From Burnet's Introduction
X. Alleged Oriental Origin of Philosophy
This method of interpretation culminated with the Neopythagorean Noumenios, from whom it passed to the Christian Apologists. It is Noumenios who asks, "What is Plato but Moses speaking Attic?"40 Clement and Eusebios give the remark a still wider application.41 At the Renaissance, this farrago was revived along with everything else, and certain ideas derived from the Praeparatio Evangelica continued for long to colour accepted views.42 Cudworth speaks of the ancient "Moschical or Mosaical philosophy" taught by Thales and Pythagoras.43 It is important to realise the true origin of this prejudice against the originality of the Greeks. It does not come from modern researches into the beliefs of ancient peoples; for these have disclosed nothing in the way of evidence for a Phoenician or Egyptian philosophy. It is a mere residuum of the Alexandrian passion for allegory.
Of course no one nowadays would rest the case for the Oriental origin of Greek philosophy on the evidence of Clement or Eusebios; the favourite argument in recent times has been the analogy of the arts. We are seeing more and more, it is said, that the Greeks derived their art from the East; and it is urged that the same will in all probability prove true of their philosophy. That is a specious argument, but not at all conclusive. It ignores the difference in the way these things are transmitted from people to people. Material civilisation and the arts may pass easily from one people to another, though they have not a common language, but philosophy can only be expressed in abstract language, and can only be transmitted by educated men, whether by means of books or oral teaching. Now we know of no Greek, in the times we are dealing with, who could read an Egyptian book or even listen to the discourse of an Egyptian priest, and we never hear till a late date of Oriental teachers who wrote or spoke in Greek. The Greek traveller in Egypt would no doubt pick up a few words of Egyptian, and it is taken for granted that the priests could make themselves understood by the Greeks.44 But they must have made use of interpreters, and it is impossible to conceive of philosophical ideas being communicated through an uneducated dragoman.45
But really it is not worth while to ask whether the communication of philosophical ideas was possible or not, till some evidence has been produced that any of these peoples had a philosophy to communicate. No such evidence has yet been discovered, and, so far as we know, the Indians were the only ancient people besides the Greeks who ever had anything that deserves the name. No one now will suggest that Greek philosophy came from India, and indeed everything points to the conclusion that Indian philosophy arose under Greek influence. The chronology of Sanskrit literature is an extremely difficult subject; but, so far as we can see, the great Indian systems are later in date than the Greek philosophies they most nearly resemble. Of course the mysticism of the Upanishads and of Buddhism was of native growth; but, though these influenced philosophy in the strict sense profoundly, they were related to it only as Hesiod and the Orphics were related to Greek scientific thought.
37. All he can say is that the worship of Dionysos and the doctrine of transmigration came from Egypt (ii. 49, 123). We shall see that both these statements are incorrect, and in any case they do not imply anything directly as to philosophy.
38. In Rep. 435 e, after saying that τὸ θυμοειδές is characteristic of the Thracians and Scythians, and τὸ φιλομαθές of the Hellenes, he refers us to Phoenicia and Egypt for τὸ φιλοχρήματον. In the Laws he says (747 b 6) that arithmetical studies are valuable only if we remove all ἀνελευθερία and φιλοχρηματία from the souls of the learners. Otherwise, we produce πανουργία instead of σοφία, as we can see that the Phoenicians, the Egyptians, and many other peoples do.
39. Arist. Met. A, 1. 981 b 23.
40. Noumenios, fr. 13 (R. P. 624) Τί γάρ ἐστι Πλάτων ἢ Μωυσῆς ἀττικίζων;
41. Clement (Strom. i. p. 8, 5, Stählin) calls Plato ὁ ἐξ Ἑβραίων φιλόσοφος.
42. Exaggerated notions of Oriental wisdom were popularised by the Encyclopédie, which accounts for their diffusion and persistence. Bailly (Lettres sur l'origine des sciences) assumed that the Orientals had received fragments of highly advanced science from a people which had disappeared, but which he identified with the inhabitants of Plato's Atlantis!
43. We learn from Strabo (xvi. p. 757) that it was Poseidonios who introduced Mochos of Sidon into the history of philosophy. He attributes the atomic theory to him. His identification with Moses, however, is a later tour de force due to Philon of Byblos, who published a translation of an ancient Phoenician history by Sanchuniathon, which was used by Porphyry and afterwards by Eusebios.
44. Herod. ii. 143 (where they boast to Hekataios of their superior antiquity); Plato, Tim. 22 b 3 (where they do the same to Solon).
45. Gomperz's "native bride," who discusses the wisdom of her people with her Greek lord (Greek Thinkers, vol. i. p. 95), does not convince me either. She would probably teach her maids the rites of strange goddesses; but she would not be likely to talk theology with her husband, and still less philosophy or science.
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