Influence between India and Greece?

INFLUENCE?  PROVOCATIVE STATEMENT

In the period c. 600-300 BCE we find a number of ideas shared by India and Greece, for instance (a) monism, the idea that all things are in some sense a single entity, (b) the unitary inner self (atman, psuche) as a concept central to understanding the world, (c) the idea of abstract or incorporeal being, (d) what I dub indiscriminate ethicised reincarnation. A more detailed account of these ideas will follow in due course. But let us first consider – if only to exclude – some possibilities of explaining the fact they occur at about the same time in both cultures.

 

1§A  A shared Indo-European origin?

There are numerous similarities between Greek and Indian culture that are best explained by their common Indo-European heritage. But the ideas just listed cannot be attributed to a common IE heritage because of the combination of the following. (1) Although prominent in both cultures within the period 600-300 BCE, they are almost entirely absent from the earliest texts (RV, Homer and Hesiod), even though these texts are of great length and embody a very wide range of concerns.  (2) In Greece (a), (b) and (c), and in India all four, can be seen to result from development. (3) In both cultures the four ideas relate to each other in a way that suggests a single intellectual development that began later than the earliest texts. (4) They are fundamental, metaphysical beliefs about the nature of the universe and of the self, quite different in kind from the forms (linguistic, social, numerical, narrative) that can be shown to embody a shared IE heritage.

This last distinction is ably tested by the claim of Pinchard to affiliate Platonic ontology to the Rigveda, more specifically the intelligible world of ideas in Plato to the speech (especially ‘noms secrets’) of the gods. True, the idea of a hidden reality that is somehow superior to the visible world, and can be revealed in speech, is shared by the Rigveda and Plato, as well as (in various forms) by many other cultures. But we do not find in the Rigveda anything like a systematic ontological distinction between on the one hand the changing material realm of the senses and on the other an unchanging, intelligible and more fully real realm in which abstract forms depend somehow – for their being, intelligibility and value – on a single supremely real abstract entity (the form of the good).  

1§B Influence?

As the shared ideas do not occur before our period, and then in our period only in India and Greece, there can be no question of their having been diffused from any third culture, be it Indo-European or, say, Mesopotamian. There is another possibility, that the similarity of ideas was a result of direct or indirect contact between India and Greece. How likely was this?

It became a commonplace to derive doctrines of Greek thinkers from contact with the Orient. Pythagoras, for instance, was said to have learnt from Egyptians, Persians, Chaldaeans , Phoenicians, Jews, and Indians, as well as Celts and Iberians.[1] But we do not in fact have any reliable reports of there being any Greeks beyond the Indus, or Indians in Greece (except in Xerxes’ army), before Alexander crossed the Indus in 326 BCE. And so those who believe that ideas were transmitted between India and Greece before 326 BCE tend to claim that Indians and Greeks might easily have met in the Achaemenid empire. Precisely such a meeting is imagined by Herodotos in his colourful account of Darius I interviewing, in the presence of Greeks, some Indians about their treatment of the dead (3.38).

It is from soon after 522 BCE, when Darius I became king, that we first hear of the presence of Greeks at the Persian court,[2] and Greeks are also mentioned in the Persepolis tablets of Darius’ reign.[3]  Herodotus records Darius settling groups of Greeks in his empire: the Barcaeans in Bactria, Milesians near the mouth of the Tigris (493BCE), and Eretrians near Sousa (490BCE).[4]  There is further such evidence for the reign of his successor Xerxes.[5]

As for the Indian side, after the decline – early in the second millennium BCE – of the trade between Mesopotamia and the Indus valley,[6] the evidence for contact between the two regions is relatively sparse and never undisputed,[7] until the Achaemenid period. In about 518 BC Darius extended[8] his empire to the Indus area, after an exploratory voyage down the Indus by Skylax of Caryanda.[9]  From the time of Darius goods were brought to Persia from India,[10] and texts found at Persepolis mention the presence of Indians in Persepolis or
Susa.[11]  In the reign of Xerxes (from 486BC) Indians bringing tribute were represented in the Persepolis reliefs, and there was an Indian contingent in the army that invaded Greece.[12]

In the Indian texts that certainly belong to our period there is not a single reference to anything Greek.[13] The earliest Greek reference[14] to anything Indian is in the geography of Hekataios of Miletos (born circa 550 BC?), who mentioned names of places and of peoples in the Indus area.[15] He had available to him writing by Skylax.  Subsequently, in the period before 326BCE, there are isolated references to India in various authors, as well as the surviving treatment of India by Herodotos and substantial fragments of the lost treatment of India by Ctesias.[16]

Herodotus says that Asia is inhabited as far as India: east of India the country is uninhabited and nobody knows what it is like (4.40).  Elsewhere he states that east of India there is an uninhabitable desert of sand (3.98), which is presumably the Thar desert.  We may infer that for Herodotus and his Greek contemporaries knowledge of (what we call) the Indian subcontinent does not extend much beyond the Indus valley.  What Herodotus then does tell us about India (3.98-105) contains much fantasy (especially the giant gold-digging ants) and some information that seems to reflect reality. His source for the ants is ‘the Persians’.

Ctesias was a Greek doctor at the Persian court in the last years of the fifth century. What survives of his Indika consists almost entirely of marvels. His claim that the sun appears ten times larger in India than in any other land[17] would surely be denied by anyone who had been to India. Despite his time at the Persian court, where he may have met Indians,[18] Ctesias seems to have had no closer acquaintance with India than did Herodotus.  It is significant that even at the end of the fifth century India was largely unknown even by Greeks who published on the subject.  Nor do any other mentions of India before 326 BCE indicate any closer acquaintance.

We can conclude that the possibility of serious ideas passing between Greeks and Indians before 326 BCE was very small. There is accordingly in fact nowhere in the pre-326BCE reports of India any reference to an idea, not even in the many references to India in Aristotle. This is hardly surprising, given that there is no evidence that any Greek author of our period knew any foreign language at all (let alone Sanskrit):[19] if there was any influence, it would have been far more easily visual, but even this is lacking. Moreover, the early Upanisads, which contain ideas resembling early Greek thought, were produced not in the area least remote from the Greeks, around the Indus. Rather, they were produced a long way eastwards, in the area of the Ganges. The claim that there was intellectual influence between Greece and India derives not from the historical probability of such influence but from the striking similarities between some Greek and some Indian ideas. But it is yet another obstacle to this hypothesis of influence that nothing like these ideas appears anywhere in the vast area between Ionia and the Ganges. And even apart from all these difficulties, what exactly were the contexts in which one people would adopt the fundamental beliefs of a people at the other end of the known world? The hypothesis of ‘influence’ (or ‘diffusion’) is attractive because it seems to solve in one blow a problem which is difficult to solve in any other way. There is also I suspect unconscious transposition into this period of a later world in which communications are easy and influence pervasive.

 

 

1§C Reason?

A feature shared by ancient thought in Greece and in India, besides those listed in 1§A, is the use of rational argument. Reason, of which all humankind is capable, is central to an interesting essay by Bronkhorst entitled. ‘Why is there philosophy in India?’ (1999). He begins by establishing that there was a tradition of serious rational enquiry in Greece and in India but not in China. This leaves the Greek and Indian as the only independent traditions of rational debate. How did they originate?  For Greece he follows the political explanation of Geoffrey Lloyd.

 

It is noteworthy to what extent the features most characteristic of what I have proposed to call a tradition of rational inquiry – primarily free and uninhibited discussion of all issues even in areas which might encroach upon other sources of authority – appear to be intimately linked to the political situation of Greece at the time. It is precisely inhibitions, the fear to encroach on other sources of authority, which would seem to prevent traditions of rational debate and inquiry from coming about in the majority of human societies.

 

I have argued at length elsewhere for the inadequacy of Lloyd’s explanation of the Greek development.[20] As for India, Bronkhorst admits that the political explanation cannot work: ‘We are not at all sure that anything like the Greek city-state ever existed in ancient India’. He maintains instead that ‘the original impulse for the development of Indian rational philosophy came from Buddhism’, and that ‘the Buddhists of North-West India adopted the method of rational debate and enquiry from the Greeks’. What then of the early Upanisads, which – Bronkhorst rightly states – predate Greek influence? They are, he claims, not a problem for his theory because they do not contain any logical argumentation.

We can accept much of this while also insisting that Bronkhorst answers the question that constitutes his title – ‘Why is there philosophy in India?’ – only by identifying philosophy with rational argumentation and thereby denying that the Upanisads contain philosophy. We may object however that (a) philosophy and rational argumentation are not necessarily synonymous; (b) there are passages in the early Upanisads that deserve to be called philosophy; (c) there are doctrines in the early Upanisads that are remarkably similar to presocratic philosophy; (d) although there is nothing in Indian thought of the period to correspond with the importance of logos in the Greek thought of the period (a difference that I will try to explain in ??§??), there is in what survives of presocratic philosophy very little of what Bronkhorst calls rational argumentation. The earliest instance of it, in Parmenides, I will examine below, but only after first examining Bronkhorst’s description of an Indian instance.

He describes three stages in the development of the doctrine of karmic retribution. I do not need to reproduce the details. What matters is that each of these stages uses rationality to make the doctrine more intelligible. ‘They did so because they saw no other way to account for a dogma which they accepted as certain: the dogma of karmic retribution.’ Once again, this is true so far as it goes. But Bronkhorst neither claims that rationality had any role in producing the dogma itself nor comments on this lack. However, it cannot be claimed that the three modifications that he selects to exemplify philosophy as rational enquiry have more impact on the final doctrine than does the initial irrational dogma. Bronkhorst identifies philosophy with rational argumentation, but philosophy is never, or almost never, merely rational argumentation.

