5

It would be nice to believe that the Early Greek Philosophers were entirely original in their ideas, though it would be rather simplistic to say that such a reality was true. When examining, let's say, the wise sayings of Heraclitus-(circa 500 BC/BCE), one may notice an interesting similarity with the religious teachings of Zoroastrianism.

Zoroaster-(a.k.a. "Zarathustra"), was a Prophet who lived around 600 BC/BCE in Persia-(present day Iran). Zoroastrianism, was and is still, a religion based on the presence of Divine Opposites who are entangled in an eternal struggle for Moral Supremacy throughout the Cosmos-(including, Earth and the Human Race). Ahura Mazda, is the Supreme God of Virtue who is represented as the Eternal Light in a Fire Altar-(a Central religious symbol in Zoroastrian temples and shrines).

Historically, the main religion of the Ancient Persian State and Empire, was Zoroastrianism. The Persian Empire, beginning around 550 BC/BCE, stretched across much of Asia, including the Western Anatolian coast-(present-day Turkish Aegean coast) where Heraclitus lived. It is very likely that a great Sage and Luminary, such as Heraclitus, would have been surrounded by actual Zoroastrian temples, but more importantly, surrounded and probably influenced by Zoroastrian ideas when walking through the "roads" of Persian colonial Ephesus. This possible combination of Persian Zoroastrianism and Heraclitus' existing philosophical wisdom, may have helped to produce such famous sayings as:

  1. "A road going up and a road going down are one and the same"

  2. "War is the Father of all things"

(3. And the significant role Fire plays in Heraclitus' Philosophy of Elements)

Is there any legitimacy in the idea that Heraclitus-(and perhaps other Early Greek Philosophers) were partially influenced (and enhanced) by the ideas of Zoroastrianism?

5
  • This is a good post! I only edited it to add a "history of philosophy tag." At any rate, sometimes I can be a little bit of a fanboy when it comes to Zoroastrianism so I loved reading through this question. Jan 31, 2022 at 22:24
  • Many thanks; it is greatly appreciated.
    – Alex
    Jan 31, 2022 at 22:26
  • The early history of Zoroastrianism is not well known to us. Jul 1, 2022 at 2:12
  • Thank you for the comment...however, could you elaborate-(or explain in greater detail), as to why you believe that "the early history of Zoroastrianism is not well known to us"? Many thanks.
    – Alex
    Jul 1, 2022 at 4:47
  • There are ideas and then there is the matter of their origins which is, ta my reckoning, the biggest unsolved mystery in the world today. Jun 13, 2023 at 14:04

3 Answers 3

1

I would think so. Even in ancient Greece, Plato noted the parochialism of his fellow citizens when he pointed out that philosophy had antecedents, though he tended to point to ancient Egypt as a precursor.

The Encyclopedia Iranica states that Plato is "credibly" connected to Zarathrustha giving as a reference Kingsley's article, Meetings with the Magi: Iranian themes amongst the Greeks, from Xanthus of Lydia to Plato's Academy published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1995.

Zarathrustha is also mentioned by some commentators as a teacher of Pythagoras. It may mean simply that Zarathrustha's philosophy was an influence on Pythagoras rather than some direct pedagogical relationship.

1
  • 1
    Thank you for the comment. Yes, I would tend to agree regarding Zoroaster's likely influence on Pythagoras. It is widely believed-(though by no means historically proven), that Pythagoras was well traveled and that his journeys included a visit to Persia, though I am not quite sure Zoroaster could've taught Pythagoras since Zoroaster lived around 600 BC/BCE and Pythagoras lived around 550-500 BC/BCE. It's possible, though (chronologically speaking)...unlikely.
    – Alex
    Jan 31, 2022 at 23:19
1

I would have trouble convincing myself that there was no strong sociohistorical dynamic connecting early Zoroastrianism and the more famous periods in the history of Greek philosophy, but I would also have trouble convincing myself that a non-negligible "quantity" of harmony between the two would not have obtained otherwise even so. I used to be "into" the idea of showing that the "natural"/"normal" "development of human reason" in this or that person (and/or then community) tends to lead towards convergence of opinion, at least with respect to a minimal answer to a simple form of moral relativism, say.

