On the Origins of Philosophy in Greece

From Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, Preface

“Some say that the work of philosophy had its starts among the barbarians, noting that there are Magi among the Persians, Chaldeans among the Babylonians or Assyrians, the gymnosophists among the Indians, the people called Druids or Holy-men among the Celts and Galatians, following what Aristotle says in his Magicus and Sotion writes in the twenty-third book of his Succession. They also say that Okhos was a Phoenician, Zamolksis was Thracian, and Atlas was Libyan.

The Egyptians claim that Hephaistos was a child of Nile and that he began philosophy, making priests and prophets its leaders. From him to Alexander of Macedon there were 48,863 years during which there occurred 373 solar eclipses and 832 lunar eclipses.

From the Magi, whose art was initiated by the Persian Zoroaster, Hermodorus the Platonist in his work on mathematics says that there were 5000 years to the sack of Troy. The Lydian Xanthos says that the period from Zoroaster to Xerxes’ invasion was 6000 years. After that, there were a series of Magi in order named Ostanas, Astrampsykhos, Gobryas, and Pazatas until Persia was subdued by Alexander.

But the writers who attribute this to the barbarians overlook the fact that these achievements are the Greeks, from whom not just philosophy began but the human race too. Look—Mousaios was born among the Athenians, Linus lived in Thebes. The first one, the son of Eumolpos, wrote a Theogony and made the first sphere, and he argued that everything comes from a single thing to which it eventually returns. He died at Phaleron and this is his epitaph:

The Phalerian earth holds Eumolpus’ dear son
Musaios, his body ruined, beneath this stone.

(The Eumolpidai of Athens get their name from Musaios’ father)

They also say that Linus was the son of Hermes and the Muse Ourania. He wrote a poem about the creation of the universe, the path of the sun and moon, and the creation of the animals and plants. His poem begins: “Once upon a time, everything came into being together.” This is where Anaxagoras got it when he said that all things were originally whole until mind came and separated them. Linus perished in Euboea, shot by Apollo. This is inscribed there:

The earth here received Theban Linus when he died,
The son of the muse Ourania, well-crowned.

And so, philosophy began among the Greeks, which is why its very name resists a foreign translation.”


Τὸ τῆς φιλοσοφίας ἔργον ἔνιοί φασιν ἀπὸ βαρβάρων ἄρξαι. γεγενῆσθαι γὰρ παρὰ μὲν Πέρσαις Μάγους, παρὰ δὲ Βαβυλωνίοις ἢ ᾿Ασσυρίοις Χαλδαίους, καὶ γυμνοσοφιστὰς παρ’ ᾿Ινδοῖς, παρά τε Κελτοῖς καὶ Γαλάταις τοὺς καλουμένους Δρυΐδας καὶ Σεμνοθέους, καθά φησιν ᾿Αριστοτέλης ἐν τῷ Μαγικῷ (Rose 35) καὶ Σωτίων ἐν τῷ εἰκοστῷ τρίτῳ τῆς Διαδοχῆς. Φοίνικά τε γενέσθαι ῏Ωχον, καὶ Θρᾷκα Ζάμολξιν, καὶ Λίβυν ῎Ατλαντα.

Αἰγύπτιοι μὲν γὰρ Νείλου γενέσθαι παῖδα ῞Ηφαιστον, ὃν ἄρξαι φιλοσοφίας, ἧς τοὺς προεστῶτας ἱερέας εἶναι καὶ προφήτας.ἀπὸ δὲ τούτου εἰς ᾿Αλέξανδρον τὸν Μακεδόνα ἐτῶν εἶναι μυριάδας τέσσαρας καὶ ὀκτακισχίλια ὀκτακόσια ἑξήκοντα τρία· ἐν οἷς ἡλίου μὲν ἐκλείψεις γενέσθαι τριακοσίας ἑβδομήκοντα τρεῖς, σελήνης δὲ ὀκτακοσίας τριάκοντα δύο.