This point can now be applied to Parmenides. Parmenides produces a chain of deduction to show that all that exists is one, abstract, and invariant in space and time (eternal, unchanging, unmoving, homogeneous). This bizarre conclusion is of course not a result of mere deduction (as cogito ergo sum etc is sometimes imagined to be), but is rather implicit as a preconception from the beginning of (and during) the chain of deduction, as I have described in detail elsewhere. The conclusion is no more the result of mere reasoning than karmic retribution is the result of mere reasoning. Both the Parmenidean One and karmic retribution are preconceptions, whose origins we will in due course investigate. The rest of this section makes a point about the relation between rational argument and universal abstraction.

The political explanation (noted above) of the genesis of Greek philosophy implies that reasoning is a natural human activity, which – where there was the fear of encroaching on sources of authority other than reason – was inhibited: once political freedom arrived in Greece, rational enquiry was realised from inhibition and allowed to flourish.

But consider, for instance, a band of hunter-gatherers, who are subject to no political authority beyond the egalitarian band. On seeing certain marks, they infer that a certain animal is nearby. And noticing that the marks occur with a certain frequency, they infer that the animal is limping, and so will be easy prey. They also speculate on the origin of fire: it must have been brought to them from the fire in the sky, for which the divine thief and humankind must have had to pay a price, namely alienation from the gods and suffering in general. All this is reasoning, which occurs equally in repressive and non-repressive societies. And it cannot be said to be less fundamental than the reasoning of Parmenides. But hunter-gatherers do not produce what we call philosophical reasoning.

Parmenides reaches his bizarre conclusion by a chain of deduction that can be represented as follows. What can be spoken and thought of can exist, whereas ‘nothing’ cannot exist. What can be spoken and thought of is not nothing. It is of is what exists. There is nothing that exists and yet does not exist. What exists exists fully or not at all. It can have come neither from what exists (for it is what exists) nor from what does not exist. It is all full of homogeneous being, it cannot exist to different degrees at different points. Nor can anything exist beside it (for that would not belong to what exists). It is one, continuous, homogeneous, and invariant in space and time.[21]

This chain of deduction contains the preconceptions that the content of mind (what can be spoken or thought of) must exist, and that what exists must exist ‘completely or not at all’. It also contained at some point, in a passage to which we will return, the preconception that the content of the mind is homogeneous.[22] The conclusion, the One (universal abstract being), which is implicit in the preconceptions, is held in chains by strong Necessity.[23] Why the agency of abstract Necessity? Because a powerful invisible agent is needed to explain a reality that runs so counter to observation and intuition: only Necessity can exclude all variation in time and space and all sensible qualities, thereby leaving itself all the more conspicuously in control. Hence also the chain of deduction, which amounts to projecting universal abstract being from subjective experience (the content of mind) onto objective reality. This projection is, like the universal abstraction of being, explicable neither by observation nor by intuition. And so the conspicuous necessity by which the One is held in place also infuses – or even produces – the projective chain of deduction.[24] Abstract being and abstract necessity together seem to produce abstract reason. Reasoning is here neither new nor released by free political discussion, but rather a by-product of the need to establish the idea that all that exists is universal abstract being. What needs to be explained is not some sudden miraculous arrival of reasoning but the origin of this unprecedented, counter-intuitive, and compelling idea. Similarly, just as Parmenides argues that what exists cannot derive from what does not exist (B8.7-10), so in the CU it is in connection with abstract being that we do find a rational argument: ‘How can what is existent be born from what is non-existent?’ (6.2.2). I return to Indian abstract being in 5§G.

The idea of abstract being, and the other ideas listed in 1§A, arise too late to be attributed to a common European heritage but earlier than any possibility of influence between Greece and India. We are therefore forced ask the question unasked by Bronkhorst: why and how did these ideas arise independently in the two cultures? And when we have answered it, we will see that answers involving common origin or influence are as unnecessary as they are mistaken.



[1] Riedweg (2005) 7-8.

[2] Syloson of Samos and Democedes of Croton: Herodotos 3.125, 129-37, 139-41.

[3] Briant (2002) 506.

[4] Herodotos. 4.204, 6.20, 6.120.

[5] This includes the much later story, disbelieved by some, that Xerxes settled the Milesian Branchidai in a small town in Sogdiana: Curtius Rufus 7.5.28-35; Plutarch, Moralia 557b; Strabo 517-8, 634.

[6] Wright (2010) 215-25, 314.

[7] It is discussed by Karttunen (1989) 15-31, who concludes (31)that ‘for Indo-western relations there is much indisputable evidence, but only from the Achaemenian period’.

[8] As for Cyrus, Nearchus (F??; Arrian Anab. 6.24) states that he planned to invade India but did not get beyond the Gedrosian desert. Megasthenes too (F??) states that he merely approached India, and that before the Macedonian invasion the Indians had never been invaded (except by Herakles and Dionysos).

[9] Herodotos 4.44 (cf. 3.94). In inscriptions Darius includes in his possessions Gandara and Sind. For a discussion of the unanswerable question of precisely what Darius controlled see Karttunen (1989) 34-8.

[10] e.g. ivory: Briant (2002) 172.

[11] Koch (1993) 36-8; Giovinazzo (2000/1) 59-76.  Cf. Herodotos 3.38.

[12] Herodotos 7.65, 86, 113; 9.31.

[13] The first mention is perhaps yavana (‘Greek’) in Panini, but this is not dateable to our period. It may be borrowed from Old Persian yauna (Panini was from Gandhara). Greeks are mentioned in the texts of Asoka (mid-third century BCE). They are mentioned also in the Assalāyana Sutta (MN 2.149), but again there is no certainty that this predates Alexander: e.g. Bronkorst (2011) 35-6.

[14] Unless the reference to ‘Indian stones’ attributed to Epimenides (3DK B25 = 457FrGH F19.8) was earlier, which is most unlikely.

[15] 1FGrH F294-9.

[16] English translations of all these texts (except Hdt. 3.97-106) are collected by Arora (1996) 111-54.

[17] F45 (12).

[18] Cf. F45 (19).

[19] Persian was acquired by some Greeks in the Classical period, but only for practical purposes: Histiaios (Hdt. 6.29.2), Themistokles (Thuc. 1.138.1), perhaps Alkibiades (Ahenaeus 535e), Laomedon (Arr. Anab. 3.6). Translators working for the Persians were not necessarily Greek

[20] Seaford (2004) 176-87.

[21] Seaford (2004) 240.

[22] B4: 6§D 7§A 9§F.

[23] B30.26-31; similarly Moira at 8.37.

[24] Words indicating necessity occur at B2.5; 6.1; 8.7; 8.11-12; 8.45;

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Briant, P. (2002) From Cyrus to Alexander: a History of the Persian Empire.

Bronkhorst, J. (1999) Why is there philosophy in India?

Giovinazzo, G. ‘Les indiens à Suse’, AION 60 (2000/1) 59-76.

Karttunen, K. (1989) India in Early Greek Literature. Helsinki.

Koch, H. (1993) Achāmeniden-Studien.

Pinchard, A. (2009) Les langues de sagesse dans la Grece et L’Inde anciennes.

Riedweg, C. (2005) Pythagoras.

Wright, R. (2010) The Ancient Indus. CUP.

54 thoughts on “Influence between India and Greece?

  1. Dr. Alan Wenham-Prosser DProf., MA.

    Greece and India,

    It is difficult to make the kind of assessment which has been made (i.e. independent development) if you base it only on documented material. The term Atman itself points directly at the ancient Vedanta teaching, which includes the Upanishads. This tradition was always an oral handed down teaching, generally from father to son. i.e. it was supported by the strength and accuracy of transmission which can come from a family tradition. The whole subject which the Upanishads deal with is in the most subtle realm of human experience. Much of which does not lend itself to the written word.
    However, it can be spoken. Now, many will say if you can speak it then you can write it. Although this may be true, books cannot answer questions; and when the subject itself is subtle with aspects which language finds difficult to describe, the explanations from a teacher near to hand can be extremely important and revealing. Many modern academics do not give importance to oral tradition based on their assumption that the written word is more reliable. This is in reality not an intelligent assessment. The whole experience of human life is with thought, word and action. The oral tradition provides all of these, whereas books can only provide words. Francis Robinson of the University of London understood this when he wrote about the traditions related to Islamic teaching :- ” — Person to person transmission was at the heart of authoritative transmission of knowledge. The best way of getting at the truth was to listen to the author himself. So Muslim scholars constantly travelled throughout the Islamic world so that they could receive authoritative transmission of knowledge. And, when a scholar could not get knowledge from the author in person, he strove to get it from a scholar whose chain of transmission from the original author, was thought to be the most reliable. The preference for the oral over the written text may be explained by the central concern for the transmission of the author’s meaning – for the transmission of the most authoritative understanding of the text.”
    I have for more than 45 years been connected to the oral tradition of Advaita Vedanta through people who have lived it and known it in their lives. Most of the value of what I have learned cannot be found written anywhere. For many, many centuries the Vedantic tradition was transmitted in this way, since much of it was considered only to be of real value to those who were connected from an early age into the tradition.
    The families who kept this alive migrated away from the Indus valley into the area of the Hindu Kush and also into what is now know as Afghanistan. There was once a centre for Buddhism in that area. (remember the large statue of the Buddha which was recently destroyed by Islamic terrorists.) Pythagoras travelled into areas where these families lived. Much of his life is not documented, however, from what he taught his followers – reincarnation, not killing animals, the identity of the soul (psyche) with the Creator etc. points directly at Vedanta. It is clear he had travelled into India, or areas strongly affected by Indian teaching. His name is also said to have been derived from Pitha -guru (Pytha-gorus) which means father teacher in Sanskrit. The seven identifiable characteristics of the schooling which he gave can be directly linked to the Sufis who arose in Anatolia following Rumi’s teaching. ; who should really be called Pythagorean Sufis. Rumi was born in Afghanistan. His family tradition from that area includes many issues not discussed outside of the family circle which are truly Vedantic. I am currently working on a book about the Mathnavi which will show unequivocally that it is rich in Vedantic concepts not found in any of the belief systems which have arisen in the Middle East.
    The transmission of Rumi’s way was through a close family tradition which lasted more than 700 years until legal suppression during last century.
    I was accepted into that family oral tradition in 1977. Since then I have made a deep study and practise of the tradition.
    So it can be misleading to state that the Greek and Indian systems have arisen independently – by leaving out the transmission which may have gone on undocumented through strong oral and family traditions over the last two or more millennia.

