Cynics & sources

thompson at thompson at
Mon May 6 17:09:52 UTC 1996

I am grateful to Enrica Garzilli for her references and discussion of
sources.  This is the sort of attention to specifics that, obviously, the
matter requires.  And in fact I have examined some documents and would like
to dispel the implication [intended?] that the term "gymnosophist" was not
used by the Greeks themselves.  While it is true that Strabo does not use
this term, probably because Megasthenes also did not, the term is
frequently used by others, e.g., Plutarch on Alexander [64].  I find this
also a very suggestive passage, because it shows Alexander interrogating
ten captured Brahmins ["gymnosophistaí"] about their role in the rebellion
of Sabbas.  They come off skillfully, using verbal dexterity to avoid the
death that awaits the first one to give Alexander a wrong answer.  This
skill in debate, the use of paradox, must have impressed Alexander,as it
surely did Plutarch, for, as the story goes, Alexander released them all.
As a Vedicist interested in brahmodyas and skill in debate, I find that
this legend confirms two things: first, that this verbal dexterity is, and
continues to be, indeed a mark of Vedic and Brahminical culture; and
second, that the Greeks [certainly those of the first few centuries CE, but
almost as likely those up to and perhaps preceding Megasthenes] also
perceived that this was a mark of Brahmins, gymnosophists though they were.

With hunger for learning,
George Thompson

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