An introduction

I am awful at blogging. With that aside, I suppose a short introduction is in order for my research blog:

My research is on the Indian wise man in ancient Western literature.

Ever since Alexander the Great made concrete and sustained contact with the Indian continent in the 4th century BC, Western authors had a fascination with what they called “gymnosophists,” which literally means “naked philosophers.” They were ascetics, scorning/rejecting nearly all material comforts: they wore no clothes, lived under trees, slept on the ground, and took nourishment only from what the earth naturally provided. These wise men, according to tradition, met with Alexander and his followers and amazed/confounded them with their nuanced and powerful philosophy.

My study focuses on extant literature ranging from the 1st century BC to the 4th century AD. Unfortunately we have only small fragments of the Western authors commenting on these gymnosophists before this range.

Some of the questions I will consider is how well does the ancient Western understanding of these Indian ascetics correspond to the historical truth of these me?. As well, despite their depictions’ historical accuracy, how did the Western authors portray these men and to what end? What message did Western authors want to make in invoking/alluding to the Indian ascetics?


  1. jmhollomon says:

    That sounds like a fascinating literary exploration. I think your project represents an interesting interface between East and West over the course of history.