The Laertiana

By 1869, having had his introduction to the history of philosophy primarily through his reading of Schopenhauer’s Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, Lange’s Geschichte des Materialismus88 and Friedrich Ueberweg’s Grundrifi der Geschichte der Philosophie von Thales bis aufdie Gegenwart89 and, having already published his article on Theognis and his “Der Danae Klage,”9° Nietzsche published in two parts for the Rheinisches Museum his “De Laertii Diogenis Fontibus.”91 The project consumed him for the better part of three years, and along with his subsequent addenda “Analecta Laertiana”92 and “Beitrage zur Quellenkunde und Kritik des Laertius Diogenes,”93 he even entertained plans to publish the collection as his first book.94 As it stands now, the Laertian trio constitutes roughly one-half of Nietzsche’s published philological writing.95

To the Leipzig Philological Society, of which he was the rising star, Nietzsche presented a paper on the sources of Aristotle in January of 1867.96 As background, Nietzsche naturally examined the biographies found in Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of the Eminent Philosophers. Made aware of this, the eminent Friedrich Ritschl must have been suitably impressed to ever-so-slightly bend the rules of fair scholarly competition and offer a prize on the very topic he himself encouraged Nietzsche to research months earlier.97 Whatever his teacher’s motivations, Nietzsche translated his German efforts into the Latin required by the contest (to his chagrin),

  • 9° Found at KGW11/1, 59—74. The article, while philologically interesting, did not occupy a central place in Nietzsche’s regard for any considerable amount of time, hence my cursory mention here.
  • 91 Found at KGW 11/1, 75—167, De Laertii Diogenis Fontibus was written with the encouragement of Ritschl, who had it printed in two parts at Rheinisches Museum 23 (1868): 632—653 and Rheinisches Museum 24 (1869): 181—228. Nietzsche had three editions of Diogenes’ text on hand: De vitis philosophorum libri X cum indice rerum (Leipzig, C. Tauchnitz, 1833); De vitis, dogmatis et apoph- thegmatis clarorum philosophorum libri decem, edited by H.G. Huebner, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1828—1831); Von den Leben undden Meinungen bernhmterPhilosophen, translated and edited byA. Borheck, 2 vols. (Prague, 1807).
  • 92 Found at KGW 11/1, 169—9°; published at Rheinisches Museum 25 (187°): 217—231.
  • 93 KGW 11/1,191—245; the work was published as part of a ‘Gratulationsschrift’ for Franz Gerlach on the occasion of his fiftieth anniversary of teaching at the Basel Paedagogium; about one hundred copies were printed by Carl Schultze’s Universitaetsbuchdruckerei in April of 187°.
  • 94 Cf. Nietzsche to Ritschl, October 16, 1869; KSB 3, 65. Although the project was never carried out, Nietzsche indicates that it was to have been completed by autumn 1871. See KGW 111/3, 45. A letter to Rohde in 1869 outlines plans to produce a history of philosophy in coordination with Hermann Usener — the same Usener who would later declare Nietzsche ‘wissenschaftlich todt’ after the appearance of The Birth of Tragedy. See KSB 3, 18.
  • 95 Much of this section relies on Jonathan Barnes (1986), 16—4°. Barnes’ philological analyses of the details ofNietzsche’s essay are generally reliable. The main difference in our accounts is that, whereas Barnes thinks Nietzsche’s speculative reconstruction is a strange quirk, I show both how it was a pervasive tendency in Nietzsche’s early historiography and that it was consciously accepted by his contemporaries.
  • 96 “Die Pinakes der aristotelischen Schriften,” BAW3, 212—226.
  • 97 Ruckblick aufmeine zwei LeipzigerJahre, in BAW3, 311. See also Nietzsche to Hermann Mushacke, November 1866; KSB 2, i82ff. For biographical details, see Janz (1978) 1, 28°—311. It has also been suggested that Ritschl used this rather unethical tactic to either reign in Nietzsche’s attention from his Schopenhauerian interests or perhaps because he feared his star pupil was about to transfer to Berlin. See Hayman (1982), 83—84.

and accepted the proffered silver platter with mixed feelings. As a letter written to Rohde indicates, “The Laertius essay [...] won the battle against Herrn OvriC, [Mr. Nobody].”98

