Anacharsis

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Anacharsis (Greek: Ἀνάχαρσις) was a Scythian philosopher who travelled from his homeland on the northern shores of the Black Sea to Athens in the early 6th century BCE and made a great impression as a forthright, outspoken "barbarian", apparently a forerunner of the Cynics, though none of his works have survived.

Contents

Life

Anacharsis the son of Gnurus,[1] a Scythian chief, was half Greek and from a mixed Hellenistic culture, apparently in the region of the Cimmerian Bosporus. He left his native country to travel in pursuit of knowledge, and came to Athens about 589 BCE,[2] at a time when Solon was occupied with his legislative measures.

According to the story recounted by Hermippus,[3] he arrived at the house of Solon and said, "I have traveled here from afar to make you my friend." Solon replied, "It's better to make friends at home." Thereupon the Scythian replied, "Then it is necessary for you, being at home, to make friends with me." Solon laughed and accepted him as his friend.

He cultivated the outsider's knack of seeing the illogic in familiar things. His conversation was droll and frank, and Solon and the Athenians took to him as a sage and philosopher. His rough and free discourse became proverbial among Athenians as 'Scythian discourse'.[4]

Anacharsis was the first foreigner (metic) who received the privileges of Athenian citizenship. He was reckoned by some ancient authors as one of the Seven Sages of Greece,[5] and it is said that he was initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries of the Great Goddess, a privilege denied to those who did not speak fluent Greek.

According to Herodotus,[6] when Anacharsis returned to the Scythians he was killed by his own brother for his Greek ways and especially for the impious attempt to sacrifice to the Mother Goddess Cybele, whose cult was unwelcome among the Scythians.

Ideas

None of the works ascribed to him in ancient times, if indeed they were written by him, have survived. He was said to have written a book comparing the laws of the Scythians with the laws of the Greeks, as well as work on the art of war. All that remains of his thought is what later tradition ascribes to him. He became famous for the simplicity of his way of living and his acute observations on the institutions and customs of the Greeks. He exhorted moderation in everything, saying that the vine bears three clusters of grapes: the first wine, pleasure; the second, drunkenness; the third, disgust.[7] So he became a kind of emblem to the Athenians, who inscribed on his statues: 'Restrain your tongues, your appetites, your passions.'

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