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Clement of Alexandria - Book I

Chapter XV.—The Greek Philosophy in Great Part Derived from the Barbarians.

Chapter XV.--The Greek Philosophy in Great Part Derived from the Barbarians.

These are the times of the oldest wise men and philosophers among the Greeks. And that the most of them were barbarians by extraction, and were trained among barbarians, what need is there to say? Pythagoras is shown to have been either a Tuscan or a Tyrian. And Antisthenes was a Phrygian. And Orpheus was an Odrysian or a Thracian. The most, too, show Homer to have been an Egyptian. Thales was a Phoenician by birth, and was said to have consorted with the prophets of the Egyptians; as also Pythagoras did with the same persons, by whom he was circumcised, that he might enter the adytum and learn from the Egyptians the mystic philosophy. He held converse with the chief of the Chaldeans and the Magi; and he gave a hint of the church, now so called, in the common hall [1960] which he maintained.

And Plato does not deny that he procured all that is most excellent in philosophy from the barbarians; and he admits that he came into Egypt. Whence, writing in the Phoedo that the philosopher can receive aid from all sides, he said: "Great indeed is Greece, O Cebes, in which everywhere there are good men, and many are the races of the barbarians." [1961] Thus Plato thinks that some of the barbarians, too, are philosophers. But Epicurus, on the other hand, supposes that only Greeks can philosophise. And in the Symposium, Plato, lauding the barbarians as practising philosophy with conspicuous excellence, [1962] truly says: "And in many other instances both among Greeks and barbarians, whose temples reared for such sons are already numerous." And it is clear that the barbarians signally honoured their lawgivers and teachers, designating them gods. For, according to Plato, "they think that good souls, on quitting the super-celestial region, submit to come to this Tartarus; and assuming a body, share in all the ills which are involved in birth, from their solicitude for the race of men;" and these make laws and publish philosophy, "than which no greater boon ever came from the gods to the race of men, or will come." [1963]

And as appears to me, it was in consequence of perceiving the great benefit which is conferred through wise men, that the men themselves were honoured and philosophy cultivated publicly by all the Brahmins, and the Odrysi, and the Getæ. And such were strictly deified by the race of the Egyptians, by the Chaldeans and the Arabians, called the Happy, and those that inhabited Palestine, by not the least portion of the Persian race, and by innumerable other races besides these. And it is well known that Plato is found perpetually celebrating the barbarians, remembering that both himself and Pythagoras learned the most and the noblest of their dogmas among the barbarians. Wherefore he also called the races of the barbarians, "races of barbarian philosophers," recognising, in the Phoedrus, the Egyptian king, and shows him to us wiser than Theut, whom he knew to be Hermes. But in the Charmides, it is manifest that he knew certain Thracians who were said to make the soul immortal. And Pythagoras is reported to have been a disciple of Sonches the Egyptian arch-prophet; and Plato, of Sechnuphis of Heliopolis; and Eudoxus, of Cnidius of Konuphis, who was also an Egyptian. And in his book, On the Soul, [1964] Plato again manifestly recognises prophecy, when he introduces a prophet announcing the word of Lachesis, uttering predictions to the souls whose destiny is becoming fixed. And in the Timæus he introduces Solon, the very wise, learning from the barbarian. The substance of the declaration is to the following effect: "O Solon, Solon, you Greeks are always children. And no Greek is an old man. For you have no learning that is hoary with age." [1965]

Democritus appropriated the Babylonian ethic discourses, for he is said to have combined with his own compositions a translation of the column of Acicarus. [1966] And you may find the distinction notified by him when he writes, "Thus says Democritus." About himself, too, where, pluming himself on his erudition, he says, "I have roamed over the most ground of any man of my time, investigating the most remote parts. I have seen the most skies and lands, and I have heard of learned men in very great numbers. And in composition no one has surpassed me; in demonstration, not even those among the Egyptians who are called Arpenodaptæ, with all of whom I lived in exile up to eighty years." For he went to Babylon, and Persis, and Egypt, to learn from the Magi and the priests.

