Some Remarks About a Meeting Between Socrates and an Indian

March 9, 2019 | Author: Lucas Pinto | Category: Plato, Socrates, Ātman (Hinduism), Aristotle, Brahman
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Analysis of a passage from Aristoxenus' Life of Socrates in which the Athenian philosopher meets an Indian....


Some Remarks about a Meeting between Socrates and an Indian


Some Remarks about a Meeting between Socrates and an Indian (Aristoxenus’ fragment 53) by Joachim Lacrosse (Cambridge/Brussels)

Abstract: This article aims at discussing the origin of an Indian argument quoted by Abstract: This a member of the Peripatetic school at the end of the 4 th Century BC. Aristoxenus’ 53 rd fragment tells the surprising story of a (fictitious) meeting between Socrates and an Indian in Athens. Challenging Socrates and his definition of philosophy as investigations about human life, the Indian argues that it is not possible for anyone to understand human matters (τ ( τ νρπεια κατιδεν) κατιδεν ) without considering divine ones (γνοοντ γε τ εα). εα). This argument, even though it clearly belongs to internal Greek philosophical debates, echoes the genuine and typically Indian axiom that knowledge of the human self is self  is knowledge  knowledge of God and vice-versa, which is one of the major commonplaces in traditional Brahmanic thought. By discussing successively the historical context of the fragment, some related Platonic passages and some Indian parallels on the issue, the article shows that Aristoxenus’ fragment is one of  the first and only texts, historically, in which a typical Greek philosophical argument is challenged by an authentic Indian proposition translated into an argument based 0 on Greek conceptual categories.*

Introduction: Intro duction: Aristoxenus’ Aristoxenus’ Fragment 53 The fragment I would like to consider in this article is presumably extracted from a biography of Socrates 1  written at the end of the 4th Century BC by Aristoxenus of Tarentum, a member of the Peripatetic school with a Pythagorean background and called “the Musician” by the members of the Lyceum. 2 *0 I am grateful to David Sedley and Geoffrey Lloyd for their comments, as well as to Ross Perlin for improving my English. 1 Hirzel 1890, 426–428, followed by Festugière 1971b, 189 n.2, wrongly supposes that this fragment may have been quoted from a full dialogue between Socrates and an Indian, although Aristoxenus is known to have a penchant for writing biographies: see the fragments of Aristoxenus’ Life of Socrates in Socrates  in Wehrli 1960, 24–27 = fr. 51–60. 2 See Wehrli 1960, 47–48 and ff., Lynch 1972, 78, and Centrone 1989. Archiv f. f. Gesch. d. Philosophie Philosophie 89. 89. Bd., S. S. 247–263 247–263 © Walter de Gruyter 2007 ISSN 0003-9101

DOI 10.1515/A 10.1515/AGPH.20 GPH.2007.012 07.012


Joachim Lacrosse

Aristoxenus’ 53rd fragment (Wehrli) has been transmitted to us via Eusebius (Praep. Ev.  11.3.8), who is himself quoting the 1st Century AD3 Peripatetic Aristocles of Messene (F1.8 Chiesara) 4. It tells the surprising story of a meeting between Socrates and an Indian in Athens. The starting point (11.3.7) is a summary of Plato’s opinion about the relationship between knowledge of human matters and knowledge of  the divine: for Plato, according to Aristocles, it is impossible to understand ( κατιδεν ) human things ( τ νρπεια) without a knowledge of  divine things ( τ εα). Aristocles refers this proposition to the λγο« of  the Indians that can be found in Aristoxenus’ passage: (11.3.8) Aristoxenus the musician says that this argument co mes from the Indians ( Ινδν εναι τν λγον τοτο ν). For indeed, one of these men met 5 Socrates in Athens and inquired from him about what kind of activity he was pursuing as a philosopher (πψννεσαι τ ποιν φιλοσοφοη). Socrates answered that it consists in investigations about human life ( περ το νρπεοψ βοψ). The Indian started to laugh at him, saying that it is not possible for anyone to underst and human matters (τ νρπεια κατιδεν) without considering divine ones (γνοοντ γε τ εα). (11. 3. 9) Whether this is true or not, no one can say for sure […].

It is worth noticing that Aristocles, or maybe Aristoxenus himself (who is notorious for his anti-Socratism as well as his anti-Platonism 6), is introducing here an implicit disagreement between Socrates and Plato, by saying that the latter agrees with the Indians while the former does not. However, the main issue I would like to discuss is the origin of the Indian’s argument, which is meant as a challenge to Socrates and his definition of philosophy as investigations about human life: λωγοντα µ δνασαι τινα τ νρπεια κατιδεν γνοοντ γε τ εα . In other words, I would like to raise the question of whether it makes any sense that the proponent of the argument challenging Socrates’ definition of philosophy in this fragment is said to be an Indian, and not someone from any other country or philosophic al school. For that purpose, two specific points in our passage have to be interpreted:

3 4



On the dates of Aristocles, see Follet 1989, 382, and Chiesara 2001, xvi ff. Fr. 53 = Wehrli 1960, 25 (and the commentary, 65–66). The same passage can also be found in Breloer/Brömer 1939, 16, and in Chies ara 2001, 10f., with a very short commentar y, 67. As Festugière 1971b, 189 n. 4, notes, the verb ντψγξνειν can suggest that the meeting occured not only once, but several times ( cf. Apol., 41 b 2). See Centrone 1989, 592.

