from The Lives of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius
written 225 C.E. (+/- 25 years)


Little is known about the third-century historian of philosophy, Diogenes Laertius.  Even his real name is in question, as some scholars have suggested Laertius is a pen-name chosen to distinguish himself from the numerous other persons named Diogenes at the time.  The best guess is that Diogenes Laertius wrote his collection of sketches of famous philosophers in the first half of the third century, based on the fact that the latest philosophers mentioned in his book date to the early third century, and important later philosophers are strikingly omitted from the work.

The biographical sketches of Diogenes Laertius cannot be assumed to be entirely accurate.  Although described by one scholar as "basically honest," Laertius' use of sources is entirely uncritical.  Nonetheless, Laertius stands as one of the most important sources of information about Socrates because most of the earlier primary and secondary sources cited in his sketch have been lost.  Laertius  has become, according to Herbert S. Long, "the chief continuous source for the history of Greek philosophy."

from The Lives of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius

Socrates was the son of Sophroniscus, a sculptor, and of Phaenarete, a midwife, as we read in the Theaetetus of Plato; he was citizen of Athens and belonged to the deme Alopece.  It was thought that he helped Euripides to make his plays; hence Mnesimachus writes:

This new play of Euripides is The Phrygians; and Socrates provides the wood for frying.
And again he calls Euripides "an engine riveted by Socrates.”  And Callias in The Captives:
  A. Pray why so solemn, why this lofty air?
  B. I’ve every right; I’m helped by Socrates.
Aristophanes in The Clouds:
 ‘Tis he composed for Euripides
 Those clever plays, much sound and little sense.
According to some authors he was a pupil of Anaxagoras, and also of Damon, as Alexander states in his Successions of Philosophers.  When Anaxagoras was condemned, he became a pupil of Archelaus the physicist; Aristoxenus asserts that Archelaus was very fond of him.  Duris makes him out to have been a slave and to have been employed on stonework, and the draped figures of the Graces on the Acropolis have by some been attributed to him.  Hence the passage in Timon’s Silli:
 From these diverged the sculptor, a prater about laws, the enchanter of Greece, inventor or subtle arguments, the sneerer who mocked at fine speeches, half-Attic in his mock humility.
He was formidable in public speaking, according to Idomeneus; moreover, a Zenophon tells us, the Thirty forbade him to teach the art of words.  And Aristophanes attacks him in his plays for making the worse appear the better reason.  For Favorinus in his Miscellaneous History says Socrates and his pupil Aeschines were the first to teach rhetoric; and this is confirmed by Idomeneus in his work on the Socratic circle.  Again, he was the first who discoursed on the conduct of life, and the first philosopher who was tried and put to death.  Aristoxenus, the son of Spintharus, says of him that he made money; he would at all events invest sums, collect the interest accruing, and then, when this was expended, put out the principal again.

Demetrius of Byzantium relates that Crito removed him from his workshop and educated him, being struck by his beauty of soul; the he discussed moral questions in the workshops and the market-place, being convinced that the study of nature is no concern of ours; and that he claimed that his inquiries embraced

 Whatso’er is good or evil in a house;
That frequently, owing to his vehemence in argument, men set upon him with their fists or tore his hair out; and that for the most part he was despised and laughed at, yet bore all this ill-usage patiently.  So much so that, when he had been kicked, and someone expressed surprise at his taking it so quietly, Socrates rejoined, “Should I have taken the law of a donkey, supposing that he had kicked me?” Thus far Demetrius.

Unlike most philosophers, he had no need to travel, except when required to go on an expedition.  The rest of his life he stayed at home and engaged all the more keenly in argument with anyone who would converse with him, his aim being not to alter his opinion but to get at the truth.  They relate that Euripides gave him the treatise of Heraclitus and asked his opinion upon it, and that his reply was, “The part I understand is excellent, and so too is, I dare say, the part I do not understand; but it need a Delian diver to get to the bottom of it.”

