Crantor (ca. 330 – 270 B.C.E.) was a Greek philosopher of the Old Academy, a pupil of Xenocrates and fellow student of Polemo. Crantor was known for his poetic expression, and was author of the first commentary on Plato's Timaeus. His celebrated work On Grief, a letter of condolence to his friend Hippocles on the death of his children, was an early example of the genre of consolation letters. Numerous extracts have been preserved in Plutarch's Consolatio ad Apollonium and in the De consolatione of Cicero, who speaks of it (Acad. ~i. 44. 135) in the highest terms (aureolus et ad verbum ediscendus). Crantor argued that all pain, including grief, is a necessity, and is to be controlled rather than eradicated. One of his arguments, reminiscent of Plato's Phaedo, was that life is punishment, and death the release of the soul. He followed Plato and the Pythagoreans in regarding life as a punishment and philosophy as practice for death.
The little that is known about Crantor comes from Lives of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius, and from references to him in the works of various ancient Greek and Roman writers. Crantor was a native of Soli in Cilicia, who came to Athens and became a pupil of Xenocrates at the same time as Polemo. According to Diogenes, “he was very ingenious at devising new words and expressions; accordingly, he said that one tragedian had an unhewn (apelekêtos) voice, all over bark; and he said that the verses of a certain poet were full of moths; and that the propositions of Theophrastus had been written on an oyster shell.” Diogenes also reports that he wrote some poems which he sealed up and deposited in the temple of Minerva at Soli. Diogenes tells us that, of all writers, Crantor admired Homer and Euripides most, saying that “the hardest thing possible was to write tragically and in a manner to excite sympathy, without departing from nature.” (Diogenes Laertius, Life of Crantor, VI)
Crantor died before Crates and Polemo, and left his property, “to the amount of twelve talents,’ to Arcesilaus, who was “much attached to him.”
Thought and Works
Diogenes says that Crantor left behind 30,000 lines of writings, some of which were later attributed to Arcesilaus. Crantor was author of the first commentary on Plato's Timaeus. Crantor paid especial attention to ethics, and arranged "good" things in the following order: virtue, health, pleasure, riches.
Of his celebrated work On Grief, a letter of condolence to his friend Hippocles on the death of his children, numerous extracts have been preserved in Plutarch's Consolatio ad Apollonium and in the De consolatione of Cicero, who speaks of it (Acad. ~i. 44. 135) in the highest terms (aureolus et ad verbum ediscendus). Crantor argued that all pain, including grief, is a necessity, and is to be controlled rather than eradicated (Dillon, p. 42, Zeller pp. 171-172). Consolation was needed because the death of a loved one was like the death of oneself. One of his arguments, reminiscent of Plato's Phaedo, was that life is punishment, and death the release of the soul. He followed Plato and the Pythagoreans in regarding life as a punishment, and philosophy as practice for death. Crantor recounted that Terinaesus of Elysia, when he was bitterly lamenting the loss of his son, came to a place of divination to be informed why he was visited with so great affliction, and received in his tablet these three verses:
Thou fool, to murmur at Euthynous' death! The blooming youth to fate resigns his breath: The fate, whereon your happiness depends, At once the parent and the son befriends.
On Grief is an early example of the consolation genre of writing found much later in Boethius. The Stoic Panaitos recommended that everyone learn On Grief by heart. St. Jerome, writing a letter to console his old friend, Heliodorus, Bishop of Altinum, for the loss of his nephew Nepotian, said:
I have read the books of Crantor which he wrote to soothe his grief and which Cicero has imitated. I have read the consolatory writings of Plato, Diogenes, Clitomachus, Carneades, Posidonius, who at different times strove by book or letter to lessen the grief of various persons. Consequently, were my own wit to dry up, it could be watered anew from the fountains which these have opened. They set before us examples without number. (Jerome, Letter 60, 5. 390 B.C.E.)
Diogenes attributed this poem about love to Crantor:
My mind is much perplexed; for what, O Love, Dare I pronounce your origin? May I Call you chiefest of the immortal Gods, Of all the children whom dark Erebus And Royal Night bore on the billowy waves Of widest Ocean? Or shall I bid you hail, As son of proudest Venus? or of Earth? Or of the untamed winds? so fierce you rove, Bringing mankind sad cares, yet not unmixed With happy good, so two-fold is your nature. (Diogenes Laertius, Crantor, VI)
- Boardman, John. The Oxford History of Greece & the Hellenistic World. Oxford University Press, 2002. ISBN 0192801376
- Dillon, John M. The heirs of Plato: a study of the Old Academy, 347-274 B.C.E. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 0198237669
- Hall, Manly P. Lectures on Ancient Philosophy. Tarcher; New Ed edition, 2005. ISBN 1585424323
- Vasunia, Phiroze. The gift of the Nile: Hellenizing Egypt from Aeschylus to Alexander. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. ISBN 0520228200
- Life of Crantor, The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius, translated by C.D. Yonge Retrieved October 24, 2007.
General Philosophy Sources
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Retrieved October 24, 2007.
- The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy Retrieved October 24, 2007.
- Philosophy Sources on Internet EpistemeLinks Retrieved October 24, 2007.
- Guide to Philosophy on the Internet Retrieved October 24, 2007.
- Paideia Project Online Retrieved October 24, 2007.
- Project Gutenberg Retrieved October 24, 2007.
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