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Lecture 3: The Historical Relationship of Ancient Religions and Philosophies

Lecture 3
The Historical Relationship of Ancient Religions and Philosophies

How to compare Ancient Religions and Ancient Philosophies.

WE saw in the case of the Avesta how absolutely necessary it is that we should have formed to ourselves a clear conception of the relation in which the religions and philosophies of the ancient world stand to each other before we venture to compare them.

In former days, when little was known of the more distant degrees of relationship by which the historical nations of the world were bound together, the temptation was great, whenever some similarity was pointed out between the beliefs of different nations, to suppose that one had borrowed from the other. The Greeks, as we saw, actually persuaded themselves that they had borrowed the names of some of their gods from Egypt, because they discovered a certain similarity between their own deities and those of that ancient country. But we know now that there was no foundation whatever for such an opinion. Christian theologians, from the days of Clement of Alexandria to our own time, were convinced that any startling coincidences between the Bible and the Sacred Books of other religions could be due to one cause only, namely, to borrowing on the part of the Gentiles; while there were not wanting Greek philosophers who accused Christian teachers of having taken their best doctrines from Plato and Aristotle.

Common Humanity.

We must therefore, at the very outset, try to clear our mind on this subject. We may distinguish, I believe, between four different kinds of relationship. The most distant relationship is that which is simply due to our common humanity. Homines sumus, nihil humani a nobis alienum putamus. Much of what is possible in the Arctic regions is possible in the Antarctic regions also; and nothing can be more interesting than when we succeed in discovering coincidences between beliefs, superstitions, and customs, peculiar to nations entirely separated from each other, and sharing nothing but their common humanity. Such beliefs, superstitions, and customs possess a peculiar importance in the eye of the psychologist, because, unless we extend the chapter of accidents very far indeed, they can hardly be deprived of a claim of being founded in human nature, and, in that case, of being, if not true, at all events, humanly speaking, legitimate. It is true that it has been found very difficult to prove any belief or any custom to be quite universal. Speech, no doubt, and, in one sense, certain processes of grammar too, a conception of number and an acceptance of certain numerals, may be called universal; a belief in gods or supernatural powers is almost universal, and so is a sense, of shame with regard to sex, and a more or less accurate observation of the changes of the moon and the seasons of the year.

But there is one point which, as anthropologists, we ought never to forget. We gain nothing, or very little, by simply collecting similar superstitions or similar customs among different and widely distant nations. This amounts to little more than if, as comparative philologists, we discover that to be in love is in French amoureux and in Mandshu in Northern China amourou. This is curious, but nothing more. Or, if we compare customs, it is well known that a very strange custom, the so-called Couvade, has been discovered among different nations, both in ancient and modern times. It consists, as you know, in the father being put to bed when the mother has given birth to a child. But, besides the general likeness of the custom, which is certainly very extraordinary, its local varieties ought to have been far more carefully studied than they hitherto have been. In some cases it seems that the husband is most considerately nursed and attended to, in others he is simply kept quiet and prevented from making a noise in the house. In other countries, again, quite a new element comes in. The poor father is treated with the greatest malignity—is actually flogged by the female members of his household, and treated as a great criminal. Until we can discover the real motive of those strange varieties of the same custom, the mere fact that they have been met with in many places is no more than curious. It has no more scientific value than the coincidence between the French amoureux and the Mandshu amourou. Or, to take another instance, the mere fact that the Sanskrit Haritas is letter by letter the same word as the Greek Charites, teaches us nothing. It is only when we are able to show why the Haritas in India and the Charites in Greece received the same name, that these outward similarities gain a truly scientific value. To say that something like the Couvade existed till very lately in Spain and likewise in China explains nothing, or only explains ignotum per ignotius. Not till we can discover the common motive of a custom or a superstition, founded in our common humanity, can we claim for these studies the name of Anthropology, can we speak of a real Science of Man1.

Common Language.

The second kind of relationship is that of a common language. Most people would think that community of blood was a stronger bond than community of language. But no one has ever defined what is meant by blood; it is generally used as a mere metaphor; and there remains in most cases the difficulty, or I should rather say the impossibility, of proving either the purity or the mixture of blood in the most ancient periods of man's existence on earth. Lastly, when we are concerned with beliefs and customs, it is after all the intellect that tells and not the blood. Now the outward or material form of the intellect is language, and when we have to deal with nations who belong to the same family of language, Semitic or Aryan or Polynesian, we ought to be prepared for similarities in their customs, in their religions, nay in their philosophical expressions also.

Common History.

