Lacydes of Cyrene, Greek philosopher, became head of the Platonic Academy at Athens in succession to Arcesilaus about 241 B.C.E. He left no extant works and little is known about his life. Biographical information about him comes from later historians such as Diogenes Laertius, and from references to him in the writings of Philodemus and Cicero. Diogenes credited him with being founder of the New Academy, which moved away from Skepticism and returned to a modification of the ideas of the Old Academy. Laertius reports that he learned from Crates, as did Arcesilaus, that he taught Carneades, and that his associates included Paseas and Thrasys, Aristippus, and Telecles and Evander. He was the only head of the Academy to voluntarily resign his position before his death.
When skepticism emerged in Plato's academy around the third to the early first century B.C.E., philosophical activities shifted from the study of Platonic metaphysics to methods of argument, which were a part of the philosophical discourses of Socrates and Plato. With Lacydes, the Academy returned to the Old Academy whose primary focus was Plato's metaphysics.
Little is known about Lacydes, and the biographical information about him comes from sources such as Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of Eminent Philosophers and Athenaeus’ Banquet of the Learned, which were written more than four hundred years later. Philodemus, quoting fragments from a chronicle by Apollodorus, places his death in 216 or 206 B.C.E. Diogenes relates that he was from Cyrene, that his father was Alexander, and that he was poor but industrious from childhood. Diogenes describes him as “pleasing and sociable in his manners … a man of great gravity of character and demeanor, and one who had many imitators.”
Laertius relates that he succeeded Arcesilaus (died c. 240 B.C.E.) as head of the Academy, and was founder of the New Academy. He lectured in a garden called the Lacydeum, which was presented to him by Attalus I of Pergamum, and for twenty-six years maintained the traditions of the Academy. According to Apollodorus (as quoted by Philodemus), his associates included Paseas and Thrasys, Aristippus, and Telecles and Evander. Laertius reports that he learned from Crates, as did Arcesilaus, and that he taught Carneades, who in turn was the master of Clitomachus. Numenius (in Eusebius, Praep. Ev. 14 7 14) says Lacydes was influential, and “found many hearers, one of whom was the distinguished Aristippus of Cyrene.”
He is said to have written treatises, but nothing survives. According to Laertius, he was the only head of a school to voluntarily resign while still alive, making to his pupils, Euander and Telecles, his successors. Diogenes recounts two anecdotes about Lacydes:
There is a witty saying, which is attributed to Lacydes. For they say that when Attalus sent for him, he answered that statues ought to be seen at a distance. On another occasion, as it is reported, he was studying geometry very late in life, and some said to him, "Is it then a time for you to be learning now?" "If it is not," he replied, "when will it be?" Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers.
According to Athenaeus (x. 438) (c. 200 C.E.) and Diogenes Laertius (iv. 60) he died from paralysis due to excessive drinking.
In the Introduction to Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Diogenes Laertius placed Lacydes as the founder of the “New Academy,” which reintroduced some of the dogmatic principles of the old Platonic Academy and moved away from the radical skepticism of Arcesilaus, who suspended all judgment and declared all truth unknowable.
Of the old Academic school Plato was the president; of the middle, Arcesilaus; and of the New, Lacydes. (Diogenes Laertius, Introduction, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, XIII)
Crates again was the master of Arcesilaus, the founder of the Middle Academy, and his pupil was Lacydes, who gave the new Academy its distinctive principles. (Diogenes Laertius, Introduction, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, X)
A story about Lacydes, reported briefly by Diogenes Laertes, was repeated and elaborated on numerous times through history. Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260 – c. 341), in Praeparatio Evangelica (Preparation for the Gospel, Tr. E.H. Gifford, 1903—Book 14 ) used it to explain Lacydes’ conversion from Skepticism to the old Academic school. Other writers held it up as a humorous illustration of the difficulties presented by the philosophy of the Skeptics. Lacydes kept his food and supplies in a storage box, and managed them himself. Whenever he took anything out, he put wax over the door and imprinted it with his seal, so that he would know if it had been disturbed. He would then drop the seal through a hole into the storage box, where it remained until the next time that he broke the seal and opened up the box. His servants discovered what he was doing, and began to open the storage box themselves, take what they wanted, then re-seal the box and drop the seal back inside where they had found it. Lacydes began to find food and drink missing from the storage box, but could not explain the disappearance, because the seal on the outside of the box appeared to be unbroken. Remembering that Arcesilaus had said that our senses and our reason comprehend nothing, he attributed the mysterious disappearance of food from his storage box to the unreliability of human knowledge. He told a friend about his theory, but the friend laughed at him and told him to watch over his box more carefully.
When Lacydes confronted his servants about their activities, they reminded him that he had recently said to his friends that, as a philosopher, he could have no opinion, and that since memory was just an opinion, he could have no memory either. Therefore he would not be able to remember what had been in the storage box before he sealed it. Lacydes began to carry his seal on his person instead of putting it into the box, but the servants continued to steal, sometimes leaving the seal unbroken, sometimes replacing it with a different seal. When he accused them, they would use Stoic arguments about incomprehensibility. If he attacked them with Stoic arguments, they would reply with Academic arguments. Finally he had to admit the impracticability of suspending judgment on all things, saying, “Of these things … we talk in our discussions one way, but we live in another.” (130: Praep. Ev. 14 7 13)
They say that he had a pleasant way of managing his house-keeping affairs. For when he had taken anything out of his store-chest, he would seal it up again, and throw in his seal through the hole, so that it should be impossible for anything of what he had laid up there to be stolen from him, or carried off. But his servants learning this contrivance of his, broke the seal, and carried off as much as they pleased, and then they put the ring back through the hole in the same manner as before; and though they did this repeatedly, they were never detected. (Diogenes Laertius, Life of Lacydes, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, X)
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