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Melania The Saint Through the Eyes of Diogenes Laertius

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Cal SmithEdit


In the book Roman Women, Melania the Saint is depicted through a chronological biography. The way she takes her beliefs of chastity, death, and wealth into her own hands differs greatly from the normality of her time. Melania is able to transform her life as a wealthy Roman aristocratic woman and become a more noble woman by giving away everything she owns for a life of poverty. Diogenes Laertius does not write his biography in the typical chorological way, but instead uses quotes and beliefs to help enforce the philosophy of the individual. Melania’s life story would have had a more powerful meaning had Diogenes Laertius written her biography in his style by emphasizing the key points of her life and lifestyle.

Writing Style of Diogenes LaertiusEdit

If Laertius had written Melania’s biography, he would first describe her mental status as male and not as female, since during her life she took the more authoritative role in her relationship with her husband. Throughout Melania’s life, she is able to control her religious life by taking the dominant role in marriage. Laertius also would make her biography strictly about her and only briefly about her parents to describe where she came from. For example, Laertius writes, “Heraclitus, son of Bloson or, according to some, of Heracon, was a native of Ephesus,” (Laertius 409). Laertius would not mention Melania’s spouse Pinian, since his role in her life was not critical. This would help focus the attention strictly on Melania. In Laertius’s writings of other philosophers, he never to ever mentions a philosopher’s spouse. In this case, Melania would be considered the philosopher. Giardina writes, “Basically, the husband was viewed as an authoritative father, governing his wife as an eternal child in need of reassurance and guidance from him, the dispenser of wisdom and governor of their life together. Pinian did not play this role in his marriage to Melania, rather it was reverse” (Giardina 205). This power she held also was displayed in her practice of chastity, despite the fact that she wanted to remain a virgin before being forced into marriage, since Melania believed that being a virgin was the only way to conquer death (Giardina 193).
Chastity was a major theme throughout Melania’s life, which Laertius would use to empathize her way of life to the reader in the very beginning of most of his biographies. Melania only had two kids, which Pinian asked for so the inheritance could be passed down to them. However, Melania lost both of her children. The importance of motherhood was Melania’s top priority besides her religion. After the second child died, her way of life changed. Most of her family members died such as her parents, children, and husband. It was said that a large portion of her life was devoted to mourning. Giardina writes “And she was even more distressed by her husband’s death, for she kept vigil near his tomb and fasted for nearly four years. If we wish to understand Melania’s personality, however, it would be useful to dwell on the tears she did not shed”(Giardina 194). This is where Laertius would depict Melania being torn from her family through death and learning by turning death into something positive. Instead of portraying Melania as a weak person Laertius would display Melania as becoming stronger as an individual, and using mourning to force a change in her personality. Giardina also writes “When her daughter died at the age of twelve, Melania accepted it dry-eyed and saw it as an opportunity to accelerate her withdrawal from the world” (Giardina 194). Laertius’s style of describing Melania would be the third person with no name. By doing this, the perception of Melania’s pain is established amongst the readers as if the person was in Melania’s situation, which allows Melania to be better understood, supporting the fact that he could have written a better biography of her life.
