Plato, Dumezil, et al.

l.m.fosse at l.m.fosse at
Thu May 2 14:06:22 UTC 1996

>Lars Martin Fosse is right to distinguish between inherited ideas and
>borrowed ones.  I do not think that Filliozat was concerned with inherited
>ideas [I don't recall mention of Dumezil, for example].  Instead, as I
>recall, he asserted the possibility of more or less direct borrowing, just
>as the French Iranist Duchesne-Guillemin argued that direct borrowing by
>Greek philosophers [like Heraclitus] from Iran was not out of the question.
>What I am interested in is the notion of a *borrowing*.  Borrowing, of
>course, is difficult to prove, and I don't imagine that many classicists
>have been persuaded by such arguments [often vague and general] as have
>been offered so far.  For example, I know that in the case of
>Duchesne-Guillemin, the classicist M.L. West has expressed skepticism [and
>I think reasonable skepticism!].  Burkert, on the other hand [and a
>classicist!], in discussing Near Eastern influences on archaic Greece, has
>noted a great deal of resistence from Classicists ....  The ramifications
>are interesting....

I recently read Burkert's book on Greek religion and found it very
stimulating. I think there are certain things that we should remember about
the Greeks: They communicated widely with the rest of the Mediterranean
world, not only with Mesopotamia and the Persian empire (read Cornelius
Nepos' stories about how Greek generals were busy travelling back and forth
to fight against or for the great king), but also with Egypt, which they
admired immensely (read Herodotus). It would be unnatural to assume that
they were not influenced to some degree by these contacts, and we should
also remember that the Greeks must have been influenced by the
Mediterranean population they met when they migrated into Greece. Thus,
when we say that certain ideas are inherited rather than borrowed, we must
assume that this is the most natural explanation in those cases. Now, there
are certain ideas that tend to pop up all over the Indo-European area, and
in such cases there is in my opinion a greater probability that the idea is
inherited rather than borrowed. An important consideration in this
connection is also, in my opinion, how willing a culture was to absorb
foreign ideas. Usually, peoples with a strong cultural self-image do not
absorb a lot of foreign ideas, whereas peoples with a less strong
self-image eagerly model themselves on some cultural super-power, e.g. the
Hittites, who were very strongly influenced by Babylonian culture. The
Greeks do not appear to have had a "deficient" self-image, which in my view
strengthens the assumption that certain "Indo-European" ideas were
inherited rather than borrowed from a neighbouring culture. I think that
Burkert reduces the importance of the Indo-European tradition too much, but
he is certainly right that influences from other Mediterranean cultures
should be considered as alternative explanations.

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse

Lars Martin Fosse
Research Fellow
Department of East European
and Oriental Studies
P. O. Box 1030, Blindern
N-0315 OSLO Norway

Tel: +47 22 85 68 48
Fax: +47 22 85 41 40

E-mail: l.m.fosse at

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