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Onescritus of Astyalaea

Plutarch, On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander 10.331e

But the lyre of Paris gave forth an altogether weak and womanish strain to accompany his love songs.“ Thus it is the mark of a truly philosophic soul to be in love with wisdom and to admire wise men most of all, and this was more characteristic of Alexander than of any other king. His attitude toward Aristotle has already been stated; and it is recorded by several authors that he considered the musician Anaxarchus the most valuable of all his friends, that he gave ten thousand gold pieces to Pyrrhon of Elis the first time he met him, that he sent to Xenocrates, the friend of Plato, fifty talents as a gift, and that he made Onesicritus, the pupil of Diogenes the Cynic, chief pilot of his fleet.

Plutarch, Life of Alexander 65.701c

These philosophers, then, he dismissed with gifts; but to those who were in the highest repute and lived quietly by themselves he sent Onesicritus, asking them to pay him a visit. Now, Onesicritus was a philosopher of the school of Diogenes the Cynic. And he tells us that Calanus very harshly and insolently bade him strip off his tunic and listen naked to what he had to say, otherwise he would not converse with him, not even if he came from Zeus; but he says that Dandamis was gentler, and that after hearing fully about Socrates, Pythagoras, and Diogenes, he remarked that the men appeared to him to have been of good natural parts but to have passed their lives in too much awe of the laws. Others, however, say that the only words uttered by Dandamis were these “Why did Alexander make such a long journey hither?” Calanus, nevertheless, was persuaded by Taxiles to pay a visit to Alexander. His real name was Sphines, but because he greeted those whom he met with “Cale,” the Indian word of salutation, the Greeks called him Calanus. It was Calanus, as we are told, who laid before Alexander the famous illustration of government. It was this. He threw down upon the ground a dry and shrivelled hide, and set his foot upon the outer edge of it; the hide was pressed down in one place, but rose up in others. He went all round the hide and showed that this was the result wherever he pressed the edge down, and then at last he stood in the middle of it, and lo! it was all held down firm and still. The similitude was designed to show that Alexander ought to put most constraint upon the middle of his empire and not wander far away from it.

Diogenes Laertius, Book 6 §84

Onesicritus some report to have been an Aeginetan, but Demetrius of Magnesia says that he was a native of Astypalaea. He too was one of the distinguished pupils of Diogenes. His career seems to have resembled that of Xenophon; for Xenophon joined the expedition of Cyrus, Onesicritus that of Alexander; and the former wrote the Cyropaedia, or Education of Cyrus, while the latter has described how Alexander was educated: the one a laudation of Cyrus, the other of Alexander. And in their diction they are not unlike: except that Onesicritus, as is to be expected in an imitator, falls short of his model.

Amongst other pupils of Diogenes were Menander, who was nicknamed Drymus or “Oakwood,” a great admirer of Homer; Hegesias of Sinope, nicknamed “Dog-collar”; and Philiscus of Aegina mentioned above.

Strabo, Geography XV.65

65 At all events, all he said, according to Onesicritus, tended to this, that the best teaching is that which removes pleasure and pain from the soul; and that pain and toil differ, for the former is inimical to man and the latter friendly, since man trains the body for toil in order that his opinions may be strengthened, whereby he may put a stop to dissensions and be ready to give good advice to all, both in public and in private; and that, furthermore, he had now advised Taxiles to receive Alexander, for if he received a man better than himself he would be well treated, but if inferior, he would improve him. Onesicritus says that, after saying this, Mandanis inquired whether such doctrines were taught among the Greeks; and that when he answered that Pythagoras taught such doctrines, and also bade people to abstain from meat, as did also Socrates and Diogenes, and that he himself had been a pupil of Diogenes, Mandanis replied that he regarded the Greeks as sound-minded if, but that they were wrong in one respect, in that they preferred custom to nature; for otherwise, Mandanis said, they would not be ashamed to go naked, like himself, and live on frugal fare; for, he added, the best house is that which requires the least repairs. And Onesicritus goes on to say that they inquire into numerous natural phenomena, including prognostics, rains, droughts, and diseases; and that when they depart for the city they scatter to the different market-places; and whatever they chance upon anyone carrying figs or bunches of grapes, they get fruit from that person as a free offering; but that if it is oil, it is poured down over them and they are anointed with it; and that the whole of a wealthy home is open to them, even to the women's apartments, and that they enter and share in meals and conversation; and that they regard disease of the body as a most disgraceful thing; and that he who suspects disease in his own body commits suicide through means of fire, piling a funeral pyre; and that he anoints himself, sits down on the pyre, orders it to be lighted, and burns without a motion.

cynics/onesicritus_of_astyalaea.txt · Last modified: 2014/01/14 23:19 (external edit)