Nature’s Judgment

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers Anaxagoras 2.3

“There are different accounts about the trial of Anaxagoras. Sotion claims in his Succession of the Philosophers that he was taken to court for impiety because he claimed that the sun was molten metal. When his student Perikles made his defense, he was penalized five talents and sent into exile.

But Satyros in his Lives says that he was prosecuted by Thucydides who was working against Perikles and that in addition to impiety he was charged with treason with Persia. He was sentenced to death in absentia. When it was announced to him both that his sons were dead and he was sentenced, he said concerning the judgment that, “nature condemned me and my judges to death long ago” and on his sons, “well, I knew they they were born mortal.” But there are those who attribute this story to Solon while others say it was Xenophon.

Demetrius of Phalerum, in his On Old Age, says that Anaxagoras buried his sons with his own hands. Hermippos in his Lives says that he was locked up before he was about to die and that Perikles came forward and asked if they could accuse him of anything in his life. When they said nothing, he said, “Well, I am his student. Do not be overwhelmed by slanders and kill this person, but listen to me and let him go.” And he was freed. But because he could not endure the outrage, he killed himself.”

Περὶ δὲ τῆς δίκης αὐτοῦ διάφορα λέγεται. Σωτίων μὲν γάρ φησιν ἐν τῇ Διαδοχῇ τῶν φιλοσόφων ὑπὸ Κλέωνος αὐτὸν ἀσεβείας κριθῆναι, διότι τὸν ἥλιον μύδρον ἔλεγε διάπυρον· ἀπολογησαμένου δὲ ὑπὲρ αὐτοῦ Περικλέους τοῦ μαθητοῦ, πέντε ταλάντοις ζημιωθῆναι καὶ φυγαδευθῆναι. Σάτυρος δ᾿ ἐν τοῖς Βίοις ὑπὸ Θουκυδίδου φησὶν εἰσαχθῆναι τὴν δίκην, ἀντιπολιτευομένου τῷ Περικλεῖ· καὶ οὐ μόνον ἀσεβείας, ἀλλὰ καὶ μηδισμοῦ· καὶ ἀπόντα καταδικασθῆναι θανάτῳ. ὅτε καὶ ἀμφοτέρων αὐτῷ προσαγγελέντων, τῆς τε καταδίκης καὶ τῆς τῶν παίδων τελευτῆς, εἰπεῖν περὶ μὲν τῆς καταδίκης, ὅτι ἄρα “κἀκείνων κἀμοῦ πάλαι ἡ φύσις κατεψηφίσατο,” περὶ δὲ τῶν παίδων, ὅτι “ᾔδειν αὐτοὺς θνητοὺς γεννήσας.” οἱ δ᾿ εἰς Σόλωνα τοῦτ᾿ ἀναφέρουσιν, ἄλλοι εἰς Ξενοφῶντα. τοῦτον δὲ καὶ θάψαι ταῖς ἰδίαις χερσὶν αὐτοὺς Δημήτριός φησιν ὁ Φαληρεὺς ἐν τῷ Περὶ γήρως. Ἕρμιππος δ᾿ ἐν τοῖς Βίοις φησὶν ὅτι καθείρχθη ἐν τῷ δεσμωτηρίῳ τεθνηξόμενος. Περικλῆς δὲ παρελθὼν εἶπεν εἴ τι ἔχουσιν ἐγκαλεῖν αὑτῷ κατὰ τὸν βίον· οὐδὲν δὲ εἰπόντων, “καὶ μὴν ἐγώ,” ἔφη, “τούτου μαθητής εἰμι· μὴ οὖν διαβολαῖς ἐπαρθέντες ἀποκτείνητε τὸν ἄνθρωπον, ἀλλ᾿ ἐμοὶ πεισθέντες ἄφετε.” καὶ ἀφείθη· οὐκ ἐνεγκὼν δὲ τὴν ὕβριν ἑαυτὸν ἐξήγαγεν.

Anaxagoras and Pericles.jpg
Anaxagoras and Perikles by Augustin-Louis Belle

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