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Diocles of Carystus and the cucumbers of Antioch

[Originally published at the now defunct group blog explananda.com]


Posted on July 11, 2006
Tags: classics
This is from an Appendix to the English translation of Jaeger’s Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of His Development:
Diocles’ work on diet was dedicated to a certain Plistarchus. Wellmann never asked who this man was. Beloch, in a short footnote of his Greek History, asks whether he was a Macedonian prince, brother of Cassander and one of the younger sons of Antipater. This is, indeed, highly probable. Antipater was Alexander’s man of confidence, whom he entrusted with the administration of Macedonia and Greece during the long years of his absence in Asia. Aristotle had met Antipater when he was the educator of Alexander at King Philip’s court, and from that time until his death Antipater remained his most intimate friend. Aristotle appointed him in his will as general executor. He and his son Cassander were the protectors of the Peripatetic school after Alexander’s and Aristotle’s deaths. Plistarchus became king of Lycia and Caria after the battle of Ipsus in 301. Almost all the Hellenistic kings were protectors of science and philosophy. The dedication of scientific works to princes and other powerful men is a custom which begins shortly before Alexander’s time and throws much light on the relations of philosophical schools and politics. Moreover, in one of Diocles’ books the cucumbers of of Antioch were recommended. Antioch was founded in the year 300 B.C. Thus Diocles wrote his book in the third, not in the beginning of the fourth century.

I love the relentless accumulation of detail, some of it not entirely relevant, building until it reaches the final, victorious piece of evidence: a reference to a cucumber! My emotional response to this is, of course, complex: The anti-climax in finding a cucumber at the end of all this mingles with the excitement of what appears to be a very nice use of evidence. I am then distracted by Jaeger’s use of italics, which are just so earnest here that the excitement is replaced by amusement.