He took care to exercise his body and kept in good condition.  At all events he served on the expedition to Amphipolis; and when in the battle stepped in and saved his life.  For in the general flight of the Athenians he personally retired at his ease, quietly turning round from time to time and ready to defend himself in case he was attacked.  Again he served at Potidaea, whither he had gone by sea, as land communications were interrupted by the war; and while there he is said to have remained a whole night without changing his position, and to have won the prize of valour.  But he resigned it to Alcibiades, for whom he cherished the tenderest affection, according to Aristippus in the fourth book of his treatise On the Luxury of the Ancients.  Ion of Chios related that in his youth he visited Samos in the company of Archelause; and Aristotle that he went to Delphi; he went also to the Isthmus, according to Favorinus in the first book of his Memorabilia. 

His strength of will and attachment to the democracy are evident from his refusal to yield to Critias and his colleagues when they ordered him to bring the wealthy Leon of Salamis before them for execution, and further from the fact that he alone voted for the acquittal of the ten generals; and again from the facts that when he had the opportunity to escape from the prison he declined to do so, and the he rebuked his friends for weeping over his fate, and addressed to them his most memorable discourses in the prison.

He was a man of great independence and dignity of character.  Pamphila in the seventh book of her Commentaries tells how Alcibiades once offered him a large site on which to build a house; but he replied, “Suppose, then, I wanted shoes and you offered me a whole hide to make a pair with, would it not be ridiculous in me to take it?”  Often when he looked at the multitude of wares exposed for sale, he would say to himself, “How many things I can do without!”  And he would continually recite the lines:

  The purple robe and silver’s shine
  More fits an actor’s need than mine.
He showed his contempt for Archelaluse of Macedon and Scopas of Cranon and Eurylochus of Larissa by refusing to accept their presents or to go to their court.  He was so orderly in his way of life that on several occasions when pestilence broke out in Athens he was the only man who escaped infection.

Aristotle says that he married two wives; his first wife was Xanthippe, by whom he had a son, Lamprocles; his second wife was Myrto, the daughter of Aristides the Just, whom he took without a dowry.  By her he had Sophroniscus and Menexenus.  Others make Myrto his first wife; while some writers, including Satyrus and Hieronymus of Rhodes, affirm that they were both his wives at the same time.  For they say that the Athenians were short of men and, wishing to increase the population, passed a decree permitting a citizen to marry one Athenian woman and have children by another; and that Socrates accordingly did so.

He could afford to despise those who scoffed at him.  He prided himself on his plain living, and never asked for a fee from anyone.  He used to say that he most enjoyed the food which was least in need of condiment, and the drink which made him feel the least hankering for some other drink; and that he was nearest to the gods in that he had the fewest wants.  This may be seen from the Comic poets, who in the act of ridiculing him give him high praise.  Thus Aristophanes: 

O man that justly desirest great wisdom, how blessed will be thy life amongst Athenians and Greeks, retentive of memory and thinker that thou art, with endurance of toil for thy character; never art thou weary whether standing or walking, never numb with cold, never hungry for breakfast; from wine and from gross feeding and all other frivolities thou dost turn away.
 Ameipsias too, when he puts him on the stage wearing a cloak, says:
A. You come to join us, Socrates, worthiest of a small band and emptiest by far!  You are a robust fellow.  Where can we get you a proper coat?
B. Your sorry plight is an insult to the cobblers.
A. And yet, hungry as he is, this man has never stooped to flatter.
This disdainful, lofty spirit of his is also noticed by Aristophanes when he says:

Because you stalk along the streets, rolling your eyes, and endure, barefoot, many a hardship, and gaze up at us [the clouds].

And yet at times he would even put on fine clothiers to suit the occasion, as in Plato’s Symposium, where he is on his way to Agathon’s house.

