Filliozat, etc.

John Richards jhr at
Mon May 6 08:15:49 UTC 1996

> As far as I know, distinctive culture terms like Skt. mantra,
> karman, dharman, nirvANa, etc., are unattested in classical Greek.  But I
> am confident that if such terms *were* to appear as borrowings into Greek,
> there would be little dispute about "the borrowing of ideas".  Enrica
> Garzilli informs me that she believes that there was a certain amount of
> borrowing in the other direction [i.e., from Greek to Indic]. No doubt,
> there was.

Is not this wishful thinking? What did the Greeks have that would have
been of any value to the Indians? They already had a rich philosophic
language and tradition, and a highly analytic one at that. The Greeks
had no apparent tradition of meditation or spiritual techniques. Greek
thought up to and beyond Plato, right up to Plotinus, I would say, laid
alongside Indian thought like Buddhism and Vedanta is nothing better than
infantile gropings.

The one thing we know for certain that the Greeks did influence Indian
culture with was their highly anthropo-centric art, sculpture in
particular. It is undoubtedly beautiful, but whether it is really an
advantage to have a very realistic picture of the gods as physically
attractive young men and women is perhaps another issue. There is
something to be said for a "crude" empty seat to represent the Buddha,
for example, as opposed to a young Apollo sitting cross-legged. Even the
Greek contempt for the Egyptian animal-headed gods was a sign of their
superficiality. A highly nubile sculpture of Aphrodite is easily accepted
at simple face value - that is what the gods really look like! On the
other hand, an ibis-headed or hippopotamus-headed god (or an Indian
elephant-headed god) are so obviously grotesque at face value, that the
symbolic nature of the portrayal is (or should be) that much more obvious.

Plato refers explicitly to the Orphics, to the Magi, to Egypt. The fact
that he makes no reference to anything further afield is probably
significant. These were his horizons.

This is not to deny undoubted cross-fertilisations later. Many of these
are striking and highly significant. One of the most curious, and
potentially very important cases is the one raised by Edward Conze - the
simultaneous development in the Mediterranean and in India of a
Sophia/Praj~naa-based religion, and one could add to that the
simultaneous development of Saviour/Bodhisattva cults. Apart from vague
references to the possibly mediating figure of the Persian Sayoshyant
this phenomenon has never been adequately explained, to my knowledge.

There are other fascinating cases of explicit infuence, but it never
ceases to amaze me how little the typical merchant and soldier/adminstrator
mind has any real interest in the culture and religion of countries he
may well spend many years in. The British in India are a good example of
this. There was more real investigation of Indian thought in Germany
than in Britain. Marco Polo too spent more than 20 years in China, and on
his return enriched Italian culture with - pasta!

John Richards
Stackpole Elidor (UK)
jhr at

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