Some Remarks about a Meeting between Socrates and an Indian


1)  Ινδν εναι τν λγον τοτον : does the genitive  Ινδν  mean that Plato’s thesis about the relation between human affairs and the divine i s supposed to come  from  the ‘Indians’, or does it mean that it is to be found as well in what the ‘Indians’ say about the relation between τ νρπεια  and τ εα? In other words, is Aristocles (or Aristoxenus) talking about an ‘Indian’ influence on Plato, or is he just making a challenging comparison between Socratic and ‘Indian’ views on the matter discussed in his previous summary of Plato’s philosophy? 2) πψννεσαι τ ποιν φιλοσοφοη : is the ‘Indian’ asking Socrates in which activities philosophy in general consists, or in which particular kind of philosophy he is involved? In other words, what are the terms of  the opposition: philosophy and something else (‘Indian’ wisdom, for instance), or two different kinds or definitions of ‘philosophy’, the Socratic and the ‘Indian’ ones? To interpret these points, let us consider successively (A) the historical context of the fragment, (B) some Greek parallels on the issue, (C) some Indian parallels in both Greco-Roman and original Indian accounts.

A. Historical Context: After Alexander’s Indian Campaign The meeting between Socrates and an Indian is generally considered fictitious, and Aristocles suggests himself in the first line of 11.3.9 that it is unlikely that Socrates really met an Indian in Athens (“whethe r this is true or not, no one can say for sure”). Almost all modern scholars consider it obvious that the meeting is not authentic. 7 One notable exception is Filliozat, who thinks it is historically possible because of the paths of diffusion made possible by the Persian Empire. 8 However, to support this possibility, Filliozat claims only that no positive argument has been given by the others to prove that the meeting was impossible. He also claims that the historical truth of Aristoxenus’ story is not the main point to consider, as regards the reliability of its account on Indian philosophy – a point which I will discuss later in this article.



See Hirzel 1890, 419, Bréhier 1928, 132, Jaeger 1934, 165 and n. 1, Bidez 1945, 123f., Festugière 1971b, 188, Sedlar 1981, 14, Halbfass 1988, 16, Karttunen 1989, 110f., Chenet 1998a, 1298, and Chiesara 2001, 67. Surprisingly, Aristoxenus’ fragment 53 is not quoted in McEvilley 2002. Filliozat 1981, 100 (see the full quotation further in section C). See also Conger 1952, 104ff., and Tola / Dragoneti 1982, 168ff.


Joachim Lacrosse

Even if it is unlikely that the story of a meeti ng between Socrates and an Indian has any historical truth, one may ask whether there is any significance in the barbarian’s coming from India and not from any other barbarian or Eastern country. On this point, most scholars refer to another account telling the story of a meeting, between Socrates and a barbarian from Syria, 9 and consider that it belongs, along with Aristoxenus’s fragment 53, either to the Platonic fascination for barbarian wisdom10  or to the common Hellenistic topos of a meeting between a Greek and an ‘Oriental’. 11 For another example of such a meeting between a Greek philosopher and an Oriental, in the Peripatetic school, see the interesting fragment from Clearchus’ treatise On sleep, about the (presumably fictitious too) meeting between Aristotle and a Jew (Flavius Josephus, Against Apion I.175–183). It is worth noticing that Clearchus supposes that the Jews originate from the Indian “ Kallanoi ”, a hapax legomenon related to the name of the famous Indian philosopher Kalanos who resisted Alexander the Great’s desire to take him back to Greece by commiting suicide. 12 These parallels would tend to suggest that the Indian in our fragment is merely the representative of a ‘barbarian’ or ‘Eastern’ point of view, not a specifically Indian one. Yet if one looks at the texts quoted about the meeting between Socrates and the Syrian, they do not pose any definite challenge to Socrates, as Aristoxenus’ fragment does. Thus, although Aristoxenus’ story may certainly be related to a kind of Hellenistic fascination for Eastern wisdom in general, it is distinctive challenging a Greek argument with a counter-argument that is supposed to originate specifically from India.





Ps.-Arist. in D.L. 2.45 (fr. 32 Rose). Jaeger 1934, 165, surpisingly makes no difference between the Indian and the Syrian, by saying that both passages (Aristoxenus’ fragment 53 and Ps.-Aristotle’s fragment 32) mention “the visit of  the Indian to Athens”. Jaeger 1934, 165: “This sounds apocryphal, but it is simply the legendary formulation of the view, universal in the later Academy and summed up in the Epinomis as a programme for religious reform, that in future Oriental astralism and theology would have to be combined with the Delphic religion of Hellas, if the Greeks were to make religious progress.” See Hirzel 1890, 429–431, and Festugière 1971b, 188. Wehrli refers also to Aristoxenus’ fragment 13 (about the Chaldeans). About this fragment and this hapax legomenon, “Kallanoi ”, one could ask whether the ‘Jew’ met by Aris totle, according to Flavius Josephus, could not have been the Indian Kalanos himself in Clearchus’ original version. There are some arguments to support this surprising hypothesis, as I plan to demonstrate in a forthcoming article.