The most important value Melania was known to have was her “radical charity”. Giving to others was something Melania did the most. She exchanges her wealth and power as an aristocrat for poverty. This was her philosophy of universal poverty, with which she wanted to spiritually and physically cleanse her body. Laertius would have described her in quotes and short statements of her beliefs on charity. For example, when Laertius is describing Pythagoras he writes “This was the excuse put forward; but his real reason for forbidding animal diet was to practice people and accustom them to simplicity of life, so that they could live on things easily procurable,”(Laertius 333). This similar way of depicting this philosopher’s life would be the same in describing Melania that she followed by example. No one else during her time gave everything they owned to the church and the poor. It was said that, “the estate owned by one of them alone provided them with an income sufficient to feed 29,000 people a year” (Giardina 195). She was able to use all her estate by selling them off and gaining money to give away to charity. Melania also went against the norm because politically, the Senate was alarmed with her giving property and money to charity. “It is surprising to learn, however, that the beneficiaries of Melania’s and Pinian’s charity also expressed perplexity and put up a firm resistance” (Giardina 197). This was Melania main focus in life, to choose poverty over wealth to become closer to God. Laertius would try to display this trait through actual events in her life where she gives up ownership property of her estates. For example, “One day after she and her husband had brought some ‘forty-five thousand pounds’ of gold into the house, to distribute to the poor and holy,” illustrates her benevolence (Giardina 196). This emphasis on charity would be the base to of the biography especially in the sense where giving away all your wealth was looked down upon. This was a paradox since giving to the poor was belittled compared to giving away money to gain political power.
Additionally, Melania was very intelligent. She was able to read the bible in Greek and Latin and transcribed the old and new testaments (Giardina 204). She was said to be “perfectly bilingual” (Giardina 204). This showed the devotion Melania had towards her religion, which was a critical part of her life. Melania’s true faith had helped her get through the turmoil of death in her family. She even took her faith to another level when she moved to the Holy land to be closer to God in the after life. This is where Melania was assumed to have died (Giardina 202).
Laertius’s way of giving meaning to a person’s death was by showing how they died for their conviction. In the case of Melania’s death, Laertius would say she was the first woman with extreme wealth to die alone in poverty by choice. However Laertius would not depict Melania like in Roman Women where “Her burial clothes were ‘worthy of her saintliness,’ for the various pieces of her burial clothes made up an extraordinary collage of relics: a tunic that had once belonged to a saint,” (Giardina 200). He would only use actual examples to help prove her death to be a saintly one, being very specific the whole time. By actually describing her passing, he would construct a mental image in the reader of how the scene actually looked. In Melania’s biography there was no actual specific way of death. Therefore, Laertius would try to create a scenario to provide to the audience a portrait of her death and help them perceive Melania to be deserving of being called a saint. For example, how Laertius describes Pythagoras death: “Pythagoras was caught as he tried to escape; he got as far as a certain field of beans, where he stopped, saying he would be captured rather than cross it, and be killed rather than prate about his doctrines;” (Laertius 355). This illustrates how Pythagoras died due to a belief he had about beans. This also would have been the same in depicting Melania’s death demise: a very specific and well-rounded account.


