Polemo was an Athenian philosopher, a pupil of Xenocrates, and the third headmaster of the Platonic Academy.

Life

Polemo lived during the end of the 4th and the start of the 3rd c. B.C. Son of Philostratus, he was the descendant of a wealthy Athenian family. In his youth, he became notorious for the profligate and dissipated life he conducted. One day, he chanced upon the Academy and was immediately attracted to the teachings of Xenocrates. The latter’s lecture on self-control (sōphrosynē) made the strongest impression on him, and since then he frequented the school. Thereafter, Polemo changed his lifestyle radically by adopting a sober and unruffleddemeanor. The story of his conversion to philosophy came to be exemplary in the ancient tradition of biographies. In 315 B.C., Polemo became the head of the Academy, succeeding Xenocrates on his death, and remained to the post until about 270 B.C. He is said to have died of natural causes.

Philosophy and works

In the Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Diogenes Laertius outlines Polemo’s philosophy. Emphasis is placed over the practical application of every theory; philosophy, in Polemo’s account, is not exhausted in theoretical contemplations but must be practiced in everyday life. Theory may advance our dialectical skills, but it is not sufficient by itself for the arrangement of practical matters.

“Polemo used to say that we should exercise ourselves with facts and not with mere logical speculations, which leave us, like a man who has got by heart some paltry handbook on harmony but never practised, able, indeed, to win admiration for skill in asking questions, but utterly at variance with ourselves in the ordering of our lives” (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers IV 18).

It is also assumed that Polemo believed in the importance of the relation that man holds with nature. Diogenes tells us that he left behind “a considerable number of works” (ibid, IV 20) none of which is extant. Clement of Alexandria credits Polemo with the work On the Life according to Nature, where happiness (eudaimonia) is said to consist in virtue as well as in the pleasure of the goods of nature. This testimony must not be much in error, since Cicero stresses that the ultimate good for Polemo is to live in conformity with nature. Also Plutarch mentions that Zeno of Citiumhad drawn from Xenocrates and Polemo the idea that the conformity with nature is an element of happiness. Therefore, it is plausible to assume that the stoic doctrine that purpose of life is living in conformity with nature finds its origin in Polemo’s teaching.

Pupils

Polemo was succeeded in Academia by his favorite student (and according to Diogenes also his companion) Crates. Zeno, the founder of the Stoic school, Crantor of Soli and Arcesilaus were also his pupils.

Author: Deny Konstantinidi
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