᾿Απὸ δὲ τῶν Μάγων, ὧν ἄρξαι Ζωροάστρην τὸν Πέρσην, ῾Ερμόδωρος μὲν ὁ Πλατωνικὸς ἐν τῷ Περὶ μαθημάτων (Zeller p. 18) φησὶν εἰς τὴν Τροίας ἅλωσιν ἔτη γεγονέναι πεντακισχίλια· Ξάνθος δὲ ὁ Λυδὸς (FGrH 765 F 32) εἰς τὴν Ξέρξου διάβασιν ἀπὸ τοῦ Ζωροάστρου ἑξακισχίλιά φησι, καὶ μετ’ αὐτὸν γεγονέναι πολλούς τινας Μάγους κατὰ διαδοχήν, ᾿Οστάνας καὶ ᾿Αστραμψύχους καὶ Γωβρύας καὶ Παζάτας, μέχρι τῆς τῶν Περσῶν ὑπ’ ᾿Αλεξάνδρου καταλύσεως.

Λανθάνουσι δ’ αὑτοὺς τὰ τῶν ῾Ελλήνων κατορθώματα, ἀφ’ ὧν μὴ ὅτι γε φιλοσοφία, ἀλλὰ καὶ γένος ἀνθρώπων ἦρξε, βαρβάροις προσάπτοντες. ἰδοὺ γοῦν παρὰ μὲν ᾿Αθηναίοις γέγονε  Μουσαῖος, παρὰ δὲ Θηβαίοις Λίνος. καὶ τὸν μὲν Εὐμόλπου παῖδά φασι, ποιῆσαι δὲ Θεογονίαν καὶ Σφαῖραν πρῶτον· φάναι τε ἐξ ἑνὸς τὰ πάντα γίνεσθαι καὶ εἰς ταὐτὸν ἀναλύεσθαι. τοῦτον τελευτῆσαι Φαληροῖ, καὶ αὐτῷ ἐπιγεγράφθαι τόδε τὸ ἐλεγεῖον

(A. Pal. vii. 615)·

Εὐμόλπου φίλον υἱὸν ἔχει τὸ Φαληρικὸν οὖδας,

Μουσαῖον, φθίμενον σῶμ’, ὑπὸ τῷδε τάφῳ.

ἀπὸ δὲ τοῦ πατρὸς τοῦ Μουσαίου καὶ Εὐμολπίδαι καλοῦνται παρ’ ᾿Αθηναίοις.

Heroon of Mousaios
The Hero-Shrine of Musaios

Τὸν δὲ Λίνον παῖδα εἶναι ῾Ερμοῦ καὶ Μούσης Οὐρανίας· ποιῆσαι δὲ κοσμογονίαν, ἡλίου καὶ σελήνης πορείαν, καὶ ζῴων καὶ καρπῶν γενέσεις. τούτῳ ἀρχὴ τῶν ποιημάτων ἥδε·

ἦν ποτέ τοι χρόνος οὗτος, ἐν ᾧ ἅμα πάντ’ ἐπεφύκει.

ὅθεν λαβὼν ᾿Αναξαγόρας πάντα ἔφη χρήματα γεγονέναι ὁμοῦ, νοῦν δὲ ἐλθόντα αὐτὰ διακοσμῆσαι. τὸν δὲ Λίνον τελευτῆσαι ἐν Εὐβοίᾳ τοξευθέντα ὑπ’ ᾿Απόλλωνος, καὶ αὐτῷ ἐπιγεγράφθαι (A.Pal. vii. 616)·

ὧδε Λίνον Θηβαῖον ἐδέξατο γαῖα θανόντα,

Μούσης Οὐρανίης υἱὸν ἐϋστεφάνου.

καὶ ὧδε μὲν ἀφ’ ῾Ελλήνων ἦρξε φιλοσοφία, ἧς καὶ αὐτὸ τὸ ὄνομα τὴν βάρβαρον ἀπέστραπται προσηγορίαν.


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