I have mentioned before the Classics parlor game of trading a lost work for an equivalent extant text. I have a new favorite answer. I would trade an entire book of Cicero’s Letters for this one letter by Epicurus. I fear, however, that Athenaeus might be making this up (Deipn. 8.50):
“Even though I have a lot more to say about the foolish things the drug-dealer [Aristotle] said, and although I know that Epicurus, who was the most faithful to the truth, said these things about him in his Letter on Lifestyles, that after he consumed his inheritance he first went on a military expedition and when that went badly he moved on to selling drugs. When Plato opened his school, Epicurus says, [Aristotle] traveled there and attended the lectures. Because he was not a moron, bit by bit he pursued a more reflective path.
I know that Epicurus alone said these things against Aristotle: neither Eubulides nor Kêphisodôros dares to say this kind of thing against the Stageirite, even though they published many condemnations of him. In that same letter, Epicurus also claims that Protagaoras the sophist, was a porter and wood-deliverer before he became Democritus’ scribe. According to Epicurus, Democritus was impressed by the particular way Protagoras piled wood—then he took him, taught him how to read and write in some village after which he rose to become a Sophist. Just so, my dinner guests, I am moving from these words now to fill my belly.”
πολλὰ δὲ ἔχων ἔτι λέγειν περὶ ὧν ἐλήρησεν ὁ φαρμακοπώλης παύομαι, καίτοι εἰδὼς καὶ ᾿Επκουρον τὸν φιλαληθέστατον ταῦτ’ εἰπόντα περὶ αὐτοῦἐν τῇ περὶ ἐπιτηδευμάτων ἐπιστολῇ, ὅτι καταφαγὼν τὰ πατρῷα ἐπὶ στρατείαν ὥρμησε καὶ ὅτι ἐν ταύτῃ κακῶς πράττων ἐπὶ τὸ φαρμακοπωλεῖν ἦλθεν· εἶτα ἀναπεπταμένου τοῦ Πλάτωνος περιπάτου, φησί, παραβαλὼν ἑαυτὸν προσεκάθισε τοῖς λόγοις, οὐκ ὢν ἀφυής, καὶ κατὰ μικρὸν εἰς τὴν θεωρουμένην ἐξῆλθεν. οἶδα δὲ ὅτι ταῦτα μόνος ᾿Επίκουρος εἴρηκεν κατ’ αὐτοῦ, οὔτε δ’ Εὐβουλίδης, ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ Κηφισόδωρος τοιοῦτόν τι ἐτόλμησεν εἰπεῖν κατὰ τοῦ Σταγειρίτου, καίτοι καὶ συγγράμματα ἐκδόντες κατὰ τἀνδρός. ἐν δὲ τῇ αὐτῇ ἐπιστολῇ ὁ᾿Επίκουρος καὶ Πρωταγόραν φησὶ τὸν σοφιστὴν ἐκ φορμοφόρου καὶ ξυλοφόρου πρῶτον μὲν γενέσθαι γραφέα Δημοκρίτου· θαυμασθέντα δ’ ὑπ’ ἐκείνου ἐπὶ ξύλων τινὶ ἰδίᾳ συνθέσει ἀπὸ ταύτης τῆς ἀρχῆς ἀναληφθῆναι ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ καὶ διδάσκειν ἐν κώμῃ τινὶ γράμματα, ἀφ’ ὧν ἐπὶ τὸ σοφιστεύειν ὁρμῆσαι. κἀγὼ δέ, ἄνδρες συνδαιταλῆς, ἀπὸ τῶν πολλῶν τούτων λόγων τὴν ὁρμὴν ἔχω ἐπὶ τὸ ἤδη γαστρίζεσθαι.’