In examining Diogenes’ Lives, Nietzsche noticed certain inconsistencies. As with Ermanarich and Theognis, the historical record didn’t present a consistent set of sources - in places even Diogenes’ writing style betrayed either unmentioned influences or perhaps other authorial hands. Nietzsche’s “Grundhypothese” is that Diogenes Laertius “did no more than epitomize Diocles [of Magnesia].”99 Or, in Nietzsche’s Latin, “Ut igitur brevissime loquar, Laertius estDioclis gniTopn”.100 This fact is allegedly confirmed by an argument, Nietzsche rather presumptuously asserts, “quod vinci nequeat [which can never be defeated].”101

That Diogenes used Diocles as the direct source of at least some of his information is almost certain.102 After all, Diogenes mentions him at least twenty times, and claims to actually quote him on three occasions.103 But never does he claim to use Diocles as a “main source,” and there is certainly no admission of copying. In fact, he more frequently cites Favorinus as a direct source and Demetrius of Magnesia is repeatedly cited in the material on Cynicism and in the life of Epicurus. References to Antigonus, Apollodorus, Heracleides, Neanthes, Satyrus, Sotion, Sosicrates, and Hieronymus would suggest Diogenes had many more sources. But Nietzsche notes that each of these was likely a source for Demetrius. And the catalogues of the Demetrian book “On Homonyms” could only have come to Diogenes from Diocles.104 At Book x 3—4, Diogenes lists authors who attacked Epicurus and his followers; one in particular, Sotion, wrote a book titled Refutations ofDiocles, which suggests that Diogenes believed that Diocles was in fact an Epicurean. Thus, if Diocles was an Epicurean himself, and Diogenes felt impelled to copy his book in most other respects, then surely he would have continued to copy the material here, and thus his quotation of Demetrius itself must also have been found in the work of Diocles, leaving Diocles as the source for all the material summarily.[1]

Nietzsche has a second argument drawing from an odd remark in Lives x 9. Diogenes reports, “the [Epicurean] School itself, which, while nearly all the others have died out, continues forever without interruption through numberless reigns of one scholarch after another.” This statement, at the approximate time that Diogenes wrote, would obviously have been false. The continuity of the Epicurean school was in all likelihood disrupted as early as the first century ad; thus, from whomever the statement was pilfered, it must have been someone living in the first century or before. Diocles fits this bill nicely.[2]

Third, Nietzsche cites Lives x 29,[3] where Diogenes writes, “I will also set down his [Epicurus’] Kuriai Doxai and any other utterance of his that seems worth citing, so that you will be able to better understand the man and will know how to judge me [карг Kpivsiv siSsvai].” Because we have no reason to presume that Diogenes himself was an Epicurean, but some definite cause to believe Diocles was, it is Nietzsche’s conclusion that, “totam Epicuri doctrinam a Diocle expositam [the entire account of Epicurus was exposited from Diocles].”[4] Furthermore, the Lives is an extraordinarily impersonal work. The intrusion of an unguarded and almost casual self-reference here is very much uncharacteristic of Diogenes’ literary style, such that it is. It is not wholly unreasonable to speculate that Diogenes had simply continued to copy over what another author had written - another author of the first century who happened to be an Epicurean sympathizer. And again, Diocles is implicated.

Despite Nietzsche’s confidence, each argument reveals definite weaknesses. Against the first, while it may be true that parts of Demetrius of

Magnesia are traceable to Diocles, and even if the sections Nietzsche mentions had indeed been copied directly, it simply does not follow that every word of Demetrius would necessarily have come from Diocles. Nietzsche’s argument thus leaves him not only defending the claim that everything in Diogenes was epitomized from Diocles, but, very improbably, that everything in Demetrius was epitomized from Diocles as well. The second argument is equally flimsy: the quotation at x 9 does indeed betray a first-century source, but in no way does that necessitate Diocles. It may just as well reference the work of any one of a relatively large number of philosophically concerned first-century authors.

The third argument is a bit more interesting. The text Nietzsche cites at Lives x 29 is disputed. What has come to us today is based on an emendation by Nietzsche’s associate Hermann Usener, who reads Kav for Nietzsche’s elided карг in the phrase, “and you will know how to judge me [карг Kpiveiv гг5^аг].”109 Usener has largely been followed, in part because he covers over one of Diogenes’ several stylistic quirks, and, in part, because the tremendously influential Hermann Diels would later seek to debase Nietzsche’s project altogether - disputed texts included - in his Doxographi Graeci. The emendation to the original text would render moot Nietzsche’s suggestion that the ‘карг’ refers back to Diogenes’ source Diocles. The problem is: there is no philological need for the emendation.110 The manuscript is not corrupt, nor does it prevent a sensible rendering. It does fix a certain quirk in the text, but that quirk is precisely what Nietzsche thinks he can explain without altering the text. It is thus possible that Nietzsche may well have been correct, contra Usener and Diels, in his assessment that x 29 is to be read as a self-reference within a source from whom Diogenes absent-mindedly borrowed. Still, his attribution of the карг to Diocles in particular is not convincing. Even though it would be impossible to prove that Diocles was not the original author here, we have no more impetus to point the finger at Diocles than to indict any other author ofthe first century. As is, Nietzsche has only presented an interesting and creative hypothesis - hardly an argument quod, vinci nequeat. Quite the contrary, Hermann Diels claims that “Nietzsche’s opinion is not only highly uncertain and frailer than a spider’s web, but also palpably false.”111

