In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Diogenes Laertius

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Biography
  • Bibliographies
  • History of the Text and Transmission of the Lives
  • Editions of the Lives
  • Translations
  • Collections of Papers
  • Diogenes Laertius’s Poems in the Lives
  • Diogenes Laertius’s Language and Style of Writing
  • Diogenes Laertius and the History of Greek Philosophy

Classics Diogenes Laertius
Tiziano Dorandi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0195


Diogenes Laertius (3rd century CE) is the author of a collection of poems entitled Pammetros and of a work in ten books known as the Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. The Lives were dedicated to a woman who was an enthusiastic Platonist (Book 3, § 47 and Book 10, § 29) and whose identity is unknown. Diogenes’ collection of poems in different meters has been for the most part lost; single poems that originally belonged to Diogenes’ Pammetros were later inserted into the narrative structure of the Lives by Diogenes himself. Diogenes’ Lives, however, have survived almost intact, with the exception of the final part of Book 7. The Lives are structured as follows: the prologue (Book 1, §§ 1–21) describes the origins of philosophy; the distinction between sages and philosophers; the succession of the philosophical schools and their separation into two main branches, Ionian philosophy and Italic philosophy; and the division of philosophy into three parts—physics, ethics, and dialectics—and ten principal philosophical schools. The books’ subjects are divided into Book 1: the sages; Book 2: the Ionic school of Anaximander, Anaximenes, Anaxagoras, Socrates, and the Socratics; Book 3: Plato; Book 4: Plato’s successors in the Academy, from Speusippus to Clitomachus; Book 5: Aristotle, Theophrastus, and their successors through Demetrius of Phaleron, including Heraclides of Pontus; Book 6: Antisthenes, Diogenes, and the Cynics; Book 7: Zeno and the Stoics (the surviving text covers as far as Chrysippus, but we presume it originally included philosophers through the time of the 1st-century-CE Roman Stoic Cornutus); Book 8: the Italic school, which includes Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans, Empedocles, and Eudoxus; Book 9: the so-called sporadic philosophers (Heraclitus and Xenophanes), Parmenides, Democritus, Protagoras, Pyrrho, and Timon; and Book 10: Epicurus. Diogenes’ Lives can be considered the earliest history of Greek philosophy to have come down to us, constituting a valuable source of information about the lives and doctrines of the major representatives of ancient philosophical schools up to the 1st century CE.

General Overviews

Dorandi 2013 presents a concise overview of Diogenes’ life and work; a more detailed and scholarly treatment can be found in Schwartz 1903 and more recently Runia 1997 and Dorandi 2018. Gigante 1986, Gigante 1994, Goulet-Cazé 1999, and Mejer 1994 provide reliable introductions for the general reader. There is no early-21st-century general English reference book on Diogenes’ work, so the most recent works available are Hope 1930 and Mejer 1978. Desbordes 1990 presents a detailed history of Diogenes’ modern interpretations.

  • Desbordes, Bernadette Anne. 1990. Introduction à Diogène Laërce: Exposition de l’Altertumswissenschaft servant de préliminaires critiques à un lecture de l’œuvre. 2 vols. Utrecht, The Netherlands: Onderwijs Media Instituut.

    This book, relating the history of Diogenes’ modern interpretations, is not easy to read and proposes hypotheses not widely accepted.

  • Dorandi, Tiziano. 2013. Diogene Laerzio e la storia della filosofia antica: Con qualche considerazione di un editore. In Aristotele e la storia. Edited by Cristina Rossitto, Alessandra Coppola, and Franco Biasutti, 185–203. Padova, Italy: Cooperativa Libraria Editrice Università di Padova.

    A concise presentation of Diogenes Laertius’s life and work, and discussion of his readability as a historian of philosophy.

  • Dorandi, Tiziano. 2018. Philosophiegeschichtsschreibung, Doxographie und Anthologie: Diogenes Laertios. In Philosophie der Kaiserzeit und der Spätantike. Vol. 5.1 of Die Philosophie der Antike. Edited by Christopher Riedweg, Christopher Horn, Dietmar Wyrwa, 461–471. Basel, Switzerland: Schwabe Verlag.

