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Life of Demonax | Demonax

The Works of Lucian of Samosata. Translated by Fowler, H W and F G. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. 1905.

Lucian has here rescued from oblivion a character well worth of being transmitted to posterity. It is, indeed, something extraordinary, especially as Demonax lived to see so great an age, that no other writer should have mentioned a person of such singular acheivements. Our author has shown in this tract that he is a master of panegyric as well as satire. The whole piece is an encomium on a man whom he was intimately acquianted with and who seems to have been only not only a good philosopher and virtuous citizen, but a man of wit and genius also. The collection of bons-mots which Lucian has attributed to his friend is curious and gives us an idea of the kind of social pleasantry and repartee which was fashionable in those times. Some of them are severe, others laughable, and a few, to say the truth, can be dull and hard to comprehend.
- Based on Francklin


It was in the book of Fate that even this age of ours should not be destitute entirely of noteworthy and memorable men,but produce a body of extraordinary power, and a mind of surpassing wisdom. My allusions are to Sostratus the Boeotian, whomthe Greeks called, and believed to be, Heracles; and more particularly to the philosopher Demonax. I saw and marvelled atboth of them, and with the latter I long consorted. I have written of Sostratus elsewhere, and described his stature and enormous strength, his open-air life on Parnassus, sleeping on the grass andeating what the mountain afforded, the exploits that bore out his surname — robbers exterminated, rough places made smooth,and deep waters bridged.

Demonax is presented as the ideal philosopher insofar as Lucian can find a philosopher ideal


This time I am to write of Demonax, with two sufficient ends in view: first, to keep his memory green among good men, asfar as in me lies; and secondly, to provide the most earnest of our rising generation, who aspire to philosophy, with acontemporary pattern, that they may not be forced back upon the ancients for worthy models, but imitate this best — if I amany judge — of all philosophers.


He came of a Cyprian family which enjoyed considerable property and political influence. But his views soared above suchthings as these; he claimed nothing less than the highest, and devoted himself to philosophy. This was not due to anyexhortations of Agathobulus, his predecessor Demetrius, or Epictetus. He did indeed enjoy the converse of all these, as wellas of Timocrates of Heraclea, that wise man whose gifts of expression and of understanding were equal. It was not, however,to the exhortations of any of these, but to a natural impulse towards the good, an innate yearning for philosophy whichmanifested itself in childish years, that he owed his superiority to all the things that ordinary men pursue. He tookindependence and candour for his guiding principles, lived himself an upright, wholesome, irreproachable life, and exhibitedto all who saw or heard him the model of his own disposition and philosophic sincerity.


He was no half-baked enthusiast either; he had lived with the poets, and knew most of them by heart; he was a practisedspeaker; he had a knowledge of philosophic principles not of the superficial skin-deep order; he had developed and hardenedhis body by exercise and toil, and, in short, had been at the pains to make himself every man’s equal at every point. He wasconsistent enough, when he found that he could no longer suffice to himself, to depart voluntarily from life, leaving agreat reputation behind him among the true nobility of Greece.


Instead of confining himself to a single philosophic school, he laid them all under contribution, without showing clearlywhich of them he preferred; but perhaps he was nearest akin to Socrates; for, though he had leanings as regards externalsand plain living to Diogenes, he never studied effect or lived for the applause and admiration of the multitude; his wayswere like other people’s; he mounted no high horse; he was just a man and a citizen.


He indulged in no Socratic irony; buthis discourse was full of Attic grace; those who heard it went away neither disgusted by servility nor repelled byill-tempered censure, but on the contrary lifted out of themselves by charity, and encouraged to more orderly, contented,hopeful lives.


He was never known to shout or be over vehement or angry, even when he had to correct; he touched offences, but pardonedoffenders, saying that the doctors’ was the right model, who treat sickness but are not angry with the sick. It is human, hethought, to err, but divine (whether in God or man) to put the error right.