Beyond Nietzsche’s philological skepticism about the legitimacy of the individual text, what we see next is by now a familiar historiographical strategy. The three essays contain numerous harsh criticisms of Diogenes as an author and as a person, which go far beyond the bounds of impartial [5]

scholarly assessment. Diogenes was a “sleepy-head”; he was “stupid,” an “impudent and imprudent thief ”; that “wretched little Laertius” was “hasty and careless,” both “vain and pretentious.”112 Diogenes was a bumbling fool who found himself engulfed in a project whose scope and importance was beyond his ability. That such an absent-minded author’s work should have survived for us as the only source for such an extensive portion of Greek philosophy only makes worse his plagiarism. “What is Diogenes to us? No one would waste a word on the philistine features of this writer were he not, by chance, the guardian ofjewels whose value he does not recognize. He is in fact the night watchman of the history of Greek philosophy: no one can enter unless Diogenes has given him the key.”113

Nietzsche’s Diogenes is more than just inept. The first section of the Beitrage, in its entirety, is occupied with the prospect of a “Laertius Diogenes als Epigrammendichter.”114 Diogenes was an epigrammatic poet, and this is the key to the solving the riddle of his cooption of Diocles. Nietzsche believes that Diogenes uses the words to na^erpov and h na^erpos (medley of meter), which typically follow the death-tale of the featured philosopher, to signal the subtitle of an entire epigrammatic cycle.115 The phrase names a mostly lost work of such cycles entitled the na^^erpos, which eulogized the deaths of philosophers in a similar way as the Lives does. The fact that Diogenes sometimes writes in passing iv rfi пац^етры (in the Pammetros)116 without citing its author perhaps does suggest that he himself was the writer - or so Nietzsche hints: the Pammetros was ‘really’ the first book of the collection of Laertian epigrams.117 “Laertius himself would have had the status of a poet.”118 Naturally, Diogenes would have wanted his poetry to be preserved for future generations. But he knew it would be lost if left entirely in a self- contained work; his poetry was too deficient to be kept safe throughout history. In an effort to guard their memory, he wove them into the Lives - which, after all, contained nothing else of originality - as a sort of vehicle to carry a masked selection of his epigrams.119 The intention of the work, Nietzsche contends, is now clear: the Lives was nothing more than a front for his poetry. He copied Diocles, not because he lacked a better source, not because he was vigorously interested in the history of philosophy, but only because he hoped that by encoding his poetry in a valuable philosophical resource it would be preserved through the ages.[6] His position as the “night watchman” of Greek philosophy was something of an unwanted appointment.

Of course, there is little to support Nietzsche’s claim, philologically speaking. Aside from the spurious карг of Lives x 29, we have next to nothing about Laertius himself in either his own words or those recorded by any other ancient author. The argument is entirely speculative - to professional scholars it is, as Jonathan Barnes claims, “merely silly.”[7] [8] [9] [10] Even if we grant the work is Diogenes’, Nietzsche’s belief that he intentionally hijacked a second work only to preserve the first is unwarranted and unlikely. It is more reasonable to imagine an author, who, having already written numerous epigrams about philosophers, inserted key excerpts at appropriate places in his present writing simply because they fit nicely and add a further layer of depth to the account. They might just as easily be considered supplementary quotations in an academic essay, cited not in order to preserve the older work for posterity, but simply to supplement the present work in a convenient fashion.