But by now, my opinion would be that this "natural development" is a tendency to lead to convergence of inquiry, i.e. people around the world in different periods of time ask questions with sufficiently clear counterparts in various regions/cultures/etc.

So what kinds of queries are posed in Zoroastrian scriptures and other traditions? I myself don't know, not having actually read the scriptures and only having an excited, but distracted, outsider's appreciation for the traditions. It is one thing to assert a theomorphic dualism of moral opposition, another to ask a question like, "How many divine beings are there, and why are any different from others, in case there are many of them?" One can also imagine that a Greek convert to Zoroastrianism in antiquity might have had occasion to think of arguing for various answers to those questions. This is not to say there are no such arguments in the original text; again, I don't know if there are. Anyway, we would be looking for something more abstract than an argument from the folk theory of testimonial evidence (in the form of trustworthy claims to being a prophet), which is a concrete method in religious apologetics. So instead, we might look for a line of reasoning such as, "The concept of what is important is itself more important than the concept of what is unimportant or even, Heaven and Hell forbid!, anti-important. Goodness is a kind of importance, and even though evil is important, the way it is important is more like anti-importance. Also, suppose that for all possible divine beings, it must be that their moral properties find immediate and overwhelming expression outside of them. So if there is a good divine being, this being will be intrinsically greater in nature than an evil divine being." Or whatever else along this line.

There are then going to be obvious divergences between famous Greek philosophers from antiquity, and the interplay of Zoroastrian (as Persian) culture and Greek culture. For example, Plato has an unclear number of "crucial" divine entities in his system: the Form of the Good, the demiurge, and the world-soul. Regardless of how these terms were supposed to be related, it does seem as if any of them was supposed to refer to something good, and especially with respect to the "power level" Plato attributes to auto to agathon ("greater in dignity and might" than all the other Forms, even such as that of Knowledge), it seems that if Plato's ontology included an Ahriman of its own, it would not be as an entity as fundamental as Ahriman was, even modulo the Zurvanite model of Ahura Mazda and Ahriman's origins (IIRC).

And then there'd be Aristotle. Or Socrates himself, for that matter. As far as I understand it, Zoroastrianism isn't a case of divine-command theory/theological voluntarism, even if Ahura Mazda/Spenta Mainyu are ultimate exemplars of goodness. Because they are exemplars, to that extent they "refer back to" a more abstract goodness, or at worst/best we might coidentify the abstract goodness with some property of Ahura Mazda more concretely as such. I don't know how far into the divine-simplicity debate Zoroastrianism has ever gotten, even respecting what Zurvan was supposed to be. At any rate, though, Zoroastrianism isn't polytheistic enough to occasion Socrates' question about moral piety: clearly it is not enough that a divine being commends something, in order for it to be morally pious to do that thing, else anything Ahriman commended it would be morally pious to do! Accordingly, "conflict between the gods" in Zoroastrianism just emphasizes the evil of the evil god; it does not generate a quandary over what to do when your whole magisterial pantheon is at odds with each other.

1

The oriental influences on early greek philosophers has been a subject of much debate and research. Nowadays it is generally accepted that early greek philosophy contains indeed much oriental ideas. I would say that the main work on the subject is M. L. West book, Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient. So no, the early greek philosophers were not entirely original in their ideas, but this is nothing bad or less meritorious from either culture. Both were, as everyone is, influenced by the intelectual and religious ideas of their times and surroundings, and used them to develop new ones. In the case of early greek philosophers, from Mr. West:

contact with oriental cosmology and theology helped to liberate the early Greek philosophers' imagination; it certainly gave them many suggestive ideas. But they taught themselves to reason. Philosophy as we understand it is a Greek creation

Regarding the particular case of zoroastrianism, the Encyclopaedia Iranica, mentioned in another answer, treats the issue here, on a case by case study of presocratic philosophers and plenty of academic references. Note that the author acknowledges "Martin Litchfield West, Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient, Oxford, 1971 (to which the present article owes a great deal).".

EDIT: This question and this one are related, and contain more references on the subject.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .