Diogenes Laertius: the Manuscripts of 
"The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers"

This work in 10 books is a compilation from earlier compilations (with names of sources mentioned) of stories about the philosophers, with an emphasis on anecdote, but also discussing their distinctive ideas, although rather as a secondary issue.  The letters of Epicurus in book 10 are particularly valuable.  The work is divided into chapters without titles.

The work is dated to the earlier decades of the 3rd century AD, since the last philosopher mentioned is a pupil of Sextus Empiricus (fl. end of the second century), the otherwise unknown Sextus.  There is no mention of the Neo-platonism of the 4th century, which would naturally enter a discussion of Plato.

Another work by the same author (now lost) was his 'Medley of Metre' (Pa&mmetroj), which he quotes.

What follows is the discussion of how the text was produced from the Loeb.  However HICKS makes plain that all of this is somewhat provisional.  I do not know whether more and better MSS have been located since 1925. 

The scholars of Western Europe, as was stated above (p. viii), first made our author's acquaintance in a Latin dress. Walter de Burleigh's De vita et moribus philosophorum was an adaptation rather than a transcript, but Ambrosius Traversarius Camaldu-lensis came better equipped to his task. He belonged to the order of Camaldoli founded in A.D. 1012 by Romualdinus, and rose to be general of his order. He had learned Greek from Manuel Chrysoloras, the Byzantine professor who in the intervals of state employment lectured at Florence, Rome, and Pavia between 1390 and 1415. The translation of Ambrosius, completed in 1431 (for an extant copy is dated February 1432), was printed first at Rome without date, then at Venice in 1475, at Nuremberg the next year, and several times reprinted at other places, with the alterations due to successive improvements in the Greek text.

The Lives of Aristotle and Theophrastus (Book V. cc. 1 and 2) were the first part of the Greek text to be printed. They appeared in the second volume of the Aldine Aristotle at Venice in 1497. The whole of the Greek text, as already mentioned (p. x), was printed at Basel in 1533, with the dedication : Hieronymus Frobenius et Nicolaus Episcopius studiosis S.P.D. In 1566 there appeared at Antwerp another edition, with this title : Laertii Diogenis de vita et moribus philosophorum libri X. Plus quam mille in locis restituti et emendati et fide dignis vetustis exem-plaribus Graecis, ut inde Graecum exemplum possit restitui; opera Ioannis Sambuci Tirnaviensis Pannonii. Cum indice locupletissimo. Ex officina Christophori Plantini. This editor tells us that he used older MSS., naming the Venetus and Vaticanus. That he has also some readings peculiar to the Borbonicus has been shown by Usener (Epicurea, p. 16). In 1570 Stephanus (Henri Estienne) published an edition in two volumes at Paris, with notes extending over the first nine books and a revision of Ambrosius' Latin version. A second edition, "cum Is. Casauboni notis multo auctior," was published in 1593 at Paris ; a third followed at Geneva in 1615. The fault of these editions (as of Froben's) is that they are based on inferior MSS., such as the Marcianus ; and, strangely enough, Stephanus seems to have been unaware of the edition of Sambucus, issued four years before his own. Meanwhile, under the auspices of Cardinal Aldobrandino, there appeared at Rome an edition (with a revised text and a much improved Latin version) in which emendations of the text not infrequently, lurk. This had been prepared thirty years earlier by the Cardinal's uncle, Thomas Aldobrandinus, who had used the Borbonicus and had annotated the first nine books.

Nor was the tenth book left much longer without a commentator. In due time the energies of Gassendi were concentrated upon it. Both the physical speculations and the ethical doctrine of Epicurus attracted him, and there appeared at Leyden in 1649 Animadversiones in librum X Diogenis Laertii, with a companion volume, De vita et moribus Epicuri. A second edition followed, and a third (Leyden, 1675), in which the two parts, Epicuri philosophiae per Petrum Gassendum, tomus primus, and Epicuri ethicae per Petrum Gassendum, tomus secundus, were united. Gassendi depended less upon MSS. than upon common sense and his own reasoning powers ; nevertheless to him, as to his predecessors, Stephanus, Casaubon, and Aldobrandinus, are due some conjectural restorations of the text which subsequent editors accept without reserve ; for example, there are three such in x. 83.

A variorum edition of the whole work was published by Meibomius in 1691-92 ; this included the valuable commentary of Menage and other illustrative matter. In the eighteenth century hardly anything of note can be chronicled except, perhaps, the edition of Longolius (Chur, 1791). In the nineteenth century appeared the edition of Hubner, (Leipzig, 1828-31), with a preface by Godfrey Hermann, some critical notes, and the annotations of Casaubon and Menage.

