The Barbarian wisdom of the 'theoi andres': a study of the relationship between spatial marginality and social alterity

Kristen Szumyn

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Herodotus associates the possession of 'wisdom' (sophias) and 'knowledge' (philosopheon) with one who has extensively 'travelled' (planes) to foreign lands. Such a person is counted amongst the saphistai, the wise men or teachers. The Greek philosopher's visit to foreign countries was a doxographical and biographical topos specifically associated with the attainment of wisdom. The philosophical and religious wisdom attained by such travellers was essentially 'barbarian'. As Diogenes Laertius noted, the later Neoplatonic tradition held that 'the study of philosophy had its beginning among the barbarians... the Persians have their Magi, the Babylonians or Assyrians their Chaldeans, and the Indians their Gymosophists; and among the Celts and Gauls there are the people called Druids or Holy Ones. These marginalised religious teachers and transmitters of spiritual wisdom are associated with the geographical and social periphery of society. This geographical marginality of the wise man is particularly evident in the Neoplatonic tradition of late antiquity; however this notion of the association between the sage and oriental or barbarian wisdom was a concept well established even in early Greek thought.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-21
Number of pages12
JournalAncient history : resources for teachers
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Bibliographical note

Publisher version archived with the permission of the Editor, Ancient History : resources for Teachers, Macquarie Ancient History Association, Macquarie University, NSW, Australia. This copy is available for individual, non-commercial use. Permission to reprint/republish this version for other uses must be obtained from the publisher.


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