Diogenes Laertius

, so called from Laerta, or Laertes, a town of Cilicia, where he is supposed to have been born, is an ancient Greek author, who wrote ten books of the Lives of the Philosophers, still extant. In what age he flourished, is not easy to determine. The oldest writers who mention him are Sopater Alexandrinus, who lived in the time of Constantine the Great, and Hesychius Milesius, who lived under Justinian. Diogenes often speaks in terms of approbation of Plutarch and Phavorinus; and therefore, as Plutarch lived under Trajan, and Phavorinus under Hadrian, it is certain that he could not flourish before the reigns of those emperors. Menage has fixed him to the time of Severus; that is, about the year of Christ 200; and from certain expressions in his works, some have fancied him to have been a Christian; however, as Menage observes, the immoderate praises he bestows upon Epicurus will not suffer us to believe this, but incline us rather to suppose that he was an Epicurean. He divided his Lives into books, and inscribed them to a learned lady of the Platonic school, as he himself intimates in his life of Plato. Montaigne was so fond of this author, that, instead of one Laertius, he wishes we had a dozen; and Vossius says, that his work is as precious as old gold. Without doubt we are | greatly obliged to him for what we know of the ancient philosophers; and if he had been as exact in the execution, as he was judicious in the choice of his subject, we had been more obliged to him still. Bishop Burnet, in the preface to his Life of sir Matthew Hale, justly speaks of him in the following manner: “There is no hook the ancients have left us,” says he, “which might have informed us more than Diogenes Laertius’s Lives of the Philosophers, if he had had the art of writing equal to that great subject which he undertook: for if he had given the world such an account of them, as Gassendus has done of Peiresc, how great a stock of knowledge might we have had, which by his unskilfulness is in a great measure lost! since we must now depend only on him, because we have no other and better author who has written on that argument.” He is no where observed to be a rigid affecter or favourer of any sect; which makes it somewhat probable, that he was a follower of Potomon of Alexandria, who, after all the rest, and a little before his time, established a sect which were called Eclectics, from their choosing out of every sect what they thought the best. His books shew him to have been a man of universal reading; but as a writer he is very exceptionable, both as to the disposal and the defect of his materials. Brucker, whose opinion must be of sterling value, in estimating the merits of Diogenes Laertius, says, that “he has collected from the ancients with little judgment, patched together contradictory accounts, relied upon doubtful authorities, admitted as facts many tales which were produced in the schools of the sophists, and has been inattentive to methodical arrangement.Diogenes also composed a book of epigrams, to which he refers. The best edition is that of Meibomius, Amst. 1692, 2 vols. 4to; yet Rossius, in his “Commentationes Laertianae,” has convicted Meibomius of innumerable errors. 1


Vossius de Hist. Grace. Fabr. Bjbl. Grace. —Brucker. —Saxii Onomast. Dibdin’s Classics.