    Reply
    1. Richard Seaford Post author

      I accept entirely your points about oral tradition. Ideally, I should myself attempt to experience it. But I do not share your confidence about the travels of Pythagoras. This is the sort of thing that ancient authors constantly invent. Consider for example the sheer range of peoples by whom he was supposed to be influenced (see above). And similarity of doctrine does not necessarily indicate influence. It is though true that – if there was no influence – we need another explanation.

      Reply
  2. Angus Cargill

    It might be worth reflecting on these comments from the Pali commentaries recorded by G.P.Malalasekera in his Dictionary of Pali Buddhist Proper Names http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/y/yonaa.htm;
    “Yonaka, statues, holding lamps, were among the decorations used by the Sākiyans of Kapilavatthu (MA.ii.575). …The Anguttara Commentary (AA.i.51) records that from the time of Kassapa Buddha the Yonakas went about clad in white robes, because of the memory of the religion which was once prevalent there.” The first must refer to the 5th century, as the Sakya were driven from Kapilavastu by 400 bce, and appears to be a reference to images of Hekate, who was the only goddess of the period shown bearing torches. The second would appear to be a reference to the decline of Pythagoreanism in Magna Graecia. The only explanation for these that I can think of is that troops from the Buddha’s area took part in the sack of Athens in 480 bce, whence the statues, and were able to meet Pythagoreans, perhaps while wintering with the rest of the army near Thebes.

    Reply
  3. Angus Cargill

    Another piece of evidence that Indians from the Ganges valley were in touch with developments in the outside world in the fifth century bce is the fact that many of Gotama Buddha’s aristocratic contemporaries from the Maghada area are said by the Pali commentaries to have been educated 1000 kilometres from home in Taxila, the only verifiable Achaemenid satrapy in India during the period, rather than in older educational centres nearer home such as Varanasi/Benares. This would seem to support the idea of a close relationship with the multinational culture of Achaemenid Persia. The information again comes from G.P. Malasekera’s authoritative “Buddhist Dictionary of Pali Proper Names.” He writes; “The Commentaries mention that in the Buddha’s day, also, princes and other eminent men received their training at Takkasilā. Pasenadi, king of Kosala, Mahāli, chief of the Licchavis, and Bandhula, prince of the Mallas, were classmates in the university of Takkasilā (DhA.i.337). Among others described as being students of Takkasilā are Jīvaka, Angulimāla, Dhammapāla of Avanti, Kanhadinna, Bhāradvāja and Yasadatta (q.v.).” http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/t/takkasilaa.htm

    Reply
    1. Richard Seaford Post author

      This information is very interesting. Taxila may also have been a conduit for coinage. But is there any evidence in early Buddhist texts of intellectual influence from the Achaemenid empire? I do not mean Greece. Some eastern Greeks were under Persian control in the early fifth century, but the distance of Ephesos from Taxila is enormous.

      Reply
  4. Angus Cargill

    RS: But is there any evidence in early Buddhist texts of intellectual influence from the Achaemenid empire?
    AC: Not much more than one might expect from cultures that shared a common mythology..Intellectual influences seem to be mainly Greek, specifically of the philosophers most prominent in 480 when the closest contact occurred, Pythagoras and Heraclitus. The influence from Persia is mainly artistic and iconographic, and can be clearly seen in early Buddhist sculpture and architecture.
    RS: Some eastern Greeks were under Persian control in the early fifth century, but the distance of Ephesos from Taxila is enormous.
    AC: Indeed,and even greater to Athens, but, according to Herodotus, it didn’t stop Indian cavalry, archers and charioteers from two regions of India taking part in the sack of Athens in 480 and Plataea in 479, and (according to Malalasekera) decorating their halls with Greek statues. Communications in Achaemenid Persia were efficiently managed.

    Reply
    1. Richard Seaford Post author

      RS But is not the early Buddhist sculpture and architecture much later than the fifth century BCE? The Achaemenid empire was well ordered for tribute and military movement, and I am not denying that it influenced India. But there is no evidence of Greek and Indian thinkers having any contact with each other in this period (Pythagoras was of course said, incredibly, to have visited almost everywhere), other than the similarities of doctrine, which is evidence for influence only if we suppose that similarity must mean influence (if so, did the Greeks and Chinese of the fifth century BCE influence each other?). See my first post for the full argument (I would welcome exposure of any weakness in it).

      Reply
      1. Angus Cargill

        It’s a perfectly reasonable argument in theory to say that there is no hard evidence of any contact between Greek and Indian thinkers, and therefore no influence can have taken place. The weakness in that argument, however, is fourfold. 1) That literally every major innovation in Indian philosophy has a precedent in Greece/Ionia which can be dated to the period immediately before 480, and that contemporary dating of the Upanishads (early 5th century onwards) and early Buddhism (mid fifth century onwards) would support this. There is literally no major doctrine in early Buddhism or the Upanishads that is not found in 6th-5th century Greek thought, taking a line from Anaximander to Heraclitus. I used to think that the only innovation in the Buddha’s teaching was Nirvana as a state of being beyond life or death, but even that is foreseen in Heraclitus fr 123 Ἔνθαδε ἐόντας ἐπανίστασθαι καὶ φύλακας γίνεσθαι ἐγερτὶ ζώντων καὶ νεκρῶν. 2) What we can deduce about the religious organisation of the Buddhist order and the Sramana movement in India parallels what we can deduce about early Pythagoreanism very precisely, 3) That while there are close parallels between Greek philosophy of the 480s and Indian thought, the similarities end there and, beginning with Parmenides and Empedocles, diminish. 4) The innovations in 5th century Indian thought are brought about by precisely the military Khattiya/Ksatriya caste that was in close contact with Greeks both in 480 and before (sack of Athens, Persepolis archives etc..), and for example the Buddha was well aware of Greeks and may have seen Greek statues as a child, according to early Buddhist tradition as described by Malalasekera. http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/y/yonaa.htm
        In my judgement the evidence for a transfer of ideas is so overwhelming that there is no need to find the specific characters involved. Religious philosophy is just another of the influences that flowed west after the incorporation of N.India into the Achaemenid sphere of influence. An analogy suggests itself with art. Yes, there is a gap of 200 years or so between imagery in stone in Persepolis and similar imagery emerging in India (in the earliest manifestations of Indian art), but the parallels are so clear that we are justified in suggesting that this may be due to Indians using wood rather than stone in the intervening period, because as soon as stone is carved, there are the images from Persia adapted and re-formulated for Indian purposes. A similar process took place with the religious philosophy of Greece in 480, in my view anyway.
        By the way, I am a Buddhist married to a Tibetan, and my original interest in this topic was to justify the old idea about Pythagoras getting his ideas from India, but annoyingly the facts got in the way!

        Reply
        1. Richard Seaford Post author

          Thanks for this interesting contribution. I will give it the response it deserves when I get the time (in the next few days).

          Reply
          1. Angus Cargill

            Thank you. Just a brief footnote if I may. The problem I have found in both researching and discussing this topic is that secondary sources are virtually non-existent. As far as I am aware no-one with sufficient knowledge of Achaemenid history and 6th/5th century Indian and Greek philosophy has yet analysed this topic. Even reading secondary sources about Heraclitus, Pythagoras, the Achaemenids, the Upanishads and early Buddhism isn’t particularly useful, because, for example, who is going to analyse Heraclitus as the source of Buddhist philosophy, or commentaries on early Buddhist sutras in Pali for indications of contact with 5th century Greece? So getting anywhere with this topic, in my opinion, requires a lonely slog through source texts and the re-analysis and comparison of their contents. A complex and lengthy process indeed, but I am delighted that at long last I have found someone who is interested in it.

          2. Richard Seaford Post author

            I take your point about the early Buddhist sutras. Perhaps this project, and our July conference, may help to reduce the loneliness for some determined researcher. There is secondary literature on the topic, but it is by individuals, whereas the theme requires co-ordinated research by specialists in the different areas.

        2. Richard Seaford Post author

          But you are assuming that similarities of ideas or of organisation must mean influence. There are plenty of examples of such similarities where influence is impossible (rather than, as in this case, just extremely unlikely). Are you really assuming that the Pythagoreans organised themselves on the Sramana model (or vice-versa)? Did they really need that model? Once one adopts a holistic approach, andsees that similarity in socio-economic development (urbanisation, commercialisation, monetisation) tends to have similar intellectual consequences, the whole subject, it seems me, becomes much more interesting (and explicable). Influence is an easier and much more popular kind of explanation. But when we ask why and how it occurred (e.g. what on earth would induce a fifth-century Greek group to model itself on an Indian group thousands of miles away (or vice-versa)?), it all becomes less credible.

          Reply
          1. Angus Cargill

            RS: Once one adopts a holistic approach, and sees that similarity in socio-economic development (urbanisation, commercialisation, monetisation) tends to have similar intellectual consequences, the whole subject, it seems me, becomes much more interesting (and explicable).
            AC: That would certainly be a plausible theory if it worked, but the problem with it is that Indian society and Greek society of this period are fundamentally different. Literacy, money, cities and international trade seem to have arrived in Indo-European speaking India during or after the Achaemenid period, whereas most of the equivalent developments had taken place in the eastern Mediterranean hundreds of years previously. Furthermore, I am not aware of any example of this theory working in practice. The Achaemenids, for example, did not adopt detailed aspects of Greek philosophy while adopting money, writing, cities and international trade during this period. If anything, they sought to identify their difference by adopting different philosophical attitudes from those of their vassals.
            RS: But when we ask why and how it occurred (e.g. what on earth would induce a fifth-century Greek group to model itself on an Indian group thousands of miles away (or vice-versa)?), it all becomes less credible.
            AC: Well, how it could plausibly have occurred is fairly clear. There were significant contacts between elite Greeks and Indians during the period and these are documented. Why is another issue. One explanation might be social rivalry. The authors of the Upanishads and the followers of the Buddha tended to be divided socially and to some extent geographically between followers of traditional Brahminism and more reform-minded members of the higher castes, led by Kshatriyas like the Buddha. Therefore one could see new religious ideas and the social change that accompanied them as part of the development of society in India during the period. One can certainly see Buddhism at a later stage of Indian history, and the later development of “Hinduism” as influenced by the political considerations of India’s rulers, (it is quite difficult to find a major world religion that was not significantly influenced by political change), and there is no reason why this could not have been a factor during fifth century India too.