A life of this sort left him without wants of his own; but he was always ready to render any proper service to hisfriends — including reminders to those among them who passed for fortunate, how brief was their tenure of what they soprided themselves upon. To all, on the other hand, who repined at poverty, resented exile, or complained of old age or badhealth, he administered laughing consolation, and bade them not forget how soon their troubles would be over, thedistinction between good and bad be obsolete, and long freedom succeed to short-lived distress.


He was fond of playing peace-maker between brothers at variance, or presiding over the restoration of marital harmony. Hecould say a word in season, too, before an agitated political assembly, which would turn the scale in favour of patrioticduty. Such was the temper that philosophy produced in him, kindly, mild, and cheerful.


Nothing ever grieved him except the illness or death of a friend, friendship being the one among blessings that he puthighest; and indeed he was every man’s friend, counting among his kindred whatever had human shape. Not that there were nodegrees in the pleasure different people’s society gave him; but he avoided none, except those who seemed so far astray thatthey could get no good from him. And every word or act in which these principles took shape might have been dictated by theGraces and Aphrodite; for ‘on his lips Persuasion sat,’ as the play has it.


Accordingly he was regarded with reverence at Athens, both by the collective assembly and by the officials; he alwayscontinued to be a person of great consequence in their eyes. And this though most of them had been at first offended withhim, and hated him as heartily as their ancestors had Socrates. Besides his candour and independence, there had been foundAnytuses and Meletuses to repeat the historic charges: he had never been known to sacrifice, and he made himselfsingular by avoiding initiation at Eleusis. On this occasion he showed his courage by appearing in a garland and festalattire, and then pleading his cause before the people with a dash of unwonted asperity infused into his ordinary moderatetone. On the count of never having sacrificed to Athene, ‘Men of Athens,’ he said, ‘there is nothing wonderful in this; itwas only that I gave the Goddess credit for being able to do very well without sacrifices from me.’ And in the matter of theMysteries, his reason for not following the usual practice was this: if the Mysteries turned out to be bad, he would neverbe able to keep quiet about it to the uninitiated, but must dissuade them from the ceremony; while, if they were good,humanity would tempt him to divulge them. The Athenians, stone in hand already, were at once disarmed, and from that timeonwards paid him honour and respect, which ultimately rose to reverence. Yet he had opened his case with a bitter enoughreproof: ‘Men of Athens, you see me ready garlanded; proceed to sacrifice me, then; your former offering was deficient in this formality.’


I will now give some specimens of his pointed and witty sayings, which may begin with his answers to Favorinus. Thelatter had heard that he made fun of his lectures, and in particular of the sentimental verses with which they weregarnished, and which Demonax thought contemptible, womanish, and quite unsuited to philosophy. So he came and asked him:‘Who, pray, are you, that you should pour scorn upon me?’ ‘I am the possessor of a critical pair of ears,’ was the answer.The sophist had not had enough; ‘You are no infant,’ he went on, ‘but a philosopher, it seems; may one ask whatmarks the transformation?’ ‘The marks of manhood,’ said Demonax.


Another time the same person came up and asked him what school of philosophy he belonged to. ‘Who told you I was aphilosopher?’ was all he said. But as he left him, he had a good laugh to himself, which Favorinus observing, demanded whathe was laughing at; ‘I was only amused by your taking a man for a philosopher because he wears a beard, when you have noneyourself.’


When Sidonius, who had a great reputation at Athens as a teacher, was boasting that he was conversant with all thephilosophic systems — but I had better quote his words. ‘Let Aristotle call, and I follow to the Lyceum; Plato, and I hurryto the Academy; Zeno, and I make my home in the Porch; Pythagoras, and I keep the rule of silence.’ Then rose Demonax fromamong the audience: ‘Sidonius, Pythagoras calls.’


