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 Chaldaeans, 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
of Aristotle and Sotion in the
book of his
Succession of Philosophers.
say that Mochus was a Phoenician, Zamolxis a
Thracian, and Atlas a Libyan.
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
Ostanas, Astrampsychos, Gobryas, and Pazatas,
down to the conquest of Persia by Alexander.
These authors forget that the achievements which
they attribute 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 he maintained that all things
proceed from unity and are resolved again into
unity. He died at Phalerum, and this is his
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 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
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 epitaph at Dium in
Macedonia he was slain by a thunderbolt; it runs
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 wrongdoing, and to practise courage. That the Gymno-
sophists at all events despise even death itself is
affirmed by Clitarchus in his twelfth book; he also
says that the Chaldaeans 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
difference of sex.
They hold discourse of justice,
and deem it impious to practise cremation; but
they see no impiety in marriage with a mother or
daughter, as Sotion relates in his twenty-third book.
Further, they practise 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,5
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
and Dinon in the fifth book of his
tells us that the name Zoroaster, literally interpreted,
; and Hermodorus
with him in this.
Aristotle in the first book of his
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
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.7
This is again confirmed by Eudemus of Rhodes.
But Hecataeus relates that according to them the
gods are subject to birth. Clearchus of Soli in his
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
The philosophy of the Egyptians is described as
follows so far as relates to the gods and to justice.
They say that matter was the 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 Hecataeus in
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
They hold that the universe is created
and perishable, and that it is spherical in shape.
They say that the stars consist of fire, and that,
according as the fire in them is mixed, so events
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 Hecataeus 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
But the first to use the term, and to call himself
a philosopher or lover of wisdom, was Pythagoras;8
for, said he, no man is wise, but God alone. Heraclides of Pontus, in his
, makes him say
this at Sicyon in conversation with Leon, who was
the prince of that city or of Phlius. All too quickly
the study was called wisdom and its professor a
sage, to denote his attainment of mental perfection;
while the student who took it up was a philosopher
or lover of wisdom. Sophists was another name for
the wise men, and not only for philosophers but for
the poets also. And so Cratinus when praising
Homer and Hesiod in his
gives them the
title of sophist.
The men who were commonly regarded as sages
were the following: Thales, Solon, Periander,
Cleobulus, Chilon, Bias, Pittacus. To these are
added Anacharsis the Scythian, Myson of Chen,
Pherecydes of Syros, Epimenides the Cretan; and
by some even Pisistratus the tyrant. So much for
the sages or wise men.9
But philosophy, the pursuit of wisdom, has had
a twofold origin; it started with Anaximander on
the one hand, with Pythagoras on the other. The
former was a pupil of Thales, Pythagoras was taught
by Pherecydes. The one school was called Ionian,
because Thales, a Milesian and therefore an Ionian,
instructed Anaximander; the other school was called
Italian from Pythagoras, who worked for the most
part in Italy.
And the one school, that of Ionia,
terminates with Clitomachus and Chrysippus and
Theophrastus, that of Italy with Epicurus. The
succession passes from Thales through Anaximander,
Anaximenes, Anaxagoras, Archelaus, to Socrates,
who introduced ethics or moral philosophy; from
Socrates to his pupils the Socratics, and especially
to Plato, the founder of the Old Academy; from
Plato, through Speusippus and Xenocrates, the
succession passes to Polemo, Crantor, and Crates,
Arcesilaus, founder of the Middle Academy, Lacydes,10
founder of the New Academy, Carneades, and Clitomachus. This line brings us to Clitomachus.
There is another which ends with Chrysippus,
that is to say by passing from Socrates to Antisthenes,
then to Diogenes the Cynic, Crates of Thebes, Zeno
of Citium, Cleanthes, Chrysippus. And yet again
another ends with Theophrastus; thus from Plato
it passes to Aristotle, and from Aristotle to Theophrastus.
In this manner the school of Ionia comes
to an end.
In the Italian school the order of succession is as
follows: first Pherecydes, next Pythagoras, next
his son Telauges, then Xenophanes, Parmenides,11
Zeno of Elea, Leucippus, Democritus, who had
many pupils, in particular Nausiphanes [and Naucydes], who were teachers of Epicurus.
Philosophers may be divided into dogmatists and
sceptics: all those who make assertions about
things assuming that they can be known are
dogmatists; while all who suspend their judgement
on the ground that things are unknowable are
sceptics. Again, some philosophers left writings
behind them, while others wrote nothing at all, as
was the case according to some authorities with
Socrates, Stilpo, Philippus, Menedemus, Pyrrho,
Theodorus, Carneades, Bryson; some add Pythagoras and Aristo of Chios, except that they wrote a
few letters. Others wrote no more than one treatise
each, as Melissus, Parmenides, Anaxagoras. Many
works were written by Zeno, more by Xenophanes,
more by Democritus, more by Aristotle, more by
Epicurus, and still more by Chrysippus.
Some schools took their name from cities, as the
Elians and the Megarians, the Eretrians and the
Cyrenaics; others from localities, as the Academics
and the Stoics; others from incidental circumstances,
as the Peripatetics; others again from derisive nicknames, as the Cynics; others from their temperaments, as the Eudaemonists or Happiness School;
others from a conceit they entertained, as Truthlovers, Refutationists, and Reasoners from Analogy;
others again from their teachers, as Socratics,
Epicureans, and the like; some take the name of
Physicists from their investigation of nature, others
that of Moralists because they discuss morals;
while those who are occupied with verbal jugglery
are styled Dialecticians.
Philosophy has three parts, physics, ethics, and
dialectic or logic. Physics is the part concerned
with the universe and all that it contains; ethics
that concerned with life and all that has to do with
us; while the processes of reasoning employed
by both form the province of dialectic. Physics
flourished down to the time of Archelaus; ethics,
as we have said, started with Socrates; while
dialectic goes as far back as Zeno of Elea. In ethics
there have been ten schools: the Academic, the
Cyrenaic, the Elian, the Megarian, the Cynic, the
Eretrian, the Dialectic, the Peripatetic, the Stoic,
and the Epicurean.
The founders of these schools were: of the Old
Academy, Plato; of the Middle Academy, Arcesilaus;
of the New Academy, Lacydes; of the Cyrenaic,
Aristippus of Cyrene; of the Elian, Phaedo of Elis;
of the Megarian, Euclides of Megara; of the Cynic,
Antisthenes of Athens; of the Eretrian, Menedemus
of Eretria; of the Dialectical school, Clitomachus of
Carthage; of the Peripatetic, Aristotle of Stagira;
of the Stoic, Zeno of Citium; while the Epicurean
school took its name from Epicurus himself.
Hippobotus in his work
On Philosophical Sects
declares that there are nine sects or schools, and
gives them in this order: (1) Megarian, (2) Eretrian,
(3) Cyrenaic, (4) Epicurean, (5) Annicerean,12
Theodorean, (7) Zenonian or Stoic, (8) Old Academic,
He passes over the Cynic, Elian,
and Dialectical schools; for as to the Pyrrhonians,
so indefinite are their conclusions that hardly any
authorities allow them to be a sect; some allow
their claim in certain respects, but not in others.
It would seem, however, that they are a sect, for
we use the term of those who in their attitude to
appearance follow or seem to follow some principle;
and on this ground we should be justified in calling
the Sceptics a sect. But if we are to understand
by "sect" a bias in favour of coherent positive
doctrines, they could no longer be called a sect,13
for they have no positive doctrines. So much for
the beginnings of philosophy, its subsequent developments, its various parts, and the number of the
One word more: not long ago an Eclectic school
was introduced by Potamo of Alexandria,14
made a selection from the tenets of all the existing
sects. As he himself states in his
he takes as criteria of truth (1) that
by which the judgement is formed, namely, the
ruling principle of the soul; (2) the instrument
used, for instance the most accurate perception.
His universal principles are matter and the efficient
cause, quality, and place; for that out of which
and that by which a thing is made, as well as the
quality with which and the place in which it is
made, are principles. The end to which he refers
all actions is life made perfect in all virtue, natural
advantages of body and environment being indispensable to its attainment.
It remains to speak of the philosophers themselves,
and in the first place of Thales.
Chapter 1. THALES (floruit circa 585 B.C.,
the date of the eclipse)
Herodotus, Duris, and Democritus are agreed
that Thales was the son of Examyas and Cleobulina,
and belonged to the Thelidae15
who are Phoenicians,
and among the noblest of the descendants of Cadmus
and Agenor. As Plato testifies, he was one of the
Seven Sages. He was the first to receive the name
of Sage, in the archonship of Damasias16
when the term was applied to all the Seven Sages,
as Demetrius of Phalerum mentions in his
He was admitted to citizenship at Miletus
when he came to that town along with Nileos, who
had been expelled from Phoenicia. Most writers,
however, represent him as a genuine Milesian and
of a distinguished family.
After engaging in politics he became a student
of nature. According to some he left nothing in
writing; for the
him is said to be by Phocus of Samos. Callimachus
knows him as the discoverer of the Ursa Minor;
for he says in his
Who first of men the course made plain
Of those small stars we call the Wain,
Whereby Phoenicians sail the main.18
But according to others he wrote nothing but two
On the Solstice
On the Equinox,
regarding all other matters as incognizable. He
seems by some accounts to have been the first to
, the first to
predict eclipses of the
sun and to fix the solstices; so Eudemus in his
History of Astronomy.
It was this which gained for
him the admiration of Xenophanes and Herodotus
and the notice of Heraclitus and Democritus.
And some, including Choerilus the poet, declare
that he was the first to maintain the immortality
of the soul. He was the first to determine the sun's
course from solstice to solstice, and according to
some the first to declare the size of the sun to be
one seven hundred and twentieth part of the solar
circle, and the size of the moon to be the same
fraction of the lunar circle. He was the first to give
the last day of the month the name of Thirtieth, and
the first, some say, to discuss physical problems.
and Hippias affirm that, arguing from
the magnet and from amber, he attributed a soul or
life even to inanimate objects. Pamphila states that,
having learnt geometry from the Egyptians, he was
the first to inscribe a right-angled triangle in a circle,
whereupon he sacrificed an ox.
Others tell this tale
of Pythagoras, amongst them Apollodorus the arithmetician. (It was Pythagoras who developed to
their furthest extent the discoveries attributed by
Callimachus in his
to Euphorbus the
Phrygian, I mean "scalene triangles" and whatever
else has to do with theoretical geometry.21
Thales is also credited with having given excellent
advice on political matters. For instance, when
Croesus sent to Miletus offering terms of alliance,
he frustrated the plan; and this proved the salvation
of the city when Cyrus obtained the victory. Heraclides makes Thales himself22
say that he had always
lived in solitude as a private individual and kept
aloof from State affairs.
Some authorities say that
he married and had a son Cybisthus; others that
he remained unmarried and adopted his sister's son,
and that when he was asked why he had no children
of his own he replied "because he loved children."
The story is told that, when his mother tried to
force him to marry, he replied it was too soon, and
when she pressed him again later in life, he replied
that it was too late. Hieronymus of Rhodes in the
second book of his
order to show how easy it is to grow rich, Thales,
foreseeing that it would be a good season for olives,
rented all the oil-mills and thus amassed a fortune.23
His doctrine was that water is the universal
primary substance, and that the world is animate
and full of divinities. He is said to have discovered
the seasons of the year and divided it into 365
He had no instructor, except that he went to
Egypt and spent some time with the priests there.
Hieronymus informs us that he measured the height
of the pyramids by the shadow they cast, taking the
observation at the hour when our shadow is of the
same length as ourselves. He lived, as Minyas
relates, with Thrasybulus, the tyrant of Miletus.
The well-known story of the tripod found by the
fishermen and sent by the people of Miletus to all
the Wise Men in succession runs as follows.
Ionian youths having purchased of the Milesian
fishermen their catch of fish, a dispute arose over
the tripod which had formed part of the catch.
Finally the Milesians referred the question to
Delphi, and the god gave an oracle in this form24
Who shall possess the tripod? Thus replies
Apollo: "Whosoever is most wise."25
Accordingly they give it to Thales, and he to
another, and so on till it comes to Solon, who, with
the remark that the god was the most wise, sent it
off to Delphi. Callimachus in his
different version of the story, which he took from
Maeandrius of Miletus.26
It is that Bathycles, an
Arcadian, left at his death a bowl with the solemn
injunction that it "should be given to him who
had done most good by his wisdom." So it was
given to Thales, went the round of all the sages,
and came back to Thales again.
And he sent it
to Apollo at Didyma, with this dedication, according
Lord of the folk of Neleus' line,
Thales, of Greeks adjudged most wise,
Brings to thy Didymaean shrine
His offering, a twice-won prize.
But the prose inscription is:
Thales the Milesian, son of Examyas [dedicates this]
to Delphinian Apollo after twice winning the prize from
all the Greeks.
The bowl was carried from place to place by the
son of Bathycles, whose name was Thyrion, so it is
stated by Eleusis in his work
the Myndian in the ninth book of his
But Eudoxus of Cnidos and Euanthes of Miletus
agree that a certain man who was a friend of Croesus
received from the king a golden goblet in order to
bestow it upon the wisest of the Greeks; this man
gave it to Thales, and from him it passed to others
and so to Chilon.
Chilon laid the question "Who is a wiser man
than I?" before the Pythian Apollo, and the god
replied "Myson." Of him we shall have more to
say presently. (In the list of the Seven Sages
given by Eudoxus, Myson takes the place of Cleobulus; Plato also includes him by omitting Periander.) The answer of the oracle respecting him
was as follows27
Myson of Chen in Oeta; this is he
Who for wiseheartedness surpasseth thee;
and it was given in reply to a question put by
Anacharsis. Daimachus the Platonist and Clearchus
allege that a bowl was sent by Croesus to Pittacus
and began the round of the Wise Men from him.
The story told by Andron28
in his work
is that the Argives offered a tripod as
of virtue to the wisest of the Greeks; Aristodemus
of Sparta was adjudged the winner but retired in
favour of Chilon.
Aristodemus is mentioned by
Surely no witless word was this of the Spartan, I deem,
"Wealth is the worth of a man; and poverty void of
Some relate that a vessel with its freight was sent
by Periander to Thrasybulus, tyrant of Miletus,
and that, when it was wrecked in Coan waters, the
tripod was afterwards found by certain fishermen.
However, Phanodicus declares it to have been found
in Athenian waters and thence brought to Athens.
An assembly was held and it was sent to Bias;
what reason shall be explained in the life of Bias.
There is yet another version, that it was the work
of Hephaestus presented by the god to Pelops on
his marriage. Thence it passed to Menelaus and
was carried off by Paris along with Helen and was
thrown by her into the Coan sea, for she said it
would be a cause of strife. In process of time
certain people of Lebedus, having purchased a catch
of fish thereabouts, obtained possession of the tripod,
and, quarrelling with the fishermen about it, put in
to Cos, and, when they could not settle the dispute,
reported the fact to Miletus, their mother-city.
The Milesians, when their embassies were disregarded, made war upon Cos; many fell on both
sides, and an oracle pronounced that the tripod
should be given to the wisest; both parties to the
dispute agreed upon Thales. After it had gone the
round of the sages, Thales dedicated it to Apollo
The oracle which the Coans received
was on this wise:
Hephaestus cast the tripod in the sea;
Until it quit the city there will be
No end to strife, until it reach the seer
Whose wisdom makes past, present, future clear.
That of the Milesians beginning "Who shall possess
the tripod?" has been quoted above. So much for
this version of the story.
Hermippus in his
refers to Thales the
which is told by some of Socrates, namely, that he
used to say there were three blessings for which
he was grateful to Fortune: "first, that I was
born a human being and not one of the brutes;
next, that I was born a man and not a woman;
thirdly, a Greek and not a barbarian."
It is said
that once, when he was taken out of doors by an old
woman in order that he might observe the stars, he
fell into a ditch, and his cry for help drew from the
old woman the retort, "How can you expect to
know all about the heavens, Thales, when you cannot
even see what is just before your feet?" Timon too
knows him as an astronomer, and praises him in the
where he says30
Thales among the Seven the sage astronomer.
His writings are said by Lobon of Argos to have
run to some two hundred lines. His statue is said
to bear this inscription31
Pride of Miletus and Ionian lands,
Wisest astronomer, here Thales stands.
Of songs still sung these verses belong to him:
Many words do not declare an understanding heart.
Seek one sole wisdom.
Choose one sole good.
For thou wilt check the tongues of chatterers prating
Here too are certain current apophthegms assigned
Of all things that are, the most ancient is God, for he is
The most beautiful is the universe, for it is God's workmanship.
The greatest is space, for it holds all things.
The swiftest is mind, for it speeds everywhere.
The strongest, necessity, for it masters all.
The wisest, time, for it brings everything to light.
He held there was no difference between life and
death. "Why then," said one, "do you not die?"
"Because," said he, "there is no difference."
To the question which is older, day or night, he
replied: "Night is the older by one day." Some
one asked him whether a man could hide an evil
deed from the gods: "No," he replied, "nor yet
an evil thought." To the adulterer who inquired if
he should deny the charge upon oath he replied that
perjury was no worse than adultery. Being asked
what is difficult, he replied, "To know oneself."
"What is easy?" "To give advice to another."
"What is most pleasant?" "Success." "What
is the divine?" "That which has neither beginning
nor end." To the question what was the strangest
thing he had ever seen, his answer was, "An aged
tyrant." "How can one best bear adversity?"
"If he should see his enemies in worse plight."
"How shall we lead the best and most righteous
life?" "By refraining from doing what we blame
"What man is happy?" "He who
has a healthy body, a resourceful mind and a docile
nature." He tells us to remember friends, whether
present or absent; not to pride ourselves upon
outward appearance, but to study to be beautiful
in character. "Shun ill-gotten gains," he says.
"Let not idle words prejudice thee against those
who have shared thy confidence." "Whatever
provision thou hast made for thy parents, the same
must thou expect from thy children." He explained
the overflow of the Nile as due to the etesian winds
which, blowing in the contrary direction, drove the
Apollodorus in his
places his birth
the first year of the 35th Olympiad [640 b.c.].
He died at the age of 78 (or, according to Sosicrates, of
90 years); for he died in the 58th Olympiad, being
contemporary with Croesus, whom he undertook to
take across the Halys without building a bridge, by
diverting the river.
There have lived five other men who bore the
name of Thales, as enumerated by Demetrius of
Magnesia in his
Dictionary of Men of the Same
1. A rhetorician of Callatia, with an affected style.
2. A painter of Sicyon, of great gifts.
3. A contemporary of Hesiod, Homer and Lycurgus, in very early times.
4. A person mentioned by Duris in his work
5. An obscure person in more recent times who
is mentioned by Dionysius in his
Thales the Sage died as he was watching an athletic
contest from heat, thirst, and the weakness incident
to advanced age. And the inscription on his tomb
Here in a narrow tomb great Thales lies;
Yet his renown for wisdom reached the skies.
I may also cite one of my own, from my first book,
Epigrams in Various Metres33
As Thales watched the games one festal day
The fierce sun smote him, and he passed away;
Zeus, thou didst well to raise him; his dim eyes
Could not from earth behold the starry skies.34
To him belongs the proverb "Know thyself,"
which Antisthenes in his
attributes to Phemonoë, though admitting that it
was appropriated by Chilon.
This seems the proper place for a general notice of
the Seven Sages, of whom we have such accounts
as the following. Damon of Cyrene in his
of the Philosophers
carps at all sages, but especially
the Seven. Anaximenes remarks that they all
applied themselves to poetry; Dicaearchus that
they were neither sages nor philosophers, but merely
shrewd men with a turn for legislation.35
of Syracuse describes their meeting at the court of
Cypselus, on which occasion he himself happened to
be present; for which Ephorus substitutes a meeting
without Thales at the court of Croesus. Some make
them meet at the Pan-Ionian festival, at Corinth,
and at Delphi.
Their utterances are variously reported, and are attributed now to one now to the
other, for instance the following36
Chilon of Lacedaemon's words are true:
Nothing too much; good comes from measure due.
Nor is there any agreement how the number is made
up; for Maeandrius, in place of Cleobulus and Myson,
includes Leophantus, son of Gorgiadas, of Lebedus
or Ephesus, and Epimenides the Cretan in the list;
Plato in his
admits Myson and leaves
out Periander; Ephorus substitutes Anacharsis
for Myson; others add Pythagoras to the Seven.
Dicaearchus hands down four names fully recognized:
Thales, Bias, Pittacus and Solon; and appends the
names of six others, from whom he selects three:
Aristodemus, Pamphylus, Chilon the Lacedaemonian,
Cleobulus, Anacharsis, Periander. Others add Acusilaus, son of Cabas or Scabras, of Argos.
in his work
On the Sages
reckons seventeen, from
which number different people make different selections of seven. They are: Solon, Thales, Pittacus,
Bias, Chilon, Myson, Cleobulus, Periander, Ana-
charsis, Acusilaus, Epimenides, Leophantus, Pherecydes, Aristodemus, Pythagoras, Lasos, son of
Charmantides or Sisymbrinus, or, according to
Aristoxenus, of Chabrinus, born at Hermione, Anaxagoras. Hippobotus in his
List of Philosophers
enumerates: Orpheus, Linus, Solon, Periander,
Anacharsis, Cleobulus, Myson, Thales, Bias, Pittacus,
Here follow the extant letters of Thales.
Thales to Pherecydes
"I hear that you intend to be the first Ionian to
expound theology to the Greeks. And perhaps it
was a wise decision to make the book common property without taking advice, instead of entrusting it
to any particular persons whatsoever, a course which
has no advantages. However, if it would give you
any pleasure, I am quite willing to discuss the subject of your book with you; and if you bid me
come to Syros I will do so. For surely Solon of
Athens and I would scarcely be sane if, after having
sailed to Crete to pursue our inquiries there, and
to Egypt to confer with the priests and astronomers,
we hesitated to come to you. For Solon too will
come, with your permission.
You, however, are so
fond of home that you seldom visit Ionia and have
no longing to see strangers, but, as I hope, apply
yourself to one thing, namely writing, while we,
who never write anything, travel all over Hellas
Thales to Solon
"If you leave Athens, it seems to me that you could
most conveniently set up your abode at Miletus,
which is an Athenian colony; for there you incur
no risk. If you are vexed at the thought that we
are governed by a tyrant, hating as you do all
absolute rulers, you would at least enjoy the society
of your friends. Bias wrote inviting you to Priene;
and if you prefer the town of Priene for a residence,
I myself will come and live with you."
Chapter 2. SOLON (archon 594 B.C.)
Solon, the son of Execestides, was born at Salamis.
His first achievement was the
or Law of
Release, which he introduced at Athens; its effect
was to ransom persons and property. For men used
to borrow money on personal security, and many
were forced from poverty to become serfs or daylabourers. He then first renounced his claim to a
debt of seven talents due to his father, and encouraged others to follow his example. This law of
his was called
reason is obvious.
He next went on to frame the rest of his laws,
which would take time to enumerate, and inscribed
them on the revolving pillars.
His greatest service was this: Megara and Athens
laid rival claims to his birthplace Salamis, and after
many defeats the Athenians passed a decree punishing with death any man who should propose a renewal of the Salaminian war. Solon, feigning madness, rushed into the Agora with a garland on his
head; there he had his poem on Salamis read to
the Athenians by the herald and roused them to
fury. They renewed the war with the Megarians
and, thanks to Solon, were victorious.
the lines which did more than anything else to
inflame the Athenians37
Would I were citizen of some mean isle
Far in the Sporades! For men shall smile
And mock me for Athenian: "Who is this?"
"An Attic slave who gave up Salamis";
Then let us fight for Salamis and fair fame,
Win the beloved isle, and purge our shame!
He also persuaded the Athenians to acquire the
And lest it should be thought
that he had acquired Salamis by force only and not
of right, he opened certain graves and showed that
the dead were buried with their faces to the east,
as was the custom of burial among the Athenians;
further, that the tombs themselves faced the east,39
and that the inscriptions graven upon them named
the deceased by their demes, which is a style peculiar
to Athens. Some authors assert that in Homer's
catalogue of the ships after the line40
Ajax twelve ships from Salamis commands,
Solon inserted one of his own:
And fixed their station next the Athenian bands.
Thereafter the people looked up to him, and
would gladly have had him rule them as tyrant; he
refused, and, early perceiving the designs of his
kinsman Pisistratus (so we are told by Sosicrates),
did his best to hinder them. He rushed into the
Assembly armed with spear and shield, warned them
of the designs of Pisistratus, and not only so, but
declared his willingness to render assistance, in these
words: "Men of Athens, I am wiser than some of
you and more courageous than others: wiser than
those who fail to understand the plot of Pisistratus,
more courageous than those who, though they see
through it, keep silence through fear." And the
members of the council, who were of Pisistratus'
party, declared that he was mad: which made him
say the lines41
A little while, and the event will show
To all the world if I be mad or no.
That he foresaw the tyranny of Pisistratus is proved
by a passage from a poem of his42
On splendid lightning thunder follows straight,
Clouds the soft snow and flashing hail-stones bring;
So from proud men comes ruin, and their state
Falls unaware to slavery and a king.
When Pisistratus was already established, Solon,
unable to move the people, piled his arms in front
of the generals' quarters, and exclaimed, "My
country, I have served thee with my word and
sword!" Thereupon he sailed to Egypt and to
Cyprus, and thence proceeded to the court of Croesus.
There Croesus put the question, "Whom do you
consider happy?" and Solon replied, "Tellus of
Athens, and Cleobis and Biton," and went on in
words too familiar to be quoted here.
There is a story that Croesus in magnificent array
sat himself down on his throne and asked Solon if
he had ever seen anything more beautiful. "Yes,"
was the reply, "cocks and pheasants and peacocks;
for they shine in nature's colours, which are ten
thousand times more beautiful." After leaving that
place he lived in Cilicia and founded a city which he
called Soli after his own name. In it he settled
some few Athenians, who in process of time corrupted
the purity of Attic and were said to "solecize."
Note that the people of this town are called Solenses,
the people of Soli in Cyprus Solii. When he learnt
that Pisistratus was by this time tyrant, he wrote to
the Athenians on this wise43
If ye have suffered sadly through your own wickedness,
lay not the blame for this upon the gods. For it is you
yourselves who gave pledges to your foes and made them
great; this is why you bear the brand of slavery. Every
one of you treadeth in the footsteps of the fox, yet in the
mass ye have little sense. Ye look to the speech and fair
words of a flatterer, paying no regard to any practical
Thus Solon. After he had gone into exile Pisistratus
wrote to him as follows:
Pisistratus to Solon
"I am not the only man who has aimed at a tyranny
in Greece, nor am I, a descendant of Codrus, unfitted
for the part. That is, I resume the privileges which
the Athenians swore to confer upon Codrus and his
family, although later they took them away. In
everything else I commit no offence against God or
man; but I leave to the Athenians the management
of their affairs according to the ordinances established
by you. And they are better governed than they
would be under a democracy; for I allow no one to
extend his rights, and though I am tyrant I arrogate
to myself no undue share of reputation and honour,
but merely such stated privileges as belonged to the
kings in former times. Every citizen pays a tithe
of his property, not to me but to a fund for defraying
the cost of the public sacrifices or any other charges
on the State or the expenditure on any war which
may come upon us.
"I do not blame you for disclosing my designs;
you acted from loyalty to the city, not through any
enmity to me, and further, in ignorance of the sort
of rule which I was going to establish; since, if you
had known, you would perhaps have tolerated me
and not gone into exile. Wherefore return home,
trusting my word, though it be not sworn, that Solon
will suffer no harm from Pisistratus. For neither
has any other enemy of mine suffered; of that you
may be sure. And if you choose to become one of
my friends, you will rank with the foremost, for I
see no trace of treachery in you, nothing to excite
mistrust; or if you wish to live at Athens on other
terms, you have my permission. But do not on my
account sever yourself from your country.
So far Pisistratus. To return to Solon: one of his
sayings is that 70 years are the term of man's life.
He seems to have enacted some admirable laws;
for instance, if any man neglects to provide for his
parents, he shall be disfranchised; moreover there
is a similar penalty for the spendthrift who runs
through his patrimony. Again, not to have a settled
occupation is made a crime for which any one may,
if he pleases, impeach the offender. Lysias, however,
in his speech against Nicias ascribes this law to Draco,
and to Solon another depriving open profligates of
the right to speak in the Assembly. He curtailed
the honours of athletes who took part in the games,
fixing the allowance for an Olympic victor at 500
drachmae, for an Isthmian victor at 100 drachmae,
and proportionately in all other cases. It was in
bad taste, he urged, to increase the rewards of these
victors, and to ignore the exclusive claims of those
who had fallen in battle, whose sons ought, moreover,
to be maintained and educated by the State.
The effect of this was that many strove to acquit
themselves as gallant soldiers in battle, like Polyzelus,
Cynegirus, Callimachus and all who fought at Marathon; or again like Harmodius and Aristogiton, and
Miltiades and thousands more. Athletes, on the
other hand, incur heavy costs while in training, do
harm when successful, and are crowned for a victory
over their country rather than over their rivals, and
when they grow old they, in the words of Euripides,44
Are worn threadbare, cloaks that have lost the
and Solon, perceiving this, treated them with scant
Excellent, too, is his provision that the
guardian of an orphan should not marry the mother
of his ward, and that the next heir who would succeed
on the death of the orphans should be disqualified
from acting as their guardian.
no engraver of seals should be allowed to retain an
impression of the ring which he has sold, and that
the penalty for depriving a one-eyed man of his
single eye should be the loss of the offender's two
eyes. A deposit shall not be removed except by the
depositor himself, on pain of death. That the magistrate found intoxicated should be punished with death.
He has provided that the public recitations of
Homer shall follow in fixed order46
: thus the
reciter must begin from the place where the first
left off. Hence, as Dieuchidas says in the fifth book
Solon did more than
Pisistratus to throw light on Homer. The passage in
Homer more particularly referred to is that beginning "Those who dwelt at Athens ..."47
Solon was the first to call the 30th day of the
month the Old-and-New day, and to institute
meetings of the nine archons for private conference,
as stated by Apollodorus in the second book of his
When civil strife began, he
did not take sides with those in the city, nor with
the plain, nor yet with-the coast section.
One of his sayings is: Speech is the mirror of
action; and another that the strongest and most
capable is king. He compared laws to spiders' webs,
which stand firm when any light and yielding object
falls upon them, while a larger thing breaks through
them and makes off. Secrecy he called the seal of
speech, and occasion the seal of secrecy.
to say that those who had influence with tyrants
were like the pebbles employed in calculations; for,
as each of the pebbles represented now a large and
now a small number, so the tyrants would treat each
one of those about them at one time as great and
famous, at another as of no account. On being asked
why he had not framed any law against parricide,
he replied that he hoped it was unnecessary. Asked
how crime could most effectually be diminished, he
replied, "If it caused as much resentment in those
who are not its victims as in those who are," adding,
"Wealth breeds satiety, satiety outrage." He required the Athenians to adopt a lunar month. He
prohibited Thespis from performing tragedies on the
ground that fiction was pernicious.
Pisistratus appeared with self-inflicted wounds, Solon
said, "This comes from acting tragedies." His
counsel to men in general is stated by Apollodorus
in his work on the
more trust in nobility of character than in an oath.
Never tell a lie. Pursue worthy aims. Do not be
rash to make friends and, when once they are made,
do not drop them. Learn to obey before you command. In giving advice seek to help, not to please,
your friend. Be led by reason. Shun evil company.
Honour the gods, reverence parents. He is also said
to have criticized the couplet of Mimnermus:
Would that by no disease, no cares opprest,
I in my sixtieth year were laid to rest;
and to have replied thus48
Oh take a friend's suggestion, blot the line,
Grudge not if my invention better thine;
Surely a wiser wish were thus expressed,
At eighty years let me be laid to rest.
Of the songs sung this is attributed to Solon49
Watch every man and see whether, hiding hatred in his
heart, he speaks with friendly countenance, and his tongue
rings with double speech from a dark soul.
He is undoubtedly the author of the laws which
bear his name; of speeches, and of poems in elegiac
metre, namely, counsels addressed to himself, on
Salamis and on the Athenian constitution, five thousand lines in all, not to mention poems in iambic
metre and epodes.
His statue has the following inscription50
At Salamis, which crushed the Persian might,
Solon the legislator first saw light.
He flourished, according to Sosicrates, about the
46th Olympiad, in the third year of which he was
archon at Athens51
; it was then that he
laws. He died in Cyprus at the age of eighty. His
last injunctions to his relations were on this wise:
that they should convey his bones to Salamis and,
when they had been reduced to ashes, scatter them
over the soil. Hence Cratinus in his play,
makes him say52
This is my island home; my dust, men say,
Is scattered far and wide o'er Ajax' land.
An epigram of my own is also contained in the
Epigrams in Various Metres
above, where I have discoursed of all the illustrious
dead in all metres and rhythms, in epigrams and
lyrics. Here it is53
Far Cyprian fire his body burnt; his bones,
Turned into dust, made grain at Salamis:
Wheel-like, his pillars bore his soul on high;
So light the burden of his laws on men.
It is said that he was the author of the apophthegm
"Nothing too much,"
Ne quid nimis.
Dioscurides in his
when he was
for the loss of his son, of whom nothing more is
known, and some one said to him, "It is all of no
avail," he replied, "That is why I weep, because it
is of no avail."
The following letters are attributed to Solon:
Solon to Periander
"You tell me that many are plotting against you.
You must lose no time if you want to get rid of them
all. A conspirator against you might arise from a
quite unexpected quarter, say, one who had fears
for his personal safety or one who disliked your
timorous dread of anything and everything. He
would earn the gratitude of the city who found out
that you had no suspicion. The best course would
be to resign power, and so be quit of the reproach.
But if you must at all hazards remain tyrant, endeavour to make your mercenary force stronger than
the forces of the city. Then you have no one to
fear, and need not banish any one."
Solon to Epimenides
"It seems that after all I was not to confer much
benefit on Athenians by my laws, any more than you
by purifying the city. For religion and legislation
are not sufficient in themselves to benefit cities; it
can only be done by those who lead the multitude
in any direction they choose. And so, if things are
going well, religion and legislation are beneficial; if
not, they are of no avail.
"Nor are my laws nor all my enactments any better;
but the popular leaders did the commonwealth harm
by permitting licence, and could not hinder Pisistratus
from setting up a tyranny. And, when I warned
them, they would not believe me. He found more
credit when he flattered the people than I when I
told them the truth. I laid my arms down before
the generals' quarters and told the people that I
was wiser than those who did not see that Pisistratus
was aiming at tyranny, and more courageous than
those who shrank from resisting him. They, however, denounced Solon as mad. And at last I protested: "My country, I, Solon, am ready to defend
thee by word and deed; but some of my countrymen
think me mad. Wherefore I will go forth out of
their midst as the sole opponent of Pisistratus; and
let them, if they like, become his bodyguard." For
you must know, my friend, that he was beyond
measure ambitious to be tyrant.
He began by being
a popular leader; his next step was to inflict wounds
on himself and appear before the court of the Heliaea,
crying out that these wounds had been inflicted by
his enemies; and he requested them to give him a
guard of 400 young men. And the people without
listening to me granted him the men, who were
armed with clubs. And after that he destroyed the
democracy. It was in vain that I sought to free
the poor amongst the Athenians from their condition
of serfdom, if now they are all the slaves of one
Solon to Pisistratus
"I am sure that I shall suffer no harm at your
hands; for before you became tyrant I was your
friend, and now I have no quarrel with you beyond
that of every Athenian who disapproves of tyranny.
Whether it is better for them to be ruled by one man or
to live under a democracy, each of us must decide for
himself upon his own judgement.
You are, I admit,
of all tyrants the best; but I see that it is not well
for me to return to Athens. I gave the Athenians
equality of civil rights; I refused to become tyrant
when I had the opportunity; how then could I
escape censure if I were now to return and set my
approval on all that you are doing?"
Solon to Croesus
"I admire you for your kindness to me; and, by
Athena, if I had not been anxious before all things
to live in a democracy, I would rather have fixed my
abode in your palace than at Athens, where Pisistratus is setting up a rule of violence. But in truth
to live in a place where all have equal rights is
more to my liking. However, I will come and see
you, for I am eager to make your acquaintance."
Chapter 3. CHILON (c. 560B.C.)
Chilon, son of Damagetas, was a Lacedaemonian.
He wrote a poem in elegiac metre some 200 lines in
length; and he declared that the excellence of a
man is to divine the future so far as it can be grasped
by reason. When his brother grumbled that he was
not made ephor as Chilon was, the latter replied,
"I know how to submit to injustice and you do not."
He was made ephor in the 55th Olympiad; Pamphila,
however, says the 56th. He first became ephor,
according to Sosicrates, in the archonship of Euthy-
demus. He first proposed the appointment of ephors
as auxiliaries to the kings, though Satyrus says this
was done by Lycurgus.54
As Herodotus relates in his first Book, when
Hippocrates was sacrificing at Olympia and his
cauldrons boiled of their own accord, it was Chilon
who advised him not to marry, or, if he had a wife,
to divorce her and disown his children.
The tale is
also told that he inquired of Aesop what Zeus was
doing and received the answer: "He is humbling
the proud and exalting the humble." Being asked
wherein lies the difference between the educated
and the uneducated, Chilon answered, "In good
hope." What is hard? "To keep a secret, to
employ leisure well, to be able to bear an injury."
These again are some of his precepts: To control
the tongue, especially at a banquet.
Not to abuse
our neighbours, for if you do, things will be said
about you which you will regret. Do not use threats
to any one; for that is womanish. Be more ready
to visit friends in adversity than in prosperity. Do
not make an extravagant marriage.
De mortuis nil
Honour old age. Consult your own
safety. Prefer a loss to a dishonest gain: the one
brings pain at the moment, the other for all time.
Do not laugh at another's misfortune. When strong,
be merciful, if you would have the respect, not the
fear, of your neighbours. Learn to be a wise master
in your own house. Let not your tongue outrun
your thought. Control anger. Do not hate divina-
tion. Do not aim at impossibilities. Let no one
see you in a hurry. Gesticulation in speaking should
be avoided as a mark of insanity. Obey the laws.
Of his songs the most popular is the following:
"By the whetstone gold is tried, giving manifest
proof; and by gold is the mind of good and evil
men brought to the test." He is reported to have
said in his old age that he was not aware of having
ever broken the law throughout his life; but on one
point he was not quite clear. In a suit in which a
friend of his was concerned he himself pronounced
sentence according to the law, but he persuaded his
colleague who was his friend to acquit the accused,
in order at once to maintain the law and yet not to
lose his friend.
He became very famous in Greece by his warning
about the island of Cythera off the Laconian coast.
For, becoming acquainted with the nature of the
island, he exclaimed: "Would it had never been
placed there, or else had been sunk in the depths
of the sea."
And this was a wise warning; for
Demaratus, when an exile from Sparta, advised
Xerxes to anchor his fleet off the island; and if
Xerxes had taken the advice Greece would have
been conquered. Later, in the Peloponnesian war,
Nicias reduced the island and placed an Athenian
garrison there, and did the Lacedaemonians much
He was a man of few words; hence Aristagoras
of Miletus calls this style of speaking Chilonean. . . .
is of Branchus, founder of the temple at Branchidae.
Chilon was an old man about the 52nd Olympiad,
when Aesop the fabulist was flourishing. According
to Hermippus, his death took place at Pisa, just
after he had congratulated his son on an Olympic
victory in boxing. It was due to excess of joy
coupled with the weakness of a man stricken in
years. And all present joined in the funeral procession.
I have written an epitaph on him also, which runs
I praise thee, Pollux, for that Chilon's son
By boxing feats the olive chaplet won.
Nor at the father's fate should we repine;
He died of joy; may such a death be mine.
The inscription on his statue runs thus56
Here Chilon stands, of Sparta's warrior race,
Who of the Sages Seven holds highest place.
His apophthegm is: "Give a pledge, and suffer for
it." A short letter is also ascribed to him.
Chilon to Periander
"You tell me of an expedition against foreign
enemies, in which you yourself will take the field.
In my opinion affairs at home are not too safe for
an absolute ruler; and I deem the tyrant happy
who dies a natural death in his own house."
Chapter 4. PITTACUS (c. 600B.C.)
Pittacus was the son of Hyrrhadius and a native
of Mitylene. Duris calls his father a Thracian.
Aided by the brothers of Alcaeus he overthrew
Melanchrus, tyrant of Lesbos; and in the war
between Mitylene and Athens for the territory of
Achileis he himself had the chief command on the
one side, and Phrynon, who had won an Olympic
victory in the pancratium, commanded the Athenians.
Pittacus agreed to meet him in single combat; with
a net which he concealed beneath his shield he entangled Phrynon, killed him, and recovered the
territory. Subsequently, as Apollodorus states in
Athens and Mitylene referred their
claims to arbitration. Periander heard the appeal
and gave judgement in favour of Athens.
At the time, however, the people of Mitylene
honoured Pittacus extravagantly and entrusted him
with the government. He ruled for ten years
and brought the constitution into order, and then
laid down his office. He lived another ten years
after his abdication and received from the people
of Mitylene a grant of land, which he dedicated
as sacred domain; and it bears his name to this
day Sosicrates relates that he cut off a small
portion for himself and pronounced the half to be
more than the whole. Furthermore, he declined
an offer of money made him by Croesus, saying
that he had twice as much as he wanted; for his
brother had died without issue and he had inherited
Pamphila in the second book of her
narrates that, as his son Tyrraeus sat in a barber's
shop in Cyme, a smith killed him with a blow from
an axe. When the people of Cyme sent the murderer
to Pittacus, he, on learning the story, set him at
liberty and declared that "It is better to pardon
now than to repent later." Heraclitus, however, says
that it was Alcaeus whom he set at liberty when he
had got him in his power, and that what he said
was: "Mercy is better than vengeance."
Among the laws which he made is one providing
that for any offence committed in a state of intoxication the penalty should be doubled; his object was
to discourage drunkenness, wine being abundant in
the island. One of his sayings is, "It is hard to be
good," which is cited by Simonides in this form:
"Pittacus's maxim, `Truly to become a virtuous man
Plato also cites him in the
"Even the gods do not fight against necessity."
Again, "Office shows the man." Once, when asked
what is the best thing, he replied, "To do well
the work in hand." And, when Croesus inquired
what is the best rule, he answered, "The rule of the
shifting wood," by which he meant the law. He
also urged men to win bloodless victories. When
the Phocaean said that we must search for a good
man, Pittacus rejoined, "If you seek too carefully,
you will never find him." He answered various
inquiries thus: "What is agreeable?" "Time."
"Obscure?" "The future." "Trustworthy?"
"The earth." "Untrustworthy?" "The sea."
"It is the part of prudent men," he said, "before
difficulties arise, to provide against their arising;
and of courageous men to deal with them when they
have arisen." Do not announce your plans beforehand; for, if they fail, you will be laughed at. Never
reproach any one with a misfortune, for fear of
Nemesis. Duly restore what has been entrusted to
you. Speak no ill of a friend, nor even of an enemy.
Practise piety. Love temperance. Cherish truth,
fidelity, skill, cleverness, sociability, carefulness.
Of his songs the most popular is this:
With bow and well-stored quiver
We must march against our foe,
Words of his tongue can no man trust,
For in his heart there is a deceitful thought.
He also wrote poems in elegiac metre, some 600
lines, and a prose work
for the use of the
He was flourishing about the 42nd Olympiad. He
died in the archonship of Aristomenes, in the third
year of the 52nd Olympiad,58
having lived more
seventy years, to a good old age. The inscription
on his monument runs thus59
Here holy Lesbos, with a mother's woe,
Bewails her Pittacus whom death laid low.
To him belongs the apophthegm, "Know thine opportunity."
There was another Pittacus, a legislator, as is
stated by Favorinus in the first book of his
, and by Demetrius in his work on
Men of the
He was called the Less.
To return to the Sage: the story goes that a
young man took counsel with him about marriage,
and received this answer, as given by Callimachus
in his Epigrams60
A stranger of Atarneus thus inquired of Pittacus, the son
Old sire, two offers of marriage are made to me; the one
bride is in wealth and birth my equal;
The other is my superior. Which is the better? Come now
and advise me which of the two I shall wed.
So spake he. But Pittacus, raising his staff, an old man's
weapon, said, "See there, yonder boys will tell you the
The boys were whipping their tops to make them go fast
and spinning them in a wide open space.
"Follow in their track," said he. So he approached near,
and the boys were saying, "Keep to your own sphere."
When he heard this, the stranger desisted from aiming at
the lordlier match, assenting to the warning of the boys.
And, even as he led home the humble bride, so do you,
Dion, keep to your own sphere.
The advice seems to have been prompted by his
situation. For he had married a wife superior in
birth to himself: she was the sister of Draco, the
son of Penthilus, and she treated him with great
Alcaeus nicknamed him
because he had flat feet and dragged them in walking; also "Chilblains," because he had chapped feet,
for which their word was
because he was always swaggering; Paunch and
Potbelly, because he was stout; a Diner-in-the-Dark,
because he dispensed with a lamp; and the Sloven,
because he was untidy and dirty. The exercise he
took was grinding corn, as related by Clearchus the
The following short letter is ascribed to him:
Pittacus to Croesus
"You bid me come to Lydia in order to see your
prosperity: but without seeing it I can well believe
that the son of Alyattes is the most opulent of kings.
There will be no advantage to me in a journey to
Sardis, for I am not in want of money, and my
possessions are sufficient for my friends as well as
myself. Nevertheless, I will come, to be entertained
by you and to make your acquaintance."
