Chapter 6. ARCESILAUS (c. 318-242 B.C.)
Arcesilaus, the son of Seuthes, according to Apollodorus in the third book of his
Pitane in Aeolis. With him begins the Middle
Academy; he was the first to suspend his judgement
owing to the contradictions of opposing arguments.
He was also the first to argue on both sides of a
question, and the first to meddle with the system
handed down by Plato and, by means of question
and answer, to make it more closely resemble eristic.
He came across Crantor in this way. He was the
youngest of four brothers, two of them being his
brothers by the same father, and two by the same
mother. Of the last two Pylades was the elder, and
of the former two Moereas, and Moereas was his
At first, before he left Pitane for Athens,
he was a pupil of the mathematician Autolycus, his
fellow-countryman, and with him he also travelled
to Sardis. Next he studied under Xanthus, the
musician, of Athens; then he was a pupil of Theophrastus. Lastly, he crossed over to the Academy
and joined Crantor. For while his brother Moereas,
who has already been mentioned, wanted to make
him a rhetorician, he was himself devoted to philosophy, and Crantor, being enamoured of him, cited
the line from the
O maiden, if I save thee, wilt thou be grateful to me?
and was answered with the next line2
Take me, stranger, whether for maidservant or for wife.
After that they lived together. Whereupon Theophrastus, nettled at his loss, is said to have remarked,
"What a quick-witted and ready pupil has left my
school!" For, besides being most effective in argument and decidedly fond of writing books, he also
took up poetry. And there is extant an epigram of
his upon Attalus which runs thus3
Pergamos, not famous in arms alone, is often celebrated
for its steeds in divine Pisa. And if a mortal may make
bold to utter the will of heaven, it will be much more sung
by bards in days to come.
And again upon Menodorus, the favourite of
Eugamus, one of his fellow-students4
Far, far away are Phrygia and sacred Thyatira, thy
native land, Menodorus, son of Cadanus. But to unspeakable Acheron the ways are equal, from whatever place they be
measured, as the proverb saith. To thee Eugamus raised
this far-seen monument, for thou wert dearest to him of all
who for him toiled.
He esteemed Homer above all the poets and would
always read a passage from him before going to
sleep. And in the morning he would say, whenever
he wanted to read Homer, that he would pay a visit
to his dear love. Pindar too he declared matchless
for imparting fullness of diction and for affording a
copious store of words and phrases. And in his youth
he made a special study of Ion.
He also attended the lectures of the geometer
Hipponicus, at whom he pointed a jest as one who
was in all besides a listless, yawning sluggard but
yet proficient in his subject. "Geometry," he said,
"must have flown into his mouth while it was agape."
When this man's mind gave way, Arcesilaus took him
to his house and nursed him until he was completely
restored. He took over the school on the death of
Crates, a certain Socratides having retired in his
favour. According to some, one result of his suspending judgement on all matters was that he never
so much as wrote a book.5
Others relate that he was
caught revising some works of Crantor, which
according to some he published, according to others
he burnt. He would seem to have held Plato in
admiration, and he possessed a copy of his works.
Some represent him as emulous of Pyrrho as well.
He was devoted to dialectic and adopted the methods
of argument introduced by the Eretrian school. On
account of this Ariston said of him:
Plato the head of him, Pyrrho the tail, midway Diodorus.6
And Timon speaks of him thus7
Having the lead of Menedemus at his heart, he will run
either to that mass of flesh, Pyrrho, or to Diodorus.
And a little farther on he introduces him as saying:
I shall swim to Pyrrho and to crooked
He was highly axiomatic and concise, and in his discourse fond of distinguishing the meaning of terms.
He was satirical enough, and outspoken.
This is why
Timon speaks of him again as follows:
And mixing sound sense with wily cavils.Or possibly with Wachsmuth: "mixing jest in wily
fashion (ai(muli/ws) with
Hence, when a young man talked more boldly
than was becoming, Arcesilaus exclaimed, "Will no
one beat him at a game of knuckle-bone?" Again,
when some one of immodest life denied that one
thing seemed to him greater than another, he
rejoined, "Then six inches and ten inches are all
the same to you?" There was a certain Hemon,
a Chian, who, though ugly, fancied himself to be
handsome, and always went about in fine clothes.