Thirdly, there is what I should call a real historical relationship, as when nations, whether speaking related or unrelated languages, have been living together for a certain time before they became politically separated. The inhabitants of Iceland, for instance, not only speak a dialect closely connected with the Scandinavian languages, but they actually passed through the early periods of their history under the same political sway as the people of Norway. Common customs, therefore, found in Iceland and Norway admit of an historical explanation. The same applies to existing American customs as compared with earlier English or Irish customs.

Common Neighbourhood.

Different from these three relationships is that of mere neighbourhood which may lead to a borrowing of certain things ready made on one side or the other, very different from a sharing in a common ancestral property. We know how much the Fins, for instance, have borrowed from their Scandinavian neighbours in customs, legends, religion, and language. It happens not unfrequently that two, if not three, of these relationships exist at the same time. Thus, if we take the Semitic and the Aryan religions, any coincidences between them can be due to their common humanity only, except in cases where we can prove at a later time historical contact between an Aryan and a Semitic race. No one can doubt that the Phenicians were the schoolmasters, or at least the writing masters, of the Greeks; also that in several parts of the world Greeks and Phenicians were brought into close relations by commercial intercourse. Hence we can account by mere borrowing for the existence of Semitic names, such as Melikertes in Greek mythology; likewise for the grafting of Semitic ideas on Greek deities, as in the case of Aphrodite or Heracles. No Greek scholar, however, would suppose that the Greeks had actually borrowed their original concept and name of Aphrodite or Heracles from Semitic sources, though the grafting of Semitic ideas on Greek stems may have led in certain cases to a complete transfusion of Semitic thought into Greek forms. Generally the form of a name, and the phonetic laws which determine the general character of Semitic and Aryan words, are sufficient to enable us to decide who was the borrower and who was the lender in these exchanges; still, there are some cases where for the present we are left in doubt.

Though no satisfactory Aryan etymology of Aphrodite has yet been discovered, yet no one would claim a Semitic origin for such a word, as little as one would claim a Greek etymology for Melikertes. It is disappointing when we see the old idea of deriving Greek mythological names straight from Hebrew, not even from Phenician, revived and countenanced by so respected a Journal as the Jahrbücher für classische Philologie. In the volume for 1892, pp. 177 seq., an article is published in which Dr. Heinrich Lewy derives Elysion from ᾽Elîshâ, one of the four sons of Javan (Gen. x. 4), and supposed to be a representative of Sicily and Lower Italy2. Suppose it were so, are we to believe that not only the Greeks, but other Aryan nations also, derived their belief in the West, as the abode of the Blessed, in Hesperia and the Μακάρων νη̑σοι from the Jews? I do not mean to say that we have a satisfactory etymology of Elysion in Greek; all I say is, that there is nothing to suggest a. foreign origin. Elysion seems to be connected with the Greek; ἠλυθ in ἤλυθον, προσ-ήλυτος, and with Sk. ruh, to rise and to move. In Sk. we have both â-ruh, to mount, and ava-ruh, to descend. We actually find Rv. I. 52, 9, róhanam diváh, the ascent or summit of heaven, and Rv. I. 105, 11, mádhye âródhane diváh, where, if we could take rudh for ruh, we should have a strong analogy of an Elysion, as a heavenly abode; while in IX. 113, 8, avaródhanam diváh is another expression for the abode of the blessed. The Greek ἠλύσιον would stand for ἠλύθ-τιον3.

We saw in our last lecture that if there are any coincidences between the ancient philosophy of the Greeks and that of the Brahmans, they should be accounted for by their common humanity only. In some cases we may perhaps appeal to the original community of language between Brahman and Greek, for language forms a kind of inclined plane determining the general direction or inclination of any intellectual structure erected upon it. Communication, however, or exchange in historical times seems here, so far as we can judge, to be entirely out of the question.

Relation between the Religions of India and Persia.

If on the contrary we compare the ancient religious and philosophical ideas of India with those of Persia, we have to admit not only what may be called an underlying community of language, but an historical community between the ancestors of Indians and Persians, that lasted long after the other Aryan nations had been finally separated. The mere occurrence of such technical names, for instance, as zaotar, the title of the supreme priest, the Vedic hotar, or âtharvan, fire-priest, the Sanskrit âtharvan, or of haoma, name of a plant used for sacrificial purposes both in the Veda and in the Avesta, while no trace of them occurs in any of the other Aryan languages, are sufficient to show that the believers in the Veda and the believers in the Avesta remained socially united up to a time when a minute sacrificial ceremonial had been fully elaborated. Of a later borrowing between the two, except in quite modern times, there is no evidence whatever.

