Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology/Cleanthes 1.
CLEANTHES (Κλέανθης), a Stoic, born at Assos in Troas about B.C. 300, though the exact date is unknown. He was the son of Phanias, and entered life as a boxer, but had only four drachmas of his own when he felt himself impelled to the study of philosophy. He first placed himself under Crates, and then under Zeno, whose faithful disciple he continued for nineteen years. In order to support himself and pay Zeno the necessary fee for his instructions, he worked all night at drawing water from gardens, and in consequence received the nickname of Φρεάντλης. As he spent the whole day in philosophical pursuits, he had no visible means of support, and was therefore summoned before the Areiopagus to account for his way of living. The judges were so delighted by the evidence of industry which he produced, that they voted him ten minae, though Zeno would not permit him to accept them. By his fellow-pupils he was considered slow and stupid, and received from them the title of the Ass, in which appellation he said that he rejoiced, as it implied that his back was strong enough to bear whatever Zeno put upon it. Several other anecdotes preserved of him shew that he was one of those enthusiastic votaries of philosophy who naturally appeared from time to time in an age when there was no deep and earnest religion to satisfy the thinking part of mankind. We are not therefore surprised to hear of his declaring that for the sake of philosophy he would dig and undergo all possible labour, of his taking notes from Zeno's lectures on bones and pieces of earthenware when he was too poor to buy paper, and of the quaint penitence with which he reviled himself for his small progress in philosophy, by calling himself an old man "possessed indeed of grey hairs, but not of a mind." For this vigour and zeal in the pursuit, he was styled a second Hercules; and when Zeno died, B.C. 263, Cleanthes succeeded him in his school. This event was fortunate for the preservation of the Stoical doctrines, for though Cleanthes was not endowed with the sagacity necessary to rectify and develop his master's system, yet his stern morality and his devotion to Zeno induced him to keep it free from all foreign corruptions. His poverty was relieved by a present of 3000 minas from Antigonus, and he died at the age of eighty. The story of his death is characteristic. His physician recommended to him a two days' abstinence from food to cure an ulcer in his mouth, and at the end of the second day, he said that, as he had now advanced so far on the road to death, it would be a pity to have the trouble over again, and he therefore still refused all nourishment, and died of starvation.
The names of the numerous treatises of Cleanthes preserved by Laërtius (vii. 175) present the usual catalogue of moral and philosophical subjects: περὶ ἀρετῶν, περὶ ἡδονῆς, περὶ θεῶν, &c. A hymn of his to Zeus is still extant, and contains some striking sentiments. It was published in Greek and German by H. H. Cludius, Göttingen, 1786; also by Sturz, 1785, re-edited by Merzdorf, Lips. 1835, and by others. His doctrines were almost exactly those of Zeno. There was a slight variation between his opinion and the more usual Stoical view respecting the immortality of the soul. Cleanthes taught that all souls are immortal, but that the intensity of existence after death would vary according to the strength or weakness of the particular soul, thereby leaving to the wicked some apprehension of future punishment; whereas Chrysippus considered that only the souls of the wise and good were to survive death. (Plut. Plac. Phil. iv. 7.) Again, with regard to the ethical principle of the Stoics, to "live in unison with nature," it is said that Zeno only enunciated the vague direction, ὁμολογουμένως ζῇν, which Cleanthes explained by the addition of τῇ φύσει. (Stob. Ecl. ii. p. 132.) By this he meant the universal nature of things, whereas Chrysippus understood by the nature which we are to follow, the particular nature of man, as well as universal nature. (Diog. Laërt. vii. 89.) This opinion of Cleanthes was of a Cynical character [Antisthenes], and held up as a model
of an animal state of existence, unimproved by the progress of civilization. Accordingly we hear that his moral theory was even stricter than that of ordinary Stoicism, denying that pleasure was agreeable to nature, or in any way good. The direction to follow universal nature also led to fatalist conclusions, of which we find traces in the lines
ὰγου δε μ᾽ ὦ Ζεῦ, και σύ γ᾽ ἡ Πεπρωμένη, ὅποι ποθ᾽ ὑμῖν εἰμὶ διατεταγμένος, κ. τ. λ.
(Mohnike, Kleanthes der Stoiker, fragm. i.; see also Diog. Laërt. l.c.; Cic. Acad. iv. 23, Div. i. 3, Fin. ii. 21, iv. 3; Ritter, Geschichte der Philosophie, xi. 5. 1; Brucker, Hist. Crit. Philosoph. pt. 11. lib. ii. c. 9.)
- Hence the correction of puteum for pluteum has been proposed in Juv. ii. 7: "Et jubet archetypos pluteum servare Cleanthas."