More Disappointment in Life: Theophrastus’ Farewell Speech

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 5.2: Theophrastus 41-42

“[Theophrastus] died an old man, eighty-five years old, when he had recently retired. And this is my epigram about him:

This saying was never uttered to any mortal untrue:
Wisdom’s bow breaks when it is left unused
As long as he worked, Theophrastus was well
But once he relaxed, he immediately fell.

People report that when Theophrastus was asked by his students if he had anything to advise them, he said, “I can’t advise anything other than this: Life makes many pleasures seem real through their reputation. At the moment when we begin to live, we die! There’s nothing as useless as the love of glory.

Goodbye and may you be lucky. Give up my way of life because it requires great toil or stand to it well, for great reputation will be yours. There’s more disappointment in life than profit. But since I can’t advise you any longer, make it your business to investigate what is right to do.”

He said these things, allegedly, and then died.”

Ἐτελεύτα δὴ γηραιός, βιοὺς ἔτη πέντε καὶ ὀγδοήκοντα, ἐπειδήπερ ὀλίγον ἀνῆκε τῶν πόνων. καὶ ἔστιν ἡμῶν εἰς αὐτόν·

οὐκ ἄρα τοῦτο μάταιον ἔπος μερόπων τινὶ λέχθη,
ῥήγνυσθαι σοφίης τόξον ἀνιέμενον·
δὴ γὰρ καὶ Θεόφραστος ἕως ἐπόνει μὲν ἄπηρος
ἦν δέμας, εἶτ᾿ ἀνεθεὶς κάτθανε πηρομελής.

Φασὶ δ᾿ αὐτὸν ἐρωτηθέντα ὑπὸ τῶν μαθητῶν εἴ τι ἐπισκήπτει, εἰπεῖν, “ἐπισκήπτειν μὲν ἔχειν οὐδέν, πλὴν ὅτι πολλὰ τῶν ἡδέων ὁ βίος διὰ τὴν δόξαν καταλαζονεύεται. ἡμεῖς γὰρ ὁπότ᾿ ἀρχόμεθα ζῆν, τότ᾿ ἀποθνήσκομεν. οὐδὲν οὖν ἀλυσιτελέστερόν ἐστι φιλοδοξίας. ἀλλ᾿ εὐτυχεῖτε καὶ ἤτοι τὸν λόγον ἄφετε—πολὺς γὰρ ὁ πόνος—ἢ καλῶς αὐτοῦ πρόστητε· μεγάλη γὰρ ἡ δόξα. τὸ δὲ κενὸν τοῦ βίου πλέον τοῦ συμφέροντος. ἀλλ᾿ ἐμοὶ μὲν οὐκέτ᾿ ἐκποιεῖ βουλεύεσθαι τί πρακτέον, ὑμεῖς δ᾿ ἐπισκέψασθε τί ποιητέον.” ταῦτα, φασίν, εἰπὼν ἀπέπνευσε·

Depiction of Theophrastus on the facade of the historical building of the University of Athens. Painted in the 19th century by the Bavarian painter Karl Ral and the Polish Edward Lebietski.
Date 22 May 2022, 17:01:54

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