A pretty girlish young man called Python, son of some Macedonian grandee, once by way of quizzing him asked a riddlingquestion and invited him to show his acumen over it. ‘I only see one thing, dear child,’ he said, ‘and that is, that you area fair logician.’ The other lost his temper at this equivoque, and threatened him: ‘You shall see in a minute whata man can do.’ ‘Oh, you keep a man, do you?’ was Demonax’s smiling retort.


He once, for daring to laugh at an athlete who displayed himself in gay clothes because he had won an Olympic victory,received a blow on the head with a stone, which drew blood. The bystanders were all as angry as if they had themselves beenthe victims, and set up a shout —‘The Proconsul! the Proconsul!’ ‘Thank you, gentlemen,’ said Demonax, ‘but I should preferthe doctor.’


He once picked up a little gold charm in the road as he walked, and posted a notice in the market-place stating that theloser could recover his property, if he would call upon Demonax and give particulars of the weight, material, andworkmanship. A handsome young exquisite came, professing to have lost it. The philosopher soon saw that it was a got-upstory; ‘Ah, my boy,’ he said, ‘you will do very well, if you lose your other charms as little as you have lost thisone.’


A Roman senator at Athens once presented his son, who had great beauty of a soft womanish type. ‘My son salutes you,sir,’ he said. To which Demonax answered, ‘A pretty lad, worthy of his father, and extremely like his mother.’


A cynic who emphasized his principles by wearing a bear’s skin he insisted on addressing not by his name of Honoratus,but as Bruin.


Asked for a definition of Happiness, he said that only the free was happy. ‘Well,’ said the questioner, ‘there is no lackof free men.’—‘I count no man free who is subject to hopes and fears.’— ‘You ask impossibilities; of these two we are allvery much the slaves.’ ‘Once grasp the nature of human affairs,’ said Demonax, ‘and you will find that they justify neitherhope nor fear, since both pain and pleasure are to have an end.’


Peregrine Proteus was shocked at his taking things so lightly, and treating mankind as a subject for humour: ‘You have noteeth, Demonax.’ ‘And you, Peregrine, have no bowels.’


A physical philosopher was discoursing about the antipodes; Demonax took his hand, and led him to a well, in which heshowed him his own reflection: ‘Do you want us to believe that the antipodes are like that?’


A man once boasted that he was a wizard, and possessed of mighty charms whereby he could get what he chose out ofanybody. ‘Will it surprise you to learn that I am a fellow-craftsman?’ asked Demonax; ‘pray come with me to the baker’s, andyou shall see a single charm, just one wave of my magic wand, induce him to bestow several loaves upon me.’ Current coin, hemeant, is as good a magician as most.


The great Herodes, mourning the untimely death of Pollux, used to have the carriage and horses got ready, and the placelaid at table, as though the dead were going to drive and eat. To him came Demonax, saying that he brought a message fromPollux. Herodes, delighted with the idea that Demonax was humouring his whim like other people, asked what it was thatPollux required of him. ‘He cannot think why you are so long coming to him.’


When another person kept himself shut up in the dark, mourning his son, Demonax represented himself to him as a magician:he would call up the son’s ghost, the only condition being that he should be given the names of three people who had neverhad to mourn. The father hum’d and ha’d, unable, doubtless, to produce any such person, till Demonax broke in: ‘And haveyou, then, a monopoly of the unendurable, when you cannot name a man who has not some grief to endure?’


He often ridiculed the people who use obsolete and uncommon words in their lectures. One of these produced a bit of Atticpurism in answer to some question he had put. ‘My dear sir,’ he said, ‘the date of my question is today; that of your answeris temp. Bell. Troj.’


A friend asking him to come to the temple of Asclepius, there to make prayer for his son, ‘Poor deaf Asclepius!’ heexclaimed; ‘can he not hear at this distance?’


He once saw two philosophers engaged in a very unedifying game of cross questions and crooked answers. ‘Gentlemen,’ saidhe, ‘here is one man milking a billy-goat, and another catching the proceeds in a sieve.’


When Agathocles the Peripatetic vaunted himself as the first and only dialectician, he asked him how he could be thefirst, if he was the only, or the only, if he was the first.