A comparison of the ancient Indian and Persian religions must therefore be of a totally different character from a comparison of the earliest religious and philosophical ideas in India and Greece. There is the common deep-lying linguistic substratum in both cases, but whereas the Greek and the Indian streams of thought became completely separated before there was any attempt at forming definite half-philosophical half-religious concepts, the Indian and Persian streams of thought continued running in the same bed, long after the point had been reached where the Greek stream had separated from them.

That being the case, it follows that any coincidences that may be discovered between the later phases of religious or philosophical thought of Greeks and Hindus, should not be accounted for by any historical contact, while coincidences between Indian and Persian thought, whether religious or philosophical, admit of such an explanation.

Independent Character of Indian Philosophy.

This, from one point of view, may seem disappointing. But it lends a new charm to the study of Indian philosophy, as compared with the philosophy of Greece—because we can really recognise in it what may be called a totally independent venture of the human mind.

The discovery of a rich philosophical literature in India has never attracted as yet the attention which it deserves. Most of our philosophers cannot get over the idea that there is one way only of treating philosophy, namely that which was followed in Greece and was afterwards adopted by most of the philosophers of Europe. Nearly all our philosophical terminology comes to us from Greece, but without wishing to say a word against its excellence, we ought not to look upon every other philosophy that does not conform to our own formulas, as unworthy of serious attention.

I shall try therefore to bring this Indian philosophy, and more particularly the Vedânta philosophy, as near as I can to our own sphere of philosophical interests. I shall try to show that it treats the same problems which have occupied the thoughts of Greek philosophers, nay, which occupy our own thoughts, though it treats them in a way that at first sight may seem to us strange or even repellent. This very strangeness, however, exercises its own peculiar attraction, for whatever we possess of philosophy, whether it comes from Greece or Italy or Germany, or now from America and the most distant colonies, has been touched directly or indirectly by the rays of those great luminaries that arose in Greece in the fifth century B.C. In India alone philosophy was never, so far as we know, touched by any external influences. It sprang up there spontaneously as it did in Greece, and if the thinkers of Greece strike us as a marvel, because we know nothing like them in any other part of the world, we are filled with the same surprise, if we meet with complete systems of philosophy south of the Himalayan mountains, in a country where, till it was subdued by nations, superior to the inhabitants of India in physical strength and military organisation, though by no means in intellectual vigour or originality, religion and philosophy seem to have formed during centuries the one absorbing subject of meditation. If we form our notion of the ancient Aryan settlers in India from what they have left us in their, literature, no doubt we have to remember that nearly all we have comes from one source, or has passed through one channel, that of the Brahmans. There is therefore no doubt some danger that we may draw too bright, too ideal a picture of these Indian Âryas, as if they had been a nation consisting entirely of pious worshippers of the gods, and of philosophers bent on solving the great problems of this life and of .the realities that lie behind it, or beneath it. There must have been dark sides to their life also, and we catch glimpses of them even in their own sacred literature. But these darker sides of human life we can study everywhere;—what we can study nowhere but in India is the all-absorbing influence which religion and philosophy may exercise on the human mind. So far as we can judge, a large class of people in India, not only the priestly class, but the nobility also, not only men but women also, never looked upon their life on earth as, something real. What was real to them was the invisible, the life to come. What formed the theme of their conversations, what formed the subject of their meditations, was the real that alone lent some kind of reality to this unreal phenomenal world. Whoever was supposed to have caught a new ray of truth was visited by young and old, was honoured by princes and kings, nay, was looked upon as holding a position far above that of kings and princes. That is the side of the life of ancient India which deserves our study, because there has been nothing like it in the whole world, not even in Greece or in Palestine.

The Indian View of Life.

