soul of the world, and therefore, like that principle, to be compounded of a simple and a divisible substance, or of that which always remains the same, and that which is liable to change. 1

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Diogenes Laertius. Brucker. Fenelon’s Lives of the Philosophers. Gen. Dict.