Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
1. Miletus and Lydia 3. The Eclipse Foretold by Thales

From Chapter I., The Milesian School


2. Origin
The founder of the Milesian school, and therefore the first man of science, was Thales;4 but all we can really be said to know of him comes from Herodotos, and the Tale of the Seven Wise Men was already in existence when he wrote. He says that Thales was of Phoenician descent, a statement which other writers explained by saying he belonged to a noble house descended from Kadmos and Agenor.5 Herodotos probably mentions the supposed descent of Thales simply because he was believed to have introduced certain improvements in navigation from Phoenicia.6 At any rate, his father's name, Examyes, lends no support to the view that he was a Semite. It is Karian, and the Karians had been almost completely assimilated by the Ionians. On the monuments we find Greek and Karian names alternating in the same families, while the name Thales is otherwise known as Cretan. There is therefore no reason to doubt that Thales was of pure Milesian descent, though he probably had Karian blood in his veins.7

Burnet's Notes


4. Simplicius quotes Theophrastos as saying that Thales had many predecessors Dox. p. 475, 11). This need not trouble us; for the scholiast on Apollonios Rhodios (ii. 1248) tells us that he made Prometheus the first philosopher, which is merely an application of Peripatetic literalism to a phrase of Plato's (Phileb. 16 c 6). Cf. Note on Sources, § 2.

5. Herod. i. 170 (R. P. 9 d); Diog. i. 22 (R. P. 9). This is no doubt connected with the fact mentioned by Herodotos (i. 146) that there were Kadmeians from Boiotia among the original Ionian colonists. Cf. also Strabo, xiv. pp. 633, 636; Pausan. vii. 2, 7. These, however, were not Semites.

6. Diog. i. 23, Καλλίμαχος δ' αὐτὸν οἶδεν εὑρετὴν τῆς ἄρκτου τῆς μικρᾶς λέγων ἐν τοῖς Ἰάμβοις οὕτως

καὶ τῆς ἁμάξης ἐλέγετο σταθμήσασθαι
τοὺς ἀστερίσκους, ᾗ πλέουσι Φοίνικες.

7. See Diels, "Thales ein Semite?" (Arch. ii. 165 sqq.), and Immisch, "Zu Thales Abkunft" (ib. p. 515). The name Examyes occurs also in Kolophon (Hermesianax, Leontion, fr. 2, 38 Bgk.), and may be compared with other Karian names such as Cheramyes and Panamyes.

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