Phoenician wisdom: Strabo and Poseidonios on Mochos of Sidon (first century BCE)

Authors: Poseidonios (Kidd, fragment 285) and Strabo (ca. 18 CE), Geography 16.2.24 (link to Greek text; link to full translation)

Comments: Strabo sketches the contributions of Sidonians to civilization. Poseidonios of Apameia in Syria is said to attribute the theory of atoms to the legendary Phoenician wise man Mochos of Sidon (living before the Trojan war in this case).

Source of the translation: H.C. Hamilton and W. Falconer, The Geography of Strabo, 3 volumes (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854-1857), with adaptations by Harland.

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[Strabo on the Sidonians’ technical wisdom]

The Sidonians are said to excel in various technical matters, as the words of Homer [Iliad 6.289–92] also imply. Besides, they are philosophers in astronomy and arithmetic, which originated in their calculations and their night sailing, each of which is a concern of merchants and sailors. In the same way, the Egyptians were led to the invention of geometry by land measurements, which was required because the Nile obliterates, by its overflow, the boundaries. It is thought that geometry was introduced into Greece from Egypt, and astronomy and arithmetic from Phoenicia. At present the best opportunities are afforded in these cities of acquiring a knowledge of these, and of all other branches of philosophy.

[Poseidonios on Mochos the Sidonian]

If we are to believe Poseidonios, the ancient theory concerning atoms is from a Sidonian man, Mochos, who lived before Trojan times. Let us, however, dismiss subjects relating to antiquity. In my time there were distinguished philosophers who were natives of Sidon, including Boethus, with whom I studied the philosophy of Aristotle, and Diodotus his brother. Antipater was from Tyre, and a little before my time was Apollonius, who published a catalogue of the philosophers of the school of Zeno and of their writings.

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