          2. Richard Seaford Post author

            AC: There were significant contacts between elite Greeks and Indians during the period and these are documented’
            RS: What documentation are you referring to?

  5. Angus Cargill

    On scholarship relating to the economic and urban development of society in early N.India Bailey and Mabbett in “The Sociology of Early Buddhism” have this to say, which I think is helpful for comparison with the Mediterranean region;
    “When we inspect the quality of the evidence category by category with an eye on its chronology, it is necessary to realize that even by the period 600–400 bce, we do not yet confront convincing evidences of mature urbanization with the sorts of sophisticated technical developments we might expect, especially from sources like the Vinaya and some other parts of the canon. Several scholars have drawn attention to the absence of many of the features normally associated with urban civilization until relatively late. A. K. Sinha has pointed out that most of the features of full-fledged urbanization do not turn out (despite some earlier claims) to belong to the period before the fifth century bce.15 R. S. Sharma identifies as a major stage of cultural progress the Mauryan period, when there were advances in the numbers of coins, iron tools and burned brick buildings, and the appearance of tiles and ring-wells.16 Erdosy speaks of a third-century boost in urbanization, with baked bricks, elaborate sanitation, town planning, monumental religious architecture, and writing.17 Niharranjan Ray, reminding us that Pali literature is not useful as evidence for urbanization even for some centuries after the Buddha, argues that urbanization proper needs to be dated to the Mauryan period, built upon Nanda dynasty fourth-century foundations, as well as the probable impact of Hellenic culture mediated by Alexander’s campaign.”

    Reply
    1. Richard Seaford Post author

      Bailey and Mabbett (79) quote with approval the results of the archaeologist Erdosy, who states that period 550-400 BCE (in the region containing Kausambi) ‘shows an exceptionally high increase in size, and therefore in population growth . . clearly we are seeing rapid political and economic centralisation’, which included ‘towns providing a full complement of manufacturing activities.’ Especially controversial, and important for our project, is the date of the earliest Indian coins.

      Reply
      1. Angus Cargill

        Moving on from what you say about coinage, of which the earliest verifiable examples are from the fourth century*,the archaelogical record in general, as well as most of the detail, seems to indicate that the major changes in N.Indian society took place at around the same time as the major changes in thought, i.e. in the fifth and fourth centuries, after exposure to the Achaemenid Empire and Greek civilisation. As to documentation of contacts, the voyage of Skylax (and its traces in Greek literature showing knowledge of Sri Lanka etc..) is clearly an example of contact, as is the invasion of Greece and the sack of Athens, the Persepolis Fortification Archives and the citations of Greeks in the Pali canon (and the commentaries on it) translated by Malalasekera. It is reasonable to suppose that none of these contacts could have taken place without interpreters, who were common in the Achaemenid Empire. I think in order to assess something of the impact of this contact between N.India and the outside world it might be helpful to imagine an Indian charioteer, archer or cavalryman from a society such as is described by Bailey and Mabbett with its baked mud architecture and absence of literacy marching west via the fabulous cities, temples, gold coins and palaces of Persia, Mesopotamia and Asia Minor as far as Athens, through the deserted city with the Acropolis burning above him, and, after wintering in and around Thebes, taking back statues abandoned by the citizens as souvenirs, as is cited by Malalasekera in the commentary to the Pali canon. What really stretches credulity for me is supposing that these events, and other contacts, might not have had an impact on the leaders of Indian society of that era. The only question is what that contact entailed, and a detailed comparison of religious philosophy, as well as architectural techniques etc.. seems to provide plausible answers to that question.

        * “J. Cribb, identifying the errors that inspired some scholars to date Indian coins to earlier times,
        concludes that the earliest Indian coins, the various punch-marked silver issues, originated in
        the Gandh¯ara area from imitations of Greek coins early in the fourth century bc, and that
        developments from these soon took place in the Ganges valley during the same century. See
        J. Cribb, ‘Dating India’s earliest coins’, in J. Schotsmans and M. Taddei (eds.), South Asian
        Archaeology 1983 (Istituto Universitario Orientale, Naples, 1985), vol. i, pp. 535–54.” (Mabbett, Bailey p 57)

        Reply
        1. Richard Seaford Post author

          RS: Skylax sailed down the Indus and got to Suez: he went nowhere near the Ganges, moreover he was an explorer and there is no reason to suppose that he talked to Indians about philosophy. The Persepolis texts merely show (unsurprisingly) that there were Indians in Persia. Participating in Xerxes’ vast ill-fated expedition to Greece is hardly a context for the exchange of philosophical ideas with the enemy. What is striking is that nowhere in the pre-326BCE reports of India (including Herodotus and Ctesias) is there any reference to an idea, not even in the many references to India in Aristotle, just as in not one of the Indian texts of this period is there any reference to Greece, unless you are right about the Pali canon. I would be amazed if there any references to Greece in the Pali canon that can be dated before 326 BCE, but I would love to be proved wrong!

          Reply
  6. Angus Cargill

    RS: Skylax sailed down the Indus and got to Suez: he went nowhere near the Ganges, moreover he was an explorer and there is no reason to suppose that he talked to Indians about philosophy.
    AC: Not that it makes a huge difference either way, but there is a convincing series of papers by Panchenko which argues that Skylax may have sailed via the Ganges, and his thesis is supported by the evidence of early Buddhist scriptures which Panchenko did not take into account (details below). His voyage led to the opening up of India to a wide range of cultural influences in the ensuing period such as coinage, architecture, literacy etc.., and by adopting the same methodology as has been used in relation to these, religious philosophy can neatly be added to the list. Nobody knows exactly who it was who transmitted writing or coinage to India, but that it happened, and as the result of outside influence, is in very little doubt amongst scholars.

    RS: The Persepolis texts merely show (unsurprisingly) that there were Indians in Persia.
    AC: And other evidence shows that they fought in Persian armies alongside Greek subjects of Persia, and Greek mercenaries, up to and including the defeat at Gaugamela. Plenty of scope for cultural transmission there.
    RS: Participating in Xerxes’ vast ill-fated expedition to Greece is hardly a context for the exchange of philosophical ideas with the enemy.
    AC: There are several examples of leading Persians interacting and holding discussions with Greek-speakers in Herodotus. Artemisia and the man from Orchomenos who feasted the Persian officers before Plataea are but two examples. It was only the southern Greeks that were the “enemy.” Most of the Greek population, including one of the two chief sources for the philosophical changes of 5th century India, Heraclitus (who was living in one of the chief Persian naval bases, Ephesos), were loyal(-ish) Persian vassals. Furthermore, this was the period following the anti-Pythagorean riots in Magna Graecia, when Pythagoreans re-settled in mainland Greece. Thebes, the ultra-loyal Persian ally where the Persian army was based from time to time, was one of their destinations. The Indians who survived (probably from the same families as those we see in Persepolis and Susa) would have been in Greek-speaking territory for almost two years all told.
    RS: … unless you are right about the Pali canon. I would be amazed if there any references to Greece in the Pali canon that can be dated before 326 BCE, but I would love to be proved wrong!
    AC: Here we go! There are two clear dateable references to Greeks, one from the Canon, the other from the Commentary. The first is in the Assalāyana Sutta (M.ii.149) of the Majjhima Nikaya, in which the Buddha (whom Buddhologists would say died between 410 and 360) explains the difference between Greek and Indian social structures. The other is in the Majjhima Nikaya commentary, which states that ” Yonaka, statues, holding lamps, were among the decorations used by the Sākiyans of Kapilavatthu (MA.ii.575).” This can be dated to the period before the Buddha’s death (i.e. c.400) because Kapilavatthu was sacked, and the Sakya dispersed, before that time (the Buddha speaks of them living in the Himalayas before his death. This passage, which seems to refer to statues of Hecate transported from Greece to the Buddha’s own home, will be central to my presentation to the International Association of Buddhist Studies quadrennial conference in Vienna this August.
    There is one other reference to Greeks in the Pali Canon which, intriguingly, seems to have come from Pythagorean sources, although this cannot be securely dated.. “The Anguttara Commentary (AA.i.51) records that from the time of Kassapa Buddha the Yonakas went about clad in white robes, because of the memory of the religion which was once prevalent there.” This is suggestive, while the other references are conclusive, but the summary must surely be that knowledge of Greek culture existed publicly, and was discussed and propagated among elites, in the eastern Ganges valley, in Maghada, precisely the area where the religious and philosophical change took place, around 100 years before Alexander. Admittedly, I am not aware of any references to Indian culture in Greek sources pre-Alexander, but the situation is markedly different from the Indian side, where the references are in unimpeachable source texts. The internet references are available here;
    The historically verifiable references; http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/y/yonaa.htm
    The Assalayana Sutta; http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.093.than.html
    The connection between the Ganges principalities and the Persian satrapy at Taxila in support of Panchenko’s thesis; http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/t/takkasilaa.htm
    In conclusion, I really think that if this, and other, historical material is taken in conjunction with the general direction of the flow of ideas in this period, and above all, the uncanny nature of the Pythagorean and Heraclitean parallels, there is no doubt that transmission did take place, and on an impressive scale. The sheer weight of the circumstantial evidence, as in the case of other reforms of the 5th century in India such as coinage, literacy etc.. is so great that no other conclusion can reasonably be arrived at, if the evidence is carefully reviewed.