Our idea of life on earth has always been that of a struggle for existence, a struggle for power and dominion, for wealth and enjoyment. These are the ideas which dominate the history of all nations whose history is known to us. Our own sympathies also are almost entirely on that side. But was man placed on this earth for that one purpose only? Can we not imagine a different purpose, particularly under conditions such as existed for many centuries in India and nowhere else? In India the necessaries of life were few, and those which existed were supplied without much exertion on the part of man, by a bountiful nature. Clothing, scanty as it was, was easily provided. Life in the open air or in the shades of the forest was more delightful than life in cottages or palaces. The danger of inroads from foreign countries was never dreamt of before the time of Darius and Alexander, and then on one side only, on the north, while more than a silver streak protected all around the far-stretching shores of the country. Why should the ancient inhabitants of India not have accepted their lot? Was it so very unnatural for them, endowed as they were with a transcendent intellect, to look upon this life, not as an arena for gladiatorial strife and combat, or as a market for cheating and huckstering, but as a resting-place, a mere waiting-room at a station on a journey leading them from the known to the unknown, but exciting for that very reason their utmost curiosity as to whence they came, and whither they were going. I know quite well that there never can be a whole nation of philosophers or metaphysical dreamers. The pleasures of life and sensual enjoyments would in India as elsewhere dull the intellect of the many, and make them satisfied with a mere animal existence, not exempt from those struggles of envy and hatred which men share in common with the beasts. But the ideal life which we find reflected in the ancient literature of India, must certainly have been lived by at least the few, and we must never forget that, all through history, it is the few, not the many, who impress their character on a nation, and have a right to represent it, as a whole. What do we know of Greece at the time of the Ionian and Eleatic philosophers, except the utterances of Seven Sages? What do we know of the Jews at the time of Moses, except the traditions preserved in the Laws and the Prophets? It is the Prophets, the poets, the lawgivers and teachers, however small their number, who speak in the name of the people, and who alone stand out to represent the nondescript multitude behind them, to speak their thoughts and to express their sentiments.

I confess it has always seemed to me one of the saddest chapters in the history of the world to see the early inhabitants of India who knew nothing of the rest of the world, of the mighty empires of Egypt and Babylon, of their wars and conquests, who wanted nothing from the outside world, and were happy and content in their own earthly paradise, protected as it seemed by the mountain ramparts in the north, and watched on every other side by the jealous waves of the Indian ocean, to see these happy people suddenly overrun by foreign warriors, whether Persians, Greeks or Macedonians, or at a later time, Scythians, Mohammedans, Mongolians, and Christians, and conquered for no fault of theirs, except that they had neglected to cultivate the art of killing their neighbours. They themselves never wished for conquests, they simply wished to be left alone, and to be allowed to work out their view of life which was contemplative and joyful, though deficient in one point, namely the art of self-defence and destruction. They had no idea that a tempest could break upon them, and when the black clouds came suddenly driving across the northern and western mountain-passes, they had no shelter, they were simply borne down by superior brute force. They remind us of Archimedes imploring the cruel invader, not to disturb his philosophical circles, but there was no help for them. That ideal of human life which they had pictured to themselves, and which to a certain extent they seemed to have realised before they were discovered and disturbed by the ‘outer barbarians,’ had to be surrendered. It was not to be, the whole world was to be a fighting and a huckstering world, and even the solution of the highest problems of religion and philosophy was in future to be determined, not by sweet reasonableness, but by the biggest battalions. We must all learn that lesson, but even to the hardened historian it is a sad lesson to learn.

But it may be said, What then are these dreamers to us? We have to learn our lessons of life from Greeks and Romans. They are our light and our leaders. The blood that runs in our veins is the blood of vigorous Saxons and Normans, not of the pensive gymnosophists of India.

True, and yet these pensive gymnosophists are not entire strangers to us. Whatever the blood may be that runs through our veins, the blood that runs through our thoughts, I mean our language, is the same as that of the Âryas of India, and that language has more to do with ourselves than the blood that feeds our body and keeps us alive for a time.

Language, the Common Background of Philosophy.

Let us therefore try, before we begin to compare the philosophy of the Hindus with our own, or with that of Greeks and Romans, to make it quite clear to ourselves, first of all, whether there may be a common foundation for both, or secondly whether we shall have to admit a later historical contact between the philosophers of the East and those of the West. I think people have learnt by this time to appreciate how much we are dependent in all our thoughts on our language, nay how much we are helped, and, of course, hindered also by our language in all our thoughts, and afterwards in the deeds that follow on our thoughts. Still we must be careful and distinguish between two things,—the common stock of words and thoughts which the Aryan nations shared in common before they separated, and the systems of thought which in later times they elaborated each on their own soil. The common intellectual inheritance of the Aryan nations is very considerable,—much larger than was at one time supposed. There are sufficient words left which, as they are the same in Greek and Sanskrit, must have existed before the Aryan family broke up into two branches, the one marching to the West and North, the other to the South and East. It is possible with the help of these words to determine the exact degree of what may be called civilisation, which had been reached before the great Aryan separation took place, thousands of years before the beginning of any history. We know that the only real historical background for the religion, the mythology and the laws of the Greeks and Romans has been discovered in the fragments left to us of the common stock of words of the Aryan nations.

Common Aryan Religion and Mythology.