The reception of Nietzsche’s work on Diogenes was deeply divided. Hermann Diels, in a note already cited, attacks the arguments of Nietzsche’s GrundhypotheseT2 While Ernst Maass recognizes the merit of the study, he chides Nietzsche for his “youthful ardor,” and effectively substitutes Favorinus for Diocles as the Hauptquelle.i:L3 Julius Freudenthal has a more unsavory attack against Nietzsche’s ability as a philologist generally, as well as a focused diatribe on the impossibility of the GrundhypotheseT4 Wilamowitz-Moellendorff dismisses Nietzsche’s contention that Favorinus was an alternate source to Diocles.[11] On the other hand, there was also considerable praise for Nietzsche’s work. Gottlieb Roper, the first to comment on the work, calls Nietzsche “an astute and learned interpreter” who possesses “marvelous powers for seeing in the dark.”[12] Hermann Usener had unrestrained praise for the young Nietzsche’s “youthful freshness and penetrating insight.”[13] The great philological historian Conrad Bursian considered it among the best works on the subject.[14] Nietzsche’s work even merited a personal letter from the philosophical historian and Neo-Kantian Eduard Zeller: “Your investigations on the sources of Diogenes are certainly of the highest value; and the conclusion, which had already been recommended to me in your earlier essay - that Diocles had been the main source - is nowadays still further confirmed.”[15] As for the one opinion that mattered most to Nietzsche, professionally and personally, Friedrich Ritschl was reservedly approving. Nietzsche notes much later in Ecce homo what he perceived to be his mentor’s attitude. “My old teacher, Ritschl, actually claimed that I planned even my philological essays like a Parisian romancier - absurdly exciting.”[16] One can perhaps see why Ritschl combined ‘exciting’ with ‘absurd.’

The story of Ritschl’s role in Nietzsche’s appointment at Basel is familiar enough to obviate a rehashed account here.[17] What should be emphasized is that he did so knowing full well what kind of philologist Nietzsche was in his published philological works. He was not at this time the intuitive historiographical disciple of Schopenhauer and Wagner, but in temperament and method like Ritschl: a Sprachphilolog with a penchant for speculation. The next chapter will detail precisely what that meant in the context of nineteenth-century historiography. For now, two points about Nietzsche’s meta-history warrant emphasis.

In terms of his formal meta-history, first, Nietzsche is an ontological and representational realist about the past. In each of the pieces examined he assumes both that the past exists and that the representations he proposes correspond to the nature of that real past. With each, there was a text, an actual, stable, extant source upon which the false interpretations were gradually built. There was a poet named Theognis and he intended every word he wrote in a work written shortly before his exile. There was also a redactor, the traces of whose handiwork we can decipher by carefully separating it from what is genuinely Theognis. Even while Nietzsche’s skepticism is piqued against the presumption that the contemporary version of the text reproduces Theognis’ own thought, the theoretical possibility of fully understanding Theognis, were it not for this irreparable editorial tradition, is never questioned. And the same goes for the text of Diogenes. Diocles and Favorinus are real people, and they really say what they mean about the ancient personalities. And Diogenes really meant to do what he did in melding the various biographies together. Even while Nietzsche’s skeptical finger points out the occluded character of the present- day text, he never doubts the reality of these facts of the past nor the historian’s theoretical ability, ceteris paribus, to set them aright. The truth conditions of Nietzsche’s philological historiography entail the commonplace adequation between the interpretation offered and the real past external to him. He considers his arguments successful insofar as what he claims as having happened really did happen.

Second, Nietzsche consistently employs in each of these works a speculative hypothesis which serves as an explanatory mechanism. He is not, however, attempting to construct a new past, to somehow fabricate the reality of the redactor, or of Ermanarich’s real intentions with Suanahild, or of the authorial motivations of Diogenes.[18] The speculative moments in each of these three philological projects serve as explanatory mechanisms rather than ontological assertions that of themselves constitute some new past. While this may seem obvious given what we have discussed, it bears repetition since Nietzsche would profoundly alter his historiographical methodology very shortly after these papers, effectively shunning Sprachphilologie for an intuitional historiography in The Birth of Tragedy. In his middle and later writings, he would shift his historiographical method again, maintaining his ontological realism but adopting a representational anti-realism. These methodological shifts will be the focus of the following chapters.

Before proceeding, three additional observations should be made about how Nietzsche’s early exercises in realist linguistic analysis affect his characterization of the ‘Greeks.’ It perhaps goes without saying that, if text is the sole criterion for adjudicating claims about the past, then our attention will be focused on authors, institutions that preserved documents, and events that were of sufficient import to merit something being written down about them. To be in a position to write was to be in at least better than average socio-economic standing. Most women, the majority of men, children, the poor, slaves, non-Greek and non-Latin speakers: hardly any of these voices of antiquity endured by means of the written word to modern times. And not only are their voices forgotten, their ‘petty’ interests - blue-collar labor, household management, music, games, fashions, etc. - were largely ignored by those whose voices were remembered. Descriptions of great people and great events comprise the overwhelming majority of our texts of antiquity. What does this say about the aristocratic values Nietzsche so often ‘discovers’ in Greece as compared to the plebian values of the exponentially increased quantity of contemporary historians?