Some Remarks about a Meeting between Socrates and an Indian


The question is thus: what is an ‘Indian’ argument in Aristoxenus’s view? Even without considering the content of the argument, as I will do later, it seems that the historical context in which Aristoxenus wrote his biography of Socrates is important in understan ding the fact that he mentions an Indian challenging Socrates, and not a Chaldean, a Syrian, a Jew, a Persian or any other barbarian. Indeed, Aristoxenus’ fragment was possibly written just after Alexander’s Indian campaign. Among the companions of Alexander were supposed to be philosophers from several Greek schools: Pyrrho the Sceptic, Anaxarchus the disciple of Democritus, Onesicritus the Cynic, Callisthenes the nephew of Aristotle, etc. This last was, like Aristoxenus himself, a member of the Lyceum, and may perhaps have returned from his Indian travel when Aristoxenus was writing hi s Life of Socrates. Moreover, the other confrontations between a Greek and a barbarian philosopher to be found in Greek literature are mainly concerned with Indians. Each time, as Festugière (1971a, 1971b) has pointed out, it is the Indian, not the Greek, who is the winner of the wis dom contest. In Aristoxenus’ fragment too, the laugh of the Indian is obviously the laugh of the victor. Festugière does not seem to think that the (usually) Indian nationality of the opponents is relevant in itself, analyzing it only in the context of the Hellenistic fascination for Eastern wisdom in general. But one could perhaps move a step further and claim that the reason why it is the ‘Indians’, more than other barbarian or Eastern philosophers, who challenge Greek arguments on philosophical issues by using counter-arguments, is that the Greeks were aware, though in a very general and distorted way, of the development and richness of  philosophical arguments in India at that time. 13 The stories about Indian philosophers told by Alexander’s companions and by Megasthenes in Aristoxenus’ time treat mainly of the Indians’ ascetic practices and customs, and it would be difficult to demonstrate any massive transmission of information about any actual 13

The philosophical d ebates and use of sophisiticated arguments (in par ticular, between Buddhist and Hindu philosophers) are a characteristic of Indian ‘philosophy’, especially at that time. Bronkhorst 1999 and 2005 has tried to demons trate that these developments may be the result of Greek influence after Alexander’s campaign, related to the presence of Greek kingdoms in India. Whatever one thinks about this hypothesis, the use of a specific kind of sophisticated argument is already a characteristic of older Indian literature, for example in many passages of the upani sads.


Joachim Lacrosse

doctrine. The Greeks had no access either to the Sanskrit language or Brahmanic initiation. 14 Onesicritus, according to Strabo ( Geogr. XV.64) reports that three different interpreters were required for the conversations between Brahmins and Greek philosophers, and he compares it, interestingly, with defective water canalizations. Obviously, there were several communication obstacles to any discussions between Greek and Indian philosophers. On the other hand, there also exist a few Greco-Roman accounts dealing with authentic Indian doctrines, though only in a very general outline. This point is hardly admitted by modern scholarship, despite evidence in support of it. For instance, as Dumézil (1983) has shown, in the traditional story of the conference between Alexander and ten Brahmins,15 almost all the answers given by the ten Brahmins to Alexander’s questions may correspond to known Indian philosophical doctrines. Even if one considers only the accounts which are contemporary with Aristoxenus’ fragment (mainly in Megasthenes), some authentic Indian doctrines can already be found there, although of very general nature. 16 There are also more obvious examples in later Greco-Roman accounts, 17  but texts contemporary with Aristoxenus’ fragment seem sufficient to prove that Greeks, in the Hellenistic period, had at least some information about Indian views on different matters, and were 14 15



See Filliozat 1981, 118, and Chenet 1998a, 1292–1293. We have seven versions of that legendary meeting, the first one being on a papyrus from the 1st Century BC (Pap. Berol. 13044). See Breloer/Bömer 1939, 68ff. For examples, see Megasthenes’ shortlist of philosophical doctrines common to both Greek and Indian philosophies, in Strabo, Geogr. XV.1.59: the conception of a divine principle that pervades the whole world, the doctrines of water as first principle, of the four elements and the fifth nature, the belief in transmigration of the souls and judgment of their actions; XV.1.60 on the functional complementarity of kings and philosophers; Onesicritus in Strabo, Geogr. XV.1.65 about the removal of pleasure and pa in from the soul as the aim of phil osophical discourse. For examples, see Apuleius, Flor. 6.5–8, on the three social functions incorporated by the caste system: philosophers, warriors and producers. See Philostratus, Vit. Apoll. III.34; Bardesanes in Porphyry, De abst. IV.17.3, on the vedic myth of the “universal Father and Mother” and Bardesanes in Porphyry (376F Smith, in Stobaeus I.3.56) on the related S´ ivaït conception of the Supreme God as Androgynous. See Alexander Polyhistor in Clement of Alexandria, Strom. III.6.60.2ff. (223–228); Bardesanes in Porphyry, De abst. IV.17.1, 3 and 7–10; Jeronimus, Adv. Jov.  I.41, on the opposition between brahmanism and “sramanism” (buddhism or jainism).