Chapter 5. BIAS (c. 570 B.C.)
Bias, the son of Teutames, was born at Priene, and
by Satyrus is placed at the head of the Seven Sages.
Some make him of a wealthy family, but Duris
says he was a labourer living in the house. Phanodicus relates that he ransomed certain Messenian
maidens captured in war and brought them up as his
daughters, gave them dowries, and restored them to
their fathers in Messenia. In course of time, as has
been already related, the bronze tripod with the
inscription "To him that is wise" having been found
at Athens by the fishermen, the maidens according
to Satyrus, or their father according to other
accounts, including that of Phanodicus, came forward into the assembly and, after the recital of their
own adventures, pronounced Bias to be wise. And
thereupon the tripod was dispatched to him; but
Bias, on seeing it, declared that Apollo was wise,
and refused to take the tripod.
But others say that
he dedicated it to Heracles in Thebes, since he was
a descendant of the Thebans who had founded a
colony at Priene; and this is the version of Phanodieus.
A story is told that, while Alyattes was besieging
Priene, Bias fattened two mules and drove them into
the camp, and that the king, when he saw them, was
amazed at the good condition of the citizens actually
extending to their beasts of burden. And he decided
to make terms and sent a messenger. But Bias piled
up heaps of sand with a layer of corn on the top,
and showed them to the man, and finally, on being
informed of this, Alyattes made a treaty of peace
with the people of Priene. Soon afterwards, when
Alyattes sent to invite Bias to his court, he replied,
"Tell Alyattes, from me, to make his diet of onions,"
that is, to weep.
It is also stated that he was a
very effective pleader; but he was accustomed to
use his powers of speech to a good end. Hence it
is to this that Demodicus of Leros makes reference
in the line:
If you happen to be prosecuting a suit, plead as they do
and Hipponax thus: "More powerful in pleading
causes than Bias of Priene."61
This was the manner of his death. He had been
pleading in defence of some client in spite of his
great age. When he had finished speaking, he reclined his head on his grandson's bosom. The opposing counsel made a speech, the judges voted and
gave their verdict in favour of the client of Bias,
who, when the court rose, was found dead in his
The city gave him a magnificent
funeral and inscribed on his tomb62
Here Bias of Priene lies, whose name
Brought to his home and all Ionia fame.
My own epitaph is63
Here Bias rests. A quiet death laid low
The aged head which years had strewn with snow.
His pleading done, his friend preserved from harms,
A long sleep took him in his grandson's arms.
He wrote a poem of 2000 lines on Ionia and the
manner of rendering it prosperous. Of his songs the
most popular is the following:
Find favour with all the citizens . . .
. . . in whatever state you dwell.
For this earns most gratitude;
the headstrong spirit often flashes forth with harmful bane.
The growth of strength in man is nature's work;
but to set forth in speech the interests of one's
country is the gift of soul and reason. Even chance
brings abundance of wealth to many. He also
said that he who could not bear misfortune was
truly unfortunate; that it is a disease of the soul to
be enamoured of things impossible of attainment;
and that we ought not to dwell upon the woes of
others. Being asked what is difficult, he replied,
"Nobly to endure a change for the worse." He
was once on a voyage with some impious men; and,
when a storm was encountered, even they began to
call upon the gods for help. "Peace!" said he,
"lest they hear and become aware that you are here
in the ship." When an impious man asked him to
define piety, he was silent; and when the other
inquired the reason, "I am silent," he replied,
"because you are asking questions about what does
not concern you."
Being asked "What is sweet to men," he
answered, "Hope." He said he would rather
decide a dispute between two of his enemies than
between two of his friends; for in the latter case
he would be certain to make one of his friends
his enemy, but in the former case he would make
one of his enemies his friend. Asked what occupation gives a man most pleasure, he replied, "Making
money." He advised men to measure life as if they
had both a short and a long time to live; to love
their friends as if they would some day hate them,
the majority of mankind being bad. Further, he
gave this advice: Be slow to set about an enterprise, but persevere in it steadfastly when once it is
undertaken. Do not be hasty of speech, for that
is a sign of madness.
Cherish wisdom. Admit the
existence of the gods. If a man is unworthy, do not
praise him because of his wealth. Gain your point
by persuasion, not by force. Ascribe your good
actions to the gods. Make wisdom your provision
for the journey from youth to old age; for it is a
more certain support than all other possessions.
Bias is mentioned by Hipponax as stated above,
and Heraclitus, who is hard to please, bestows upon
him especial praise in these words64
lived Bias, son of Teutames, a man of more consideration than any." And the people of Priene dedicated
a precinct to him, which is called the Teutameum.
His apophthegm is: Most men are bad.
Chapter 6 CLEOBULUS (c 600 B.C.)
Cleobulus, the son of Euagoras, was born at Lindus,
but according to Duris he was a Carian. Some say
that he traced his descent back to Heracles, that he
was distinguished for strength and beauty, and was
acquainted with Egyptian philosophy. He had a
daughter Cleobuline, who composed riddles in hexameters; she is mentioned by Cratinus, who gives
one of his plays her name, in the plural form
Cleobulinae. He is also said to have rebuilt the
temple of Athena which was founded by Danaus.
He was the author of songs and riddles, making some
3000 lines in all.
The inscription on the tomb of Midas is said by
some to be his65
I am a maiden of bronze and I rest upon Midas's tomb.
So long as water shall flow and tall trees grow, and the sun
shall rise and shine,
and the bright moon, and rivers shall
run and the sea wash the shore, here abiding on his tearsprinkled tomb I shall tell the passers-by--Midas is buried
The evidence they adduce is a poem of Simonides
in which he says66
Who, if he trusts his wits, will praise Cleobulus the dweller
at Lindus for opposing the strength of a column to everflowing rivers, the flowers of spring, the flame of the sun,
and the golden moon and the eddies of the sea? But all
things fall short of the might of the gods; even mortal
hands break marble in pieces; this is a fool's devising.
The inscription cannot be by Homer, because he
lived, they say, long before Midas.
The following riddle of Cleobulus is preserved in
One sire there is, he has twelve sons, and each of these
has twice thirty daughters different in feature; some of the
daughters are white, the others again are black; they are
immortal, and yet they all die.
And the answer is, "The year."
Of his songs the most popular are: It is want of
taste that reigns most widely among mortals and
multitude of words; but due season will serve. Set
your mind on something good. Do not become
thoughtless or rude. He said that we ought to give
our daughters to their husbands maidens in years
but women in wisdom; thus signifying that girls
need to be educated as well as boys. Further, that
we should render a service to a friend to bind him
closer to us, and to an enemy in order to make a
friend of him. For we have to guard against the
censure of friends and the intrigues of enemies.
When anyone leaves his house, let him first inquire
what he means to do; and on his return let him ask
himself what he has effected. Moreover, he advised
men to practise bodily exercise; to be listeners
rather than talkers; to choose instruction rather
than ignorance; to refrain from ill-omened words;
to be friendly to virtue, hostile to vice; to shun
injustice; to counsel the state for the best; not to
be overcome by pleasure; to do nothing by violence;
to educate their children; to put an end to enmity.
Avoid being affectionate to your wife, or quarrelling
with her, in the presence of strangers; for the one
savours of folly, the other of madness. Never correct
a servant over your wine, for you will be thought
to be the worse for wine. Mate with one of your
own rank; for if you take a wife who is superior to
you, her kinsfolk will become your masters.
men are being bantered, do not laugh at their expense, or you will incur their hatred. Do not be
arrogant in prosperity; if you fall into poverty, do
not humble yourself. Know how to bear the changes
of fortune with nobility.68
He died at the ripe age of seventy; and the inscription over him is69
Here the wise Rhodian, Cleobulus, sleeps,
And o'er his ashes sea-proud Lindus weeps.
His apophthegm was: Moderation is best. And
he wrote to Solon the following letter:
Cleobulus to Solon
"You have many friends and a home wherever you
go; but the most suitable for Solon will, say I, be
Lindus, which is governed by a democracy. The
island lies on the high seas, and one who lives here
has nothing to fear from Pisistratus. And friends
from all parts will come to visit you."
Chapter 7. PERIANDER (tyrant 625-585 B.C.)
Periander, the son of Cypselus, was born at Corinth,
of the family of the Heraclidae. His wife was
Lysida, whom he called Melissa. Her father was
Procles, tyrant of Epidaurus, her mother Eristheneia,
daughter of Aristocrates and sister of Aristodemus,
who together reigned over nearly the whole of
Arcadia, as stated by Heraclides of Pontus in his book
By her he had two sons, Cypselus
and Lycophron, the younger a man of intelligence,
the elder weak in mind.
However, after some time,
in a fit of anger, he killed his wife by throwing
a footstool at her, or by a kick, when she was pregnant, having been egged on by the slanderous tales
of concubines, whom he afterwards burnt alive.