Zoroaster the Magus, Pythagoras showed to be a Persian. Of the secret books of this man, those who follow the heresy of Prodicus boast to be in possession. Alexander, in his book On the Pythagorean Symbols, relates that Pythagoras was a pupil of Nazaratus the Assyrian [1967] (some think that he is Ezekiel; but he is not, as will afterwards be shown), and will have it that, in addition to these, Pythagoras was a hearer of the Galatæ and the Brahmins. Clearchus the Peripatetic says that he knew a Jew who associated with Aristotle. [1968] Heraclitus says that, not humanly, but rather by God's aid, the Sibyl spoke. [1969] They say, accordingly, that at Delphi a stone was shown beside the oracle, on which, it is said, sat the first Sibyl, who came from Helicon, and had been reared by the Muses. But some say that she came from Milea, being the daughter of Lamia of Sidon. [1970] And Serapion, in his epic verses, says that the Sibyl, even when dead, ceased not from divination. And he writes that, what proceeded from her into the air after her death, was what gave oracular utterances in voices and omens; and on her body being changed into earth, and the grass as natural growing out of it, whatever beasts happening to be in that place fed on it exhibited to men an accurate knowledge of futurity by their entrails. He thinks also, that the face seen in the moon is her soul. So much for the Sibyl.

Numa the king of the Romans was a Pythagorean, and aided by the precepts of Moses, prohibited from making an image of God in human form, and of the shape of a living creature. Accordingly, during the first hundred and seventy years, though building temples, they made no cast or graven image. For Numa secretly showed them that the Best of Beings could not be apprehended except by the mind alone. Thus philosophy, a thing of the highest utility, flourished in antiquity among the barbarians, shedding its light over the nations. And afterwards it came to Greece. First in its ranks were the prophets of the Egyptians; and the Chaldeans among the Assyrians; and the Druids among the Gauls; and the Samanæans among the Bactrians; and the philosophers of the Celts; and the Magi of the Persians, who foretold the Saviour's birth, and came into the land of Judæa guided by a star. The Indian gymnosophists are also in the number, and the other barbarian philosophers. And of these there are two classes, some of them called Sarmanæ, [1971] and others Brahmins. And those of the Sarmanæ who are called Hylobii [1972] neither inhabit cities, nor have roofs over them, but are clothed in the bark of trees, feed on nuts, and drink water in their hands. Like those called Encratites in the present day, they know not marriage nor begetting of children.

Some, too, of the Indians obey the precepts of Buddha; [1973] whom, on account of his extraordinary sanctity, they have raised to divine honours.

Anacharsis was a Scythian, and is recorded to have excelled many philosophers among the Greeks. And the Hyperboreans, Hellanicus relates, dwelt beyond the Riphæan mountains, and inculcated justice, not eating flesh, but using nuts. Those who are sixty years old they take without the gates, and do away with. There are also among the Germans those called sacred women, who, by inspecting the whirlpools of rivers and the eddies, and observing the noises of streams, presage and predict future events. [1974] These did not allow the men to fight against Cæsar till the new moon shone.

Of all these, by far the oldest is the Jewish race; and that their philosophy committed to writing has the precedence of philosophy among the Greeks, the Pythagorean Philo [1975] shows at large; and, besides him, Aristobulus the Peripatetic, and several others, not to waste time, in going over them by name. Very clearly the author Megasthenes, the contemporary of Seleucus Nicanor, writes as follows in the third of his books, On Indian Affairs: "All that was said about nature by the ancients is said also by those who philosophise beyond Greece: some things by the Brahmins among the Indians, and others by those called Jews in Syria." Some more fabulously say that certain of those called the Idæan Dactyli were the first wise men; to whom are attributed the invention of what are called the "Ephesian letters," and of numbers in music. For which reason dactyls in music received their name. And the Idæan Dactyli were Phrygians and barbarians. Herodotus relates that Hercules, having grown a sage and a student of physics, received from the barbarian Atlas, the Phrygian, the columns of the universe; the fable meaning that he received by instruction the knowledge of the heavenly bodies. And Hermippus of Berytus calls Charon the Centaur wise; about whom, he that wrote The Battle of the Titans says, "that he first led the race of mortals to righteousness, by teaching them the solemnity of the oath, and propitiatory sacrifices and the figures of Olympus." By him Achilles, who fought at Troy, was taught. And Hippo, the daughter of the Centaur, who dwelt with Æolus, taught him her father's science, the knowledge of physics. Euripides also testifies of Hippo as follows:--

"Who first, by oracles, presaged,

And by the rising stars, events divine."

By this Æolus, Ulysses was received as a guest after the taking of Troy. Mark the epochs by comparison with the age of Moses, and with the high antiquity of the philosophy promulgated by him.