Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
4. Date of Thales 6. Thales and Geometry

From Chapter I., The Milesian School

5. Thales in Egypt
The introduction of Egyptian geometry into Hellas is ascribed to Thales,18 and it is probable that he did visit Egypt; for he had a theory of the inundations of the Nile. Herodotos19 gives three explanations of the fact that this alone of all rivers rises in summer and falls in winter; but, as his custom is, he does not name their authors. The first, however, which attributes the rise of the Nile to the Etesian winds, is ascribed to Thales in the Placita,20 and by many later writers. Now, this comes from a treatise on the Rise of the Nile attributed to Aristotle and known to the Greek commentators, but extant only in a Latin epitome of the thirteenth century.21 In this the first of the theories mentioned by Herodotos is ascribed to Thales, the second to Euthymenes of Massalia, and the third to Anaxagoras. Where did Aristotle, or whoever wrote the book, get these names? We think naturally of Hekataios; and this conjecture is strengthened when we find that Hekataios mentioned Euthymenes.22 We may conclude that Thales really was in Egypt; and, perhaps, that Hekataios, in describing the Nile, took account, as was natural, of his fellow-citizen's views.

Burnet's Notes


18. Proclus, in Eucl. I. p. 65, Friedlein (from Eudemos).

19. Herod. ii. 20.

20. Aet. iv. 1.1 (Dox. p. 384).

21. Dox. pp. 226-229. The Latin epitome will be found in Rose's edition of the Aristotelian fragments.

22. Hekataios, fr. 278 (F.H.G. i. p. 19).

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