Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

Lives of the Eminent Philosophers


Everyone wants to live a meaningful life. Long before our own day of self-help books offering 12-step programs and other guides to attain happiness, the philosophers of ancient Greece explored the riddle of what makes a life worth living, producing a wide variety of ideas and examples to follow.

This rich tradition was recast by Diogenes Laertius into an anthology, a miscellany of maxims and anecdotes, that generations of Western readers have consulted for edification as well as entertainment ever since Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, first compiled in the AD third century, came to prominence in Renaissance Italy. To this day, it remains a crucial source for much of what we know about the origins and practice of philosophy in ancient Greece, covering a longer period of time and a larger number of figures – from Pythagoras and Socrates to Aristotle and Epicurus – than any other ancient source.

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Lives and the Eminent Philosophers of Diogenes Laertius is a crucial source for much of what we know about the origins of philosophy in Greece. The work covers a larger number of figures and a longer period of time than any other extant ancient source, from the Presocratic Thales to Epicurus. Despite its importance, a complete translation of the work has not appeared in English since 1925. Working from the new, authoritative Greek text established by Tiziano Dorandi (CUP, 2013), translator Pamela Mensch’s goal has been to render Diogenes into an English prose that is fluent yet faithful to the original Greek. The annotations are aimed at the general reader rather than the specialist, and explain the various references to people, places, practices, and countless mythological characters as they occur. The translation is accompanied by dozens of artworks to illustrate the ongoing influence of many of the philosophical anecdotes compiled by Diogenes, and by newly commissioned essays by James Allen, Anthony Grafton, Ingrid Rowland, and others to shed light on Diogenes’ historical and intellectual contexts as well as his rich reception history.


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