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ZAMOLXIS, THE GOD OF THE GETAE


(Herodotus, "THE PERSIAN WARS" Book 4, MELPOMENE, 93-96)

Zamolxis (Saitnoxis) was the Supreme God of the Getae (or Dacians), a Thracian people inhabiting a territory including today's Romania, but also extending farther cast and northeast. Our only important information concerning this rather enigmatic deity is the text of Herodotus quoted below. The scholars have interpreted Zamolxis as a Sky-god, a god of the dead, a Mystery-god, etc.

 [4.93]. But before he came to the Ister, he first subdued the Getae, who pretend to be immortal. The Thracians of Salmydessus and of the country above the towns of Appolonia and Mesambria, who are called Cyrmaianae and Nipsaei, surrendered themselves unresisting to Darius; but the Getae, who are the bravest and most law-abiding of all Thracians, resisted with obstinacy, and were enslaved forthwith.

[4. 94]. As to their claim to be immortal, this is how they show it: they believe that they do not die, but that he who perishes goes to the god Zamolxis of Gebelezis, as some of them call him. Once in every five years they choose by lot one of their people and send him as a messenger to Zamolxis, charged to tell of their needs; and this is their manner of sending: Three lances are held by men thereto appointed; others seize the messenger to Zamolxis by his hands and feet, and swing and hurl him aloft on to the spear-point. If he be killed by the cast, they believe that the gods regard them with favour; but if he be not killed, they blame the messenger himself, deeming him a bad man, and send another messenger in place of him whom they blame. It is while the man yet lives that they charge him with the message. Moreover when there is thunder and lightning these same Thracians shoot arrows skyward as a threat to the god, believing in no other god but their own.

[4. 95]. For myself, I have been told by the Greeks who dwell beside the Hellespont and Pontus that this Zamolxis was a man who was once a slave in Samos, his master being Pythagoras, son of Mnesarchus; presently, after being freed and gaining great wealth, he returned to his own country. Now the Thracians were a meanly-living and simple witted folk, but this Zamolxis knew Ionian usages and a fuller way of life than the Thracian; for he had consorted with Greeks, and moreover with one of the greatest Greek teachers, Pythagoras; wherefore he made himself a hall, where he entertained and feasted the chief among his countrymen, and taught them that neither he nor his guests nor any of their descendants should ever die, but that they should go to a place where they would live for ever and have all good things. While he was doing as I have said and teaching this doctrine, he was all the while making him an underground chamber. When this was finished, he vanished from the sight of the Thracians, and descended into the underground chamber, where he lived for three years, the Thracians wishing him back and mourning him for dead; then in the fourth year he appeared to the Thracians, and thus they came to believe what Zamolxis had told them. Such is the Greek story about him.

[4.96] I for my part neither put entire faith in this story of Zamolxis and his underground
chamber, nor do I altogether discredit it: but I believe Zamolxis to have lived long before
the time of Pythagoras. Whether there was ever really a man of the name, or whether
Zamolxis is nothing but a native god of the Getae, I now bid him farewell. As for the
Getae themselves, the people who observe the practices described above, they were
now reduced by the Persians, and accompanied the army of Darius.


380 BC
CHARMIDES OR TEMPERANCE
(Selections)
by Plato, translated by Benjamin Jowett

Characters: SOCRATES, who is the narrator; CHARMIDES; CHAEREPHON; & CRITIAS.
Scene: The Palaestra of Taureas, which is near the Porch of the King Archon.
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[41.]     His approving answers reassured me, and I began by degrees to regain confidence,
and the vital heat returned. Such, Charmides, I said, is the nature of the charm, which I
learned when serving with the army from one of the physicians of the Thracian king Zamolxis,
who are to be so skillful that they can even give immortality. This Thracian told me that in
these notions of theirs, which I was just now mentioning, the Greek physicians are quite right
as far as they go; but Zamolxis, he added, our king, who is also a god, says further, "that as
you ought not to attempt to cure the eyes without the head, or the head without the body, so
neither ought you to attempt to cure the body without the soul; and this," he said, "is the
reason why the cure of many diseases is unknown to the physicians of Hellas, because they
are ignorant of the whole, which ought to be studied also; for the part can never be well
unless the whole is well." For all good and evil, whether in the body or in human nature,
originates, as he declared, in the soul, and overflows from thence, as if from the head into the
eyes. And therefore if the head and body are to be well, you must begin by curing the soul;
that is the first thing. And the cure, my dear youth, has to be effected by the use of certain
charms, and these charms are fair words; and by them temperance is implanted in the soul,
and where temperance is, there health is speedily imparted, not only to the head, but to the
whole body. And he who taught me the cure and the charm at the same time added a special
direction: "Let no one," he said, "persuade you to cure the head, until he has first given you his
soul to be cured by the charm. For this," he said, "is the great error of our day in the treatment
of the human body, that physicians separate the soul from the body." And he added with
emphasis, at the same time making me swear to his words, "Let no one, however rich, or
noble, or fair, persuade you to give him the cure, without the charm." Now I have sworn, and I
must keep my oath, and therefore if you will allow me to apply the Thracian charm first to your
soul, as the stranger directed, I will afterwards proceed to apply the cure to your head. But if
not, I do not know what I am to do with you, my dear Charmides.
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[45.]     Yes, I said, Charmides; and indeed I think that you ought to excel others in all good
qualities; for if I am not mistaken there is no one present who could easily point out two
Athenian houses, whose union would be likely to produce a better or nobler scion than the two
from which you are sprung. There is your father's house, which is descended from Critias the
son of Dropidas, whose family has been commemorated in the panegyrical verses of
Anacreon, Solon, and many other poets, as famous for beauty and virtue and all other high
fortune: and your mother's house is equally distinguished; for your maternal uncle,
Pyrilampes, is reputed never to have found his equal, in Persia at the court of the great king,
or on the continent of Asia, in all the places to which he went as ambassador, for stature and
beauty; that whole family is not a whit inferior to the other. Having such ancestors you ought
to be first in all things, and, sweet son of Glaucon, your outward form is no dishonor to any
of them. If to beauty you add temperance, and if in other respects you are what Critias
declares you to be, then, dear Charmides, blessed art thou, in being the son of thy mother.
And here lies the point; for if, as he declares, you have this gift of temperance already, and
are temperate enough, in that case you have no need of any charms, whether of Zamolxis or
of Abaris the Hyperborean, and I may as well let you have the cure of the head at once; but if
you have not yet acquired this quality, I must use the charm before I give you the medicine.
Please, therefore, to inform me whether you admit the truth of what Critias has been
saying;--have you or have you not this quality of temperance?
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THE DRUIDS; PROGENITORS OF THEIR SYSTEM.

    And the Celtic Druids investigated to the very highest point the Pythagorean philosophy, after Zamolxis, by birth a Thracian, a servant of Pythagoras, became to them the originator of this discipline. Now after the death of Pythagoras, Zamolxis, repairing thither, became to them the originator of this philosophy. The Celts esteem these as prophets and seers, on account of their foretelling to them certain (events), from calculations and numbers by the Pythagorean art; on the methods of which very art also we shall not keep silence, since also from these some have presumed to introduce heresies; but the Druids resort to magical rites likewise.

THE SAGE DIGITAL LIBRARY COLLECTIONS: THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS VOLUME 3 Edited by A. Roberts and J Donaldson To the Students of the Words, Works and Ways of God: SAGE Software Albany, OR USA Version 1.0 1996



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