Melania was a woman of stature who gave her life to charity and shunned the typical way of life of a woman in this time. In the story of “Melania the Saint” and in the written style of Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Diogenes Laertius would have portrayed Melania as a more noteworthy saint. It is important to note that more specific details and facts about her life have been lost in the style in which her story was written. Especially because most of biographies in Lives of Eminent Philosophers recount more about the way of living of the individuals instead of what actually happens in their lives, this would have been in essential in trying to give meaning to Melania’s philosophy of life and humble style, which was not successfully depicted in Roman Women.


  1. Fraschetti, Augusto. "Melania The Saint." Roman Women. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2001. 196-207. Print.
2. Diogenes, Laertius. Diogenes Laertius Lives of Eminent Philosophers. New York: G.P. Putnam, 1925. Print.

Project 1 Part 2Edit

Evidence on Diogenes' Writing Styles

Joshua Rose

The thesis stated here is that Diogenes Laertius will give a “more powerful” biography of the life of Melania, had he been the one who wrote it. For the most part, this argument seems to be backed up with sufficient enough information and evidence, but there are a few roadblocks I have spotted and will point out.

In the second paragraph of the section labeled “Writing Style of Diogenes Laertius” there is a sentence where some evidence should be presented to make the argument more concrete. “This is where Laertius would display Melania being torn from her family through death and learning by turning death into something positive.” In order to complicate this stated thesis, I have other evidence of Laertius’ work to suggest a different approach. There are few examples of where Diogenes speaks of death, but the examples where I found them to be were in pages 355, 357, and 361 of Diogenes’ Lives of Eminent Philosophers. He describes the death of Pythagoras on these pages. He doesn’t describe how characters actually felt and dealt with a death, but rather gives various ways of Pythagoras’ death; “…Pythagoras was caught as he was trying to escape; he got as far as a certain field of beans, where he stopped, saying he would be captured rather than cross it…” (Laertius, 355). This was actually a piece of evidence in the paper used, but I believe can still be used for this criticism. Laertius also states “…Pythagoras died a fugitive in the temple of the Muses at Metapontum after forty days’ starvation.” (Laertius, 357). The last piece of evidence from Diogenes, “According to Heraclides, the son of Serapion, he was 80 years old when he died.” (Laertius, 361). In just these three examples, Diogenes describes the manner of death, but not necessarily how people were affected personality-wise by the death itself. This shows that a simple description of the death, instead of a depiction of how people cope and learn from the death, is a less powerful biography, going against the stated thesis. Later on in the paper, this topic of death is brought up again, and it is stated that “By actually describing her passing, he would construct a mental image in the reader of how the scene actually looked.” This almost goes against the sentence stated earlier; the sentence regarding how Diogenes would describe Melania coping and learning from the death with no evidence to back it up. When all we get from Diogenes would be an accurate image of how someone died, not an accurate image of how they coped and learned from a death.

Rosie09 02:54, October 8, 2011 (UTC)Joshua Rose

A Further Analysis of Laertius' Techniques Applied to Melania

Project 1 Part 2

By Solomon Montagno

Diogenes Laertius as an ancient biographer has a very distinct style. When reading his biographers it is clear that he is going about writing their lives in a very specific way. Cal’s Melania The Saint Through the Eyes of Diogenes Laertius captures some of the most important aspects of Diogenes Laertius biographical style. At first glance one might not able to see how Laertius tries to form his biographies. Cal is able to lay out the fundamentals of Laertius’s style. According to Cal Diogenes does not write in any specific chronological order. He does not begin with the person of interest’s birth but instead begins when their life begins to take merit. Also Cal is able to recognize that Laertius uses the actions as well as the beliefs of the person to describe their life. These techniques allow Laertius to focus directly on the most important aspects of the life he is studying. He is able to do this with having the feeling of leaving something out of the person’s life. He is also able to make the reader feel as though they actually know the person being studied life and personality. In his paper Cal makes it clear that he understands Laertius’s general style of biography. There are traits of Laertius’s style that when analyzed could add a more believable biography of Melania through the eyes of Diogenes Laertius. Cal touches on this in his paper but it is important to understanding how Laertius forms his biographies. One aspect of his style is to include in the beginning the major faults, achievements or personality traits that helps to make the person and form who they are. Laertius then goes on to show how these traits effect that person’s life for the better or in a negative way. Another way Laertius writes biographies is to gives real accounts of what the person did in their life and he gives the perspective of the public towards that specific person. In most of his biographies Laertius begins with the general background of the person he is studying. In this case he would begin with the background of Melania. As Cal said he would focus on who her father was and not give much importance to who Melania married because her spouse was not an influential character in her life. He would discuss where Melania was from and the status of her family in terms of their wealth and respect. After this Laertius would give us an indication of what this person did in their life to call them notable. Or in another way of doing the same thing he would describe a specific moment in their life which lead them down this path to greatness. For example in Diogenes Laertius’ biography about Diogenes on the first page he describes the act Diogenes did which lead to a change in his life.

“Diocles relates that he went into exile because his [Diogenes] father was entrusted with the money of the state and adulterated the coinage… Some say that having been appointed to superintend the workmen he was persuaded by them, and that he went to Delphi or to the Delian oracle in his own city and inquired of Apollo whether he should do what he was urged to do. When the god gave him permission to alter the political currency, not understanding what this meant, he adulterated the state coinage, and when he was detected, according to some he was banished…” (Laertius, 23).

In Melania’s case Laertius would begin by saying that she was very charitable woman as a prelude to what she actually did in her life. In a clearer way of saying Laertius would pick a significant part of a person’s life to show how that part of their life changed their whole life overall. Melania’s charity to the common people shows her overall philosophy towards life and what is important to her as a means of coming closer to God. Without Laertius including the fault of Diogenes the reader would have never known the defining part of his life that led him on the path to being notable in ancient history. Also if Diogenes had never adulterated the money he would never have been banished and his life might have been much less important and notable.

