, , , ,

In the early 3rd century, Diogenes Laertius collected and organized information on Greek philosophers (he added some of his own comments and often concluded the sections with his own ghastly verse memorial).  One such man, of whom I never heard before heard, was Polemo:

Polemo, the head of the Academy of ancient Athens (approximately 314-276, B.C.), had an interesting start to his academic career. As a young man, he would always carry about sufficient money so as to indulge his “desires”, whenever the mood came upon him. Diogenes has an interesting phrase to describe this act of indulgence, “λύσεις τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν” – literally set loose or untie the (his) passions.  And, since he might not have enough money on him at any particular time, he actually would stash money in lanes and alleys.

Polemo also was known at the school prior to his introduction to philosophy, it seems:

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.[1]

Such philosophic endeavors lead to an exceedingly stable character:

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. [18] For 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.

It is interesting a singular inability to respond as a human being with even natural sympathy was taken as a sign of virtue.

The phrase translated by Hicks as “strength of character” is on interest in its relationship to the words of the Carmen Christi of Philippians 2. Diogenes’ phrase reads: ἐπὶ ταὐτοῦ σχήματος τῆς μορφῆς πάντοτε μένειν. The Carmen Christi reads:

Philippians 2:5–11 (SBLGNT)

5 τοῦτο φρονεῖτε ἐν ὑμῖν ὃ καὶ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, 6 ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ, 7 ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών, ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος· καὶ σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς ὡς ἄνθρωπος 8 ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν γενόμενος ὑπήκοος μέχρι θανάτου, θανάτου δὲ σταυροῦ· 9 διὸ καὶ ὁ θεὸς αὐτὸν ὑπερύψωσεν, καὶ ἐχαρίσατο αὐτῷ τὸ ὄνομα τὸ ὑπὲρ πᾶν ὄνομα, 10 ἵνα ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ πᾶν γόνυ κάμψῃ ἐπουρανίων καὶ ἐπιγείων καὶ καταχθονίων, 11 καὶ πᾶσα γλῶσσα ἐξομολογήσηται ὅτι κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς εἰς δόξαν θεοῦ πατρός.


Polemo grew old and died by decaying or emaciation (φθίσεως).


[1] Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, ed. R. D. Hicks (Kansas City Missouri: Harvard University Press, November 1, 2005), 393–395.