He showed equal ability in both directions, in persuading and dissuading men; thus, after conversing with Theaetetus about knowledge, he sent him away, as Plato says, fired with a divine impulse; but when Euthyphro had indicted his father for manslaughter, Socrates, after some conversation with him upon piety, diverted him from his purpose.  Lysis, again, he turned, by exhortation, into a most virtuous character.  For he had the skill to draw his arguments from facts.  And when his son Lamprocles was violently angry with his mother, Socrates made him feel ashamed of himself, as I believe Xenophon has told us.  When Plato’s brother Glaucon was desirous of entering upon politics, Socrates dissuaded him, as Xenophon relates, because of his want of experience; but on the contrary he encouraged Charmides to take up politics because he had a gift that way.

He roused Iphicrates the general to a martial spirit by showing him how the fighting cocks of Midias the barber flapped their wings in defiance of those of Callian.  Glauconides demanded that he should be acquired for the state as if he were some pheasant or peacock.

He used to say it was strange that, if you asked a man how many sheep he had, he could easily tell you the precise number; whereas he could not name his friends or say how many he had, so slight was the value he set upon them.  Seeing Euclides keenly interested in eristic arguments, he said to him: “You will be able to get on with sophists, Euclides, but with men not at all.”  For he thought there was no use in this sort of hair-splitting, as Plato shows us in the Euthydemus.

Again, when Charmides offered him some slaves in order that he might derive an income from them, he declined the offer: and according to some he scorned the beauty of Alcibiades.  He would extol leisure as the best of possessions, according to Xenophon in the Symposium.  There is, he said only one good, that is, knowledge, and only one evil, that is, ignorance; wealth and good birth bring their possessor no dignity, but on the contrary evil.  At all events, when someone told him that Antisthenes’ mother was a Thracian, he replied, “Nay, did you expect a man so noble to have been born of two Athenian parents?”  He made Crito ransom Phaedo who, having been taken prisoner in the war, was kept in degrading slavery, and so won him for philosophy.

Moreover, in his old age he learnt to play the lyre, declaring that he saw no absurdity in learning a new accomplishment.  As Xenophon relates in the Symposium, it was his regular habit to dance, thinking that such exercise helped to keep the body in good condition.  He used to say that his supernatural sign warned him beforehand of the future; that to make a good start was no trifling advantage, but a trifle turned the scale; and that he knew nothing except just the fact of his ignorance.  He said that, when people paid a high price for fruit which had ripened early, they must despair of seeing the fruit ripen at the proper season.  And, being once asked in what consisted the virtue of a young man, he said, “In doing nothing to excess.”  He held that geometry should be studied to the point at which a man is able to measure the land which he acquires or parts with. 

On hearing the line of Euripides; play Auge where the poet says or virtue:

   “Tis best to let her roam at will,
he got up and left the theatre.  For he said it was absurd to make a hue and cry about a slave who could not be found, and to allow virtue to perish in this way.  Someone asked him whether he should marry, or not, and received the reply, “Whichever you do you will repent it.”  He use to express his astonishment that the sculptors of marble statues should take pains to make the block of marble into a perfect likeness of a man, and should take no pains about themselves lest they should turn out mere blocks, not men.  He recommended to the young the constant use of the mirror, to the end that handsome men might acquire a corresponding behaviour, and ugly men conceal their defects by education.

He invited some rich men and, when Xanthippe said she felt ashamed of the dinner, “Never mind,” said he, “for if they are reasonable they will put up with it, and if they are good for nothing, we shall not trouble ourselves about them.”  He would say that the rest of the world lived to eat, while he himself ate to live.  Of the mass of men who do not count he said it was as if someone should object to a single tetradrachm as counterfeit and at the same time let a whole heap made up of just such pieces pass genuine.  Aeschines said to him, “I am a poor man and have nothing else to give, but I offer you myself,” and Socrates answered, “Nay, do you not see that you are offering me the greatest gift of all?”  To one complained that he was overlooked when the Thirty rose to power, he said, “You are not sorry for that, are you?”  To one who said, “You are condemned by the Atheniansn to die,: he made answer, “So are they , by nature.”  But some ascribe this Anazagoras.  When his wife said, “you suffer unjustly,” he retorted, “Why would you have me suffer justly?”  He had a dream that someone said to him:

 On the third day thou shalt come to the fertile fields of Phthia;
And he told Aeschines, “On the third day I shall die.”  When he was about to drink the hemlock, Apollodorus offered him a beautiful garment to die in:  “What,” said he, “is my own good enough to live in but not to die in?”  When he was told that So-and-so spoke ill of him, he replied, “True, for he has never learnt to speak well.”  When Antisthenes turned his cloak so that the tear in it came into view, “I see,” said he, “your vanity through your cloak.”  To one, who said, “Don’t you find so-and-so very offensive?” his reply was, “No, for it takes two to make a quarrel.”  We ought not to object, he used to say, to be subjects for the Comic poets, for it they satirize out faults they will do us good, and if not they do not touch us.  When Xanthippe first scolded him and then drenched him with water, his rejoiner was, “Did I not say that Xanthippe’s thunder would end in rain?”  When Alcibiades declared that the scolding of Xanthippe was intolerable, “Nay, I have got used to it,” said he, “as to the continued rattle of a windlass.  And you do not mind the crackle of geese.”  “No,” replied Alcibiades, “but they furnish me with eggs and goslings.”  “And Xanthippe, said Socrates, “is the mother of my children.”  When she tore his coat off his back in the market-place and his acquaintance advised him to hit back.  “Yes, by Zeus,” said he, “in order that while we are sparring each of you may join in with ‘Go it, Socrates!’ ‘Well done, Xanthippe!’”  He said he lived with a shrew, as horsemen are fond of spirited horses, “but just as, when they have mastered these, they can easily cope with the rest, so I in the society of Xanthippe shall learn to adapt myself to the rest of the world.” 

These and the like were his words and deeds, to which the Pythian priestess bore testimony when she gave Chaerephon the famous response:

   Of all men living Socrates most wise.
For this he was most envied; and especially because he would take to task those who thought highly of themselves, proving them to be fools, as to be sure he treated Anytus, according to Plato’s Meno.  For Anytus could not endure to be ridiculed by Socrates, and so in the first place stirred up against him Aristophanes and his friends; then afterwards he helped to persuade Meletus to indict him on a charge of impiety and corrupting the youth.

The indictment was brought by Meletus, and the speech was delivered by Polyeuctus, according to Favorinus in his Miscellaneous History.  The speech was written by Polycrates the sophist, according to Hermippus; but some say that it was by Anytus.  Lycon the demagogue had made all the needful preparations.

Antishenes in his Successions of Philosophers, and Plato in his Apology, say that there were three accusers, Anytus, Lycon and Meletus; that Anytus was roused to anger on behalf of the craftsmen and politicians, Lycon on behalf of the rhetoricians, Meletus of the poets, all three of which classes had felt the lash of Socrates.  Favorinus in the first book of his Memorabilia declares that the speech of Polycrates against Socrates is not authentic; for he mentions the rebuilding of the walls by Conon, which did not take place till six years after the death of Socrates. And this is the case.

The affidavit in the case, which is still preserved, says Favorinus, in the Metroon, ran as follows:  “This indictment and affidavit is sworn by Meletus, the son of Meletus of Pitthos, against Socrates, the son of Sophroniscus of Alopece: Socrates is guilty of refusing to recognize the gods recognized by the state, and introducing other new divinities.  He is also guilty of corrupting the youth.  The penalty demanded is death.”  The philosopher then, after Lysias had written a defense for him; read it through and said: “A fine speech, Lysias; it is not, however, suitable to me.”  For it was plainly more forensic than philosophical.  Lysias said, “If it is a fine speech, how can it fail to suit you?”  “Well,” he replied, “would not fine raiment and fine shoes be just as unsuitable to me?”