In his biographies Laertius rarely gives his personal opinion of the person he is studying. In most biographies there are often multiple views of the person being studied. Meaning the biographer might give his personal opinion about the person or he would use the commentary of another notable figure during that time to assess the person of interest. In Laertius biographies he does this but it is not his commentary that he provides but that of the everyday person or even the general public. He uses the reaction of the people to the judge the actions of the person. Pythagoras was held in high opinion by his followers some even believed that he was God. Laertius including this in his biography about Pythagoras is his attempt to show the people viewed Pythagoras and give the reader multiple accounts of this man and not solely Laertius view of Pythagoras. This helps the reader create a view that is not biased because of Laertius. “Indeed, his [Pythagoras] bearing is said to have been most dignified, and his disciples held the opinion about him that he was Apollo come down from the far north. There is a story that once, when he was disrobed, his thigh was seen to be of gold; and when crossed the river Nessus, quite a number of people said they heard it welcome him’ (Laertius, 331). These are the views of the people towards Pythagoras they hold him in such high esteem that they believe him to be a god. It is Laertius’ attempt to show how the people viewed Pythagoras during ancient times. If Diogenes Laertius were to write the biography about Melania he would write about the common people’s feelings towards Melania’s greatest deeds. It would be through the opinions of the people and Melania’s contemporaries that the reader learns how Melania was viewed and the influences she had. The reader would read firsthand accounts of her charity and her closeness to God. Laertius would go on and show how Melania’s act influenced those around her for the better or for worse off. Cal did a great job of analyzing Laertius biographical style. It is true that Laertius does not follow a specific chronological order. Laertius would also focus on the way the Melania led her life rather than what happened during her life. As Cal said that would help the reader to understand who Melania was as a person; what her philosophy towards life was. Laertius would focus on Melania’s charity and her devotion to God. Through the people’s views and the description of Melania’s life defining moments the reader would come away with a biography of Melania The Saint Through eyes of Diogenes Laertius.

Diogenes, Laertius. Lives of Eminent Philosophers :. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2000. Print.

Project 1 Part 2

Analysis of Laertius' Approach to Melania

By Erik Becker

Cal's central thesis points out that if Laertius were to create a depiction of Melania's life, greater emphasis would be placed on the main values of her life and her lifestyle in general.

Cal states that, "In Melania’s biography there was no actual specific way of death. Therefore, Laertius would try to create a scenario to provide to the audience a portrait of her death and help them perceive Melania to be deserving of being called a saint." This assumes that Laertius would be more inclined to give greater detail to her death than that provided in "Roman Women". One example of how Laertius may do so is the case of Pythagoras' death. While there are several accounts of his death, they can all be related back to how they sum of the essence of the person as far as what they died for, in this case Pythagoras. If Laertius were to apply this model to Melania's life, he may include other accounts than that provided in "Roman Women". However, like Cal begins to suggest, he would present them in a way that would capture why Melania should be viewed as saint-like.

Another point Cal makes is how Melania showed a strong devotion to religion, and that it "helped her get through the turmoil of death in her family. To further elaborate on this point, it could be worth considering the example of Empedocles. "And their continuous change,' he says, 'never ceases,' as if this ordering of things were eternal. At all events he goes on...the soul, again, assumes all the various forms of animals and plants" (Laertius on Empedocles pg. 391). This reveals Empedocles belief system and and understanding of eternal life, and how it was through this belief system that he looked past the idea of death. If Laertius were to apply this idea to Melania, he may do so by showing direct quotes about Melania’s ideas of faith help her to cope with death, and the specific way in which it gives her acceptance.

