Introduction: Zeno, the founder of the Stoic school of Greek philosophy, was an older contemporary of Socrates, coming to Athens from his native island of Cyprus around the year 480 B.C. There are various conflicting stories of Zeno’s death. One common account relates that he lived to the extraordinary age of 98 and finally strangled himself out of contempt for his physical frailty. A more popular version, by the time of Diogenes Laertius, had it that he was executed because of his attempts to overthrow a variously identified local king.
Zeno was a great man, both in respect to philosophy and as a politician. His books, at any rate, are full of understanding. He was disposed to unseat the tyrant Nearchos—others say, Diomedon—and was arrested; thus says Herakleides in “The Epitome of Satyros.” At that time he was questioned as to the identity of his fellow conspirators and concerning the weapons which he was taking to Lipara. He named all of the tyrant’s friends, wishing to leave him without supporters. Then he told the king he had something to whisper in his ear about certain people. When the king leaned over he bit his ear and did not let go until he was stabbed to death, suffering the same death as Aristogeiton, the killer of the tyrant.
Demetrios says, in “Men of the Same Name,” that Zeno bit off his (the king’s) nose. Antisthenes says, in “Successions of the Philosophers,” that after Zeno incriminated the tyrant’s friends he was asked by the tyrant if there were anyone else to indict. He answered, “You, the pestilence of the city!” And to those standing by he said, “I am amazed at your cowardice, that on account of the very things which I now endure you are slaves of the tyrant.” Finally he bit off his own tongue and spit it at the tyrant. The citizens were so incited that immediately they stoned the tyrant to death. The majority of authors mainly agree in this. But Hermippos says Zeno was thrown into a mortar and butchered.