He having propounded as his opinion that the wise
man will never fall in love, Arcesilaus replied,
"What, not with one so handsome as you and so
handsomely dressed?" And when one of loose life,
to imply that Arcesilaus was arrogant, addressed
Queen, may I speak, or must I silence keep?
his reply was10
Woman, why talk so harshly, not as thou art wont?
When some talkative person of no family caused
him considerable trouble, he cited the line11
Right ill to live with are the sons of
Of another who talked much nonsense he said that
he could not have had even a nurse to scold him.
And some persons he would not so much as answer.
To a money-lending student, upon his confessing
ignorance of something or other, Arcesilaus replied
with two lines from the
Be sure the hen-bird knows not from what quarter the
wind blows until she looks for a new brood in the nest.13
A certain dialectic, a follower of Alexinus, was
unable to repeat properly some argument of his
teacher, whereupon Arcesilaus reminded him of the
story of Philoxenus and the brickmakers. He found
them singing some of his melodies out of tune; so he
retaliated by trampling on the bricks they were
making, saying, "If you spoil my work, I'll spoil
yours." He was, moreover, genuinely annoyed with
any who took up their studies too late. By some
natural impulse he was betrayed into using such
phrases as "I assert," and "So-and-so" (mentioning
the name) "will not assent to this."14
many of his pupils imitated, as they did also his
style of speaking and his whole address.
Very fertile in invention, he could meet objection
acutely or bring the course of discussion back to
the point at issue, and fit it to every occasion.
In persuasiveness he had no equal, and this all the
more drew pupils to the school, although they were
in terror of his pungent wit. But they willingly put
up with that; for his goodness was extraordinary,
and he inspired his pupils with hopes. He showed
the greatest generosity in private life, being ever
ready to confer benefits, yet most modestly anxious
to conceal the favour. For instance, he once called
upon Ctesibius when he was ill and, seeing in what
straits he was, quietly put a purse under his pillow.
He, when he found it, said, "This is the joke of
Arcesilaus." Moreover, on another occasion, he sent
him 1000 drachmas.
Again, by introducing Archias the Arcadian to
Eumenes, he caused him to be advanced to great
dignity. And, as he was very liberal, caring very
little for money, so he was the first to attend performances where seats were paid for, and he was above all
eager to go to those of Archecrates and Callicrates, for
which the fee was a gold piece. And he helped many
people and collected subscriptions for them. Some one
once borrowed his silver plate in order to entertain
friends and never brought it back, but Arcesilaus did
not ask him for it and pretended it had not been
borrowed. Another version of the story is that he lent
it on purpose, and, when it was returned, made the
borrower a present of it because he was poor. He
had property in Pitane from which his brother
Pylades sent him supplies. Furthermore, Eumenes,
the son of Philetaerus, furnished him with large sums,
and for this reason Eumenes was the only one of
the contemporary kings to whom he dedicated any
of his works.
And whereas many persons courted Antigonus and
went to meet him whenever he came to Athens,
Arcesilaus remained at home, not wishing to thrust
himself upon his acquaintance. He was on the best
of terms with Hierocles, the commandant in Munichia
and Piraeus, and at every festival would go down to
see him. And though Hierocles joined in urging
him to pay his respects to Antigonus, he was not
prevailed upon, but, after going as far as the gates,
turned back. And after the battle at sea,15
many went to Antigonus or wrote him flattering
letters, he held his peace. However, on behalf of
his native city, he did go to Demetrias as envoy to
Antigonus, but failed in his mission. He spent his
time wholly in the Academy, shunning politics.
