The ancient game of “telephone”

I have now gathered a number of primary sources on the Western side concerning Indian wise men. The nature of the sources varies widely (which is awesome, as it provides lots of ways to try to analyze their intentions). My source collection contains Pagans, Jews, and Christians; sympathizers with the Indian ascetics and critics; and authors clearly learned (relatively) in Indian culture and those hilariously misled.

I have discovered that while the term “gymnosophist” is a term recognized by the ancient Greeks/Romans as being coined by the ancient Greeks/Romans, these are not the only terms applied to the Indians of interest. The Western authors also used the terms which more accurately correlate to the historic Indian wise men: “Brachman” which seems to refer to the Indian Brahman caste, and “Samanaioi” which refer to the group of Indian ascetics called Samana. There are a number of other terms which I have not yet given serious thought to what historic group they might apply (all in good time).

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on the perspective), how the Western authors applied the above terms varies widely. Some lump all Indian wise men together as Brachmans, others differientate between Brachman and Samana. Some even mention followers of the Butta (Buddha!). The aggreement between Western authors is limited (but by no means non-existent). This fact will make it most interesting trying to determine what historical Indian wise men these Western authors referred to. To complicate this, the very nature and actions atrributed to these different groups varies among the Western sources. Some give a modest appraisal of the wise men, noting their respected status among the Indians and their philosophical abilities. Others attribute near divine power to them, for instance, claiming they are never wrong in the prophesies.

To end this post, I want to give an example of where the historiographical record may reveal an awesome example of a brilliant game of Telephone. Sorting through my sources often feels like trying to piece through such a game. (To note, this has to do with India, but not its wise men.) According to one ancient Western author, he heard from another man whose friend read a travel journal of another man who had recently visited India, that in India the women are incredibly modest and unseducable. But if a man presents her with an elephant as a gift, she not only will immediately submit herself to him but feel the greatest honor in doing so. For in India, the elephant is reverred and of the highest monetary worth and to be equated to the prestige/worth of an elephant is the highest honor. I don’t know whether this is historical true or not, but if it is (hell, even if it isn’t), that is amazing.