    Reply
  7. Angus Cargill

    Here’s the Assalayana quote (the Sutta’s rather a long one) Yana and Kamboja probably refer to Ionia and Persia, but even if not Yana is one of the words for Greeks in the Canonical era. The Buddha is unlikely to have left the Ganges, so the information must have come to him from an Indian who had travelled, possibly in the army, as he was from a military/noble family.
    “What do you think, Assalayana? Have you heard that in Yana & Kamboja and other outlying countries there are only two castes — masters & slaves — and that having been a master one (can) become a slave, and that having been a slave one (can) become a master?”

    Reply
  8. Angus Cargill

    There are two more early, but undateable references from non-Buddhist Sanskrit literature, one from Panini, who many would date pre-Alexander, and the other from the Mahabharata, which many would see in the same light.
    The Mahabharata quote (Bk.8, Clay Sanskrit Library p.447) is taken from a Brahmin’s speech to Karna in which he states: “The Greeks are experts in everything, king, as are the Shuras above all. Barbarians are focused upon their own conceptions; other people don’t understand their strange speech.” I wish I could work out what type of Greek a “Shura” might be.
    The Panini reference is in Narain’s “Indo-Greeks” Intro p.1 (I think it’s out of print so I’d be happy to email you a copy of the passage if you wish) He states:
    “The date of Panini, the Sanskrit grammarian, is still controversial. But, in the general consensus of scholarly opinion, he is placed much before Alexander.He was an inhabitant of Salatura in the vicinity of Taxila. In his Ashdhayayi he states that the feminine form of Yavana is Yavanani This latter form according to Katyayana denoted the Greek writing, yavanallipyam. It is reasonable to suppose that Panini knew of their script, that his knowledge of the.Yavanas was not mere hearsay, and that the people known by this name may well have inhabited some area near his homeland.”
    This quote appears in an extended defence of the thesis that Greeks were settled on the Indian frontier pre-Alexander, and he also uses the Mahabharata passage, Arrian and Curtius to support his argument.

    Reply
    1. Richard Seaford Post author

      I am reading Bronkhorst’s impressive Greater Maghada (2007), in which he refers (p.177) to recent research which ‘has shown that Panini must be dated in or after the middle of the fourth century BCE.’ And we certainly cannot say that a passage of the Mahabharata is pre-Alexander. The same goes for sayings attributed to the Buddha. And the idea that Skylax sailed down the Ganges is a delightful fantasy (though I will repent if presented with a piece of genuine evidence).
      But I agree that people in the Ganges area in the fourth century might well have heard of the Greeks. This does not mean that they were (secretly, without ever saying so) influenced by their ideas. Were the Chinese of this period influenced by the Greeks?

      Reply
      1. Angus Cargill

        RS: I am reading Bronkhorst’s impressive Greater Maghada (2007), in which he refers (p.177) to recent research which ‘has shown that Panini must be dated in or after the middle of the fourth century BCE.’
        AC: Well, that makes him pre- or contemporary with Alexander, and many scholars would make him pre-.
        RS: And we certainly cannot say that a passage of the Mahabharata is pre-Alexander.
        AC: We can say that it is likely, though, because much of the Mahabharata is pre-Alexander.
        RS: The same goes for sayings attributed to the Buddha.
        AC: If that is the case, then nothing in ancient, and much in modern history, becomes a fantasy, and a great deal of evidence previously seen as sound has to be discarded. The Buddha is universally accepted as having lived before Alexander, and much, if not all, of the Pali Canon as representing his sayings closely.
        RS:And the idea that Skylax sailed down the Ganges is a delightful fantasy (though I will repent if presented with a piece of genuine evidence).
        AC: Panchenko’s papers, “Skylax’ Circumnavigation of India and Its Interpretation in Early Greek Geography, Ethnography and Cosmography I and II’ which analyse classical authors, are available on the Hyperboreus website http://www.bibliotheca-classica.org/en/node/128 and can be found in Vol 4 Fasc 2, Vol 8 Fasc 1 and Vol 9 Fasc 2.
        RS: But I agree that people in the Ganges area in the fourth century might well have heard of the Greeks. This does not mean that they were (secretly, without ever saying so) influenced by their ideas.
        AC: So they had heard of the Greeks, reproduced their ideas almost to the letter in their philosophy (while reproducing coinage and writing from the same empire by the same process of diffusion), and this all happened independently without any other identifiable source?
        RS: Were the Chinese of this period influenced by the Greeks?
        AC: No, because they did not have the extensive and documented historical contact with Greek civilisation experienced by India during the period.

        Reply
        1. Richard Seaford Post author

          RS. I am enjoying the exchange, but we will have to agree to disagree! See below my responses to your responses.

          RS: I am reading Bronkhorst’s impressive Greater Maghada (2007), in which he refers (p.177) to recent research which ‘has shown that Panini must be dated in or after the middle of the fourth century BCE.’
          AC: Well, that makes him pre- or contemporary with Alexander, and many scholars would make him pre-.
          RS: No! it makes him pre- or contemporary or post- But I agree anyway that of course the Indians could have heard of the Greeks pre-Alexander.

          RS: And we certainly cannot say that a passage of the Mahabharata is pre-Alexander.
          AC: We can say that it is likely, though, because much of the Mahabharata is pre-Alexander.
          RS: See my other response

          RS: The same goes for sayings attributed to the Buddha.
          AC: If that is the case, then nothing in ancient, and much in modern history, becomes a fantasy, and a great deal of evidence previously seen as sound has to be discarded. The Buddha is universally accepted as having lived before Alexander, and much, if not all, of the Pali Canon as representing his sayings closely.
          RS: Yes the Buddha lived before Alexander, but the Pali canon was not written down before the first century BCE. It is a common practice to legitimate views by attributing them to the master. Some of the Pali canon may have been uttered by the Buddha (surely not ‘all’!), but you can never say of any particular passage ‘this was certainly uttered by the Buddha (or ‘this is pre-Alexander’), which is what your argument about the Greeks requires. Numerous scholars are aware of this.

          RS:And the idea that Skylax sailed down the Ganges is a delightful fantasy (though I will repent if presented with a piece of genuine evidence).
          AC: Panchenko’s papers, “Skylax’ Circumnavigation of India and Its Interpretation in Early Greek Geography, Ethnography and Cosmography I and II’ which analyse classical authors, are available on the Hyperboreus website http://www.bibliotheca-classica.org/en/node/128 and can be found in Vol 4 Fasc 2, Vol 8 Fasc 1 and Vol 9 Fasc 2.
          RS: I suspect you can save me from a wild goose chase by presenting me with a compelling piece of evidence from the article.

          RS: But I agree that people in the Ganges area in the fourth century might well have heard of the Greeks. This does not mean that they were (secretly, without ever saying so) influenced by their ideas.
          AC: So they had heard of the Greeks, reproduced their ideas almost to the letter in their philosophy
          RS: ‘Almost to the letter’. Certainly not. There are some fascinating similarities but the differences are enormous. We could discuss a specific example, if you like. The example you gave of there being Nirvana in Herakleitos? Are you seriously saying that the idea of Nirvana came from Herakleitos?

          RS: Were the Chinese of this period influenced by the Greeks?
          AC: No, because they did not have the extensive and documented historical contact with Greek civilisation experienced by India during the period.
          RS: I agree about China. But how then do we explain the similarities between Greek and Chinese thought in this period? What exactly is wrong with a degree of parallel autonomous development of ideas? especially as ‘extensive and documented historical contact (of India) with Greek civilisation during this period’ just did not exist!

          Reply
  9. Angus Cargill

    I hope you will excuse a short footnote on the Mahabharata quote: not only is the epic normally considered to be well before Alexander, normally being classed by scholars in the Upanishad/Veda dating zone, but it may be important that the “sarvajña Yavanā,” “the Greeks are experts in everything” is spoken by a Brahmin to a King. Given that Brahmin expertise is religion, this would normally have been understood, in the context of high Indian literature, as a reference to the kind of gnosis in which the Brahmin caste specialised. Given also that Greeks cannot have memorised the only knowledge Brahmins considered worth having, the Vedas, before meeting, or becoming known to, Brahmins, this could be seen as referring to approval by the Brahmins (they tended to stick together pretty closely) of Greek expositions of the kind of knowledge in which they specialised. Thus, in ancient Indian literature likely to be before Alexander, not only do we have references to Greek art, society, religion, geographical location, language and hairstyles, but approval of their religious knowledge. I think this is unique in any culture of the period, let alone one so geographically remote from the Aegean.

    Reply
    1. Richard Seaford Post author

      ‘Normally considered’? Certainly not. See e.g. the overview in Bronkhorst Greater Maghada 94-7. The Mahabharata contains material from different periods, and so you cannot say of a particular passage ‘this is pre-Alexander’ unless you have a good reason specific to that passage for doing so.

