Gymnosophists etc.

thompson at thompson at
Fri May 10 02:02:45 UTC 1996

I am quite confident that the doctrine of transmigration derives from
Indo-European antiquity, and is inherited where it appears in IE, rather
than borrowed from Indic.  Besides Caesar, Diodorus also refers to a Celtic
belief in transmigration, as do Posidonius and Lucian.  But much more
persuasive than these ethnographic observations by Classical authors are
the original IE texts themselves.  In Celtic [in the remarkable Book of
Taliesin], there are "I have been..." sequences, reminiscent of RV
Atmastutis [compare Old Welsh 'bum' with Skt. 'abhavam' (or the Vedic
injunctive 'bhavam')], which strongly suggest a doctrine of transmigration.
In the Poetic Edda of Old Norse explicit reference to rebirth is made in
the Helgakvid.ha [43].  Thus, along with the well-known Pythagorean
doctrine of transmigration, there would seem to be sufficient evidence for
a doctrine of transmigration in IE that would make the claim for borrowing
from Indic superfluous.

Furthermore, as for the suggestion that the term "gymnosophist" refers to
Jains: I do not think that the Greeks of Classical antiquity could tell the
difference between Hindu, Buddhist or Jain, and in fact did call *Brahmins*
"gymnosophists" [cf. Lucian].  Perhaps we should take them at their word?
[about this I am not so confident: maybe Jains!].

I do agree with Enrica Garzilli, that ultimately one must go to the texts
["documents"] themselves, rather than to secondary sources, even
authoritative ones.
George Thompson

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