To treat of Greek religion, mythology, nay even of legal customs without a consideration of their Aryan antecedents, would be like treating of Italian without a knowledge of Latin. This is now a very old truth, though there are still, I believe, a few classical scholars left, who are shocked at the idea that the Greek Zeus could have anything to do with the Vedic Dyaus. You know that there are some people who occasionally publish a pamphlet to show that, after all, the earth is not round, and who even offer prizes and challenge astronomers to prove that it is round. It is the same in Comparative Philology and Religion. There are still some troglodytes left who say that Zeus may be derived from ζῃ̑ν, to live, that Varuna shows no similarity to Ouranos, that deva, bright and god, cannot be the Latin deus, that Sarvara is not Kerberos, and that Saranyu cannot be Erinys. To them Greek mythology is like a lotus swimming on the water without any stem, without any roots. I am old enough to remember the time when the world was startled for the first time by the discovery that the dark inhabitants of India should more than three thousand years ago have called their gods by the same names by which the Romans and the Romanic nations called God and still call Him to the present day. But the world has even been more startled of late at the recrudescence of this old classical prejudice, which looked upon an Aryan origin of Greek thought and Greek language as almost an insult to classical scholarship. One of the greatest discoveries of our century, a discovery in which men such as Humboldt, Bopp, Grimm and Kuhn have gained their never-fading laurels, was treated once more as schoolmasters would treat the blunders of schoolboys, and that by men, ignorant of the rudiments of Sanskrit, ignorant of the very elements of Comparative Philology. I call it one of the greatest discoveries of our age, for it has thrown light on one of the darkest chapters in the history of the world, it has helped us to understand some of the most perplexing riddles in the growth of the human mind, it has placed historical facts, where formerly we had nothing but guesses as to the history of the Aryan nations, previous to their appearance on the historical stage of Asia and Europe.

I should not venture to say that some mistakes have not been made in the reconstruction of the picture of the Aryan civilisation previous to their separation, or in identifying the names of certain Greek and Vedic gods; but such mistakes, as soon as they were discovered, have easily been corrected. Besides, we know that what were supposed to be mistakes, were often no mistakes at all. One of the strongest arguments against a comparison of Greek and Vedic deities has always been that the Greeks of Homer's time, for instance, bad no recollection that Zeus was originally a name of the bright sky or Erinys a name of the dawn. Nothing is so easy as to disprove what no one has ever wished to prove. No Frenchman is conscious that the name épicier has anything to do with species, and in the end, with Plato's ideas; and yet we know that an unbroken historical chain connects the two names. Mythological studies will never gain a safe scientific basis, unless they are built up on the same common Aryan foundation on which all linguistic studies are admitted to rest. It is now the fashion to explain the similarities between the religion, the mythology, the folklore of the Aryan nations, not by their common origin, but by our common humanity, not by historical evidence, but by psychological speculation. It is perfectly true that there are legends, stories, customs and proverbs to be found among the South Sea Islanders and the inhabitants of the Arctic regions which bear a striking likeness to those of the Aryan nations. Many such had been collected long ago by anthropologists such as Bastholm, Klemm, Waitz, and more recently by Bastian, Tylor and others. I have myself been one of the earliest labourers in this interesting field of Psychological Mythology. But the question is, What conclusions have we a right to draw from such coincidences? First of all, we know by sad experience how deceptive such apparent similarities have, often proved, for the simple reason that those who collected them misunderstood their real import. Secondly, we must never forget the old rule that if two people say or do the same thing, it is not always the same. But suppose the similarity is complete and well made out, all we have a right to say is that man, if placed under similar influences, will sometimes react in the same manner. We have no right as yet to speak of universal psychological instincts, of innate ideas and all the rest. Psychological Mythology is a field that requires much more careful cultivation than it has hitherto received. Hitherto its materials have mostly proved untrustworthy, and its conclusions, in consequence, fanciful and unstable.

We move in a totally different atmosphere when we examine the legends, stories, customs and proverbs of races who speak cognate languages. We have here an historical background, we stand on a firm historical foundation.


Let me give you one instance. I proposed many years ago the mythological equation Haritas=Charites. All sorts of objections have been raised against it, not one that I had not considered myself, before I proposed it, not one that could for one moment shake my conviction. If then the Sanskrit Haritas is the same word, consonant by consonant and vowel by vowel, as the Greek Charites or Graces, have we not a right to say that these two words must have had the same historical beginning, and that however widely the special meaning of the Greek Graces has diverged from the special meaning of Haritas in Sanskrit, these two diverging lines must have started from a common centre? You know that in Sanskrit the Haritas are the bright horses of the sun, while in Greek the Charites are the lovely companions of Aphrodite. The common point from which these two mythological conceptions have started must be discovered and has been discovered in the fact that in the Veda Haritas meant originally the brilliant rays of the rising sun. These in the language of the Vedic poets became the horses of the sun-god, while in Greek mythology they were conceived as beautiful maidens attending on the orient sun, whether in its male or its female character. If therefore we compare the Vedic Haritas with the Greek Charites, all we mean is that they have both the same antecedents. But when the Greek Charis becomes the wife of Hephaistos, the smith, there is no longer any contact here between Greek and Indian thought. This legend has sprung from the soil of Greece, and those who framed it had no recollection, however vague, of the Vedic Haritas, the horses of the Vedic sun-god.