      Reply
  10. Angus Cargill

    RS: ‘Almost to the letter’. Certainly not. There are some fascinating similarities but the differences are enormous.
    AC: I am not myself aware of what these differences, on major issues, are. I know it sounds a little dramatic, but if you examine the doctrines closely in source text form, you will not be able to cite a significant innovative doctrine in either the Pali scriptures or the Upanishads that is not precisely predicted in Pythagoras and Heraclitus, or has a precedent in the older Indian scriptures. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Spalding Professor of Eastern Religion and Ethics at Oxford, 1936-52 and the second President of India. who had carried out this work for Pythagoras, stated:
    …It is true that some of the earliest Schools of Greek philosophy exhibit characteristics which bear striking resemblances to Indian modes of thought. It would therefore not be surprising if Pythagoras or some other Greek philosophers of this early period had travelled to India. But there is no historical evidence of such a visit. It has, however, been generally recognized that the philosophy of Pythagoras contains elements which are characteristically Indian. If we describe his philosophy without mentioning his name, a student of Indian philosophy could easily mistake it to be the account of an Indian philosopher. How and why this was so remains one of the unsolved problems of the history of philosophy.”(1957, History of Philosophy, Eastern and Western, Vol. 1) Radhakrishnan’s “historical evidence” now seems to point the other way, with the improvement in knowledge of Indian history that has taken place in the intervening period.
    RS:‘Normally considered’? Certainly not.
    AC: If there is to be any analysis at all of any aspect of Indian history, some dating has to be made, and Bronkhorst, who is by no means the only historian of early India, although one of the better ones, would agree that it is reasonable to ascribe much of the Mahabharata and the Pali canon to the pre-Alexander era. Using your approach, we could also say that the Rig Veda and the Upanishads are post-Alexander, or indeed make virtually any other statement about history that suited our theoretical position.
    RS: Are you seriously saying that the idea of Nirvana came from Herakleitos?
    AC: The idea was there in a developed form in Herakleitos, and as any unbiased observer would conclude, the means, motive and opportunity were there for it, and the other major doctrines of 5th century India, to be derived from Greek philosophy in 480 bce. Anyone who has read the scholarship and the source texts on Nirvana and the causes of attaining it, and then reads these three fragments cannot fail to be struck by how closely these fragments resemble the Buddha’s teaching on this topic: I hope my translation is not too wide of the mark. It basically agrees with other translators of the fragments.
    “121 Ἦθος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων.
    man’s ethos is his fate
    122 Ἀνθρώπους μένει τελευτήσαντας ἅσσα οὐκ ἔλπονται οὐδὲ δοκέουσι.
    what awaits them they neither imagine nor expect
    123 Ἔνθαδε ἐόντας ἐπανίστασθαι καὶ φύλακας γίνεσθαι ἐγερτὶ ζώντων καὶ νεκρῶ
    Thither they arise and become the active guardians of the living and the dead.”
    Although with greater and lesser levels of detail, and taking this type of similarity is paralleled by all the other major developments in Indian thought in the period.
    RS:What exactly is wrong with a degree of parallel autonomous development of ideas? especially as ‘extensive and documented historical contact (of India) with Greek civilisation during this period’ just did not exist!
    AC: There are numerous flaws in this argument, but to take the ones that strike me as most important;
    1) There is no evidence that the similarities in religious and philosophical ideas in India and Greece emerged as the result of similar social conditions.Social conditions in Greece and India at the period were entirely dissimilar.
    2) There is no evidence (as there is for Pythagoras and Heraclitus in Ionia) of a previous development of thought leading to the sudden changes in thought that took place in 5th century India.
    3) The parallels between thought, which extend almost to the point of phraseology in some cases are too close to have been coincidental.
    4) There is a lack of major religious and philosophical ideas in the Upanishads that cannot be found in 6th-5th century Greece.
    5) There are numerous other examples of the transmission of ideas and technologies taking place from the outside world into India during this period, and the methodology for ascribing these developments in India to outside influence would, if applied to philosophy, lead any reasonable and well-informed scholar with the data available for making such comparisons to conclude that a similar process took place in the field of ideas. However, central to this is that there is someone who has a detailed textual knowledge of the Upanishads and the Pali Canon, and is able to apply that to Greek philosophy of the 6th and 5th.
    6) The philosophical and religious parallels extend beyond ideas to (in the case of the similarities between Pythagoras’ and the Buddha’s religious orders) to matters of administration and organisation.

    In conclusion, while a case for transmission is not flawless, the case for autonomous development has a great deal less evidence to support it (so far I have found none, and seen none presented, although it may exist), and most scholars making similar “autonomous vs transmission” judgements in relation to other matters, such as coinage and writing scripts, have concluded that transmission is clearly more likely.

    Reply
    1. Richard Seaford Post author

      I disagree completely with every single word that you write! It is in itself interesting that there can be such fundamental disagreement on such a fundamental issue. Others may try to mediate.

      Reply
  11. Angus Cargill

    I was wrong…there is one major doctrine in the early Upanishads which is not foreseen in Herakleitos or Pythagoras, and that is. of course, “the Imperishable” in BHU 3.8 (Olivelle 89-93) which is a clear re-casting of Anaximander’s Apeiron. However, I think my general point is unaffected.

    Reply
  12. Angus Cargill

    RS: I disagree completely with every single word that you write!
    AC: With reasoned arguments? I think it might have been useful to have debated at least one of the matters raised in detail. The scope was pretty wide, after all!

    Reply
    1. Richard Seaford Post author

      OK, let us take one. I do not see Nirvana in the fragments you quote of Herakleitos. You could explain first what you understand by Nirvana, and then how it is there in Herakleitos.

      Reply
  13. Angus Cargill

    Many thanks. The first point, covered by Ἦθος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων is that the state of perfection (Arhant, Bodhisattva) for a Buddhist is so much not that you do the right thing according to any particular set of rules (although you have to act ethically to reach the state of perfection.) There is room for a perfected one to act differently in different circumstances, but the central issue is that their ethos, bearing or heart-condition is correct. It is the old “Beyond good and evil” state in which a person just cannot do the wrong thing because his ethos is such as to prevent him doing it, and this ethos, as we see below, survives beyond the death of the body.
    The second point, covered by Ἀνθρώπους μένει τελευτήσαντας ἅσσα οὐκ ἔλπονται οὐδὲ δοκέουσι, is that in Buddhism nirvana is something which is unknowable (and indeed never explained by the Buddha) and must not be hoped for. Basically, in the Pali Canon the Buddha refuses to explain what the state of nirvana involves, other than that it is neither life nor death, and Buddhists still tend not to speculate about exactly what it involves. It is more an absence of suffering, which is of course one of Herakleitos’ main themes.* However, in order to reach nirvana, you have to eschew desire to the extent of not desiring to enter the state of nirvana. Attractive though it may be, and it is praised by the Buddha’s followers in various ways, it can only be entered by someone who has total equanimity, including equanimity about his fate.
    The third point, covered by Ἔνθαδε ἐόντας ἐπανίστασθαι καὶ φύλακας γίνεσθαι ἐγερτὶ ζώντων καὶ νεκρῶ, is that nirvana is a form of life. You do not die to get to nirvana, because that would involve rebirth. You live in this mysterious state eternally. So your body dies, but you are ἐπανίστασθαι, your consciousness enters another state of being, γίνεσθαι. There is some doubt in my mind about how φύλακας … ἐγερτὶ ζώντων καὶ νεκρῶ fits in with early Buddhism, but certainly the notion that a Bodhisattva, or indeed someone in nirvana is in a sense a protector of Buddhists is thoroughly orthodox. Now of course in Buddhism is all developed, elaborated and expanded, but the core of the drama of how a person reaches nirvana is clearly there. Add this to perhaps another twenty or more examples of equally crisp and significant similarities, and the grounds for coincidence diminish rapidly.
    Finally, who was Herakleitos? A prince who renounced his throne in order to take up the life of a renunciant half a century before the Buddha was born. It takes some getting used to, I know, but there it is. Research has a funny way of taking us in unexpected directions.
    * As for cyclical suffering (and the Buddha’s teachings on the repulsiveness of the body), has it ever been better summarised than by these fragments? 85 Νέκυες κοπρίων ἐκβλητότεροι.86 Γενόμενοι ζώειν ἐθέλουσι μόρους τ’ ἔχειν· μᾶλλον δὲ ἀναπαύεσθαι, καὶ παῖδας καταλείπουσι μόρους γενέσθαι.

    Reply
    1. Richard Seaford Post author

      Here is a thoroughly mainstream definition of nirvana. Do you accept it? Where is it in Herakleitos?

      The word literally means “blowing out” or “extinguishing” and refers to the event or process of the extinction of desire, aversion, and delusion, and the accompanying liberation from samsara.

      Reply
  14. Angus Cargill

    Sure, that’s a good definition, although aversion could perhaps be better rendered as “equanimity” (of which in the sense used Buddhism it is the opposite). However, the matters the definition above refers to, the metaphor of the extinguishing of the flame of existence in samsara and the desire and delusion that fuels it are central to Herakleitos’ thought. I hope you will excuse a thorough, but nonetheless concise treatment of the ramifications of nirvana, (it has been treated at book-length elsewhere, e.g. Collins 1998) I will divide my explanation into three headings; a) samsara as the cause of suffering. b) fire as a metaphor for existence (because that is the metaphor the Buddha uses for life in samsara,) c) the role of desire, or craving, as the cause of that continued existence. d) Aversion and delusion as the principal problems to be addressed.

    a) Samsara, as cyclical existence of which suffering is the inevitable corollary, is foreseen in Fr. 86 quoted above. Γενόμενοι ζώειν ἐθέλουσι μόρους τ’ ἔχειν· μᾶλλον δὲ ἀναπαύεσθαι, καὶ παῖδας καταλείπουσι μόρους γενέσθαι. However, it is also present in 89, Ex homine in tricennio potest avus haberi. There are several other refences to samsara/cyclical existence, and other examples are 68, Ψυχῇσι γὰρ θάνατος ὕδωρ γενέσθαι, ὕδατι δὲ θάνατος γῆν γενέσθαι· ἐκ γῆς δὲ ὕδωρ γίνεται, ἐξ ὕδατος δὲ ψυχή and 22 Πυρὸς ἀνταμείβεται πάντα καὶ πῦρ ἁπάντων, ὥσπερ χρυσοῦ χρήματα καὶ χρημάτων χρυσός.