Lastly, there is the edition in the Didot series (Paris, 1850) bearing the name of Cobet. From the Avis des editeurs, dated August 1, 1850, we learn that the young Cobet was introduced to the publishers in 1842, travelled in Italy to collate MSS., and had completed his revision of the text in 1844, but for some unexplained reason neglected to write the Prolegomena, which he had promised in a letter dated October 5, 1843. The result is that no reasons are assigned and no authorities are cited for the extensive alterations which mark this edition as a great advance upon its predecessors.

If now we turn from printed copies to older sources of the text, there are numerous MSS., but none very old or trustworthy. By far the best is Codex Borbonicus (B) of the National Library at Naples : Gr. III. B 29 is the class-mark. This MS. is dated about A.D. 1200.1 The scribe obviously knew no Greek ; itacisms abound—there are some 150 instances in Book III. alone. Breathings and accents are sometimes omitted; words are sometimes wrongly divided, especially in citations of poetry ; yet the spelling of certain words is unusually good. In a recent edition of Book III. (Vita Platonis) the editors give (p. iv) thirty examples of bad readings, some of which suggest conjectural emendation. Nevertheless all critics agree that B is the most faithful to the archetype.

Next to the Borbonicus comes the Paris codex (Gr. 1759), known as P, probably written a century later, circa 1300. Quite recently Von der Muehll has advocated the claims of two other MSS., one (Co) of the thirteenth or fourteenth century, from the Library of the Old Seraglio at Constantinople, and the other (W) from the Vatican (Gr. 140) of the fourteenth century. Both these may be said to side with P rather than with B. Lastly, there is the Florentine MS. F (Gr. plut. lxix. 13), for which letter Martini and Bywater substitute L.

The superiority of BPF is laid down in Usener's Epicurea, pp. vi sqq., xxii sqq. Ten years earlier, in 1877, Bonnet had dealt with P, and the conclusion of these two scholars and Wachsmuth has since been generally accepted. Experts are not in entire agreement as to the age of the three MSS., but all three must have been written between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries.

Usener collated in part another Paris codex (Gr. 1758, Q), which had been copied from P before it was interpolated, as well as another Florentine codex, Laurentianus (Gr. plut. lxix. 28, G) ; but these are. merely subsidiary.

By ill fortune the editio princeps of 1533 was printed from an inferior MS., the identity of which has been discovered by Von der Muehll, who calls it Z. It is the Raudnitz MS., now in the library of Prince Lobkowitz.

What is most necessary now is an edition such as has been long promised, showing the true tradition of the text when BPFCo (and any other good MSS.) have been stripped of the interpolations introduced by Byzantine or Italian scholars. The effect of interpolation superimposed on multifarious errors due to careless copyists is a diversity more apparent than real, which deceives only superficial examination. For we may reasonably assume that a single stray copy, brought to light in the ninth century, was the parent of all extant MSS.2 The true text, it is agreed, is often preserved by B alone ; yet F, on which Cobet relied, is not seldom right, though it also palms off makeshift conjectures. Whether the class of inferior or interpolated MSS. supplies any genuine readings independent of BPF is a question sometimes raised ; in any case, not much is to be expected from this quarter. All that can be done by the most careful collation of MSS. has already been done for the more valuable part of Laertius—I mean the fragments of other authors with which his work is filled. Thus Usener has edited Book X. in Epicurea (1887). Most of Book VII. is incorporated in Von Arnim's Stoicorum veterum fragmenta. A still larger instalment of fragments will be found in the works published by Diels, Poetarum philosophorum fragmenta (Berlin, 1901) and Die Fragments der Vor-sokratiker (ed. 3, Berlin, 1912). A separate edition of Book III. (Vita Platonii) appeared in 1907, edited by Breitenbach, Buddenhagen, Debrunner, and Von der Muehll. The last named is the editor for the Biblio-theca Teubneriana of Epicuri epistulae ires et ratae sententiae a L. D. seruatae (Leipzig, 1922).

1 Usener assigns it to the twelfth century; Breitenbach and his colleagues (Diogenis Laertii vita Platonis, Basel, 1907) prefer the end of the twelfth or the beginning of the thirteenth.

2 " Nam exemplum L. D. unicum Constantinopoli post litteras ueteres renatas saeculo circiter nono in bibliotheca quadam inuentum esse suspicamur " (Von der Muehll, in his preface to his edition of Epicuri epistulae, p. vi).


R.D. Hicks, Diogenes Laertius. Lives of Eminent Philosophers. In 2 vols.  Loeb: 1925.

I understand that the 1972 re-edition of the Loeb text of DL has a preface by Herbert S. Long, who discusses briefly the history of the MSS of DL.  However I have not seen this.

Constructive feedback is welcomed to Roger Pearse.

Written 24th May 2002. Note about Long added from reader feedback 23/7/5.

This page has been online since 24th May 2002

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