The later Growth of Philosophy.

Now with regard to the early philosophy of the Greeks no one would venture to say that, such as we know it, it had been developed previous to the Aryan separation. If I say, no one, this is perhaps too strong, for how can we guard against occasional outbreaks of hallucination, and what strait jacket is there to prevent anybody who can drive a pen from rushing into print? Only it is not fair to make a whole school responsible for one or two black sheep. Greek philosophy and Indian philosophy are products respectively of the native soil of Greece and of India, and to suppose that similarities such as have been discovered between the Vedânta philosophy and that of the Eleatic philosophers, between the belief in metempsychosis in the Upanishads and the same belief in the schools of the Pythagoreans, were due to borrowing or to common Aryan reminiscences, is simply to confound two totally distinct spheres of historical research.

Help derived by Philosophy from Language.

The utmost we can say is that there is an Aryan atmosphere pervading both philosophies, different from any Semitic atmosphere of thought, that there are certain deep grooves of thought traced by Aryan language in which the thoughts both of Indian and Greek philosophers had necessarily to move. I shall mention a few only. You know what an important part the verbal copula acts in all philosophical operations. There are languages which have no verbal copula, while the Aryan languages had their copula ready made before they separated, the Sanskrit asti, the Greek ϵ̓στι, the Latin est, the Teutonic ist. The relative pronoun too is of immense help for the close concatenation of thought; so is the article, both definite and indefinite. The relative pronoun had been elaborated before the Aryans separated, the definite article existed at least in its rudimentary form. We can hardly imagine any philosophical treatment with out the help of indicative and subjunctive, without the employment of prepositions with their at first local and temporal, but very soon, causal and modal meanings also, without participles and infinitives, without comparatives and superlatives. Think only of the difficulty which the Romans experienced and which we ourselves experience, in finding an equivalent for such a participle as τὸ ὄν, still more for the Greek οὐσία. Sanskrit has no such difficulty. It expresses τὸ ὄν by sat, and οὐσία by sat-tva. All this forms the common property of Greek and Sanskrit and the other Aryan languages. There are many other ingredients of language which we accept as a matter of course, but which, if we come to consider it, could only have been the result of a long intellectual elaboration. Such are, for instance, the formation of abstract nouns. Without abstract nouns philosophy would hardly deserve the name of philosophy, and we are justified in saying that, as the suffixes by which abstract nouns are formed are the same in Greek and in Sanskrit, they must have existed before the Aryan separation. The same applies to adjectives which may likewise be called general and abstract terms, and which in many cases are formed by the same suffixes in Greek and in Sanskrit. The genitive also was originally a general and abstract term, and was called γϵνική because it expressed the genus to which certain things belonged. A bird of the water was the same as an aquatic bird, ‘of the water’ expressing the class to which certain birds belong. There are languages deficient in all or many of these points, deficient also in infinitives and participles, and these deficiencies have clearly proved fetters in the progress of philosophical thought, while Aryan philosophers were supplied by their common language with wings for their boldest flights of speculation. There are even certain words which contain the result of philosophical thought, and which must clearly have existed before the Greek language separated from Sanskrit. Such common Aryan words are, for instance, man, to think, (μϵ́μονα, memini), man as, mind (μϵ́νος), as distinguished from corpus (Zend Kehrp), body; nâman, name; vâk, speech; veda, I know, οἰ̑δα; sraddadhau, I believe, credidi; mrityu, death; amrita, immortal.

All this is true and justifies us in speaking of a kind of common Aryan atmosphere pervading the philosophy of Greeks and Hindus,—a common, though submerged stratum of thought from which alone the materials, whether stone or clay, could be taken with which to build the later temples of religion, and the palaces of philosophy. All this should be remembered; but it should not be exaggerated.

Independent Character of Indian Philosophy.

Real Indian philosophy, even in that embryonic form in which we find it in the Upanishads, stands completely by itself. We cannot claim for it any historical relationship with the earliest Greek philosophy. The two are as independent of each other as the Greek Charis, when she has become the wife of Hephaistos, is of the red horses of the Vedic dawn.