The second point concerns Nietzsche’s early resistance to classicism. From the very start, Nietzsche chose not to focus on the classical aspects of the Greeks: their grace, beauty, balance, tranquility, loftiness, wisdom - everything captured by the Winckelmannian term Heiterkeit - all of these qualities are resoundingly absent in Nietzsche’s portrayal of Ermanarich, Theognis, and Diogenes. What they have in common are all-too-human traits like pride, envy, and scorn. These are not Raphaelite idols languidly discussing far away and lofty ideas, but gritty figures motivated by the underside of our everyday desires.

This leads to a third observation. These studies persistently avoid appealing to the sorts of extra-natural explanations popular among the speculative and romantic philosophers of history. Figures like Herder, Hartmann, and Hegel had long been engaged in battle with positivists like Comte and Buckle over the nature of causation in history. While not necessarily always teleological (for example, Herder), the former group relied upon extra-naturalistic mechanisms like ‘National Character’ or ‘The Absolute’ or ‘Spirit’ to explain the transitions of epochs. The explanatory schemas of the latter three were reined in by the limits of the observable, natural world. Nietzsche’s own practice of historical explanation in these early works is clearly closer to the latter. It is not the historical spirit which moves the redactor’s hand, but simple human revenge. Diogenes was not unwittingly fulfilling the aims of the Weltprozess; it was vanity that led him to epitomize. While Nietzsche’s claims are speculative insofar as they are not confirmable given the available evidence, they remain naturalistic insofar as they could at least theoretically be confirmed had we more complete evidence. Said briefly as possible, Nietzsche’s philological methodology is best classified as a skeptical realist description combined with speculative psychological explanation. In character, it is naturalistic, non-teleological, and non-classical.

  • [1] KGW11/1, 89.
  • [2] Nietzsche’s assumption that Diocles flourished in the first century ad is not beyond debate.Maass (1880), 15—19, argues that it actually dates to the first century вс. Generally, Maass isharshly critical toward Nietzsche, despite his having acknowledged the originality of Nietzsche’sGrundhypothese (ibid., 4—5) and despite the fact that his own thesis very nearly mirrors that ofNietzsche (ibid., 103).
  • [3] Barnes follows Nietzsche to cite this as Lives x 28; the important phrase of the citation, however, is atx 29. See KGW 11/1, 89; Barnes (1986), 27. Nietzsche’s Greek citation of the final sentence of x 28 isparaphrased from the text, and a bit conveniently at that. See KGW 11/1, 89, starting with theEniTopqv that ought to read еттетртртаг.
  • [4] KGW 11/1, 90.
  • [5] My emphasis. 110 Following Barnes (1986), 27. 111 Diels (1879), 162.
  • [6] KGW ii/i, 195. 2 Barnes (1986), 23.
  • [7] 122 Diels, too, recognizes the need to investigate the sources of Diogenes, but finds Nietzsche’s
  • [8] “immature and untrained mind” inadequate to the task. Cf. Diels (1879), 161—169.
  • [9] See Maass (1880), 103.
  • [10] See Freudenthal (1879), 309. In a particularly harsh moment, Freudenthal claims that Nietzschecannot distinguish between possibility, probability, and necessity. At other times he thinksNietzsche’s insights are “breathtaking, subtle, and keen.”
  • [11] See Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1876), 498—506; and (1880), 142—164. In the latterwork, Wilamowitzchallenges the views of both Nietzsche and Maass, though much of his chiding of Maass revolvesaround the fact that he relied too heavily on Nietzsche.
  • [12] Roper (1870), 568. Like many of these commentators, Roper was ambivalent in his attitude. Nietzsche issaid to be remarkable for his insight and daring, but prone to making questionable conjectures.
  • [13] Freudenthal recalls this phrase from Usener’s lectures; see Freudenthal (1879), 309. See also Usener(1892), 1023—1034.
  • [14] See Bursian (1883), 929.
  • [15] Zeller to Nietzsche, May 22, 1870; KGB 11/2, 211—212. While cordial in tone, Zeller does raiseconcerns for Nietzsche’s interpretation. Nietzsche does not bother to respond, but only reportsderisively to Ritschl that Zeller’s questions were “just wrong.” KGB 11/1, 124.
  • [16] EH “Bucher,” 2; KSA 6, 301.
  • [17] For details, see Stroux (1925); Janz (1978); Pletsch (1991); Cate (2002).
  • [18] Contra Porter (2000a) and (2000b), see Jensen (2013a).
 
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