Naked-Philosophers: Alexander in India

I am currently jet-lagged in India. So, what Greek should I decide to read but the Alexander Romance attributed to Pseud0-Callisthenes. There are dozens of versions of this legendary version of Alexander’s exploits and journeys–and some of the details are extraordinary, to say the least. You can find a collated translation online for free. Now, I do not mean by any measure to compare myself to Alexander. The reading is merely thematic!

In the passage below, Alexander meets and interrogates the famous ascetic philosophers of India, the gymnosophists (lit. “naked philosophers”).



“After these events [Alexander] made an expedition to the Oksudrakai, not because they were bellicose, but because they were gymnosophists who inhabited caves and thickets. They wrote a letter to him: We, the Brakhmanes, write to Alexander, the human being. If you come to us in an act of war, you will benefit in no way. For you will be able to carry nothing away from us. But if you want what we have, there is no reason to fit for it. For it is your nature to war, ours to philosophize.”

After he read this, Alexander went to them in peace and saw that all of them were half naked. So he asked: “Don’t you live in tombs? And they responded: “This is the place we inhabit and it is ours….” …And turning to another he asked, “Who are greater in number, the living or the dead?” they answered “The dead are more numerous, but do no measure those who no longer are. For those who are seen outnumber those who no longer appear. “ Then he inquired of another “What is stronger, death or life?” And he answered, “Life, because the rising sun has stronger rays, but as it sets it is much weaker.”

[5] E   Μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα τὴν ὁδοιπορίαν πρὸς Ὀξυδράκας ἐποιεῖτο οὐχ ὡς ὄντας πολεμιστάς, ἀλλ´ ὡς γυμνοσοφιστὰς εἰς καλύβας καὶ εἰς κατάγαια καταμένοντας. οἱ δὲ γράφουσιν αὐτῷ ἐπιστολήν· ‘Βραχμᾶνες γυμνοσοφισταὶ Ἀλεξάνδρῳ ἀνθρώπῳ ἐγράψαμεν. εἰ μὲν πρὸς ἡμᾶς παραγίνῃ πολεμήσων, οὐδὲν ὀνήσῃ· τὶ γὰρ 〈παρ´〉 ἡμῶν βαστάσαι οὐκ ἔχεις. εἰ δὲ θέλεις ὅσα ἔχομεν, οὐ δέεται ταῦτα 〈τοῦ〉 πολεμῆσαι· σοὶ γὰρ ἕπεται πολεμεῖν, ἡμῖν δὲ φιλοσοφεῖν.’

[6] E   Οὕτως ὁ Ἀλέξανδρος ἀναγνοὺς εἰρηνικῶς πρὸς αὐτοὺς πορεύεται καὶ ὁρᾷ πάντας γυμνοπεριβόλους. ἐξετάζει οὖν· ‘Τάφους οὐκ ἔχετε;’ οἱ δὲ εἶπον· ‘Τοῦτο τὸ χώρημα, ὅπου μένομεν, ἔστιν ἡμῶν . . .’ καὶ στραφεὶς ἑτέρῳ εἶπε· ‘τίνες πλείονες, ἐκεῖνοι οἱ τελευτήσαντες ἢ οἱ ζῶντες;’ καὶ ἀπεκρίθησαν· ‘οἱ μὲν τελευτήσαντες πλείονες, ἀλλὰ μὴ μέτρει τοὺς μηκέτι ὄντας· οἱ γὰρ ὁρώμενοι πλείονές εἰσι τῶν μηκέτι φαινομένων.’ καὶ ἑτέρου ἐπύθετο· ‘τί ἰσχυρότερον, θάνατος ἢ ζωή;’ εἶπεν· ‘ζωή, ὅτι ὁ ἥλιος ἀνατέλλων ἰσχυροτέρας τὰς ἀκτῖνας ἔχει, ἑσπέρας δὲ δύνων ἀσθενέστερος ὁρᾶται.’

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