A stronger point that Cal makes is the fact that Laertius often does little to explain the role of family members of the particular person he is describing. While he does make sure to include parents and siblings of the characters he's describing, he does little to explain their relationships. However, he does provide subtle clues into the relationships between particular people and their family. One example is Pythagoras, in which it states, "When he entrusted his daughter Damo with the custody of his memoirs, he solemnly charged her never to give them to anyone outside his house" (Laertius on Pythagoras pg. 359). Through this understanding alone, while brief, we can tell that Pythagoras had a tremendous amount of trust in his daughter, and that she was clearly an important figure in his life.

Grace Mooney's Response: Additional comments regarding the life of Melania the Saint as written by the biographer, Diogenes LaertiusEdit

Cal clearly states his thesis that if the life of Melania had been written by Diogenes Laertius, the end result may have been a more profound account of her life, not simply a chronological telling of accounts and events. Laertius as biographer did not care about chronological order, or events (including dates) therefore Cal illustrates an understanding of the assignment. He also states that he would have made her male not female, which is an interesting statement as her actions and deeds as a woman, marrying and giving birth for example, would have had to be changed or omitted.

Cal begins his first paragraph by saying Diogenes Laertius would have written about Melania as a philosopher. This is significant as Cal illustrates that he has done his research in the writings of Laertius, as biographer of philosophers. Laertius uses outside sources as a way to illustrate how certain people were philosophers. Therefore, Cal may have wanted to include an example of how Laertius used this style. Since Cal uses various different philosophers, he possibly could add an example using the biography of Pythagoras. “There are some who insist, absurdly enough, that Pythagoras left no writings whatsoever.” (Diogenes, 325) Laertius uses outside sources to build his biographical picture of certain philosophers. He goes on to say, “At all events Heraclitus, the physicist, almost shouts in our ear, ‘Pythagoras…practiced inquiry beyond all other men, and in this selection made himself a wisdom of his own showing much learning but poor workmanship.’” (Laertius, 325) I would have incorporated this quote to illustrate that Laertius uses outside sources to describe the person he is writing about. He would have written about Melania using outside sources illustrating her deeds and accomplishments as a Saint.

Cal discusses the deaths that occur within Melania’s family, trying to emphasize how Laertius would have written about this. Cal writes, “This is where Laertius would depict Melania being torn from her family through death and learning by turning death into something positive.” I believe that there should be an example here of how Laertius would have done this. What textual evidence supports this statement? He goes on stating, “Instead of portraying Melania as a weak person Laertius would display Melania as becoming stronger as an individual, and using mourning to force a change in her personality.” It is seen throughout his biographies of philosophers that Laertius illustrates the idea if a person perseveres, they will grain success, which is ultimately a person getting stronger. Concerning a biography on Diogenes of Sinope, Laertius’ explains, “It can be seen that the craftsmen develop extraordinary manual skill through practice. Again, take the case of flue-players and of athletes: what surpassing skill they acquire by their own incessant toil” (Diogenes, 73). Here, Laeritus shows an example of how hard work gives someone results. Through Melania’s practice of worship, she becomes stronger.

An idea that Cal discusses is using various biographies that Diogenes Laertius wrote in order to prove his thesis to depict his style as biographer. Not only does Cal use various biographies, he uses them to support and create evidence. When discussing Melania’s “main focus in life, to choose poverty over wealth to become closer to God” Laertius Diogenes would have illustrated how this was a certain philosophical way of Melania’s life and how she used it to gain strength. This can be explained through Laertius’ writings of Pythagoras who gave advice and helped the needy in order to gain acceptance. Laertius writes, “He bade his disciples not to pick up fallen crumbs, either in order to accustom them not to eat immoderately, or because connected with a person’s death” (Diogenes, 349) This examples illustrates that by giving advice, Pythagoras gains acceptance and is also helping them.

When discussing Melania’s intelligence, Laertius would have quoted her and incorporated this quotation as a means to illustrate what it would have been like to hear her speak in person. Laertius quoted many of the people whom he wrote biographies on, believing that it gave more of an insight to what it would have been like to meet the people he was writing about. A quote of Melania’s would have looked like something intelligent and profound. Along with this, Cal’s paragraph on death is impressive as it is accurate on how Laertius would have interpreted Melania’s death. In all, this paragraph is well done.