    b) The notion of existence as fire underlies the nirvana metaphor, and this also pervades the fragments. Fire used as a the metaphor for existence underlying the word “nirvana,” has been ascribed to the influence of Herakleitos’ contact with Zoroastrianism, and this may be correct, although he develops and adapts the Iranian notion of fire as a deity into his own idea of fire as a metaphor for universal cyclical existence. This is the existence we escape in nirvana by the extinction of our flame. The principal passage for this is Frs 20-22, with the extinction of the flame of samsara ( the putting out of which constitutes nirvana etymologically, soteriologically and metaphorically) most clearly seen in 20. Κόσμον τὸν αὐτὸν ἁπάντων οὔτε τις θεῶν οὔτε ἀνθρώπων ἐποίησε, ἀλλ’ ἦν αἰεὶ καὶ ἔστι καὶ ἔσται πῦρ ἀείζωον, ἁπτόμενον μέτρα καὶ ἀποσβεννύμενον μέτρα. 21 Πυρὸς τροπαὶ πρῶτον θάλασσα· θαλάσσης δὲ τὸ μὲν ἥμισυ γῆ, τὸ δὲ ἥμισυ πρηστήρ. and 22 (above).
    Fire, of course, is also used to describe cyclical existence, samsara, in Buddhism. A good example of this is the so-called “Fire Sermon.” the Ādittapariyāya Sutta” (SN 35.28) in which the Buddha teaches “Everything, monks, is burning. What, monks, is everything that is burning?” and proceeds to explain that this burning flame should be extinguished by eradicating desire and delusion, its fuel.

    c) The notion of the fire of existence being extinguished as the result of the “extinction of desire, aversion, and delusion” is less well-developed in Herakleitos, although his notion that desire is central to the problem of life is clearly seen in the fragments. The soul, for example, does not benefit from joy (72 Ψυχῇσι τέρψις ὑγρῇσι γενέσθαι.), or alcohol (73 Ἀνὴρ ὁκότ’ ἂν μεθυσθῇ, ἄγεται ὑπὸ παιδὸς ἀνήβου σφαλλόμενος, οὐκ ἐπαΐων ὅκη βαίνει, ὑγρὴν τὴν ψυχὴν ἔχων), but the clearest indications that desire, as such, is the problem, is found in 104 – 105, Ἀνθρώποισι γίνεσθαι ὁκόσα θέλουσι οὐκ ἄμεινον. νοῦσος ὑγίειαν ἐποίησε ἡδὺ καὶ ἀγαθόν, λιμὸς κόρον, κάματος ἀνάπαυσιν. 105 Θυμῷ μάχεσθαι χαλεπόν· ὅ τι γὰρ ἂν χρηίζῃ γίνεσθαι, ψυχῆς ὠνέεται. Therefore to avoid the death implied in 105, passion must be extinguished

    d) Delusion is a key theme in the fragments, and is caused by a lack of mindfulness.(91 Ξυνόν ἐστι πᾶσι τὸ φρονέειν. ξὺν νόῳ λέγοντας ἰσχυρίζεσθαι χρὴ τῷ ξυνῷ πάντων, ὅκωσπερ νόμῳ πόλις καὶ πολὺ ἰσχυροτέρως. τρέφονται γὰρ πάντες οἱ ἀνθρώπειοι νόμοι ὑπὸ ἑνὸς τοῦ θείου· κρατέει γὰρ τοσοῦτον ὁκόσον ἐθέλει καὶ ἐξαρκέει πᾶσι καὶ περιγίνεται.) and (106-7 Ἀνθρώποισι πᾶσι μέτεστι γιγνώσκειν ἑαυτοὺς καὶ σωφρονεῖν. Σωφρονεῖν ἀρετὴ μεγίστη· καὶ σοφίη ἀληθέα λέγειν καὶ ποιεῖν κατὰ φύσιν ἐπαΐοντας )
    The most important delusions that hamper our liberation and entry into nirvana are i) a sense of self (in Buddhism ‘anatta’) and ii) a sense of the permanence and essentiality of things. Both of these points are dealt with succinctly in 81 Ποταμοῖσι τοῖσι αὐτοῖσι ἐμβαίνομέν τε καὶ οὐκ ἐμβαίνομεν, εἶμέν τε καὶ οὐκ εἶμεν. The unenlightened, in their darkness, are unaware of this fundamental unity, and should wake up to reality. (94-95) Οὐ δεῖ ὥσπερ καθέυδοντας ποιεῖν καὶ λέγειν.τοῖς ἐγρηγορόσιν ἕνα καὶ κοινὸν κόσμον εἶναι, τῶν δὲ κοιμωμένων ἕκαστον εἰς ἴδιον ἀποστρέφεσθαι.
    Delusion can be overcome by a sense of the fundamental unity and non-duality of truth and therefore of understanding (92 Τοῦ λόγου δ’ ἐόντος ξυνοῦ, ζώουσι οἱ πολλοὶ ὡς ἰδίην ἔχοντες φρόνησιν.)

    Reply
    1. Richard Seaford Post author

      But the ideal of ‘extinction of desire, aversion, and delusion’ is simply not there in the well-known fragments of Herakleitos that you cite (your ‘less well-developed’ is a considerable understatement!). True, there are interesting similarities between Herakleitos and Indian thought, some of which I have myself written about, but they certainly do not require the hypothesis of influence. Your hypothesis of influence requires the unspoken premise ‘where there is any similarity of thought, there must be influence’, a premise endlessly contradicted, e.g. by the similarities between Greek and Chinese thought.

      Reply
  15. Angus Cargill

    RS: But the ideal of ‘extinction of desire, aversion, and delusion’ is simply not there.
    AC: Frankly, not only are those aspects clearly present, but so are the status of nirvana, emptiness, non-duality, no-self, ceaseless flux and indeed all the other central aspects of Buddhist and Brahmin thought that pop up fifty years later at the other end of the Persian Royal Road being preached by another royal renunciant who gave up his throne. And that is just the tip of the iceberg if the work of Pythagoras is taken into account, which then covers the whole field in detail. All philosophies contain similarities, but these are historically as well as textually based, and thus fall into a quite different category from the superficial approach espoused by the likes of Mcevilley.

    Reply
  16. Angus Cargill

    The fact that there are a number of historically-reliable indications of contact between Greeks and Indians in Indian literature of the period, in Greek and other sources. The problem here is that the specialist knowledge required to make reasonable judgements of this issue is simply so complex that very little progress can be made at the moment. If Radhakrishnan or Narain were still alive, for example, or someone like Richard Gombrich or Romila Thapar could be brought on board, there you would have people whose knowledge of Indian philosophy and history were up to speed, and (in Radhakrishnan’s case) who had also studied Pythagoras, so all that needed to be done was to expand the study to other Greek philosophers of the period, do the textual analysis and fill in the historical gaps with material from other sources. As it is, however, the gradient of the road to the top of the pass is a little steep One is reminded of the symposia that took place in the 1990s in order to establish the date of the historical Buddha, an equally if not more controversial topic. The amount of specialist knowledge in texts, archaeology, theology and other fields that went into that was stupendous, and a pretty good consensus was arrived at as the result. In this case, from the evidence presented here, there is just too much preliminary research that still needs to be done, and the prospects for lasting progress on this issue do not look promising. If experts in Indian and Greek history and philosophy can be found, and brought together, then, as with the dating of the Buddha, it could be done, but there is no sign of that at the moment.

    Reply
    1. Richard Seaford Post author

      Yes there is still exciting work to be done, but not so as to establish ‘influence’. There is in this period (pre-Alexander) not a single ‘historically-reliable indication of contact between Greeks and Indians’, in any literature.

      Reply
  17. Angus Cargill

    To be honest, almost every Indologist with an academic grounding in the history would accept all of the ones I suggested above, particularly those from the Pali Canon, as reliable. Bhikkhu Anālayo, for example, accepts the reference by the Buddha in the Assalāyana Sutta (M.ii.149) to Greek social customs as an clear indication that Indians learnt about Greek culture on Xerxes expedition 150 years before Alexander. Similarly, the Pali commentary passage about Greek statues, holding lamps, among the decorations used by the Sākyans of Kapilavatthu (MA.ii.575) is undeniable to anyone who has studied the history of the Sākyans. How do you argue against those?

    Reply
    1. Richard Seaford Post author

      I am no expert in this area, but if this is a ‘clear indication’ that ‘Indians’ learnt about Greek culture while trying to hack them to pieces on Xerxes’ brief campaign, then the moon is made of cheese. For the late date of the Assalāyana Sutta see e.g. Bronkhorst, Buddhism in the Shadow of Brahmanism, p. 36.

      Reply
  18. Alexis Pinchard

    Interesting discussion, but in the field of philosophy the notion on “influence”, may it be denied or asserted, is not always relevant. For a real philosopher should think by himself. One receives the influence only if one is internally ready. If I may, I suggest a former contribution on this topic on another research forum:
    “Cross-Cultural versus Internal Wisdom Transmission”
    http://wp.chs.harvard.edu/chs-fellows/author/alexis/

    Reply
    1. Richard Seaford Post author

      The point about being ‘internally ready’ is crucial. Once this is realised, the debate can then become the fruitful one about the conditions for that internal readiness

      Reply
      1. Alexis Pinchard

        Plato did a lot for the important task you describe: the concept of reminiscence is crucial.

        Reply
        1. Richard Seaford Post author

          I recommend the paper that Pinchard cites:

          “Cross-Cultural versus Internal Wisdom Transmission”
          http://wp.chs.harvard.edu/chs-fellows/author/alexis/

          He argues that ‘the transmission destroys the frontiers between cultural areas, so that the question whether such a transmission is cross-cultural or internal doesn’t make sense.’ This needs slight qualification. There can indeed be cross-cultural transmission, as a historical fact, but not as how a tradition envisages itself. And of course external wisdom can be entirely assimilated in this way only if the recipient tradition already has a place for it.