When the son whose name was Lycophron grieved
for his mother, he banished him to Corcyra. And
when well advanced in years he sent for his son to
be his successor in the tyranny; but the Corcyraeans
put him to death before he could set sail. Enraged
at this, he dispatched the sons of the Corcyraeans
to Alyattes that he might make eunuchs of them;
but, when the ship touched at Samos, they took
sanctuary in the temple of Hera, and were saved by
Periander lost heart and died at the age of
eighty. Sosicrates' account is that he died fortyone years before Croesus, just before the 49th
Herodotus in his first book
he was a guest-friend of Thrasybulus, tyrant of
Aristippus in the first book of his work
Luxury of the Ancients71
accuses him of incest with
his own mother Crateia, and adds that, when the fact
came to light, he vented his annoyance in indiscriminate severity. Ephorus records his now that,
if he won the victory at Olympia in the chariot-race,
he would set up a golden statue. When the victory
was won, being in sore straits for gold, he despoiled
the women of all the ornaments which he had seen
them wearing at some local festival. He was thus
enabled to send the votive offering.
There is a story that he did not wish the place
where he was buried to be known, and to that end
contrived the following device. He ordered two
young men to go out at night by a certain road
which he pointed out to them; they were to kill
the man they met and bury him. He afterwards
ordered four more to go in pursuit of the two, kill
them and bury them; again, he dispatched a larger
number in pursuit of the four. Having taken these
measures, he himself encountered the first pair and
was slain. The Corinthians placed the following
inscription upon a cenotaph72
In mother earth here Periander lies,
The prince of sea-girt Corinth rich and wise.
My own epitaph on him is73
Grieve not because thou hast not gained thine end,
But take with gladness all the gods may send;
Be warned by Periander's fate, who died
Of grief that one desire should be denied.
To him belongs the maxim: Never do anything
for money; leave gain to trades pursued for gain.
He wrote a didactic poem of 2000 lines. He said
that those tyrants who intend to be safe should make
loyalty their bodyguard, not arms. When some one
asked him why he was tyrant, he replied, "Because it
is as dangerous to retire voluntarily as to be dispossessed." Here are other sayings of his: Rest is
beautiful. Rashness has its perils. Gain is ignoble.
Democracy is better than tyranny. Pleasures are
transient, honours are immortal.
Be moderate in
prosperity, prudent in adversity. Be the same to
your friends whether they are in prosperity or in
adversity. Whatever agreement you make, stick
to it. Betray no secret. Correct not only the
offenders but also those who are on the point of
He was the first who had a bodyguard and who
changed his government into a tyranny, and he
would let no one live in the town without his permission, as we know from Ephorus and Aristotle.
He flourished about the 38th Olympiad and was
tyrant for forty years.
Sotion and Heraclides and Pamphila in the fifth
book of her
one a tyrant, the other a sage who was born in
Neanthes of Cyzicus also says this, and
adds that they were near relations. And Aristotle74
maintains that the Corinthian Periander was the
sage; while Plato denies this.
His apophthegm is: Practice makes perfect. He
planned a canal across the Isthmus.
A letter of his is extant:
Periander to the Wise
"Very grateful am I to the Pythian Apollo that I
found you gathered together; and my letters will
also bring you to Corinth, where, as you know, I will
give you a thoroughly popular reception. I learn
that last year you met in Sardis at the Lydian court.
Do not hesitate therefore to come to me, the ruler
of Corinth. The Corinthians will be pleased to see
you coming to the house of Periander."
Periander to Procles
"The murder of my wife was unintentional; but
yours is deliberate guilt when you set my son's
heart against me. Either therefore put an end to
my son's harsh treatment, or I will revenge myself
on you. For long ago I made expiation to you for
your daughter by burning on her pyre the apparel
of all the women of Corinth."
There is also a letter written to him by Thrasybulus,
"I made no answer to your herald; but I took him
into a cornfield, and with a staff smote and cut off
the over-grown ears of corn, while he accompanied
me. And if you ask him what he heard and what he
saw, he will give his message. And this is what you
must do if you want to strengthen your absolute
rule: put to death those among the citizens who
are pre-eminent, whether they are hostile to you or
not. For to an absolute ruler even a friend is an
object of suspicion."
Chapter 8. ANACHARSIS
Anacharsis the Scythian was the son of Gnurus
and brother of Caduidas, king of Scythia. His mother
was a Greek, and for that reason he spoke both
languages. He wrote on the institutions of the
Greeks and the Scythians, dealing with simplicity of
life and military matters, a poem of 800 lines. So
outspoken was he that he furnished occasion for a
proverb, "To talk like a Scythian."
Sosicrates makes him come to Athens about the
in the archonship of
Hermippus relates that on his arrival at the house
of Solon he told one of the servants to announce
that Anacharsis had come and was desirous of seeing
him and, if possible, of becoming his guest.
servant delivered his message and was ordered by
Solon to tell him that men as a rule choose their
guests from among their own countrymen. Then
Anacharsis took him up and said that he was now
in his own country and had a right to be entertained
as a guest. And Solon, struck with his ready wit,
admitted him into his house and made him his
After a while Anacharsis returned to Scythia,
where, owing to his enthusiasm for everything Greek,
he was supposed to be subverting the national institutions, and was killed by his brother while they
were out hunting together. When struck by the
arrow he exclaimed, "My reputation carried me
safe through Greece, but the envy it excited at
home has been my ruin." In some accounts it is
said that he was slain while performing Greek rites.
Here is my own epitaph upon him76
Back from his travels Anacharsis came,
To hellenize the Scythians all aglow;
Ere half his sermon could their minds inflame,
A wingèd arrow laid the preacher low.
It was a saying of his that the vine bore three
kinds of grapes: the first of pleasure, the next of
intoxication, and the third of disgust. He said he
wondered why in Greece experts contend in the
games and non-experts award the prizes. Being
asked how one could avoid becoming a toper, he
answered, "By keeping before your eyes the disgraceful exhibition made by the drunkard." Again,
he expressed surprise that the Greek lawgivers should
impose penalties on wanton outrage, while they
honour athletes for bruising one another. After
ascertaining that the ship's side was four fingers'
breadth in thickness, he remarked that the passengers
were just so far from death.
Oil he called a drug which produced madness,
because the athletes when they anoint themselves
with it are maddened against each other. How is
it, he asked, that the Greeks prohibit falsehood and
yet obviously tell falsehoods in retail trade? Nor
could he understand why at the beginning of their
feasts they drink from small goblets and when they
are "full" from large ones. The inscription on his
statues is: "Bridle speech, gluttony, and sensuality."
Being asked if there were flutes in Scythia, he replied,
"No, nor yet vines." To the question what vessels
were the safest his reply was, "Those which have
been hauled ashore." And he declared the strangest
thing he had seen in Greece to be that they leave
the smoke on the mountains and convey the fuel
into the city.77
When some one
were more in number, the living or the dead, he
rejoined, "In which category, then, do you place
those who are on the seas?" When some Athenian
reproached him with being a Scythian, he replied,
"Well, granted that my country is a disgrace to
me, you are a disgrace to your country."
question, "What among men is both good and bad?"
his answer was "The tongue." He said it was
better to have one friend of great worth than many
friends worth nothing at all. He defined the market
as a place set apart where men may deceive and
overreach one another. When insulted by a boy
over the wine he said, "If you cannot carry your
liquor when you are young, boy, you will be a water
carrier when you are old."
According to some he was the inventor of the anchor
and the potter's wheel.
To him is attributed the following letter:
"I have come, O King of the Lydians, to the land
of the Greeks to be instructed in their manners and
pursuits. And I am not even in quest of gold, but
am well content to return to Scythia a better man.
At all events here I am in Sardis, being greatly
desirous of making your acquaintance."
Chapter 9. MYSON (c. 600 B.C.)
Myson was the son of Strymon, according to
Sosicrates, who quotes Hermippus as his authority,
and a native of Chen, a village in the district of
Oeta or Laconia; and he is reckoned one of the
Seven Sages. They say that his father was a tyrant.
We are told by some one that, when Anacharsis
inquired if there were anyone wiser than himself,
the Pythian priestess gave the response which has
already been quoted in the Life of Thales as her reply
to a question by Chilon78
Myson of Chen in Oeta; this is he
Who for wiseheartedness surpasseth thee.
His curiosity aroused, Anacharsis went to the village in
summer time and found him fitting a share to a plough
and said, "Myson, this is not the season for the
plough." "It is just the time to repair it," was the
Others cite the first line of the oracle differently, "Myson of Chen in Etis," and inquire what
"Myson of Etis" means. Parmenides indeed explains that Etis is a district in Laconia to which
Myson belonged. Sosicrates in his
makes him belong to Etis on the father's
side and to Chen on the mother's. Euthyphro, the
son of Heraclides of Pontus, declares that he was a
Cretan, Eteia being a town in Crete. Anaxilaus
makes him an Arcadian.
Myson is mentioned by Hipponax, the words
And Myson, whom Apollo's self proclaimed
Wisest of all men.
Aristoxenus in his
not unlike Timon and Apemantus, for he was a
At any rate he was seen in Lacedaemon laughing to himself in a lonely spot; and
when some one suddenly appeared and asked him
why he laughed when no one was near, he replied,
"That is just the reason." And Aristoxenus says
that the reason why he remained obscure was that
he belonged to no city but to a village and that an
unimportant one. Hence because he was unknown,
some writers, but not Plato the philosopher, attributed to Pisistratus the tyrant what properly belonged
to Myson. For Plato mentions him in the
reckoning him as one of the Seven instead of
He used to say we should not investigate facts by
the light of arguments, but arguments by the light
of facts; for the facts were not put together to fit
the arguments, but the arguments to fit the facts.
He died at the age of ninety-seven.
Chapter 10. EPIMENIDES (c. 600 B.C.)