Melania the SaintEdit

By Tyler Orr

When discussing Melania;s Biography in regards to how Diogenes would have done it. It is clear that Laertius would mostly speak about Melania and not about other people in her familt because he was more intrested in the general overall setting this is obvious because Diogenes is extremely vague leaves things openended for discusion. Dioneges would have spoken differently about Melania for Diogenes would not just show the point at face value rather he would use eloquent language to allude and converese about what was going. Since it is not Melania writting about hersef. When talking about the grave losses that Melania went through Diogenes would not show as Cal point out that she wept in front of the tomb for many years. But rather Diogenes would focus on what those deaths and sarrows brought into her life how that made her grow as a person and change the way she acted and felt about life. For Diogenes would focus more on the results of the paina and how that changed her into the saint. The main reason why Diogenes would even tell this story is to tell the story of a saint and how they came to be a saint and this is the turning point that made her turn to such philanthropical devors. Then Diogenes would rever back to how this horrific diaster gave her such charity. For through these loses Melania knew she was unable to change the past was to keep living the future with their lives at your hurt pushing towards philathropical endeavorrs. Diogenes would find these endeavors pleasing and would emphasize for when Craterus wanted him to visit and he saids not "I would rather live on a few grain of salt in Athens than enjoy sumptuus fare at Craterus table" (Laertius 59). This is an obvious that Diogenes does not care the wealth and luxries of life but rather what someone does with there life and how they affects everyone around them. Dionegenes would gladly show how intelligetn Melania was being her bioligual nature would prove to be an important aspect in his regard as philosopher. Also Diogenes would make an example of Malania and bring out that she gave away her wordly possesions which diogenses did not find nessecary for a godly life and in this way show how she should be a saint.

Comments by Stephen DuselEdit

As so many have stated before me, it is clear that Cal feels that a biography about Melania the Saint would have had a more profound effect if written by Diogenes Laertius. I fully agree, and the argument was very clearly made. However, there are a few points with which I have contention. Very early on you assert that Diogenes would not mention to whom Melania was married. From the lives we have read, I feel this is a misinterpretation of Diogenes style. While it is true that he rarely mentions the wives of his subjects, he does make sure to give as much relevant information about them as possible. This can be seen clearly in his account of Pythagoras: "Pythagoras, son of the gem-engraver Mnesarchus, and according to Hermippus, a Samian, or, according to Aristoxenus, a Tyrrhenian from one of those islands which the Athenians held after clearing them of the Tyrrhenian inhabitants. Some indeed say that he was descended through Euthyphro, Hippasus and Marmacus from Cleonymus who was exiled from Philus...(Laertius 321)" and it goes on ever further. In addition, he does mention Pythagoras' wife on page 359. He was married to Theano, "daughter of Brontinus of Croton." Diogenes Laertius doesn't hold any information about a person as trivial, save their wives in most cases. However, women did not hold as important a role in the lives of these men. Were Diogenes to write about a woman, he would definitely include who her husband was. No man of consequence in any of his biographies is left out. I do not think he would leave out Pinian.

Another argument of yours is that Diogenes would try to "create a scenario to provide to the audience a portrait of her death and help them perceive Melania to be deserving of being called a saint." I feel like the way in which she died would not be what Diogenes would try to use to make readers agree that her sainthood is warranted. Diogenes plays heavily on things the person did to create a picture for the reader. He doesn't even always include how they died unless it was magnificent. Epicharmus, Archytas, Alcmaeon, and Hipassus all were deemed worthy of biographies, but not one of them has his death mentioned. I don't think that the way in which she died would have been a major point in how she became a saint. He would have mentioned any information he had, but I feel that he would have won over the reader by this point, and the death would just be to wrap up the biography.

Other than those two things, I feel you used the accounts well and had a strong argument. You don't cut off any of the points you are trying to make before you have fully attacked them.

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