          Reply
  19. Alexis Pinchard

    I agree: we ought to distinguish two view points about the cultural transmission (and especially wisdom transmission), the one of the modern historian, and the one of the tradition itself, which necessarily insists on continuity. But we also have to inquire the dynamic relations between the various levels of a particular culture. Wisdom and quest for metaphysical principles is only a part of a global cultural identity, but is this part the proactive hearth and the very center of every other cultural phenomenon, or a side-effect or a super-structure as Karl Marx or Jean-Pierre Vernant, for example, thought? If the first hypothesis is correct, as I hope (but I am not sure), the internal view point of the wisdom tradition about itself might be not a mere illusion, because by bringing the wisdom practices and doctrines to new individuals (upanayana, teletè), the whole culture is also virtually transmitted, so that it is no longer correct to say that a new wisdom is implemented in a foreign culture. For example, in India, the oral Vedic tradition is now perfectly saved in Kerala, where the most of people are not from “Indo-European origin”. And who could say that Kerala brahmins have taken over a foreign tradition in their Southern culture? The Vedas have brought with them a complete way of life. As soon it is received, the Vedic tradition becomes the core of the cultural identity. Hence Kerala brahmins feel a deep kinship with the mythical Rishis of the Rig-Veda. It is at least phenomenologically true.
    Add another point: we, Western scholars, are used to think in terms of propagation, diffusion, arrival of new elements, or of spontaneous rise of one more cultural feature. The modern idea of progress, inherited from the European Enlightment, is implicitly involved in such a conception. But what about oblivion? Maybe cultural changes appear because many people forget the old wisdom. Change might be not due to “plus”, but to “minus”. This way of thinking is very common in India. But Plato (see the beginning of the Timaeus) and Aristotle were acquaint with it.

    Reply
    1. Richard Seaford

      In ancient Greece and ancient India metaphysics is indeed at the very centre of culture, and not just a ‘side-effect’. At the same time I agree with Vernant and Marx (if he had written more about this!) that metaphysics cannot be fully understood if entirely abstracted from social formation and social process (this makes metaphysics depend in a certain respect on society, but does not make it a mere ‘side-effect’). In fact Vernant was hostile to Marxism (in part perhaps because hostile to the French Communist party) in privileging politics rather than economics in his account of early Greek philosophy. In my book Money and the Early Greek Mind I argue that he (and G.E.R.Lloyd) are in this respect mistaken, as they are mistaken also in entirely ignoring the important role of mystery-cult (in this agree with Pinchard). I agree also that enlightenment models are largely responsible for modern accounts of ‘influence’, that traditions make ‘alien’ influences entirely their own, and that this is not an illusion. However, such appropriation is possible only where permitted by similarity of socio-economic formation. If we look outside Greece in say 400 BCE for a society as urbanised, commercialised and monetised as the Greek polis, we will alight first on India.

      Reply
      1. Alexis Pinchard

        Of course, the use of money implies a great power of abstraction, as Marx has correctly shown at the beginning of his Capital. The diffusion of Buddhism toward Central Asia along the traditional commercial ways to China can be connected with this higher power of abstraction. Maybe the anti-substantial ontology of many Buddhist schools finds an echo in the rising notion of exchange value. But, in the old Upanishads, the ritual fees are measured with cows rather than with metal money and, as far as I know, there is no allusion to urban life in the BAU or in the ChU. The ideal of the aashrama is even connected with forest and a lonely life. Brahmins are supposed to hate money (on the normative level!!). The kings and princes do not appear in their palace or in the middle of the people gathered in the town. On this point there is a sharp contrast with Heraclitus, Empedocles from Agrigente and Socrates. Indeed I feel like to explain the differences between early Indian and early Greek philosophies through the socio-political contexts of both rather than the common features! At least we could say that, in Greece as well in India, the traditional “Indo-European” wisdom background (or, better, the sapiential center of Indo-European poetry and ritual, implying mental performances and questions endowed with a universal value rather than implying any fixed doctrine) had to face the same social change as a problem, during the Axial Age (see Karl Jaspers); but each culture found a different solution. And even a single culture split while facing such a difficult problem: in India Bouddhism, Jainism and Vedânta rose up. In Greece, Ionia and Great Greece found out natural philosophy on the hand and metaphysics on the other. Well, it’s just a hypothesis…

        Reply
  20. Richard Seaford Post author

    I agree with almost all of this. Where I disagree is as follows.
    Gold (or occasionally silver) given to the priests might be specified as of a certain weight, and it might be given in pieces, or pieces of a certain weight (e.g. SB 5.4.3.26; 5.5.5.16; Pancavimsa 18.3.2). Janaka, king of Videha, plans a sacrifice, at which he intends to give lavish gifts to the priests, and to the assembled Brahmins he declares that the most learned man of them should drive away a thousand cows, to the horns of each of which are attached ten pieces (??) of gold (BAU 3.1.1). True, we cannot speak of money in these texts. On the other hand, late Vedic texts may well have been influenced by the urban commercialisation that they dislike and so (generally) ignore, especially given the economic importance of (and transfer of wealth within) the sacrifice.

    Reply
    1. Richard Seaford Post author

      I would add that a fundamental opposition in Greece is between the constantly moving monetary cycle in Herakleitos and elsewhere (corresponding to samsara) and perfectly unchanging abstract substance in Parmenides (corresponding to some ideas in the Upanisads), representing the two complementary essences of money. But there are of course (along with the ‘correspondences’) crucial differences to explain.

      Reply
      1. Alexis Pinchard

        Well, I am quite convinced by the precise references you give concerning the use of money in the Indian ritual context. Moreover I agree that there is a real analogy between the two aspects of money and the two ways of early Greek (and Indian) ontology: monism-statism versus pluralism-mobilism. Such a correspondence is very exciting. But I wonder whether a mere analogy can work as a cause in the field of “Geistwissenschaften” or not. Supposed that money is a correct model for ontological issues, why DID ancient Greek and ancient Indian thinkers USE such a model? The conceptual content of the model is not the same thing as its working as a model. The fact that something can work as a tool does not compel to use it as such. Some need has firstly to be felt. So a new question arises in your perspective: why THIS model has been used in order to understand the structure of the world as a whole? We should at least admit that, before using the money model, there already was a wondering mental attitude about the Universe among ancient thinkers (see Aristotle, Met. A 1 and 2). We must confess that an issue about the Whole as such, and thus the need of a conceptual tool, was felt. On this point the old reflections about the powers and the nature of speech, about unity and diversity in language, about linguistic concealment and linguistic revelation, may bring some important explanation. The rise of “sat” (the being) as a master concept (which is the very origin of Reason as the power to make necessary connection against sensuous evidences, I agree with your criticism of Bronkhorst on this point) is not to be cut off from linguistic questions because asti/esti is the base of every sentence.

        Reply
        1. Richard Seaford Post author

          I agree that a mere analogy cannot work as a cause, and so the questions you raise are pertinent. I cannot answer them, other than to say that in imagining cosmic power the ancient Greeks (perhaps like all pre-modern societies) have few resources other than the universality of social power, and so imagine Zeus in terms of patriarchal monarchy and the (presocratic) arche in terms of money. Social power must legitimate itself by claiming to embody an invisible universal power beyond itself, and provides the dominant model for imagining it. To be sure, we also in both Greece and India have to take account of the pre-existing linguistic structure. But I do insist that monetisation brought something new and significant that was not already implicit in the linguistic preconditions that you rightly emphasise. Further, I suspect that part of the answer to your questions is to be found in a third factor (besides money and language), namely what I call cosmic rituals (in India sacrifice, in Greece sacrifice and mystic initiation), in which salvation depends on locating cosmic power: accordingly I am in both Greece and India interested in the (rather different) effects of the universal power of monetisation on the universal power of cosmic ritual (and in the resultant synthesis between the two universal powers).

          Reply
          1. Alexis Pinchard

            Concerning the analogy between the metaphysical principle and the social model, are you inspired by Marcel Gauchet’s book, “Le désenchantement du monde”? Analogy is surely correct but, once again, causality could be reversed…
            Of course, what you call “cosmic rituals” is a crucial point. I definitely agree with you. And the idea of the resultant of two kinds of universal power is very interesting. But, just like the meta-linguistic thought and the conscious progressive shaping of language (language, with its various elements, is not only a “pre-condition”; it is also a result of wisdom practices: poets bring language to its own essence), the Indo-European view point is the best one to understand the cosmic rituals, under the condition nevertheless that “Indo-European” structures be viewed as the trace which reveals the wisdom activity of some individuals, not as their collective mechanical cause. Moreover language and money have similar features: a coin is a sign and coins can circulate just like words (and women! see Lévi-Strauss). But, in India, ancient brahmanic thinkers were more interested in concentrating words with silence (cf. the brahma’n priest) and riddle than in letting them circulate. Rig-Vedic Hymns and Upanishads were initially family secrets. The power of language was all the more powerful toward cosmic powers as it was internally concentrate: just the contrary of money? With the agora, Greek early philosophy was closer to an “idea market”.

  21. Richard Seaford

    Gauchet is interesting on the Axial Age, but his argument is too relentlessly abstract (and he lacks the crucial economic dimension).
    I am keen to learn from you and others about the contribution of Indo-European linguistics (because it forms almost no part of my intellectual formation) to the question of the similarities between Greek and Indian thought. But the transformations of Greek and Indian thought from about the sixth century BCE (a) are a radical break with the past, (b) are strikingly similar to each other, and (b) occur in isolation from each other. And so I cannot believe that they can be explained linguistically. We would expect them to be caused (at least in part) by equally fundamental socio-economic transformations, and – sure enough – we do find fundamental socio-economic transformations in both societies that (1) resemble each other and (2) are the kind of transformations that can make sense of the intellectual revolution (or at least, that making sense is what I am trying to achieve). It would be a considerable achievement of inter-disciplinary research to integrate this approach with Indo-European linguistics.
    As for your point about concentration and family secrets, this may be an interesting difference from Greece. However, the doctrine of the Greek cosmic rite of passage (mystery-cult) was secret, but nevertheless published (in a new form) by Herakleitos, Parmenides, and Plato. Similarly, in India surely the texts we possess were not kept secret throughout antiquity (?). Or was the universalism of Buddhism (reflecting, I argue, the new universalism of money) the first cosmology and soteriology open to all?

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *