Chapter 2. XENOCRATES (396-314 B.C.)
(Head of the Academy 339-314 B.C.)
Xenocrates, the son of Agathenor, was a native of
Chalcedon. He was a pupil of Plato from his earliest
youth; moreover he accompanied him on his journey
to Sicily. He was naturally slow and clumsy. Hence
Plato, comparing him to Aristotle, said, "The one
needed a spur, the other a bridle." And again,
"See what an ass I am training and what a horse
he has to run against." However, Xenocrates was
in all besides dignified and grave of demeanour,
which made Plato say to him continually, "Xenocrates, sacrifice to the Graces." He spent most of
his time in the Academy; and whenever he was going
to betake himself to the city, it is said that all the
noisy rabble and hired porters made way for him as
And that once the notorious Phryne
tried to make his acquaintance and, as if she were
being chased by some people, took refuge under his
roof; that he admitted her out of ordinary humanity
and, there being but one small couch in the room,
permitted her to share it with him, and at last, after
many importunities, she retired without success,
telling those who inquired that he whom she quitted
was not a man but a statue. Another version of the
story is that his pupils induced Laïs to invade his
couch; and that so great was his endurance that he
many times submitted to amputation and cautery.
His words were entirely worthy of credit, so much
so that, although it was illegal for witnesses to give
evidence unsworn, the Athenians allowed Xenocrates
alone to do so.
Furthermore, he was extremely
independent; at all events, when Alexander sent
him a large sum of money, 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.
Again, he would not accept the present sent him by
Antipater, as Myronianus attests in his
And when he had been honoured at the court of
Dionysius with a golden crown as the prize for his
prowess in drinking at the Feast of Pitchers, he went
out and placed it on the statue of Hermes just as
he had been accustomed to place there garlands of
flowers. There is a story that, when he was sent,
along with others also, on an embassy to Philip, his
colleagues, being bribed, accepted Philip's invitations to feasts and talked with him. Xenocrates
did neither the one nor the other. Indeed on this
account Philip declined to see him.
the envoys returned to Athens, they complained
that Xenocrates had accompanied them without
rendering any service. Thereupon the people were
ready to fine him. But when he told them that
now more than ever they ought to consider the
interests of the state--"for," said he, "Philip knew
that the others had accepted his bribes, but that he
would never win me over"--then the people paid
him double honours. And afterwards Philip said that,
of all who had arrived at his court, Xenocrates was
the only man whom he could not bribe. Moreover,
when he went as envoy to Antipater to plead for
Athenians taken prisoners in the Lamian war,1
invited to dine with Antipater, he quoted to him
the following lines2
O Circe! what righteous man would have the heart to
taste meat and drink ere he had redeemed his company and
beheld them face to face?
and so pleased Antipater with his ready wit that he
at once released them.
When a little sparrow was pursued by a hawk and
rushed into his bosom, he stroked it and let it go,
declaring that a suppliant must not be betrayed.
When bantered by Bion, he said he would make no
reply. For neither, said he, does tragedy deign to
answer the banter of comedy. To some one who had
never learnt either music or geometry or astronomy,
but nevertheless wished to attend his lectures,
Xenocrates said, "Go your ways, for you offer
philosophy nothing to lay hold of." Others report
him as saying, "It is not to me that you come for
the carding of a fleece."
When Dionysius told Plato that he would lose his
head, Xenocrates, who was present, pointed to his
own and added, "No man shall touch it till he cut
off mine." They say too that, when Antipater came
to Athens and greeted him, he did not address him
in return until he had finished what he was saying.
He was singularly free from pride; more than once
a day he would retire into himself, and he assigned,
it is said, a whole hour to silence.
He left a very large number of treatises, poems
and addresses, of which I append a list:
On Nature, six books.
On Wisdom, six books.
On Wealth, one book.
The Arcadian, one book.
On the Indeterminate, one book.
On the Child, one book.
On Continence, one book.
On Utility, one book.
On Freedom, one book.
On Death, one book.3
On the Voluntary, one book.
On Friendship, two books.
On Equity, one book.
On that which is Contrary, two books.
On Happiness, two books.
On Writing, one book.
On Memory, one book.
On Falsehood, one book.
Callicles, one book.
On Prudence, two books.
The Householder, one book.
On Temperance, one book.
On the Influence of Law, one book.
On the State, one book.
On Holiness, one book.
That Virtue can be taught, one book.
On Being, one book.
On Fate, one book.
On the Emotions, one book.
On Modes of Life, one book.
On Concord, one book.
On Students, two books.
On Justice, one book.
On Virtue, two books.
On Forms, one book.
On Pleasure, two books.
On Life, one book.
On Bravery, one book.
On the One, one book.
On Ideas, one book.
On Art, one book.
On the Gods, two books.
On the Soul, two books.
On Science, one book.
The Statesman, one book.
On Cognition, one book.
On Philosophy, one book.
On the Writings of Parmenides, one book.
Archedemus or Concerning Justice, one book.
On the Good, one book.
Things relating to the Understanding, eight
Solution of Logical Problems, ten books.
Physical Lectures, six books.
Summary, one book.
On Genera and Species, one book.
Things Pythagorean, one book.
Solutions, two books.
Divisions, eight books.
Theses, in twenty books, 30,000 lines.
The Study of Dialectic, in fourteen books, 12,740
After this come fifteen books, and then sixteen
books of Studies relating to Style.
Nine books on Ratiocination.
Six books concerned with Mathematics.
Two other books entitled Things relating to the
On Geometers, five books.
Commentaries, one book.
Contraries, one book.
On Numbers, one book.
Theory of Numbers, one book.
On Dimensions, one book.
On Astronomy, six books.
Elementary Principles of Monarchy, in four books,
dedicated to Alexander.
On Geometry, two books.
These works comprise in all 224,239 lines.
Such was his character, and yet, when he was
unable to pay the tax levied on resident aliens, the
Athenians put him up for sale. And Demetrius of
Phalerum purchased him, thereby making twofold
restitution, to Xenocrates of his liberty, and to
the Athenians of their tax. This we learn from
Myronianus of Amastris in the first book of his
Chapters on Historical Parallels.
Speusippus and was head of the school for twenty-five
years from the archonship of Lysimachides, beginning
in the second year of the 110th Olympiad.4
in his 82nd year from the effects of a fall over some
utensil in the night.
Upon him I have expressed myself as follows5
Xenocrates, that type of perfect manliness, stumbled over
a vessel of bronze and broke his head, and, with a loud cry,
There have been six other men named Xenocrates:
(1) a tactician in very ancient times; (2) the kinsman
and fellow-citizen of the philosopher: a speech by
him is extant entitled the Arsinoëtic, treating of a
certain deceased Arsinoë6
; (4) a philosopher and
not very successful writer of elegies; it is a remarkable fact that poets succeed when they undertake
to write prose, but prose-writers who essay poetry
come to grief; whereby it is clear that the one is a
gift of nature and the other of art; (5) a sculptor;
(6) a writer of songs mentioned by Aristoxenus.