Classics Pyrrho of Elis
Dee L. Clayman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0056


Pyrrho of Elis (b. c. 365–d. c. 275 BCE) stood at the head of the skeptical movement in Greek philosophy, or so it seemed to his admirers, who later called themselves Pyrrhonians or skeptics. Although his only attested written work, a poem for Alexander the Great, is lost, some idea of his attitudes, his disposition, and perhaps even his thoughts can be gathered from fragments of the work of his most important student, Timon of Phlius, his biography in the Lives of Diogenes Laertius, and a few other sources. Timon’s contemporary, Arcesilaus, reoriented Plato’s Academy in a skeptical direction around 265 BCE without acknowledging Pyrrho, but in the 1st century BCE Aenesidemus revived skepticism under Pyrrho’s banner. His vision, in turn, was developed in detail by Sextus Empiricus, perhaps in the latter part of the 2nd century CE, and through his books Pyrrho’s legacy became a force in Western culture that remains powerful to this day.

Ancient Sources

The ancient sources on the life and philosophy of Pyrrho are scattered, and some survive only in fragments. An early biographical tradition began with Antigonus of Carystus, best read in Antigonus of Carystus 1999, and was later developed by Diogenes Laertius, whose Lives of Eminent Philosophers is available in three modern editions: Diogenes Laertius 1925, Goulet-Cazé 1999, and Diogenes Laertius 1999–2002. The fragments of Pyrrho’s student Timon have been collected successively in Wachsmuth 1885, Diels 1901, Lloyd-Jones and Parsons 1983, Lloyd-Jones 2005, and Di Marco 1989. All the testimonia on the life of Pyrrho and relevant texts are collected in Decleva Caizzi 1981a, which should be read with Decleva Caizzi 1981b. The collection in Long and Sedley 1987 is more selective and is useful for students. An early-21st-century collection of papers on Pyrrho’s life in Diogenes Laertius is in Vogt 2015.

  • Antigonus of Carystus. 1999. Antigone de Caryste: Fragments. Edited and translated by Tiziano Dorandi. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

    The best modern edition. Greek text with French translation, notes, and introduction.

  • Decleva Caizzi, Fernanda. 1981a. Pirrone testimonianze. Elenchos Collana 5. Naples, Italy: Bibliopolis.

    A compilation of all the testimonia relating to the life and teaching of Pyrrho, with Greek and Latin texts (pp. 29–80), Italian translations (pp. 83–128), and detailed commentary also in Italian (pp. 131–285). An essential scholarly resource.

  • Decleva Caizzi, Fernanda. 1981b. Prolegomeni ad una raccolta delle fonti relative a Pirrone di Elide. In Lo scetticismo antico: Atti del convegno organizzato dal Centro di Studio del Pensiero Antico del C.N.R., Roma 5–8 novembre 1980. Vol. 1. Edited by Gabriele Giannantoni, 95–128. Naples, Italy: Bibliopolis.

    Discussion of the issues raised in selecting testimonia for Decleva Caizzi 1981a.

  • Diels, Hermann. 1901. Poetarum philosophorum fragmenta. Berlin: Weidmann.

    The fragments of Timon (pp. 182–206). Replaced Wachsmuth 1885 and reordered the fragments in a neutral way. Those of known location (1–7) are placed first, followed by those of uncertain location (8–66), arranged alphabetically by author and within authors by their order in the text. Fragment numbers identified by “D” come from this important text.

  • Di Marco, Massimo, ed. and trans. 1989. Timone di Fliunte: Silli. Testi e Commenti 10. Rome: Edizioni dell’Ateneo.

    A detailed commentary with an extensive introduction and bibliography. Retains Diels’s fragment numbers.

  • Diogenes Laertius. 1925. Diogenes Laertius: The lives of eminent philosophers. Edited and translated by R. D. Hicks. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    Greek text with facing English translation. Still useful, though the Greek text has been superseded by Miroslav Marcovich’s edition (Diogenes Laertius 1999–2002).

  • Diogenes Laertius. 1999–2002. Diogenis Laertii Vitae philosophorum. Vol. 1, Libri I–X. Edited by Miroslav Marcovich. Stuttgart: Teubner.

    Most recent critical text. Greek text and apparatus criticus.

  • Goulet-Cazé, Marie-Odile, ed. 1999. Diogène Laërce: Vies et doctrines des philosophes illustres. 2d ed. Paris: Librairie Générale Française.

    Greek text with French translations and scholarly notes provided by various scholars. Book 9, covering Pyrrho and Timon, is the work of Jacques Brunschwig.

  • Lloyd-Jones, Hugh. 2005. Supplementum supplementi hellenistici. Edited by Marios Skempis. Texte und Kommentare 26. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110896466

    Addenda to Lloyd-Jones and Parsons 1983, with new readings and additional references.

  • Lloyd-Jones, Hugh, and Peter Parsons. 1983. Supplementum hellenisticum. Edited by Heinz—Günther Nesselrath. Texte und Kommentare 11. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110837766

    The authoritative modern text of Timon’s fragments. Follows the order in Diels 1901 but substitutes new numbers. Notes in Latin. Fragments from this text are identified by “SH.”

  • Long, A. A., and David N. Sedley. 1987. The Hellenistic philosophers. 2 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    A valuable sourcebook. Vol. 1, English Translations of the Principal Sources with Philosophical Commentary; Vol. 2, Representative Greek and Latin Texts with Notes and Select Bibliography. On early Pyrrhonism, see Vol. 1, pp. 13–24, and Vol. 2, pp. 1–17.

  • Vogt, Katja Maria, ed. 2015. Pyrrhonian skepticism in Diogenes Laertius. SAPERE 25. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Sieback.

    A collection of papers on Diogenes Laertius’s lives of Pyrrho and Timon as sources on early skepticism, notably Vogt’s “Introductions: Skepticism and Metaphysics in Diogenes Laertius” (pp. 3–15), Richard Bett’s “Pyrrhonism in Diogenes Laertius” (pp. 75–104), and James Warren’s “Precursors of Pyrrhonism: Diog. Laert. 9.67–73” (pp. 105–122).

  • Wachsmuth, Curt. 1885. Sillographorum graecorum reliquae. Leipzig: Teubner.

    First modern edition of Timon’s fragments, with notes and introduction. Introduction still worthwhile reading. Fragments from this text are identified by “W.”

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