The Curious Death of Chrysippus of Soli

Apollodorus of Athens once complained that "If one were to strip the books of Chrysippus of all extraneous quotations, his pages would be left bare." Happily, this would have been water off a duck's back as far as Chrysippus was concerned, partly because by this point in the middle of the 2nd Century BCE he had been dead for fifty years, but also because Chrysippus is one of the leading Stoic philosophers of antiquity.

Such was Chrysippus's influence on the Stoics that their motto held that "If Chrysippus had not existed, neither would the Stoa”. He was celebrated as a scholar of great erudition, a master of dialectic, a skilled runner and a prolific writer. An old woman who lived with him maintained that Chrysippus composed five hundred lines a day. It was thought that if the gods were to take up dialectic, they would assume no other system than that of Chrysippus.

Apparently, all this being feted rather went to Chrysippus’ head, and he was a fellow of exceptional arrogance. On being asked to whom a man could entrust his son for learning, Chrysippus replied, "To me, for if I thought there was anyone better than myself, I would have gone to him to teach me philosophy.”

Yet for all his intellectual prowess, Chrysippus was not of physical prowess. He was a slight man, and when a statue of him was erected next to that of a horse, Chrysippus was dwarfed by the equine form.

Although he was not renowned as the life and soul of a party - apparently, while engaged in drinking, he tended to waggle his legs about while the rest of his body remained still - laughter nevertheless played a key role in his death.

After a long and fertile life of philosophy and as leader of the Stoic school, one day on his way home Chrysippus came across an ass eating figs. He instructed the old woman who lived with him to give the ass some unmixed wine to drink afterwards, and with that he laughed so violently he died.

And so it came to pass that the Stoic philosopher Chrysippus died of laughter at the age of seventy-three, survived by an old woman and a drinking ass.

(Source: Diogenes Laertius, The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers)

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