Once indeed, when at Athens, he stopped too long
in the Piraeus, discussing themes, out of friendship
for Hierocles, and for this he was censured by certain
He was very lavish, in short
Aristippus, and he was fond of dining well, but only
with those who shared his tastes. He lived openly
with Theodete and Phila, the Elean courtesans, and
to those who censured him he quoted the maxims of
Aristippus. He was also fond of boys and very
susceptible. Hence he was accused by Ariston of
Chios, the Stoic, and his followers, who called him a
corrupter of youth and a shameless teacher of
He is said to have been particularly
enamoured of Demetrius who sailed to Cyrene, and
of Cleochares of Myrlea; of him the story is told
that, when a band of revellers came to the door, he
told them that for his part he was willing to admit
them but that Cleochares would not let him. This
same youth had amongst his admirers Demochares
the son of Laches, and Pythocles the son of Bugelus,
and once when Arcesilaus had caught them, with
great forbearance he ordered them off. For all this
he was assailed and ridiculed by the critics abovementioned, as a friend of the mob who courted
popularity. The most virulent attacks were made
upon him in the circle of Hieronymus the Peripatetic,17
whenever he collected his friends to keep the birthday of Halcyoneus, son of Antigonus, an occasion
for which Antigonus used to send large sums of
money to be spent in merrymaking.
There he had
always shunned discussion over the wine; and when
Aridices, proposing a certain question, requested
him to speak upon it, he replied, "The peculiar
province of philosophy is just this, to know that there
is a time for all things." As to the charge brought
against him that he was the friend of the mob, Timon,
among many other things, has the following18
So saying, he plunged into the surrounding crowd. And
they were amazed at him, like chaffinches about an owl,
pointing him out as vain, because he was a flatterer of the
mob. And why, insignificant thing that you are, do you
puff yourself out like a simpleton?19
And yet for all that he was modest enough to
recommend his pupils to hear other philosophers.
And when a certain youth from Chios was not well
pleased with his lectures and preferred those of
the above-mentioned Hieronymus, Arcesilaus himself
took him and introduced him to that philosopher,
with an injunction to behave well.
Another pleasant story told of him is this. Some
one had inquired why it was that pupils from all the
other schools went over to Epicurus, but converts
were never made from the Epicureans: "Because
men may become eunuchs, but a eunuch never
becomes a man," was his answer.
At last, being near his end, he left all his property
to his brother Pylades, because, unknown to Moereas,
he had taken him to Chios and thence brought him
to Athens. In all his life he never married nor had
any children. He made three wills: the first he
left at Eretria in the charge of Amphicritus, the
second at Athens in the charge of certain friends,
while the third he dispatched to his home to
Thaumasias, one of his relatives, with the request
that he would keep it safe. To this man he also
wrote as follows:
"Arcesilaus to Thaumasias greeting.
"I have given Diogenes my will to be conveyed
to you. For, owing to my frequent illnesses and the
weak state of my body, I decided to make a will,
in order that, if anything untoward should happen,
you, who have been so devotedly attached to me,
should not suffer by my decease. You are the most
deserving of all those in this place to be entrusted
with the will, on the score both of age and of relationship to me. Remember then that I have reposed
the most absolute confidence in you, and strive to
deal justly by me, in order that, so far as you are
concerned, the provisions I have made may be
carried out with fitting dignity. A copy is deposited
at Athens with some of my acquaintance, and another
in Eretria with Amphicritus."
He died, according to Hermippus, through drinking
too freely of unmixed wine which affected his reason;
he was already seventy-five and regarded by the
Athenians with unparalleled good-will.
I have written upon him as follows20
Why, pray, Arcesilaus, didst thou quaff so unsparingly
unmixed wine as to go out of thy mind? I pity thee not so
much for thy death as because thou didst insult the Muses
by immoderate potations.
Three other men have borne the name of Arcesilaus: a poet of the Old Comedy, another poet who
wrote elegies, and a sculptor besides, on whom
Simonides composed this epigram21
This is a statue of Artemis and its cost two hundred
Parian drachmas, which bear a goat for their device. It
was made by Arcesilaus, the worthy son of Aristodicus, well
practised in the arts of Athena.
According to Apollodorus in his
philosopher described in the foregoing flourished
about the 120th Olympiad.22