Some Remarks about a Meeting between Socrates and an Indian


thus able to use those views as arguments for challenging Greek philosophical ideas. 18 Finally, if it is unlikely that Aristoxenus’ story is historic ally accurate and that Socrates actually met an Indian in Athens, the story was, nevertheless, written in a context of discovery of Indian philosophers, mainly considered for their way of life and customs, but sometimes for their philosophical doctrines as well. Some accounts from that time transmit authentic Indian doctrines, though in very general outline and with certain distorsions from the Greek mirror. I will ask later whether this could be the case with Aristoxenus’ fragment. First, however, let us look at Greek debates on the matter discussed by Socrates and the Indian.

B. Literary Context: Some Parallel Platonic and Greek Passages Modern scholarship has shown, in many different ways, that Aristoxenus’ fragment 53 and the ‘Indian’ argument it contents ( λωγοντα µ δνασαι τινα τ νρπεια κατιδεν γνοον τ γε τ εα ) are related to internal Greek philosophical topics and polemics. Behind the ‘Indian’ argument lies a typical Greek problem. According to a certain view, then, this argument need have nothing to do with India. There was a certain ambiguity in Greece as to decide whether one should start by knowing oneself or by knowing the gods, or God. 19 To take one example, if one looks at the Stoics’ interpretation of the Delphic maxim ‘know thyself’, they express both the idea that the way to know oneself is to know God and the converse that to know God one must know himself. 20 On the other hand, it is said in the Epinomis  988a, in relation to ‘Oriental’ wisdom:




Onesicritus (in Strabo, Geogr. XV.1.65), though not specifically adressing Indian doctrines or arguments, is already proposing a kind of challenging comparativism between Greek and Indian views on the relationship between νµο« and φσι«. The Brahmins’ radical ascetic practices are challenging the parallel teachings of Pythagoras, Socrates and Diogenes. I leave here aside the question of the various meanings covered by the words τ εα in the passages quoted. On this point, see Wilkins 1979, 45 and 87–88.


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Let none of the Greeks fear that, being mortals, they cannot busy themselves with divine matters (εα);21 they must hold entirely the opposite view, that the divine is never either unintelligent ( φρον) or in any ignorance of human nature (νρπνην φσιν), but knows that if it teaches us we shall follow its guidance and learn what is taught us.

This ambiguity is obvious in the Platonic passages which help make up the background to Aristocles’ introduction to the Indian’s argument in Aristoxenus. First, there is evidence that Aristocles is referring in the Indian’s argument to Phaedrus 270c, especially the fact that the comparison with medicine is quoted at 11.3.7: just as physicians, when treating some part of the body, must first be concerned with the whole body, anyone who wants to understand earthly matters must know the nature of the whole. That is almost exactly what Plato says in Phaedrus 270c, referring to Hippocrates: 22 Socrates: Do you think one can understand ( κατανοσαι) properly the nature of  the soul without understanding the nature of the whole ( τ« το λοψ φσε«)? Phaedrus: If Hippocrates the Asclepiad is to be trusted, one cannot even know the nature of the body without this method. The second passage to which Aristocles ’ 11.3.7 refers implicitly, by distinguishing the good that is our own and that of the whole, is Laws 631b: There are two kinds of goods (διπλ» γα), human (νρπινα) and divine (εα), the former depending on the latter. Another Platonic, or pseudo-Platonic text to consider is, of course, 23 the First Alcibiades, in which Socrates shows Alcibiades that knowledge of the soul supposes knowledge of the god in the soul. The dialogue culminates in the thesis that the Delphic maxim ‘know thyself’ can be realized only through the self-contemplation of  Nous in the mirror of the knowledge of God (132e – 133c). In that context, it is worth mentioning Hirzel’s audacious argument against the authenticity of the dialogue. Hirzel claims that the First Alcibiades was written with the sole aim of defending So-




Jaeger 1934, 164: “According to the popular Greek view the knowledge of the divine, the Gnosis of the Orientals, is a th ing that must be for ever unattainable to mortals; and unhappy is the man who plagues his head with the search for the forbidden fruit.” The interpretation of this passage and its reference to Hippocrates is very disputed. See Joly 1961 and Lombard 1999. Boyancé 1963 also refers Aristocles’ passage to the Alcibiades 133c, but Chiesara 2001, 66 n. 12, thinks (without any argument) that the comparison is not pertinent, despite the interpretation of the passage in Clement of Alexandria ( Strom. 1.60).

Some Remarks about a Meeting between Socrates and an Indian


crates against the ‘Ind ian’ argument in Aristoxenus’ fragment 53 and , therefore, can be dated to the end of the 4th Century BC! 24 Other Platonic passages may be recalled to throw light on Aristoxenus’ fragment: Timaeus 90a-d, where it is advised to imitate the circular movements of the world soul25 (in passing, one may also recall that the general presentation of the Timaeus starts from the divine before proceeding to human matters); Theaetetus 176b, about “becoming God (µοσι« ε) as far as possible”; 26 etc. Modern scholars also mention other Greek texts such as Aristotle’s Protrepticus (whose demand that human action be based on the knowledge of God reappears in Eth. Eud.  1249b13–21), 27 SVF I.486 and III.584,28 Arius in Stob. 2.7.4a (II.12), Alcinoos, Didask., 17,29 etc. To conclude this point, it is obvious that Aristoxenus’ fragment 53 and Aristocles’ quotation of it are both related to internal Greek philosophical debates and polemics about the relation between knowledge of the human self and knowledge of th e divine. Aristoxenus is trying to belittle Socrates and Plato by creating a major disagreement between them on the matter, while Aristocles is quoting Ari stoxenus in the context of  a general summary of Plato’s philoso phy.

There is no point, of course, in denying this ‘entirely Greek’ aspect of  the fragment and of the ‘Indian’ argument it contents. Nevertheless, the question remains: does this fact exclude the possibility that it may also echo back some authentic Indian views on the same issue? Is there necessarily any contradiction between the ‘entirely Greek’ literary context of the argument and its possible (and alleged) Indian origin? The work of most scholars implies that the Greek context excludes an Indian origin. But if there is some evidence that this argument, related to an entirely Greek literary context, could also originate from India, as Aristoxenus declares and as the historical context makes possible, there would be a real ‘meeting’ in our text, if not between Socrates and the Indian, at least between Greek and Indian propositions on the relation between human matters and divine ones. The Indian proposition would be, at the same time, required by the Greek debate and translated  itself into a Greek argument . Let us now, finally, discuss this crucial point. 24

25 26 27 28 29

Hirzel 1890, 423ff., followed by Bidez 1945, 122–124. The authenticity of the First Alcibiades  was firstly condemned by Schleiermacher in 1836, and then, among others, by de Strycker in 1942. See the discussion in Denyer 2001, 14ff., who supports the authenticity of the Alcibiades  but doesn’t discuss Hirzel’s thesis. On this, see Lee 1976. On this, see Sedley 1999. Jaeger 1934, 165 n. 1. Wehrli 1967, 66. Chiesara 2001, 66.


Joachim Lacrosse

C. Presumed Original Context: Knowledge of the Human Self as Divine in Ancient Brahmanic Thought Aristoxenus’ passage is not the only one in Greek literature to mention an ‘Indian’ doctrine related to knowledge of the human and the divine. If one looks at all the Greco-Roman accounts of Indian philosophy, 30 there is another, later passage which is also relevant for our current dis cussion, namely Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana   3.18, which includes the following section in a dialogue between the Neopythagorean philosopher Apollonius and the Indian Brahmin Iarchas: […] Apollonius then asked him whether they knew themselves also, expecting that like the Greeks they would think self-knowledge ( τ Ψαψτν γνναι) something difficult to achieve. But to Apollonius’ surprise Iarchas corrected him and said: “We know everything because we first kn ow ourselves ( πντα γιγνσκοµεν, πειδ πρτοψ« Ψαψτο« γιγνσκοµεν). None of us would embark on this kind of philosophy without first (πρτον) knowing himself.” And Apollonius remembered what he had heard from Phraotes, how he who would become a philo sopher must examine himself before making the attempt; and he therefore acquiesced in this argument, for he was convinced of its truth in his own case also. He next proceeded to ask who they thought they were, and Iarchas replied, “Gods”. “Why?”, asked Apolloniu s. “Because we are good men ”.

As regards the Greek polemics we have mentioned in section B, Iarchas’ thesis in Philostratus (where human self-knowledge is the starting point) is different from the Indian’s argument in Aristoxenus (where there is no priority given to either knowledge of human or divine matters). But both conclusions express the same basic thesis: for the Indian, to know oneself as a human being is, in contrast with the Greek’s opinion, something completely impossible to achieve without knowledge of the divine, because to know oneself  is to know the divine and vice-versa. 31 This shows that some, even if relatively few, of the Greco-Roman authors may have been aware of the existence of an Indian doctrine about the identity of the individual self with the divine principle. 32 As 30 31


See Breloer/Brömer 1939. Bréhier 1928, 132f., and Festugière 1971b, 193, are the only scholars to see the closeness of both Aristoxenus’ and Philostratus’ passages, but they do not stress the priority given to human self-knowledge in Philostratus, in accordance with Pythagorean initiation. Bréhier 1928, 132, remarks that the argument of the Indian in Aristoxenus’ passage is in accordance with the general idea of the upani sads about the identity of the individual principle, the  a tman, and the universal principle, the brahman. In Filliozat’s criticism (1981, 99), however, he seems to confuse the  a tman and the individual ego.

Some Remarks about a Meeting between Socrates and an Indian


Filliozat points out, the doctrinal information involved in Aristoxenus’ fragment 53, even if not the claim that a meeting between Socrates and an Indian took place, ascribes to the Indian something that was in fact the general Indian view on the matter discussed. 33 We may add that Aristoxenus’ Indian, because he gives priority neither to human selfknowledge nor to knowledge of the divine, is closer to the Indian view than Philostratus’ passage, where human self-knowledge is still declared prior ( πρτον ) to knowledge of everything. It is undoubtedly true (a matter of fact which has been, however, ignored by modern scholarship) that the idea expressed by Aristoxenus’ Indian is, indeed, one of the most universal axioms in Brahmanic thought, 34 which makes no distinction between religion as knowledge of God and philosophy as knowledge of the human self. In the Vedic texts, words like a tman  (“self”) and  puru sa  (“man”) refer to both human embodied soul and the divine principle. 35




