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1. A philosopher, born at Olynthus. His mother, Hero, was a cousin of Aristotle's, and by him Callisthenes was brought up, studying under him at Stageira, together, as we may infer, with Alexander, and certainly with Theophrastus, with whom Aristotle is said to have contrasted him, saying, that Theophrastus needed the rein, but Callisthenes the spur [but see p. 317b.]. When Alexander set forth on his Asiatic expedition, B. C. 334, he took Callisthenes with him by Aristotle's recommendation. The latter, however, was aware of the faults of his kinsman's character, of his total want of tact and prudence, and of his wrong-headed propensity to the unseasonable exhibition of his independent spirit; and against these he warned him to guard in his intercourse with the king. The warning was give in vain. Callisthenes became indignant at Alexander's adoption of oriental customs, and especially at the requirement of the ceremony of adoration, which he deemed derogatory to free Greeks and Macedonians; and it may be that he was the more open in the expression of his sentiments, because of the opposite extreme of supple flattery adopted by his opponent Anaxarchus. When Alexander was overwhelmed with remorse for the murder of Cleitus, both these philosophers were sent to console him; but the suggestions of Callisthenes, though apparently on this occasion more judicious than usual, were quite eclipsed by the bold adulation of Anaxarchus, who openly affirmed, that " whatever kings did, must therefore of necessity be lawful and just." Several anecdotes are recorded by Arrian and Plutarch, illustrative of the freedom of language in which Callisthenes indulged, and of his coarse and unconciliating demeanour--qualities which, while they alienated the king from him and procured him a number of enemies, rendered him also popular with many who looked on Alexander's innovations with a jealous eye; and the young men in particular are said to have flocked to hear his discourses, regarding him as the only free-spirited man in the royal retinue. It was this which ultimately proved fatal to him. When the plot of Hermolaus and others to assassinate Alexander was discovered, Callisthenes was involved in the charge. Aristobulus and Ptolemy indeed both asserted in their histories that Hermolaus and his accomplices, when under the torture, had named him as the chief instigator of their attempt; but this is rendered at least doubtful by a letter on the subject from Alexander himself to Craterus, which is preserved by Plutarch (Plut. Alex. 55), and in which the sufferers are expressly said to have denied that any one was privy to their design. It would seem more probable that the suspicions of Alexander were excited or revived, after the death of the traitors, by the suggestions of the enemies of Callisthenes, acting on a mind already exasperated against him. Every rash expression he had ever used, every rhetorical common-place he had ever uttered on the patriotism and glory of regicides, were raked up and made to tell against him. In another letter, written by Alexander to Antipater, subsequently to the one above-mentioned, and also quoted by Plutarch (l.c.) the king expresses his intention of " punishing the sophist and those who sent him out," the last words being, as Plutarch thinks, a clear allusion to Aristotle. The mode in which Callisthenes was put to death (about B. C. 328) is variously reported. Even the contemporary writers, Ptolemy and Aristobulus, differed on the point. Aristobulus recorded, that he was carried about in chains and died of disease; Ptolemy, that he was tortured and crucified. The former account, however, seems to agree with that of Chares of Mytilene, who was εἰσαγγελεύς, or lord-in-waiting, to Alexander (see Philol. Mus. i. p. 373, &c.), and who related that he was kept in confinement with the intention of bringing him ultimately to trial in the presence of Aristotle; but that, after an imprisonment of seven months, he died of a disgusting disease arising from his excessive corpulence. The accounts preserved in Justin and Diogenes Laertius (one of which is a perversion of the other, while the former is clearly a romance) are entitled to less credit. (Arrian, Arr. Anab. 4.10-14; Plut. Alex. 52-55, Sull. 36; Curt. 8.5-8; Freinsh. ad Curt. 8.5.13, 8.21; Just. 12.6, 7, 15.3; D. L. 5.4, 5, 39; Menag. ad Diog. Laert. 5.4, 5; Suidas, s. v. Καλλισθένης; Thirlwall's Greece, vol. vi. pp. 317-325; Blakesley's Life of Aristotle, pp. 56, 73-84.)


Some manuscripts are still extant, professing to contain writings of Callisthenes; but they are spurious, and none of his works have come down to us. Besides an account of Alexander's expedition (which he arrogantly said would be the main support of the conqueror's glory, and which is referred to in several places by Plutarch and Strabo), he also wrote a history of Greece, in ten books, from the peace of Antalcidas to the seizure of the Delphic temple by Philomelus. (B. C. 387-357.) Cicero mentions too a work of his on the Trojan war. The loss, however, of his writings we have not much reason to regret, if we may trust the criticisms passed on them by those to whom they were known. Thus Polybius censures him for his unskilfulness in his relation of military affairs; Cicero finds fault with his style as fitted rather for rhetorical declamation than for history, and contrasts it with that of Xenophon; and Strabo speaks disparagingly of his accuracy and veracity. He seems indeed to have been far more a rhetorician than either a philosopher or a historian, and, even as a rhetorician, to have had more of the spirit of Isocrates than of his own great master. His readiness and fluency, no less than his extreme indiscretion, are illustrated by the anecdote given by Plutarch (Plut. Alex. 53) of his speaking with great applause in praise of the Macedonians at a banquet, and then, on Alexander's challenging him to take the other side, launching forth into the bitterest invective against them. In philosophy he probably followed Aristotle, so far indeed as he threw himself into any system at all. The recension of Homer ( ἀπὸ νάρθηκος), kept by Alexander in a precious casket, and usually ascribed to Aristotle, was made, according to Strabo (xiii. p.594), by Callisthenes and Anaxarchus.

Further Information

Diod. 4.1, 14.117, 16.14; Cic. Fam. 5.15, ad Q. Fratr. 2.12, de Orat. 2.14, de Dix. 1.34, 2.25; Strab. xi. p.531, xii. p. 542, xiv. p. 680, xvii. p. 814; Plut. Alex. 27, 33; Plb. 12.17-21; Suidas, l.c.; Fabric. Bibl. Graec. vol. iii. p. 480; Clint. Fast. iii. p. 376, note k.

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hide References (17 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (17):
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 5.15
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 16.14
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 14.117
    • Polybius, Histories, 12.17
    • Polybius, Histories, 12.21
    • Plutarch, Alexander, 27
    • Plutarch, Alexander, 33
    • Plutarch, Alexander, 53
    • Plutarch, Alexander, 55
    • Diogenes Laertius, Vitae philosophorum, 5.4
    • Diogenes Laertius, Vitae philosophorum, 5.5
    • Plutarch, Alexander, 52
    • Arrian, Anabasis, 4.10
    • Arrian, Anabasis, 4.14
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 8.5
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 8.8
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 4.1
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