Friday, February 16, 2018


Xenocrates, Phryne, and Lais

Diogenes Laertius 4.2.7 (on Xenocrates; tr. R.D. Hicks):
He spent most of his time in the Academy; and whenever he was going to betake himself to the city, it is said that all the noisy rabble and hired porters made way for him as he passed. And that once the notorious Phryne tried to make his acquaintance and, as if she were being chased by some people, took refuge under his roof; that he admitted her out of ordinary humanity and, there being but one small couch in the room, permitted her to share it with him, and at last, after many importunities, she retired without success, telling those who inquired that he whom she quitted was not a man but a statue. Another version of the story is that his pupils induced Lais to invade his couch; and that so great was his endurance that he many times submitted to amputation and cautery.

διῆγέ τ᾿ ἐν Ἀκαδημείᾳ τὰ πλεῖστα· καὶ εἴ ποτε μέλλοι εἰς ἄστυ ἀνιέναι, φασὶ τοὺς θορυβώδεις πάντας καὶ προυνίκους ὑποστέλλειν αὐτοῦ τῇ παρόδῳ. καί ποτε καὶ Φρύνην τὴν ἑταίραν ἐθελῆσαι πειρᾶσαι αὐτόν, καὶ δῆθεν διωκομένην ὑπό τινων καταφυγεῖν εἰς τὸ οἰκίδιον. τὸν δὲ ἕνεκα τοῦ ἀνθρωπίνου εἰσδέξασθαι, καὶ ἑνὸς ὄντος κλινιδίου δεομένῃ μεταδοῦναι τῆς κατακλίσεως· καὶ τέλος πολλὰ ἐκλιπαροῦσαν ἄπρακτον ἀναστῆναι. λέγειν τε πρὸς τοὺς πυνθανομένους ὡς οὐκ ἀπ᾿ ἀνδρός, ἀλλ᾿ ἀπ᾿ ἀνδριάντος ἀνασταίη. ἔνιοι δὲ Λαΐδα φασὶ παρακατακλῖναι αὐτῷ τοὺς μαθητάς· τὸν δὲ οὕτως εἶναι ἐγκρατῆ, ὥστε καὶ τομὰς καὶ καύσεις πολλάκις ὑπομεῖναι περὶ τὸ αἰδοῖον.
Bill Thayer pointed out to me that this translation omits περὶ τὸ αἰδοῖον (around the private parts). Bill also rightly questioned "many times" (πολλάκις) in conjunction with "amputation" (τομὰς). How many times, after all, can someone's private parts be amputated? I wonder if the cuttings might have been far less than amputation, e.g. nicks with a knife in order to subdue the sexual impulse. Of course the story, at least as far as Lais is concerned, is apocryphal, because chronology makes it impossible. I might translate as follows:
... so great was his endurance that he many times submitted to cuttings and burnings around his private parts.
Valerius Maximus 4.3 ext. 3a (tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey) tells only the anecdote about Phryne:
We are told that Xenocrates' old age was equally abstemious, and the following story will be no small argument in support of that opinion. Phryne, a celebrated courtesan in Athens, lay at an all-night revel by his side when he was heavy with wine, having made a wager with some young men that she would be able to seduce his temperance. He did not rebuff her either with touch or words, but let her stay in his arms as long as she wished and then let her go foiled of her purpose. An abstemious act of a mind steeped in wisdom, but the little whore's comment too was really amusing. For when the young men jeered at her because for all her beauty and chic she had not been able to cajole a drunken old man with her enticements and demanded the agreed price of their victory, she answered that she had made the bet with them about a man, not a statue. Can anyone put this continence on Xenocrates' part more truly and more aptly on view than the little whore expressed it herself?

aeque abstinentis senectae Xenocraten fuisse accepimus. cuius opinionis non parva fides erit narratio quae sequetur. in pervigilio Phryne, nobile Athenis scortum, iuxta eum vino gravem accubuit, pignore cum quibusdam iuvenibus posito an temperantiam eius corrumpere posset. quam nec tactu nec sermone aspernatus, quoad voluerat in sinu suo moratam, propositi irritam dimisit. factum sapientia imbuti animi abstinens, sed meretriculae quoque dictum perquam facetum: deridentibus enim se adulescentibus, quod tam formosa tamque elegans poti senis animum illecebris pellicere non potuisset, pactumque victoriae pretium flagitantibus, de homine se cum iis, non de statua pignus posuisse respondit. potestne haec Xenocratis continentia a quoquam magis vere magisque proprie demonstrari quam ab ipsa meretricula expressa est?
Here are some artistic representations of Xenocrates resisting temptation:

Gerard van Honthorst (1592-1656), The Steadfast Philosopher

Salvator Rosa (1615-1673), Phryne Tempting Xenocrates

Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807), Phryne Seduces Xenocrates

Carl Russ (1779-1843), Xenocrates and Phryne

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