Ignorant Schoolteachers: A Gift to Philosophy

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers – Epicurus (10.2)

“They say that Epicurus spent some time in Colophon, and after gathering together some disciples there, returned to Athens during Anaxicrates’ archonship. For a while, he philosphized along with others, but subsequently founded a school of thought named after him. He himself said that he applied himself to philosophy when he was fourteen. Apollodorus the Epicurean says in his first book On the Life of Epicurus that he came to philosophy because of his contempt for schoolmasters when they were unable to explicate the passage concerning Chaos in Hesiod. Hermippus says that Epicurus was schoolteacher, and when he happened upon the books of Democritus, he was drawn to philosophy. For this reason Timon said of him,

‘The last and most impudent of the physicists, a teacher of elements coming from Samos, the most poorly-educated person alive.’”

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χρόνον δέ τινα διατρίψαντα αὐτόθι καὶ μαθητὰς ἀθροίσαντα πάλιν ἐπανελθεῖν εἰς Ἀθήνας ἐπὶ Ἀναξικράτους: καὶ μέχρι μέν τινος κατ᾽ ἐπιμιξίαν τοῖς ἄλλοις φιλοσοφεῖν, ἔπειτα ἰδίᾳ ἀποφαίνεσθαι τὴν ἀπ᾽ αὐτοῦ κληθεῖσαν αἵρεσιν συστήσαντα. ἐφάψασθαι δὲ φιλοσοφίας αὐτός φησιν ἔτη γεγονὼς τετταρεσκαίδεκα. Ἀπολλόδωρος δ᾽ ὁ Ἐπικούρειος ἐν τῷ πρώτῳ περὶ τοῦ Ἐπικούρου βίου φησὶν ἐλθεῖν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ φιλοσοφίαν καταγνόντα τῶν γραμματιστῶν, ἐπειδὴ μὴ ἐδυνήθησαν ἑρμηνεῦσαι αὐτῷ τὰ περὶ τοῦ παρ᾽ Ἡσιόδῳ χάους. φησὶ δ᾽ Ἕρμιππος γραμματοδιδάσκαλον αὐτὸν γεγενῆσθαι, ἔπειτα μέντοι περιτυχόντα τοῖς Δημοκρίτου βιβλίοις ἐπὶ φιλοσοφίαν ᾆξαι: διὸ καὶ τὸν Τίμωνα φάσκειν περὶ αὐτοῦ:

ὕστατος αὖ φυσικῶν καὶ κύντατος, ἐκ Σάμου ἐλθὼν γραμμαδιδασκαλίδης, ἀναγωγότατος ζωόντων.

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