Preparation for the Gospel

Book X, Chap IV, p. 470b

Indeed the Greeks themselves confess that it was after Orpheus, Linus, and Musaeus, the most ancient of all their theologians and the first to introduce among them the error of polytheism, that their seven men whom they surnamed Sages were celebrated for wisdom. And these flourished about the time of Cyrus the king of Persia.

Now this was the time in which the very latest of the Hebrew prophets were prophesying, who lived more than six hundred years after the Trojan war, and not less than fifteen hundred years after the age of Moses: and this will be manifest to you when presently going through the records of the chronology.

Born somewhere about this recent period the Seven Sages are remembered for a reform of moral conduct, but nothing more is recorded of them than their celebrated maxims. But somewhat late, and lower down in time, the philosophers of the Greeks are reported to have flourished.

Flourished these Pythagoras the pupil of Pherecydes, who invented the name "philosophy," was a native, as some say, of Samos, but according to others of Tyrrhenia; while some say that he was a Syrian or Tyrian, so that you must admit that the first of the philosophers, celebrated in the mouth of all Greeks, was not a Greek but a Barbarian.

Pherecydes also is recorded to have been a Syrian, and Pythagoras they say was his disciple. He is not, however, the only teacher with whom, as it is said, Pythagoras was associated, but he spent some time also with the Persian Magi, and became a disciple of the Egyptian prophets, at the time when some of the Hebrews appear to have made their settlement in Egypt, and some in Babylon.

In fact the said Pythagoras, while busily studying the wisdom of each nation, visited Babylon, and Egypt, and all Persia, being instructed by the Magi and the priests: and in addition to these he is related to have studied under the Brahmins (these are Indian philosophers);; and from some he gathered astrology, from others geometry, and arithmetic and music from others, and different things from different nations, and only from the wise men of Greece did he get nothing, wedded as they were to a poverty and dearth of wisdom: so on the contrary he himself became the author of instruction of the Greeks in the learning which he had procured from abroad.

Such then was Pythagoras. And first in succession from him the so-called Italian philosophy was formed, which derived its title to the name from its abode in Italy: after this came the Ionic school, so called from Thales, one of the seven Sages: and then the Eleatic, which claimed as its founder Xenophanes of Colophon.

Even Thales, however, as some relate, was a Phoenician, but as others have supposed, a Milesian: and he too is said to have conferred with the prophets of the Egyptians.

Solon also who was himself one of the Seven Sages, and is said to have legislated for the Athenians, is stated by Plato to have resorted in like manner to the Egyptians, at the time when Hebrews were again dwelling in Egypt. At least he introduces him in the Timaeus as receiving instruction from the Barbarian, in the passage where he Egyptian says to him, Solon, Solon, you Greeks are always children, and there is not one old man among the Greeks,... nor is there among you any learning grown hoary with time.

This same Plato, too, after having attended the teaching of the Pythagoreans in Italy, was not contented with his studying with them only, but is said to have sailed to Egypt and devoted a very long time to their philosophy. This testimony indeed he himself bears to the Barbarians in many passages of his own discourses, and therein, I think, does well, and candidly confesses that the noblest doctrines are imported into philosophy from the Barbarians. Accordingly in many places, and especially in the Epinomis, you may hear him mentioning both Syrians and Egyptians in the following manner:

The cause of this is that he who first observed these phenomena was a Barbarian: for it was a very ancient region which bred those who first took notice of these things because of the beauty of the summer season, which both Egypt and Syria fully enjoy... Whence the knowledge has reached to all countries, including our own, after having been tested by thousands of years and time without end.

And lower down he next adds:

Let us take it then that, whatever Greeks may have received from Barbarians, they work out and finish it with greater beauty.

So says Plato. But Democritus also, still earlier, is said to have appropriated the ethical doctrines of the Babylonians. And somewhere, boasting about himself, he says:

But of the men of my time I have wandered over the most land, investigating the most distant parts, and have seen the most climates and soils, and listened to the greatest number of learned men, nor did any one ever yet surpass me in the construction of lines accompanied by demonstration, nor yet those Egyptians who are called Arpedonaptae, for all which purposes I passed as much as five years in foreign lands.

For this man also visited Babylon and Persia, and Egypt, and was a disciple of the Egyptians and their priests.