re Kalanos the gymnosophist

zydenbos at zydenbos at
Sat May 4 20:17:24 UTC 1996

Replies to msg 02 May 96: indology at (lusthaus at

 le> Another question is: How "Greek" is Greek philosphy? Most of
 le> the important
 le> preSocratic philosophers did not live in Greece proper.

 le> Thales, Anaxemander, et al. were strewn throughout the
 le> Mediterranean world,
 le> leaving them open to all sorts of non-Greek influences. If
 le> by "Greek" we
 le> mean simply the lingua-franca of the Mediterranean, so that
 le> "Greek
 le> philosophy" means Mediterranean philosophy written or
 le> recorded in Greek,
 le> then we are back looking at trade routes, etc., and noting
 le> the non-Greek
 le> (potential) influences that were streaming into the "Greek"
 le> [Mediterranean]
 le> world (and vice versa).

I'm in favour of this view. Probably it is hard to underestimate the influence
which the linguistic medium has on the development of schools of any kind of
thought, be it philosophical, religious, artistic, or whatever. Cf. the
well-known phenomenon that Anglo-Saxons (as well as modern English-educated
Indians!) are ignorant of anything that has not been written in or translated
into English, and even show a tendency towards instant contempt. On the
positive side, exchanges of ideas and debates can take place much more easily
within the unified linguistic community, which can lead to a quicker
development of schools and traditions of thought; and where the thinkers
exactly are, is of only secondary importance. Cf. the close relations between
British and American thought, in spite of the ocean between the two countries,
whereas the German and French philosophical traditions are quite distinct,
though the two countries are adjacent.

Perhaps we should also reflect on what "Indian" means. Isn't "India", as a
cultural entity, something closely tied with the spread of Sanskrit as a medium
of intellectual exchange?

A question about the Greek language: does the word "gymnosophist" not imply
that the person in question was nude? This would suggest, perhaps, a Digambara
Jaina ascetic. On the other hand, self-immolation in a violent manner is
utterly un-Jaina. I do not know of any tradition of nude Buddhist ascetics. Was
Kalanos another, different kind of vraatya?

Robert Zydenbos
Internet: zydenbos at

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