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.1
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 follows2
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 him3
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 metre4
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.