The first Suda entry for Aristotle is something like a soap-opera infused, poorly edited Wikipedia hit piece. And it does not mention the drug dealing:
“Aristotle, the son of Nikomakhos and Phastias. Nikomakhos was a doctor from the tradition of the sons of Asclepias, from Nikomakhos the son of Makhaon. He was from Stageira, a city in Thrace. He was also a philosopher, a student of Plato who had a stuttering voice. His siblings were Arimnestos and Arimnestê. He had a daughter with Pythias the daughter of Hermeias, the eunuch who fathered her even though he was castrated. Aristotle’s daughter married three times and died before her father after labor. He had a son named Nikhomakhos from a concubine named Herpyllis whom he took alongside Pythias, the eunuch’s daughter. (He was the ruler of Atarneus which is near the Troad. Hermeias was a slave of Euboulos of Bithynia and received Atarneus from him.) Aristotle was also a love of Hermeios. For 13 years, he led his [school of ] philosophy which was named peripatetic because he taught in a garden after leaving the Academia where Plato taught. He was born in the 99th Olympiad and died after drinking aconite in Chalkis because he was summoned for punishment after he wrote a Paean for the eunuch Hermeias. There are those who say he died after a disease when he was 70.”
᾿Αριστοτέλης, υἱὸς Νικομάχου καὶ Φαιστιάδος· ὁ δὲ Νικόμαχος ἰατρὸς ἦν τοῦ τῶν ᾿Ασκληπιαδῶν γένους, ἀπὸ Νικομάχου τοῦ Μαχάονος. ἐκ Σταγείρων, πόλεως τῆς Θρᾴκης, φιλόσοφος, μαθητὴς Πλάτωνος, τραυλὸς τὴν φωνήν. καὶ ἀδελφοὺς μὲν ἔσχεν ᾿Αρίμνηστον καὶ ᾿Αριμνήστην, θυγατέρα δὲ ἀπὸ Πυθιάδος, τῆς θυγατρὸς ῾Ερμείου τοῦ εὐνούχου· ὃς καὶ θλαδίας ὢν αὐτὴν ἔσπειρε. γημαμένη δὲ τρισὶν ἡ ᾿Αριστοτέλους θυγάτηρ τεκνώσασα προετελεύτησεν ᾿Αριστοτέλους τοῦ πατρός. ἔσχε δὲ καὶ υἱὸν Νικόμαχον ἐξ ῾Ερπυλλίδος παλλακῆς, ἣν ἠγάγετο μετὰ Πυθιάδα παρ’ ῾Ερμείου τοῦ εὐνούχου· ὅστις ἦν ἄρχων ᾿Αταρνέως, χώρα δὲ αὕτη Τρῳάδος, Εὐβούλου δὲ τοῦ Βιθυνοῦ δοῦλος γεγονὼς ἔλαβε· καὶ αὐτοῦ ῾Ερμείου παιδικὰ γενομένου ᾿Αριστοτέλους. ἦρξε δὲ ἔτη ιγ′ τῆς Περιπατητικῆς κληθείσης φιλοσοφίας διὰ τὸ ἐν περιπάτῳ ἤτοι κήπῳ διδάξαι ἀναχωρήσαντα τῆς ᾿Ακαδημίας, ἐν ᾗ Πλάτων ἐδίδαξεν. ἐγεννήθη δὲ ἐν τῇ Ϛθ′ ᾿Ολυμπιάδι καὶ ἀπέθανεν ἀκόνιτον πιὼν ἐν Χαλκίδι, διότι ἐκαλεῖτο πρὸς εὐθύνας, ἐπειδὴ ἔγραψε παιᾶνα εἰς ῾Ερμείαν τὸν εὐνοῦχον· οἱ δέ φασι νόσῳ αὐτὸν τελευτῆσαι βιώσαντα ἔτη ο′.
3 thoughts on “Aristotle Was a Drug-Dealer First: Epicurus’ Lost Letter”
This is totally ridiculous:
θαυμασθέντα δ’ ὑπ’ ἐκείνου ἐπὶ ξύλων τινὶ ἰδίᾳ συνθέσει
Maybe the thought that it was an ideal arrangement of atoms.
I know! The wood stacking is absurd. I love it.