    An updated presentation of Diogenes Laertius’s life and work. A detailed bibliographical survey is included. See also pp. 479–483.

  • Gigante, Marcello. 1986. Biografia e dossografia in Diogene Laerzio. Elenchos 7:7–102.

    A wide-ranging survey of major issues in Diogenes Laertius’s work.

  • Gigante, Marcello. 1994. Diogene Laerzio. In Lo spazio letterario della Grecia antica. Vol. 1.3, La produzione e la circolazione del testo. Edited by Giuseppe Cambiano, Luciano Canfora, and Diego Lanza, 723–740. Rome: Salerno.

    A short scholarly presentation of Diogenes’ life and work.

  • Goulet-Cazé, Marie-Odile. 1999. General introduction. In Vies et doctrines des philosophes illustres. 2d ed. By Diogenes Laertius and edited by Marie-Odile Goulet-Cazé, 9–31. Classiques Modernes. Paris: Livre de Poche.

    The general introduction to the new French translation—with a detailed introduction and notes by J. -F. Balaudé, L. Brisson, J. Brunschwig, T. Dorandi, M. -O. Goulet-Cazé, R. Goulet, and M. Narcy, and with the collaboration of Michel Patillon—offers a wide-ranging survey on Diogenes’ life and work.

  • Hope, Richard. 1930. The book of Diogenes Laertius: Its spirit and its method. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    This volume—even though rather dated—provides an introduction to Diogenes Laertius’s life and an analysis of the patterns of thinking underlying his work. The book essentially is divided into two parts: the first deals with the manuscripts, the editions, and the sources of Diogenes’ Lives, while the second organizes the different considerations of his work under various headings. The opinions of various scholars are presented without any discrimination.

  • Mejer, Jørgen. 1978. Diogenes Laertius and his Hellenistic background. Hermes, Zeitschrift für klassische Philologie: Einzelschriften 40. Wiesbaden, Germany: Steiner.

    A survey, which should be used with caution, on Diogenes Laertius’s Hellenistic background and some debated problems regarding the Lives. The book is divided into two parts: the first deals with the intentions of Diogenes’ book, the question of the sources, and the technique of excerpting, and includes analysis of Diogenes’ sources and an examination of his personality. The second part concerns the Hellenistic historiography of philosophy.

  • Mejer, Jørgen. 1994. Diogène Laërce. In Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques. Vol. 2. Edited by Richard Goulet, 824–833. Paris: CNRS Éditions.

    A valuable and significant encyclopedic article devoted to Diogenes Laertius’s life and works. Mejer also includes an excellent bibliographical survey.

  • Runia, David Theunis. 1997. Diogenes Laertios. In Der neue Pauly. Vol. 3. Edited by Hubert Cancik and Helmuth Schneider, 602–603. Stuttgart and Weimar, Germany: J. B. Metzler.

    A concise, original, and up-to-date encyclopedic presentation of Diogenes Laertius.

  • Schorn, Stefan. 2018. Jørgen Mejers Diogens Laertius and his Hellenistic background nach 30 Jahren—einige Überlegungen. In Studien zur hellenistischen Biographie und Historiographie. Edited by Stefan Schorn, 339–364. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde 345. Berlin: W. de Gruyter.

    The vexata questio of the sources of Diogenes Laertius is reproposed starting from the not-always-convincing conclusions in Mejer 1978. In the final section, Schorn draws up a useful list of eight desiderata in studies on Diogenes Laertius’s Lives.

  • Schwartz, Eduard. 1903. Diogenes Laertios. In Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft. Vol. 5.1. Edited by August Friedrich Pauly, Georg Wissowa, Wilhelm Kroll, Kurt Witte, Karl Mittelhaus, and Konrat Ziegler, 738–763. Stuttgart and Weimar, Germany: J. B. Metzler

    Although dated, this encyclopedic article is still a valuable and significant piece of work, focusing on Diogenes Laertius’s sources through a deep and detailed examination of his life and works. Reprinted in Eduard Schwartz, Griechische Geschichtschreiber (Leipzig: Koehler and Amelang, 1957), 453–491.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.