The consular Cethegus, on his way to serve under his father in Asia, said and did many foolish things. A frienddescribing him as a great ass, ‘Not even a great ass,’ said Demonax.


When Apollonius was appointed professor of philosophy in the Imperial household, Demonax witnessed his departure,attended by a great number of his pupils. ‘Why, here is Apollonius with all his Argonauts,’ he cried.


Asked whether he held the soul to be immortal, ‘Dear me, yes,’ he said; ‘everything is.’


He remarked a propos of Herodes that Plato was quite right about our having more than one soul; the same soul could notpossibly compose those splendid declamations, and have places laid for Regilla and Pollux after their death.


He was once bold enough to ask the assembled people, when he heard the sacred proclamation, why they excluded barbariansfrom the Mysteries, seeing that Eumolpus, the founder of them, was a barbarian from Thrace.


When he once had a winter voyage to make, a friend asked how he liked the thought of being capsized and becoming food forfishes. ‘I should be very unreasonable to mind giving them a meal, considering how many they have given me.’


To a rhetorician who had given a very poor declamation he recommended constant practice. ‘Why, I am always practising tomyself,’ says the man. ‘Ah, that accounts for it; you are accustomed to such a foolish audience.’


Observing a soothsayer one day officiating for pay, he said: ‘I cannot see how you can ask pay. If it is because you canchange the course of Fate, you cannot possibly put the figure high enough: if everything is settled by Heaven, and not byyou, what is the good of your soothsaying?’


A hale old Roman once gave him a little exhibition of his skill in fence, taking a clothes-peg for his mark. ‘What do youthink of my play, Demonax?’ he said. ‘Excellent, so long as you have a wooden man to play with.’


Even for questions meant to be insoluble he generally had a shrewd answer at command. Some one tried to make a fool ofhim by asking, If I burn a hundred pounds of wood, how many pounds of smoke shall I get? ‘Weigh the ashes; the difference isall smoke.’


One Polybius, an uneducated man whose grammar was very defective, once informed him that he had received Romancitizenship from the Emperor. ‘Why did he not make you a Greek instead?’ asked Demonax.


Seeing a decorated person very proud of his broad stripe, he whispered in his ear, while he took hold of and drewattention to the cloth, ‘This attire did not make its original wearer anything but a sheep.’


Once at the bath the water was at boiling point, and some one called him a coward for hesitating to get in. ‘What,’ saidhe, ‘is my country expecting me to do my duty?’


Some one asked him what he took the next world to be like. ‘Wait a bit, and I will send you the information.’


A minor poet called Admetus told him he had inserted a clause in his will for the inscribing on his tomb of a monostich,which I will give:

Admetus’ husk earth holds, and Heaven himself.

‘What a beautiful epitaph, Admetus!’ said Demonax, ‘and what a pity it is not up yet!’


The shrunk shanks of old age are a commonplace; but when his reached this state, some one asked him what was the matterwith them. ‘Ah,’ he said with a smile, ‘Charon has been having a bite at them.’


He interrupted a Spartan who was scourging his servant with, ‘Why confer on your slave the privilege of Spartans like yourself?’


He observed to one Danae, who was bringing a suit against herbrother, ‘Have the law of him by all means; it was another Danae whose father was called the Lawless.


He waged constant warfare against all whose philosophy was not practical, but for show. So when he saw a cynic, withthreadbare cloak and wallet, but a braying-pestle instead of a staff, proclaiming himself loudly as a follower ofAntisthenes, Crates, and Diogenes, he said: ‘Tell us no lies; your master is the professor of braying.’


Noticing how foul play was growing among the athletes, who often supplemented the resources of boxing and wrestling withtheir teeth, he said it was no wonder that the champions’ partisans had taken to describing them as lions.