Filliozat 1981, 100: “Personne n’a donné d’argument positif contre l’authenticité du texte d’Aristoxène. Il a paru que son inauthenticité allait de soi. Mais la doctrine brahmanique de l’inséparabilité ontologique de l’homme et du cosmos étant la plus ancienne, la plus abondamment attestée et la plus largement répandue de toutes les doctrines de ce genre, il paraît difficile de dénier a priori aux Grecs la faculté de l’avoir connue dans une période où beaucoup d’entre eux vivaient sous le gouvernement perse en même temps que beaucoup de brâhmanes, puisqu’Alexandre a trouvé ces derniers tout installés dans le territoire indien précédemment perse qu’il a envahi. D’ailleurs, même si l’on refuse l’idée que Socrate ait pu converser avec un Indien, il n’en reste pas moins qu ’Aristoxène savait, en inventant la rencontre, qu’elle n’apparaîtrait pas invraisemblable à ses contemporains et qu’il y plaçait l’expression d’une doctrine authentique. Nous n’avons pas besoin aujourd’hui de la date d’Aristoxène pour co nnaître l’antiquité de celle-ci, mais nous pouvons, pour l’essentiel doctrinal, sinon pour le fait, justifier Aristoxène.” It is worth noticing that, in the Buddhist Questions of Milinda II.1, which depicts as well a confrontation between a Greek (the King Menander = Milinda) and an Indian (the Wise N agasena), the most difficult point to accept for the Greek is precisely the negation of the individual self . Just as (but for opposite reasons) the Buddhist monk is making the Greek king ridiculous by demonstrating that his individual ego is non-existent (there is no essential N agasena, no Ego Nagasena), the (presumable) Brahmin depicted by Ari stoxenus is laughing at a Socrates who claims to make inquiries on human things without a prior knowledge of God. The typically Greek conception of a human and rational soul is ch allenged by the idea of divine emptiness in the Buddhist context and by that of divine fullness in the Brahmanic context. See the interesting comparison between First Alcibiades and the Questions of Milinda in Festugière 1971a, 165ff. Halbfass 1991, 268.


Joachim Lacrosse

36 To take an early example, in Aitareya  A ran · yaka , II.1.8., one can read this quotation from Mahid asa Aitareya: “I know myself as far as I know the gods, and I know the gods as far as I know myself.” 37 The same idea is to be found in several passages of the upani sads: the individual and transmigrating ‘soul’’s self-knowledge leads ultimately to the recognition of its identity with the divine and universal Being and Unity. This idea is expressed by Indian traditions as the identity of the individual self ( j iv  a) with the universal Self  (a tman), principle of man’s life and individual consciousness, which is itself one with the brahman, principle of all things. The different levels of Reality have to be understood like the different steps of an inner spiritual experience. The path of this experience leads from the belief in the existence of empirical world and individual ego, a state of metaphysical ignorance called avidya , which consists in the overdetermination (adhyasa) of the Reality by “name and form” ( na ma ru  pa), to the recognition of the divine Unity as the very ess ence of this illusory empirical world and individual ego.38

Socrates’ claim that his philosophy deals with human affairs would be, in the Brahmanic view, paradigmatic of such ignorance of the divine presence in the human self. Comparing Greek and Indian conceptions of self-knowledge, Chenet interprets Indian philosophy as “la réalisation intégrale du projet de la connaissance de soi” 39. The question ‘Who am I?’ is different from the question ‘What is Man?’, which is a question about the essence of mankind. There are, indeed, very few texts in Indian thought which are concerned with ‘Man’ as a peculiar category different from other living beings. 40 This path of self-knowledge is also different from any psychological or subjectivist introspec-




39 40

Probably written between 700 BC and 550 BC (Keith 1909, 25). All Brahmanic texts quoted here are prior to 4 th Century BC and based on much older oral tradition. From Chenet’s translation (1998a, 85; 1998b, 1316). Keith’s translation (1909, 210) is: “I know myself as reaching to the gods, and the gods as reaching to me.” Cf . Cha ndogya-up.  III.14.1–4; M a n·du kya-up. 12; I s´ a -up. 16; Katha-up.  V.8–12. See also Radhakrishnan’s introduction (1953, 52–103). Chenet 1998a, 84f.; 1998b, 1316. Halbfass 1991, 267: “Traditional Indian thought seems to be preoccupied with the  a tman, that ‘self’ and immortal priciple in man which it also finds in animals and other forms of life; manus ya, man as homo sapiens, seems to be insignificant compared to this self in man and oth er beings”. However, in some texts like Aitareya A ran · yaka XI.3.2, Man is considered to be superior to other living creatures because of his ritual powers and unique access to the sacred texts. While man has a special relationship with those cosmic and divine forces invoked in the rituals, he is said to be the “nearest” to the “Lord of Creatures” ( praj a pati    ). On this, see Halbfass 1991, 267–273.

Some Remarks about a Meeting between Socrates and an Indian


tion, because the answer to the question ‘Who am I?’, as given by Cha ndogya-up. VI.8.7, is: “That art thou” (tat tvam asi ).41 This means that the cosmic Self, and even the gods’ Self, is understood to be of the same character as the individual’s Self, as is said in Brhad a ran yaka-upani sad   I.4.10:



Whoever knows I am brahman of himself becomes this all (aham brahma smi ti sa idam ˙ sarvam bhavati ); even the gods cannot prevent him, for he becomes their Self (tasya ha na dev a s´  ca na bhu tya  i sate, ´   a tma  hy esam sa bhavati ). So whoever worships another divinity, thinking that he is one and it is another, he knows not.

All this goes to show that Aristoxenus’ fragment rightly points out the opposition between Socratic philosophy as a merely rational and human enterprise, on the one hand, and Indian wisdom, on the other hand, which leaves “religion and philosophy, metaphysics and ethics, God and man undivided”. 42 Despite the fact that it is related to some internal Greek debates on the matter, it seems likely that Aristoxenus’ fragment also echoes the genuine and typically Indian axiom that knowledge of the human self  is  knowledge of God and vice-versa. If  there were some thinkers in Greece, such as Plato and Aristotle, to support the view that one may not understand human matters without knowledge of divine matters, the same view is much more radical and universal in ancient Brahmanic thought, and it is hard to think about Aristoxenus’ and Philostratus’ mention of it as a mere coincidence.

Conclusion To sum up, I have claimed in section A that, even if it is unlikely that the story of a meeting between Socrates and the Indian is historically true, it can still be remarked that Aristoxenus’ fragment 53 belongs to a period of discovery of Indian ‘philosophers’ in the Hellenistic world, just after Alexander’s Indian campaign. In section B, I have discussed Greek parallels to the ‘Indian’ thesis and seen that it clearly belongs to internal Greek philosophical debates, a fact which does not exclude the possibility that it may also echo an authentic Indian doctrine. Finally, in section C, I have shown how closely the In dian’s argument challen ging Socrates’ view of philosophy fits within the overall pattern of Indian, especially traditional Brahmanic, views on the matter discussed. 41


Radhakrishnan 1953, 459: “That  means God having the entire universe as his body, thou means God having the individual soul as his body. The principle of  God is common to both”. See Brown 1966, 34–36. See also Aitareya  A ran · yaka II.2.4.6 (“What I am, he is; what he is, I am”). Halbfass 1988, 8; see also Chenet 1998a, 1298.


Joachim Lacrosse

Let us now return to the two interpretative problems I have posed in the Introduction. 1)  Ινδν εναι τν λγον τοτον : it seems unlikely that Plato’s proposition itself would have been directly taken from Indian philosophers, who are never mentioned in any Greek account before Alexander’s campaign. It is much more likely that Aristoxenus would have made a comparison between Platonic and Indian views on the matter. What about the origin of this Indian argument? I have argued that there is a possibility of this basic Indian doctrine having been transmitted in a very general shape to the companions of Alexander (Callisthenes?) at Aristoxenus’ time. Of course, there is no definite evidence about whether Aristoxenus could have been aware of this Indian doctrine and, if so, how. Nothing is to be found about it in the Greco-Roman accounts of India following Alexander’s campaign (e.g. Onesicritus or Megasthenes) and, as we have seen, one has to wait for Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius  (3rd century AD) to have the next and only other Greek account which with some clarity mentions that precise thesis as specifically Indian. However, it has to be admitted that Aristoxenus’ short account about knowledge of human things as knowledge of divine things in Indian thought, while it is connected with Platonic issues by Aristocles (and perhaps by Aristoxenus himself), is very close to the Indian tradition as well. For this reason, it is not absurd at all to suppose that the idea of  an identity between the human self and the divine, which is one of the major commonplaces in Indian thought, was known as such (not with any detailed knowledge, but as a philosophical commonplace) by Aristoxenus at the end of the 4th Century BC. This is, as we have seen, the claim of Filliozat, who seems to be right as far as this goes. In my opinion, however, knowledge of this Indian philosophical commonplace seems more likely to be the result of Alexander’s Indian campaign rather than of the paths of diffusion made possible by the Persian Empire, as there are no testimonies about Indian philosophers before that time. For Halbfass (1988, 16) too, “it seems likely that the Aristotelian Aristoxenus, who also had Pythagorean connections, introduced the story shortly after Alexander’s Indian campaign as a device for criticizing the S ocratic idea of ph ilosophy.”

While there is no contradiction between the fact that Aristoxenus’ fragment is obviously related to some internal Greek philosophical polemics and the fact that it is giving a real account of one of the most basic Indian philosophical doctrines, my conclusion on that point is thus that we are dealing with a philosophical ‘capture’: the authentic

