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Πύρρων), a celebrated Greek philosopher, a native of Elis. He was the son of nothing Pleistarchus (D. L. 9.61), or Pistocrates (Paus. 6.24.5), and is said to have been poor, and to have followed, at first, the profession of a painter. His contemporary and biographer, Antigonus of Carystus (Aristocles, ap. Euseb. Praep. Ev. 14.18. p. 763), mentioned some torch-bearers, tolerably well executed, painted by him in the gymnasium of his native town (D. L. 9.62, comp. 61; Aristocl. l.c.; Lucian, Bis Accus. 25). He is then said to have been attracted to philosophy by the books of Democritus (Aristoel. l. e.; comp. D. L. 9.69), to have attended the lectures of Bryson, a disciple of Stilpon, to have attached himself closely to Anaxarchus, a disciple of the Democritean Metrodorus, and with him to have joined the expedition of Alexander the Great (Diog. Laert. ll. cc. 9.63; Suid. s. v. Aristocles describes Anaxarchus as his teacher, l.c.), and on the expedition to have become acquainted with the Magians and the Indian gymnosophists. That his sceptical theories originated in his intercourse with them was asserted by Ascanius of Abdera (a writer with whom we are otherwise unacquainted), probably without any reason (D. L. 9.61). It is more likely that he derived from them his endeavours after imperturbable equanimity, and entire independence of all external circumstances, and the resistance of that mobility which is said to have been natural to him (ib. 62, 63, comp. 66, 68; Timon, ibid. 100.65). It is manifest, however, that his biographer Antigonus had already invented fables about him. (Diog. Laert. l.c.; Aristocl. ap. Euseb. p. 763; Plut. de Prof in Virt. 100.9.) A half insane man, such as he depicts him, the Eleans assuredly would never have chosen as high priest (D. L. 9.64; comp. Hesych. Miles. p. 50, ed. Orell.); and Aenesidemus, to confute such stories, had already maintained that Pyrrhon had indeed in philosophising refrained from decision, but that in action he by no means blindly abandoned himself to be the sport of circumstances. (D. L. 9.64.) The young Nausiphanes (probably a later contemporary of Epicurus) Pyrrhon won over, not indeed to his doctrine, but to his disposition (διάθεσις), to which Epicurus also could not refuse a lively recognition. (D. L. 9.64.) Pyrrhon's disciple Timon, who, in his Python, had detailed long conversations which he had with Pyrrhon (Aristocl. l.c. p. 761 ; comp. D. L. 9.67), extolled with admiration his divine repose of soul, his independence of all the shackles of external relations, and of all deception and sophistical obscurity. He compared him to the imperturbable sun-god, who hangs aloft over the earth (ib. 65, comp. 67; Sext. Emp. ad v. Mat. 1.305; Aristocl. ap. Euseb. l.c. p. 761, &c.). What progress he had made in laying a scientific foundation for his scepsis cannot be determined with accuracy, but it is probable that Timon, who, as it appears, was more a poet than a philosopher [TIMON], was indebted to him for the essential features of the reasons for doubt which were developed by him. Just as later sceptics saw the beginnings of their doctrines in the expressions of the poets and most ancient philosophers on the insufficiency of human knowledge and the uncertainty of life, so Pyrrhon also interpreted lines of his favourite poet Homer in the sceptical sense. (D. L. 9.67; comp. Sext. Emp. ad v. Math. 1.272, 281.) That dogmatic convictions lay at the foundation of the scepticism of Pyrrhon, was maintained only by Numenius. (D. L. 9.68.) Still more groundless, without doubt, is the statement of the Abderite Ascanius, that Pyrrhon would recognise neither Beautiful nor Ugly, Right nor Wrong, and maintained that as nothing is according to truth, so the actions of men are determined only by law and custom. (D. L. 9.61; comp. Aristocl. ap. Euseb. l.c. p. 761.) That, on the contrary, he left the validity of moral requirements unassailed, and directed his endeavours to the production of a moral state of disposition, is attested not only by individual, well-authenticated traits of character (D. L. 9.66, after Eratosthenes, comp. 100.64) and expressions (ib. 64), but also by the way in which Timon expressed himself with respect to the moral (Sext. Emp. ad v. Math. 10.1), and by the respect which the Pyrrhonians cherished for Socrates (ib. 2; comp. Cic. de Orat. 3.17). The conjecture is not improbable that Pyrrhon regarded the great Athenians as his pattern. The statement that the Athenians conferred upon Pyrrhon the rights of citizenship sounds suspicious on account of the reason which is appended, for according to the unanimous testimony of the ancients, Python, the disciple of Plato, had slain the Thracian Cotus (D. L. 9.65, ib. Menage); it probably rests upon some gloss.

No books written by Pyrrhon are quoted (comp. Aristocl. l.c. p. 763c.), except a poem addressed to Alexander, which was rewarded by the latter in so royal a manner (Sext. Emp. ad v. Math. 1.232 ; Plut. de Alex. Fortune, 1.10), that the statements respecting the poverty of the philosopher's mode of life are not easily reconcilable with it. We have no mention of the year either of the birth or of the death of Pyrrhon, but only that he reached the age of 90 years (D. L. 9.62); nor do we learn how old he was when he took part in Alexander's expedition. But Arcesilas, who in his turn was late enough to be quoted by Timon, is said to have been one of his associates (ὡμιληκὼς Πύρρωνι. Numen. in Euseb. Praep. Evang. xii.-6). Among the disciples of Pyrrhon, besides those already mentioned, were also Eurylochus, Philo the Athenian, and Hecataeus of Abdera. (D. L. 9.68, 69; comp. Lucian, Vib. Auct. 27.) The Eleans honoured the memory of their philosophical countryman even after his death. Pausanias saw his likeness (a bust or statue) in a stoa by the agora of Elis, and a monument dedicated to him outside the city (6.24.5).

[Ch. A. B.]

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  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.24.5
    • Cicero, On Oratory, 3.17
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