And herein, in this very independence, in this autochthonic character, lies to my mind the real charm of Indian philosophy. It sprang up when the Indian mind had no longer any recollection, had no longer even an unconscious impression, of its original consanguinity with the, Greek mind. The common Aryan period had long vanished from the memory of the speakers of Sanskrit and Greek, before Thales declared that water was the beginning of all things; and if we find in the Upanishads such passages as ‘In the beginning all this was water,’ we must not imagine that there was here any historical borrowing, we have no right even to appeal to prehistoric Aryan memories—all we have a right to say is that the human mind arrived spontaneously at similar conclusions when facing the old problems of the world, whether in India or in Greece. The more the horizon of our researches is extended, the more we are driven to admit that what was real in one place was possible in another.

Was Greek Philosophy borrowed from the East?

In taking this position I know I am opposed to men of considerable authority, who hold that the ancient Greek philosophers borrowed their wisdom from the East, that they travelled in the East, and that whenever we find any similarity between early Greek and Oriental philosophy it is the Greeks who must be supposed to have borrowed, whether from Egypt or from Babylon, or even from India. This question of the possibility of any influence having been exercised on early Greek philosophy by the philosophers of Egypt, Persia, Babylon and India requires a more careful consideration before we proceed further. It has been very fully discussed by Zeller in his great work Die Philosophie der Griechen. I entirely agree with his conclusions, and I shall try to give you as concisely as possible the results at which he has arrived. He shows that the Greeks from very early times were inclined to admit that on certain points their own philosophers had been influenced by Oriental philosophy. But they admitted this with regard to special doctrines only. That the whole of Greek philosophy had come from the East was maintained at a later time, particularly by the priests of Egypt after their first intercourse with Greece, and by the Jews of Alexandria after they had become ardent students of Greek, philosophy. It is curious, however, to observe how even Herodotus was completely persuaded by the Egyptian priests, not indeed that Greek philosophy was borrowed from the Nile, but that certain gods and forms of worship such as that of Dionysos, and likewise certain religious doctrines such as that of metempsychosis, had actually been imported into Greece from Egypt. He went so far as to say that the Pelasgians had originally worshipped gods in general only, but that they had received their names, with few exceptions, from Egypt. The Egyptian priests seem to have treated Herodotus and other Greek travellers very much in the same way in which Indian priests treated Wilford and Jacolliot, assuring them that everything they asked for, whether in Greek mythology or in the Old Testament, was contained in their own Sacred Books. If, however, the study of Egyptian antiquities has proved anything, it has proved that the names of the Greek gods were not borrowed from Egypt. Krantor, as quoted by Proclus (in Tim. 24 B), was, perhaps the first who maintained that the famous myth told by Plato, that of the Athenians and the Atlantidae, was contained in inscriptions still found in Egypt. In later times (400 A.D.) Diodorus Siculus appealed freely to books supposed to be in the possession of Egyptian priests, in order to prove that Orpheus, Musaeus, Homer, Lykurgus, Solon, and others had studied in Egypt; nay, he adds that relics of Pythagoras, Plato, Eudoxus, Demokritus were shown there to attest their former presence on the shores of the Nile. Pythagoras is said to have acquired his knowledge of geometry and mathematics and his belief in metempsychosis in Egypt; Demokritus, his astronomy; Lykurgus, Solon, and Plato, their knowledge of laws. What was first stated by Egyptian priests from national vanity was afterwards, when the East was generally believed to have been the cradle of all wisdom, willingly repeated by the Greeks themselves. The Neo-Platonists, more particularly, were convinced that all wisdom had its first home in the East. The Jews at Alexandria readily followed their example, trying to prove that much of Greek religion and philosophy had been borrowed from their sacred writings. Clement spoke of Plato as the philosopher of or from the Hebrews (ὁ ϵ̓ξ ῾Εβραίων ϕιλόσοϕος, Strom. i. 274 B).

Zeller has shown how little historical value can be ascribed to these statements. He might have pointed out at the same time that the more critical Greeks themselves were very doubtful about these travels of their early philosophers and lawgivers in the East. Thus Plutarch in his life of Lykurgus says that it was told that Lykurgus travelled not only to Crete and Asia Minor, where he became acquainted for the first time with the poems of Homer, but that he went also to Egypt. But here Plutarch himself seems sceptical, for he adds that the Egyptians themselves say so, and a few Greek writers, while with regard to his travels to Africa, Spain, and India, they rest, he adds, on the authority of one writer only, Aristokrates, the son of Hipparchus.