Some Remarks about a Meeting between Socrates and an Indian


Indian proposition is used as an argument to throw light on a specific Greek debate, and it is translated into Greek conceptual terms for that purpose. This kind of philosophical ‘capture’ is one of the most fascinating problems related to intercultural transmission in the ancient world and it seems to me that it deserves much more consideration from modern scholarship. 2) πψννεσαι τ ποιν φιλοσοφοη : for Halbfass (1988, 16), it seems obvious that “the Indian does not know what philosophy is; he asks Socrates what kind of activity he is pursuing as a philosopher.” But the text is not so clear and one has to consider the fact that Aristocles is proposing a kind of ‘ancient comparativist’ account of the Indians, on the one hand, and of Socrates and Plato (who cannot be suspected of not being a philosopher), on the other. Following this, one could perhaps submit another reading of it: behind the opposition between Socrates and the Indian (himself related to Plato here) would lie the opposition between two tendencies in Greek philosophy (exemplified by Socrates and Plato), and, at the sam e time, between Greek and Indian ‘philosophies’ as such. If this reading of the fragment is right, it would be the first time in the history of European philosophy that someone acknowledges Indians to be ‘philosophers’ with the same dignity as the Greek philosophers they challenge. 43 Be that as it may, Aristoxenus’ fragment 53 is, at least, one of the firs t and only texts, historically, in which a typical Greek philosophical argument is challenged by an authentic Indian proposition translated into an argument based on Greek conceptual categories.

Bidez, J. 1945. Eos, ou: Platon et l’Orient. Brussels. Boyancé, P. 1963. “Cicéron et le premier Alcibiade”. Revue des Etudes latines 41: 210–229. Bréhier, E. 1928. “L’orientalisme de Plotin”. In idem: La philosophie de Plotin. Paris: 107–133. Breloer, B. / Bömer, F. 1939. Fontes historiae religionum indicarum . Bonn. Bronkhorst, J. 1999. Why is there Philosophy in India? . Amsterdam.  –. 2005. “Des philosophes en contact?”. In J. Lacrosse (ed.): Philosophie comparée. Grèce, Inde, Chine, Paris: 181–187.


As Festugière has shown (1971b, 189 n. 4), the method of inquiry adopted by the Indian (as well as the Jew in Clearchus’ fragment quoted hereover) is exactly the same as the Socratic one: first, examine the person to be challenged ( ετζειν); second, inquire from him about the secret of his method ( ρεψν»ν τ« σοφ« στιν).


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Brown, W. N. 1966. Man in the Universe. Some Continuities in Indian Thought . Berkeley/Los Angeles. Centrone, B. 1989. “Aristoxène de Tarente”. In R. Goulet (ed.): Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques. Vol. 1, n° 417. Paris: 590–593. Chenet, F. 1998a: “L’Inde et la Grèce”. In J.-F. Mattéi (ed.): Le discours philosophique. Encyclopédie philosophique universelle (volume IV) . Paris: 1288–1327.  –. 1998b: La philosophie indienne. Paris. Chiesara, M. L. 2001. Aristocles of Mess ene. Testimonia and Fragments . Oxford. Conger, G. P. 1952: “Did India influence Early Greek Philosophies?”. Philosophy East and West 2: 102–128. Denyer, N. 2001: Plato. Alcibiades. Cambridge. Dumézil, G. 1983: “Alexandre et les sages de l’Inde”. In idem: La courtisane et les seigneurs colorés. Paris: 66–74. Festugière, J. 1971a: “Trois rencontres entre l ’Inde et l’Occident”. In idem: Etudes de  philosophie grecque. Paris: 157–182 (first published 1943 in Revue de l’histoire des religions 125: 32–57).  –. 1971b: “Grecs et Sages or ientaux”. In idem: Etudes de philosophie grecque. Paris: 183–195 (first published 1945 in Revue de l’histoire des religions 130: 29–41). Filliozat, J. 1981: “La valeur des connaissances gréco-romaines sur l’Inde”. Journal  des Savants, Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres , avril-juin 1981: 97–135. Follet, S. 1989: “Aristoclès de Messine”. In R. Goulet (ed.): Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques. Vol. 1, n° 369. Paris: 382–384. Halbfass, W. 1988. India and Europe. Albany, NY.  –. 1991. “Man and Self in Traditional Indian Thought”. In idem: Tradition and  Reflection. Explorations in Indian Thought . Albany, NY: 265–289. Hirzel, R. 1890: “Aristoxenos und Platons erster Alkibiades”. Rheinisches Museum  für Philologie 45: 419–435. Jaeger, W. 1934. Aristotle. Oxford. Joly, R. 1961: “La question hippocratique et le témoignage du Phèdre”. Revue des études grecques 74: 68–92. Karttunen, K. 1989: India in Early Greek Literature. Helsinki.  –. 1997: India and the Hellenistic World . Helsinki. Keith, A. B. 1909: The Aitareya  A ran · yaka. Oxford. Lee, E. N. 1976: “Reason and Rotation: Circular Movement as the Model of Mind (Nous) in Later Plato”. In W. H. Werkmeister (ed.): Facets of Plato’s Thought. Assen/Amsterdam: 70–102. Lombard, J. 1999: Platon et la médecine. Paris Lynch, J. P. 1972. Aristotle’s School. A Study of a Greek Educational Institution . Berkeley/Los Angeles/London. McEvilley, T. 2002. The Shape of Ancient Thought. Comparative Studies in Greek and  Indian Philosophies. New York. Radhakrishnan, S. 1953. The Principal Upani sads. London. Sedlar, J. W. 1981. India and the Greek World . Totowa, NJ. Sedley, D. 1999: “The Ideal of Godlikeness”. In G. Fine (ed.): Plato 2: Ethics, Politics, Religion and the Soul . Oxford: 309–328.

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