Chapter 3. POLEMO
(Head of the Academy from 314 to c. 276 B.C.)
Polemo, the son of Philostratus, was an Athenian
who belonged to the deme of Oea. In his youth he
was so profligate and dissipated that he actually
carried about with him money to procure the immediate gratification of his desires, and would even
keep sums concealed in lanes and alleys.1
the Academy a piece of three obols was found close
to a pillar, where he had buried it for the same
purpose. And one day, by agreement with his
young friends, he burst into the school of Xenocrates
quite drunk, with a garland on his head. Xenocrates,
however, without being at all disturbed, went on
with his discourse as before, the subject being
temperance. The lad, as he listened, by degrees
was taken in the toils. He became so industrious
as to surpass all the other scholars, and rose to be
himself head of the school in the 116th Olympiad.2
Antigonus of Carystus in his
his father was foremost among the citizens and kept
horses to compete in the chariot-race; that Polemo
himself had been defendant in an action brought by
his wife, who charged him with cruelty owing to the
irregularities of his life; but that, from the time
when he began to study philosophy, he acquired
such strength of character as always to maintain the
same unruffled calm of demeanour. Nay more, he
never lost control of his voice. This in fact accounts
for the fascination which he exercised over Crantor.
Certain it is that, when a mad dog bit him in the
back of his thigh, he did not even turn pale, but
remained undisturbed by all the clamour which
arose in the city at the news of what had happened.
In the theatre too he was singularly unmoved.
instance, Nicostratus, who was nicknamed Clytemnestra, was once reading to him and Crates something from Homer; and, while Crates was deeply
affected, he was no more moved than if he had
not heard him. Altogether he was a man such as
Melanthius the painter describes in his work
There he says that a certain wilfulness
and stubbornness should be stamped on works of
art, and that the same holds good of character.
Polemo used to say that we should exercise ourselves with facts and not with mere logical speculations, which leave us, like a man who has got by
heart some paltry handbook on harmony but never
practised, able, indeed, to win admiration for skill
in asking questions, but utterly at variance with
ourselves in the ordering of our lives.
He was, then, refined and generous, and would beg
to be excused, in the words of Aristophanes about
Euripides, the "acid, pungent style,"
which, as the
same author says, is "strong seasoning for meat when
it is high."4
Further, he would not,
they say, even
sit down to deal with the themes of his pupils, but
would argue walking up and down. It was, then,
for his love of what is noble that he was honoured
in the state. Nevertheless would he withdraw from
and confine himself to the Garden of the
Academy, while close by his scholars made themselves little huts and lived not far from the shrine of
the Muses and the lecture-hall. It would seem that
in all respects Polemo emulated Xenocrates. And
Aristippus in the fourth book of his work
Luxury of the Ancients
affirms him to have been his
favourite. Certainly he always kept his predecessor
before his mind and, like him, wore that simple
austere dignity which is proper to the Dorian mode.
He loved Sophocles, particularly in those passages
where it seemed as if, in the phrase of the comic
A stout Molossian mastiff lent him aid,
and where the poet was, in the words of Phrynichus,6
Nor must, nor blended vintage, but true Pramnian.
Thus he would call Homer the Sophocles of epic, and
Sophocles the Homer of tragedy
He died at an advanced age of gradual decay,
leaving behind him a considerable number of works.
I have composed the following epigram upon him7
Dost thou not hear? We have buried Polemo, laid here
by that fatal scourge of wasted strength. Yet not Polemo,
but merely his body, which on his way to the stars he left
to moulder in the ground.