There was both wit and sting in what he said to the proconsul. The latter was one of the people who take all the hair offtheir bodies with pitch-plaster. A cynic mounted a block of stone and cast this practice in his teeth, suggesting that itwas for immoral purposes. The proconsul in a rage had the man pulled down, and was on the point of condemning him to bebeaten or banished, when Demonax, who was present, pleaded for him on the ground that he was only exercising the traditionalcynic licence. ‘Well,’ said the proconsul, ‘I pardon him this time at your request; but if he offends again, what shall I doto him?’ ‘Have him depilated,’ said Demonax.


Another person, entrusted by the Emperor with the command of legions and the charge of a great province, asked him whatwas the way to govern well. ‘Keep your temper, say little, and hear much.’


Asked whether he ate honey-cakes, ‘Do you suppose,’ he said, ‘that bees only make honey for fools?’


Noticing near the Poecile a statue minus a hand, he said it had taken Athens a long time to get up a bronze toCynaegirus.


Alluding to the lame Cyprian Rufinus, who was a Peripatetic and spent much time in the Lyceum walks, ‘What presumption,’he exclaimed, ‘for a cripple to call himself a Walking Philosopher!’


Epictetus once urged him, with a touch of reproof, to take a wife and raise a family — for it beseemed a philosopher toleave some one to represent him after the flesh. But he received the home thrust: ‘Very well, Epictetus; give me one of yourdaughters.’


His remark to Herminus the Aristotelian is equally worth recording. He was aware that this man’s character was vile andhis misdeeds innumerable, and yet his mouth was always full of Aristotle and his ten predicaments. ‘Certainly, Herminus,’ hesaid, ‘no predicament is too bad for you.’


When the Athenians were thinking, in their rivalry with Corinth, of starting gladiatorial shows, he came forward andsaid: ‘Men of Athens, before you pass this motion, do not forget to destroy the altar of Pity.’


On the occasion of his visiting Olympia, the Eleans voted a bronze statue to him. But he remonstrated: ‘It will imply areproach to your ancestors, men of Elis, who set up no statue to Socrates or Diogenes.’


I once heard him observe to a learned lawyer that laws were not of much use, whether meant for the good or for the bad;the first do not need them, and upon the second they have no effect.


There was one line of Homer always on his tongue:

Idle or busy, death takes all alike.


He had a good word for Thersites, as a cynic and a leveller.


Asked which of the philosophers was most to his taste, he said: ‘I admire them all; Socrates I revere, Diogenes I admire,Aristippus I love.’


He lived to nearly a hundred, free from disease and pain, burdening no man, asking no man’s favour, serving his friends,and having no enemies. Not Athens only, but all Greece was so in love with him that as he passed the great would give himplace and there would be a general hush. Towards the end of his long life he would go uninvited into the first house thatoffered, and there get his dinner and his bed, the household regarding it as the visit of some heavenly being which broughtthem a blessing. When they saw him go by, the baker-wives would contend for the honour of supplying him, and a happy womanwas the actual donor. Children too used to call him father, and bring him offerings of fruit.


Party spirit was once running high at Athens; he came into the assembly, and his mere appearance was enough to still thestorm. When he saw that they were ashamed, he departed again without having uttered a word.


When he found that he was no longer able to take care of himself, he repeated to his friends the tag with which theheralds close the festival:

The games are done, The crowns all won; No more delay, But haste away,

and from that moment abstaining from food, left life as cheerfully as he had lived it.


When the end was near, he was asked his wishes about burial. ‘Oh, do not trouble; scent will summon my undertakers.’Well, but it would be indecent for the body of so great a man to feed birds and dogs. ‘Oh, no harm in making oneself usefulin death to anything that lives.’


However, the Athenians gave him a magnificent public funeral, long lamented him, worshipped and garlanded the stone seaton which he had been wont to rest when tired, accounting the mere stone sanctified by him who had sat upon it. No one wouldmiss the funeral ceremony, least of all any of the philosophers. It was these who bore him to the grave.

I have made but a small selection of the material available; but it may serve to give readers some idea of this greatman’s character.