Epimenides, according to Theopompus and many
other writers, was the son of Phaestius; some, however, make him the son of Dosiadas, others of
Agesarchus. He was a native of Cnossos in Crete,
though from wearing his hair long he did not look
like a Cretan. One day he was sent into the country
by his father to look for a stray sheep, and at noon
he turned aside out of the way, and went to sleep
in a cave, where he slept for fifty-seven years. After
this he got up and went in search of the sheep, thinking he had been asleep only a short time. And when
he could not find it, he came to the farm, and found
everything changed and another owner in possession.
Then he went back to the town in utter perplexity;
and there, on entering his own house, he fell in with
people who wanted to know who he was. At length
he found his younger brother, now an old man, and
learnt the truth from him.
So he became famous
throughout Greece, and was believed to be a special
favourite of heaven.
Hence, when the Athenians were attacked by
pestilence, and the Pythian priestess bade them
purify the city, they sent a ship commanded by
Nicias, son of Niceratus, to Crete to ask the help of
Epimenides. And he came in the 46th Olympiad,81
purified their city, and stopped the pestilence in the
following way. He took sheep, some black and
others white, and brought them to the Areopagus;
and there he let them go whither they pleased,
instructing those who followed them to mark the
spot where each sheep lay down and offer a sacrifice
to the local divinity. And thus, it is said, the plague
was stayed. Hence even to this day altars may be
found in different parts of Attica with no name
inscribed upon them, which are memorials of this
atonement. According to some writers he declared
the plague to have been caused by the pollution
which Cylon brought on the city and showed them
how to remove it. In consequence two young men,
Cratinus and Ctesibius, were put to death and the
city was delivered from the scourge.
The Athenians voted him a talent in money and
a ship to convey him back to Crete. The money he
declined, but he concluded a treaty of friendship
and alliance between Cnossos and Athens.
So he returned home and soon afterwards died.
According to Phlegon in his work
one hundred and fifty-seven years; according to the
Cretans two hundred and ninety-nine years. Xenophanes of Colophon gives his age as 154, according
He wrote a poem
On the Birth of the Curetes and
5000 lines in all; another
on the building of the Argo and Jason's voyage to
Colchis in 6500 lines.
He also compiled prose works
On Sacrifices and the Cretan Constitution,
Minos and Rhadamanthus,
running to about 4000 lines.
At Athens again he founded the temple of the
Eumenides, as Lobon of Argos tells us in his work
He is stated to have been the first who
purified houses and fields, and the first who founded
temples. Some are found to maintain that he did
not go to sleep but withdrew himself83
for a while,
engaged in gathering simples.
There is extant a letter of his to Solon the lawgiver, containing a scheme of government which
Minos drew up for the Cretans. But Demetrius of
Magnesia, in his work on poets and writers of the
same name, endeavours to discredit the letter on the
ground that it is late and not written in the Cretan
dialect but in Attic, and New Attic too. However, I have found another letter by him which runs
Epimenides to Solon
"Courage, my friend. For if Pisistratus had attacked
the Athenians while they were still serfs and before
they had good laws, he would have secured power in
perpetuity by the enslavement of the citizens. But,
as it is, he is reducing to subjection men who are no
cowards, men who with pain and shame remember
Solon's warning and will never endure to be under a
tyrant. But even should Pisistratus himself hold
down the city, I do not expect that his power will
be continued to his children; for it is hard to contrive that men brought up as free men under the
best laws should be slaves. But, instead of going on
your travels, come quietly to Crete to me; for here
you will have no monarch to fear, whereas, if some
of his friends should fall in with you while you are
travelling about, I fear you may come to some harm.'
This is the tenor of the letter. But Demetrius reports a story that he received from the Nymphs food
of a special sort and kept it in a cow's hoof; that he
took small doses of this food, which was entirely
absorbed into his system, and he was never seen to
eat. Timaeus mentions him in his second book.
Some writers say that the Cretans sacrifice to him
as a god; for they say that he had superhuman
foresight. For instance, when he saw Munichia, at
Athens, he said the Athenians did not know how
many evils that place would bring upon them; for,
if they did, they would destroy it even if they had
to do so with their teeth. And this he said so long
before the event. It is also stated that he was the
first to call himself Aeacus; that he foretold to the
Lacedaemonians their defeat by the Arcadians; and
that he claimed that his soul had passed through
Theopompus relates in his
that, as he
was building a temple to the Nymphs, a voice came
from heaven: "Epimenides, not a temple to the
Nymphs but to Zeus," and that he foretold to the
Cretans the defeat of the Lacedaemonians by the
Arcadians, as already stated; and in very truth they
were crushed at Orchomenus.
And he became old in as many days as he had
slept years; for this too is stated by Theopompus.
Myronianus in his
declares that the
called him one of the Curetes. The Lacedaemonians
guard his body in their own keeping in obedience to
a certain oracle; this is stated by Sosibius the
There have been two other men named Epimenides,
namely, the genealogist and another who wrote in
Doric Greek about Rhodes.
Chapter 11. PHERECYDES (flor. c. 540 B.C.)
Pherecydes, the son of Babys, and a native of
Syros according to Alexander in his
was a pupil of Pittacus. Theopompus
tells us that he was the first who wrote in Greek on
nature and the gods.
Many wonderful stories are told about him. He
was walking along the beach in Samos and saw a
ship running before the wind; he exclaimed that in
no long time she would go down, and, even as he
watched her, down she went. And as he was drinking water which had been drawn up from a well he
predicted that on the third day there would be an
earthquake; which came to pass. And on his way
from Olympia he advised Perilaus, his host in
Messene, to move thence with all belonging to him;
but Perilaus could not be persuaded, and Messene
was afterwards taken.84
He bade the Lacedaemonians set no store by gold
or silver, as Theopompus says in his
told them he had received this command from
Heracles in a dream; and the same night Heracles
enjoined upon the kings to obey Pherecydes. But
some fasten this story upon Pythagoras.
Hermippus relates that on the eve of war between
Ephesus and Magnesia he favoured the cause of the
Ephesians, and inquired of some one passing by where
he came from, and on receiving the reply "From
Ephesus," he said, "Drag me by the legs and place
me in the territory of Magnesia; and take a message
to your countrymen that after their victory they
must bury me there, and that this is the last injunction of Pherecydes."
The man gave the message;
a day later the Ephesians attacked and defeated
the Magnesians; they found Pherecydes dead and
buried him on the spot with great honours. Another
version is that he came to Delphi and hurled himself
down from Mount Corycus. But Aristoxenus in his
On Pythagoras and his School
affirms that he
died a natural death and was buried by Pythagoras
in Delos; another account again is that he died of
a verminous disease, that Pythagoras was also present
and inquired how he was, that he thrust his finger
through the doorway and exclaimed, "My skin tells
its own tale," a phrase subsequently applied by the
grammarians as equivalent to "getting worse,"
although some wrongly understand it to mean "all
is going well."
He maintained that the divine name
for "table" is
, or that which
takes care of
Andron of Ephesus says that there were two
natives of Syros who bore the name of Pherecydes:
the one was an astronomer, the other was the son
of Babys and a theologian, teacher of Pythagoras.
Eratosthenes, however, says that there was only one
Pherecydes of Syros, the other Pherecydes being an
Athenian and a genealogist.
There is preserved a work by Pherecydes of Syros,
a work which begins thus: "Zeus and Time and
Earth were from all eternity, and Earth was called
because Zeus gave her earth
) as guerdon
)." His sun-dial is also
preserved in the island
Duris in the second book of his
inscription on his tomb as follows85
All knowledge that a man may have had I;
Yet tell Pythagoras, were more thereby,
That first of all Greeks is he; I speak no lie.
Ion of Chios says of him86
With manly worth endowed and modesty,
Though he be dead, his soul lives happily,
If wise Pythagoras indeed saw light
And read the destinies of men aright.
There is also an epigram of my own in the Pherecratean metre87
The famous Pherecydes, to whom Syros gave birth,
his former beauty was consumed by vermin, gave orders that
he should be taken straight to the Magnesian land in order
that he might give victory to the noble Ephesians. There
was an oracle, which he alone knew, enjoining this; and
there he died among them. It seems then it is a true tale;
if anyone is truly wise, he brings blessings both in his lifetime and when he is no more.
He lived in the 59th Olympiad. He wrote the
"May yours be a happy death when your time
comes. Since I received your letter, I have been
attacked by disease. I am infested with vermin and
subject to a violent fever with shivering fits. I have
therefore given instructions to my servants to carry
my writing to you after they have buried me. I
would like you to publish it, provided that you and
the other sages approve of it, and not otherwise.
For I myself am not yet satisfied with it. The facts
are not absolutely correct, nor do I claim to have
discovered the truth, but merely such things as one
who inquires about the gods picks up. The rest
must be thought out, for mine is all guess-work. As
I was more and more weighed down with my malady,
I did not permit any of the physicians or my friends
to come into the room where I was, but, as they stood
before the door and inquired how I was, I thrust
my finger through the keyhole and showed them
how plague-stricken I was; and I told them to come
to-morrow to bury Pherecydes."
So much for those who are called the Sages, with
whom some writers also class Pisistratus the tyrant.
I must now proceed to the philosophers and start
with the philosophy of Ionia. Its founder was
Thales, and Anaximander was his pupil.