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A History of Sanskrit Literature by MacDonell

The Pythagorean theorem in geometry


Though

Europe was thus undoubtedly indebted to India for its mediaeval literature of fairy tales and fables, the Indian claim to priority of origin in ancient times is somewhat dubious. A certain number of apologues found in the collections of AEsop and Babrius are distinctly related to Indian fables. The Indian claim is supported by the argument that the relation of the jackal to the lion is a natural one in the Indian fable, while the connection of the fox and the lion in Greece has no basis in fact. On the other side it has been urged that animals and birds which are peculiar to India play but a minor part in Indian fables, while there exists a Greek representation of the AEsopian fable of the fox and the raven, dating from the sixth century B.C. Weber and Benfey both conclude that the Indians borrowed a few fables from the Greeks, admitting at the same time that the Indians had independent fables of their own before. Rudimentary fables are found even in the Chhandogya Upanishad, and the transmigration theory would have favoured the development of this form of tale; indeed Buddha himself in the old Jataka stories appears in the form of various animals.

Contemporaneously with the fable literature, the most intellectual game the world has known began its westward migration from India. Chess in Sanskrit is called chatur-anga, or the "four-limbed army," because it represents a kriegspiel, in which two armies, consisting of infantry, cavalry, chariots,

and elephants, each led by a king and his councillor, are opposed. The earliest direct mention of the game in Sanskrit literature is found in the works of Bana, and the Kavyalamkara of Rudrata, a Kashmirian poet of the ninth century, contains a metrical puzzle illustrating the moves of the chariot, the elephant, and the horse. Introduced into Persia in the sixth century, chess was brought by the Arabs to Europe, where it was generally known by 1100 A.D. It has left its mark on mediaeval poetry, on the idioms of European languages (e.g. "check," from the Persian shah, "king"), on the science of arithmetic in the calculation of progressions with the chessboard, and even in heraldry, where the "rook" often figures in coats of arms. Beside the fable literature of India, this Indian game served to while away the tedious life of myriads during the Middle Ages in Europe.

Turning to Philosophical Literature, we find that the early Greek and Indian philosophers have many points in common. Some of the leading doctrines of the Eleatics, that God and the universe are one, that everything existing in multiplicity has no reality, that thinking and being are identical, are all to be found in the philosophy of the Upanishads and the Vedanta system, which is its outcome. Again, the doctrine of Empedocles, that nothing can arise which has not existed before, and that nothing existing can be annihilated, has its exact parallel in the characteristic doctrine of the Sankhya system about the eternity and indestructibility of matter. According to Greek tradition, Thales, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Democritus, and others undertook journeys to Oriental countries in order to study philosophy. Hence there is at least the historical possibility of the Greeks having been influenced by Indian thought through Persia.

Whatever may be the truth in the cases just mentioned, the dependence of Pythagoras on Indian philosophy and science certainly seems to have a high degree of probability. Almost all the doctrines ascribed to him, religious, philosophical, mathematical, were known in India in the sixth century B.C. The coincidences are so numerous that their cumulative force becomes considerable. The transmigration theory, the assumption of five elements, the Pythagorean theorem in geometry, the prohibition as to eating beans, the religio-philosophical character of the Pythagorean fraternity, and the mystical speculations of the Pythagorean school, all have their close parallels in ancient India. The doctrine of metempsychosis in the case of Pythagoras appears without any connection or explanatory background, and was regarded by the Greeks as of foreign origin. He could not have derived it from Egypt, as it was not known to the ancient Egyptians. In spite, however, of the later tradition, it seems impossible that Pythagoras should have made his way to India at so early a date, but he could quite well have met Indians in Persia.


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