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1. Of SYROS, one of the Cyclades, was a son of Babys. The name of his birthplace, coupled with the traditions respecting the Eastern origin of his philosophical opinions, led many writers to state that he was born in Syria or Assyria. There is some difference respecting his date. Suidas places him in the time of Alyattes, king of Lydia, Diogenes Laertius (1.121) in the 59th Olympiad B. C. 544. Now as Alyattes died in the 54th Olympiad, both these statements cannot be correct, and the attempt of Mr. Clinton to reconcile them (F. H. ad ann. 544), cannot be admitted, as Miller has shown (Fragm. Hist. Graec. p. xxxiv.). The date of Diogenes is the more probable one, and is supported by the authority of Cicero, who makes Pherecydes a contemporary of Servius Tullius (Tusc. 1.16).

According to the concurrent testimony of antiquity, Pherecydes was the teacher of Pythagoras. It is further stated by many later writers, such as Clemens Alexandrinus, Philo Byblius, &c., the references to whom are all given in the work of Sturtz quoted below, that Pherecydes did not receive instruction in philosophy from any master, but obtained his knowledge from the secret books of the Phoenicians. Diogenes Laertius relates (1.116, 2.46) that Pherecydes heard Pittacus, and was a rival of Thales; which latter statement also occurs in Suidas. It is further related, that, like Thales and Pythagoras, Pherecydes was a disciple of the Egyptians and Chaldaeans, and that he travelled in Egypt. (Joseph. c. Apion. p. 1034e.; Cedrenus, i. p. 94b.; Theodorus Meliteniota, Prooem. in Astron. 100.12.) But all such statements cannot, from the nature of the case, rest on any certain foundation. The other particulars related of Pherecvdes are not worth recording here : those who are curious in such matters will find some details in the sections devoted to him in Diogenes Laertius (1.116-122). It may just be mentioned that, according to a favourite tradition in antiquity, Pherecydes died of the lousy disease or Morbus Pediculosus; though others tell us that he put an end to his life by throwing himself down from a rock at Delphi, and others again give other accounts of his death.


Pherecydes was, properly speaking, not a philosopher. He lived at the time at which men began to speculate on cosmogony and the nature of the gods, but had hardly yet commenced the study of true philosophy. Hence he is referred to by Aristotle (Aristot. Met. 13.4) as partly a mythological writer; and Plutarch (Plut. Sull. 36) as well as many other writers give him the title of Theologus.


The most important subject which he is said to have taught was the doctrine of the Metempsychosis, or, as it is put by other writers, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul (Suidas ; Cic. Tusc. 1.16). He gave an account of his views in a work, which was extant in the Alexandrian period. It was written in prose, which he is said to have been the first to employ in the explanation of philosophical questions: others go even so far as to state that he was the first who wrote any thing in prose, but this honour, however, must be reserved for Cadmus of Miletus. The title, which Pherecydes himself gave to his work, seems to have been Ἑπτάμυχος, though others called it Θεοκρασία, and others again Θεογονία or Θεολογία. Suidas says that it was in two books; and there is no reason.for rejecting this statement on account of its title Ἑπτάμυχος, since this title has evident reference to the nature of its contents.

He maintained that there were three principia (Zeus or Aether, Chthona or Chaos, and Cronos or Time), and four elements (fire, earth, air, and water), from which were formed every thing that exists.

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544 BC (1)
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  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Aristotle, Metaphysics, 13.1078b
    • Plutarch, Sulla, 36
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