On the other hand there seems to be some kind of evidence that an Indian philosopher had once visited Athens, and had some personal intercourse with Sokrates. That Persians came to Greece and that their sacred literature was known in Greece, we can gather from the fact that Zoroaster's name, as a teacher, was known perfectly well to Plato and Aristotle, and that in the third century B.C. Hermippus had made an analysis of the books of Zoroaster. This rests on the authority of Pliny (Science of Language, i. p. 280). As Northern India was under Persian sway, it is not impossible that not only Persians, but Indians also, came to Greece and made there the acquaintance of Greek philosophers. There is certainly one passage which deserves more attention than it has hitherto received. Eusebius (Prep. Ev., xi. 3) quotes a work on Platonic Philosophy by Aristocles, who states therein on the authority of Aristoxenos, a pupil of Aristotle, that an Indian philosopher came to Athens and had a discussion with Sokrates. There is nothing in this to excite our suspicion, and what makes the statement of Aristoxenos more plausible is the observation itself which this Indian philosopher is said to have made to Sokrates. For when Sokrates had told him that his philosophy consisted in inquiries about the life of man, the Indian philosopher is said to have smiled and to have replied that no one could understand things human who did not first understand things divine. Now this is a remark so thoroughly Indian that it leaves the impression on my mind of being possibly genuine.

But even granting this isolated case, I have no doubt that all classical scholars will approve of Zeller's judicious treatment of this question of the origin of Greek philosophy. Greek philosophy is autochthonous, and requires no Oriental antecedents. Greek philosophers themselves never say that they borrowed their doctrines from the East. That Pythagoras went to Egypt may be true, that he became acquainted there with the solutions of certain geometrical problems may be true also, but that he borrowed the whole of his philosophy from Egypt, is simply a rhetorical exaggeration of Isokrates. The travels of Demokritus are better attested, but there is no evidence that he was initiated in philosophical doctrines by his barbarian friends. That Plato travelled in Egypt need not be doubted, but that he went to Phoenicia, Chaldaea, and Persia to study philosophy, is mere guesswork. What Plato thought of the Egyptians he has told us himself in the Republic (436) when he says that the special characteristic of the Greeks is love of knowledge, of the Phoenicians and Egyptians love of money. If he borrowed no money, he certainly borrowed no philosophy from his Egyptian friends.

When of late years the ancient literature of Egypt, Babylon, Persia, India, and China, came to be studied, there were not wanting Oriental scholars who thought they had discovered some of the sources of Greek philosophy in every one of these countries. But this period also has passed away. The opinions of Bohlen, Röth, Gladisch, Lorinsor, and others, are no longer shared by the best Oriental scholars. They all admit the existence of striking coincidences on certain points and special doctrines between Oriental and Occidental philosophical thought, but they deny the necessity of admitting any actual borrowing. Opinions like those of Thales that water is the origin of all things, of Heraclitus that the Divine pervades all things, of Pythagoras and Plato that the human soul migrates through animal bodies, of Aristotle that there are five elements, of Empedokles and the Orphics that animal food is objectionable, all these may easily be matched in Oriental philosophy, but to prove that they were borrowed, or rather that they were dishonestly appropriated, would require far stronger arguments than have yet been produced.

Indian Philosophy autochthonous.

Let us remember then that the conclusion at which we have arrived enables us to treat Indian philosophy as a perfectly independent witness. It was different with Indian religion and mythology. In comparing Indian religion and mythology with the religion and mythology of Greeks and Romans, Celts and Teutons, the common Aryan leaven could still be clearly perceived as working in all of them. Their rudiments are the same, however different their individual growth. But when we come to compare Indian philosophy with the early philosophies of other Aryan nations, the case is different. M. Reville, in his learned work on the American religions, has remarked how the religions of Mexico and Peru come upon us like the religions of another planet, free from all suspicion of any influence having ever been exercised by the thought of the old on the thought of the now world. The same applies not indeed to the religion, but to the philosophy of India. Apart from the influence which belongs to a common language and which must never be quite neglected, we may treat the earliest philosophy of India as an entirely independent witness, as the philosophy of another planet; and if on certain points Indian, and Greek philosophy arrive at the same results, we may welcome such coincidences as astronomers welcomed the coincidences between the speculations of Leverrier and Adams, both working independently in their studies at Paris and Cambridge. We may appeal in fact to the German proverb, Aus zweier Zeugen Mund, Wird alle Wahrheit kund, and look upon a truth on which Bâdarâyana and Plato agree, as not very far from proven.