Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers
Book I, Prologue
There are some who say that the study of philosophy had its beginning among the barbarians. They urge that the Persians have had their Magi, the Babylonians or Assyrians their Chaldeans, and the Indians their Gymnosophists; and among the Celts and Gauls there are the people called Druids or Holy Ones, for which they cite as authorities the Magicus of Aristotle and Sotion in the twenty-third book of his Succession of Philosophers. Also they say that Mochus was a Phoenician, Zalmoxis a Thracian, and Atlas a Lybian.
If we may believe the Egyptians, Hephaestus was the son of the Nile, and with him philosophy began, priests and prophets being its chief exponents. Hephaestus lived 48,863 years before Alexander of Macedon, and in the interval there occurred 373 solar and 832 lunar eclipses.
The date of the Magians, beginning with Zoroaster the Persian, was 5000 years before the fall of Troy, as given by Hermodorus the Platonist in his work on mathematics; but Xanthus the Lydian reckons 6000 years from Zoroaster to the expedition of Xerxes, and after that event he places a long line of Magians in succession, bearing the names of Ostanes, Astrampsychos, Gobryas, and Pazatas, down to the conquest of Persia by Alexander.
These authors forget that the achievements which they attributed to the barbarians belong to the Greeks, with whom not merely philosophy but the human race itself began. For instance, Musaeus is claimed by Athens, Linus by Thebes. It is said that the former, the son of Eumolpus, was the first to compose a genealogy of the gods and to construct a sphere, and that the maintained that all things proceed from unity and are resolved again into unity. He died at Phelerum, and this is his epitath:
Musaeus, to his sire Eumolpus dear,
In Phalerean soil lies buried here;
and the Eumolpidae at Athens get their name from the father of Musaeus.
Linus again was (so it is said) the son of Hermes and the Muse of Urania. He composed a poem describing the creation of the world, the courses of the sun and moon, and the growth of animals and plants. His poem begins with the line:
Time was when all things grew up at once;
and this idea was borrowed by Anaxagoras when he declared that all things were originally together until Mind came and set them in order. Linus died in Euboea, slain by the arrow of Apollo, and this is his epitath:
Here Theban Linus, whom Urania bore,
The fair-crowned Muse, sleeps on a foreign shore.
And thus it was from the Greeks that philosophy took its rise: its very name refuses to be translated into foreign speech.
But those who attribute its invention to barbarians bring forward Orpheus the Thracian, calling him a philosopher of whose antiquity there can be no doubt. Now considering the sort of things he said about the gods, I hardly know whether he ought to be called a philosopher; for what are we to make of one who does not scruple to charge the gods with all human suffering, and even the foul crimes wrought by the tongue amongst a few of mankind? The story goes that he met his death at the hands of women; but according to the epitath at Dium in Macedonia he was slain by a thunderbolt; it runs as follows:
Here have the Muses laid their minstrel true,
The Thracian Orpheus whom Jove's thunder slew.
But the advocates of the theory that philosophy took its rise among the barbarians go on to explain the different forms it assumed in different countries. As to the Gymnosophists and Druids we are told that they uttered their philosophy in riddles, bidding men to reverence the gods, to abstain from wrong-doing, and to practice courage. That the Gymnosophists at all events despise even death itself is affirmed by Clitarchus in his twelfth book; he also says that the Chaldeans apply themselves to astronomy and forecasting the future; while the Magi spend their time in the worship of the gods, in sacrifices and in prayers, implying that none but themselves have the ear of the gods. They propound their views concerning the being and origin of the gods, whom they hold to be fire, earth, and water; they condemn the use of images, and especially the error of attributing to the divinities differences of sex. They hold discourse of justice, and deem it impious to practice cremation; but they see no impiety in ma rriage with a mother or daughter, as Sotion relates in his twenty-third book. Further, they practice divination and forecast the future, declaring that the gods appear to them in visible form. Moreover, they say that the air is full of shapes which stream forth like vapour and enter the eyes of keen-sighted seers. They prohibit personal ornament and the wearing of gold. Their dress is white, they make their bed on the ground, and their food is vegetables, cheese, and coarse bread; their staff is a reed and their custom is so we are told, to stick it into the cheese and take up with it the part they eat.
With the art of magic they were wholly unacquainted, according to Aristotle in his Magicus and Dinon in the fifth book of his History. Dinon tells us that the name Zoroaster, literally interpreted, means "star-worshipper"; and Hermodorus agrees with him in this. Aristotle in the first book of his dialogue On Philosophy declares that the Magi are more ancient than the Egyptians; and further, that they believe in two principles, the good spirit and the evil spirit; the one called Zeus or Oromasdes, the other Hades or Arimanius. This is confirmed by Hermippus in his first book about the Magi, Eudoxus in his Voyage round the World, and Theopompus in the eighth book of his Philippica. The last-named author says that according to the Magi men will live in a future life and be immortal, and that the world will endure through their invocations. This is again confirmed by Eudemus of Rhodes. But Heccataeus relates that according to them the gods are subject to birth. Clearchus of Soli in his tract On Educa tion further makes the Gymnosophists to be descended from the Magi; and some trace the Jews also to the same origin. Furthermore, those who have written about the Magi criticize Herodotus. They urge that Xerxes would never have cast javelins at the sun nor have let down fetters into the sea, since in the creed of the Magi sun and sea are gods. But that statues of the gods should be destroyed by Xerxes was natural enough.
The philosophy of the Egyptians is described as follows so far as relates to the gods and to justice. They say that matter was first principle, next the four elements were derived from matter, and thus living things of every species were produced. The sun and the moon are gods bearing the names of Osiris and Isis respectively; they make use of the beetle, the dragon, the hawk, and other creatures as symbols of divinity, according to Manetho in his Epitome of Physical Doctrines, and Heccataeus in the first book of his work On the Egyptian Philosophy. They also set up statues and temples to these sacred animals because they do not know the true form of the deity. They hold that the universe is created and perishable, and that it is spherical in shape. They say that the stars consists of fire, and that, according as the fire in them is mixed, so event happen upon earth; that the moon is eclipsed when it falls into the earth's shadow; that the soul survives death and passes into other bodies; that rain is caused by change in the atmosphere; of all other phenomena they give physical explanations, as related by Heccataeus and Aristagoras. they also laid down laws on the subject of justice, which they ascribed to Hermes; and they deified those animals which are serviceable to man. They also claimed to have invented geometry, astronomy, and arithmetic. Thus much concerning the invention of philosophy.
- The Chaldean Magi: A Library of Ancient Sources
- Ammianus Marcellinus
- Clement of Alexandria
- Derveni Papyrus
- Dio Chrysostom
- Diodorus of Sicily
- Diogenes Laertes
- Dionysius the Areopagite
- Emperor Julian
- Eudemus of Rhodes
- Firmicus Maternus
- Gregory Nazianzus
- Justin Martyr
- Lactantius Placidus
- Mithras Liturgy
- Philo of Alexandria
- Philo of Byblos
- Pliny the Elder
- Quintus Curtius
- Saint Augustine
- Socrates of Constantinople
- St. Basil, Bishop of Caesarea
- The Chaldean Oracles Attributed to Zoroaster
- Zosimus of Panopolis