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5 Philosophers who Passed Away in the Strangest of Ways

Alexandra Dantzer

Simon Critchley, a professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York, wrote a book called The Book of Dead Philosophers (2008).

He lists various stories about philosophers passing away, and some of them are truly remarkable and hilarious. “It is the ambition of The Book of Dead Philosophers to show that often the philosopher’s greatest work of art is the manner of their death,” says Critchley for The Guardian.

Chryssipus

A partial marble bust of Chrysippus that is a Roman copy of a Hellenistic original (Louvre Museum). Photo by Sting CC By SA 2.5

A partial marble bust of Chrysippus that is a Roman copy of a Hellenistic original (Louvre Museum). Photo by Sting CC By SA 2.5

Chryssipus (280–207 BC) is known as one of the greatest Stoics, and for one of the theories about his death. He died during the 143rd Olympiad at the age of 73. There are two stories about him passing away and both have something to do with alcohol.

Chrysippus accepted divination as part of the causal chain of fate.

Chrysippus accepted divination as part of the causal chain of fate.

The first theory is that he died from dizziness five days after drinking very strong wine. However, the second story stuck with us, and it is the one that is associated with his name.

Roman copy of a Hellenistic bust of Chrysippus.

Roman copy of a Hellenistic bust of Chrysippus.

Noticing that a donkey had eaten his figs, instead of being mad about it he yelled at an old woman: “Now give the donkey a drink of pure wine to wash down the figs.” He found his joke so funny that he started laughing uncontrollably, fell on the ground, and had a seizure that killed him.

De la Mettrie

Julien Offray de La Mettrie

Julien Offray de La Mettrie

The author of The Man-Machine, Julien Offray de La Mettrie (1709–1751), was known for his materialist theories of human nature and was not particularly appreciated among his Enlightenment contemporaries. His death is seen as fitting to his philosophy and described as a “materialistic death.”

He met his final day due to over-eating. De La Mettrie was at the house of the French ambassador in Berlin, Monsieur Tirconnel, and was served truffle pâté.

He had a huge meal and immediately fell sick. He refused help from the doctors, calling them charlatans, and tried curing himself by drawing blood. However it did not work and he passed away.

Heraclitus

Heraclitus of Ephesus by Johannes Moreelse.

Heraclitus of Ephesus by Johannes Moreelse.

Heraclitus (535–c.475BC) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher known for his rejection of a society that he has started to despise.

He decided to seclude himself in the mountains and ate only grass and herbs.

Heraclitus (with the face and in the style of Michelangelo) sits apart from the other philosophers in Raphael’s School of Athens.

Heraclitus (with the face and in the style of Michelangelo) sits apart from the other philosophers in Raphael’s School of Athens.

He developed edema due to malnutrition and had to return to the city seeking medical help.

However, he did not want to take the advice of the doctors but asked to be covered in cow manure to cure his disease. There are two versions of his death story. In the first one, he drowned in wet and fluid cow feces. In the second one he lay down in the sun, the feces completely dried and he died of over-heating.

Diogenes

Statue of Diogenes at Sinop, Turkey. Photo by Tony f CC BY 3.0

Statue of Diogenes at Sinop, Turkey. Photo by Tony f CC BY 3.0

There are many unusual anecdotes written about Diogenes (d.320 BC), such as living in a barrel, defecating in the theater, and eating excessive amounts of onions at some point in his life. However, the most remarkable thing known about him is that he did not fear authority. He was the only one who mocked Alexander the Great and stayed alive afterward.

According to The Guardian, Diogenes wanted to be buried face down, as in his words: “after a little time down will be converted into up.”

The Sonderling as an attraction. Diogenes by John William Waterhouse, 1882.

The Sonderling as an attraction. Diogenes by John William Waterhouse, 1882.

He lived until the old age of 90 and his death is surrounded by mystery. However, there are two most probable theories. He either died from eating a raw octopus or decided to commit suicide by holding his breath.

Michel Foucault

A French philosopher (1926–1984), known for his subversive theories on sexuality and his eccentric lifestyle, Michel Foucault left a strong legacy in writing about queer sexualities. He fell sick in 1984, suffering from persistent flu-like symptoms.

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He continued working on his book History of Sexuality all throughout his sickness. It was later discovered that he had AIDS, which was apparently known to him all the time. His death in itself is not so remarkable as the fact that he had started obsessively reading Seneca as his death approached. Eventually, he died on June 25th, the same date that Seneca passed away.