Justus of Tiberias in his book entitled The Wreath says that in the course of the trial Plato mounted the platform and began:  “Though I am the youngest, men of Athens, of all who ever rose to address you”-whereupon the judges shouted out, “Get down! Get down!”  When therefore he was condemned by 281 votes more than those given for acquittal, and when the judges were assessing what he should suffer on what fine he should pay, he proposed to pay 25 drachmae.  Eubulides indeed says he offered 100.  When this caused an uproar among the judges, he said, “Considering my services, I assess the penalty at maintenance in the Prytaneum at the public expense.”

Sentence of death was passes with an accession of eighty fresh votes.  He was put in prison, and a few days afterwards drank the hemlock, after much noble discourse which Plato records in the Phaedo.  Further, according to some, he composed a paean beginning:

   All hail, Apollo, Delos’ lord!
   Hail Artemis, ye noble pair!
So he was taken from among men; and not long afterwards the Athenians felt such remorse that they shut up the training grounds and gymnasia.  They banished the other accusers but put Meletus to death; they honoured Socrates with a bronze statute, the work of Lysippus, which they placed in the hall of processions.  And so sooner did Anytus visit Heraclea then the people of that town expelled him on that very day.  Not only in the case of Socrates but in very many others the Athenians repented in 50 drachmae for a madman, and said Tyrtaeus was beside himself, and they honoured Astydamas before Aeschylus and his brother poets with a bronze statute. Euripides upbraids them thus in his Palamedes:  “Ye have slain, have slain the all-wise, the innocent, the Muses’ nightingale.”  This is one account; but Philochorus asserts that Euripides died before Socrates.

He was born, according to Apollodorus in his Chronology, in the archonship of Spsephion, in the fourth year of the 77th Olympiad, on the 6th day of the month of Thargelion, when the Athenians purify their city, which according to the Delians is the birthday of Artemis.  He died in the first year of the 95th Olympiad at the age of seventy.  With this Demetrius of Phalerum agrees: but some say he was sixty when he died.

Both were pupils of Anaxagoras, I mean Socrates and Euripides, who was born in the first year of the 75th Olympiad in the archonship of Calliades.

In my opinion Socrates discoursed on physics as well as on ethics, since he holds some conversations about providence, even according to Xanophon, who, however, declares that he only discussed ethics.  But Plato, after mentioning Anaxagoras and certain other physicists in the Apology, treats for his own part themes which Socrates disowned, although he puts everything into the mouth of Socrates.

Aristotle relates that a magician came from Syria to Athens and, among other evils with which he threatened Socrates, predicted that he would come to a violent end.

I have written verses bout him too, as follows: 

Drink them, being in Zeus’s palace, O Socrates; for truly did the god pronounce thee wise, being wisdom himself; for when thou didst frankly take the hemlock at the hands of the Athenians, they themselves drained it as it passed thy lips.
He was sharply criticized, according to Aristotle in his third book On Poetry, by a certain Antilochus of Lemnos, and by Antiphon the soothsayer, just as Pythagoras was by Cylon of Croton, or as Homer was assailed in his lifetime by Cercops, and after his death by Xenophanes of Colophon.  So too Hesiod was criticized in his lifetime by Syagrus, and after his death by the aforesaid Xenophanes; Pindar by Amphimenes of Cos; Thales by Pherecydes; Bias by Salarus of Priene; Pittacus by Antimenidas and Alcaeus; Anaxagoras by Sosibius; and Simonides by Timocreon.

Of those who succeeded him and were called Socratics the chief was Plato, Xenophon, Antisthenes, and of ten names on the traditional list the most distinguished are Aeschines, Phaedo, Euclides, Aristippus.  I must first speak of Xenophon; Antisthenes will come afterwards among the Cynics; after Xenophon I shall take the Socratics proper, and so pass on to Plato.  With Plato the ten schools begin: he was himself the founder of the First Academy.  This then is the order which I shall follow.

Of those who bear the name of Socrates there is one, a historian, who wrote a geographical work upon Argos; another, a Peripathetic philosopher of Bithynia; a third, a poet who wrote epigrams; lastly, Socrates of Cos, who wrote on the names of gods.

Encyclopedia Britannica on Socrates
Trial of Socrates Homepage