So who is Theo of Smyrna? (or even Theon of Smyrna)

Following on from my previous post on Mithras in Zenobius, who is this Theo of Smyrna who also mentions a list of the eight elements, probably from Persian sources?  All I have is an edition, ‘Hiller’ and “p. 104, 20″.

There are times when Wikipedia is a useful summary of whatever there is online.  Theon of Smyrna has an article.  He’s a technical writer, a mathematical philosopher of the early 2nd century AD.  At least one of his works is extant, the expositio rerum mathematicarum ad legendum Platonem utilium or exposition of mathematical ideas useful for the reading of Plato.  A look at COPAC shows me that it was edited by Eduard Hiller in the Tuebner series in Leipzig in 1878.  A photographic reprint was made in 1995.  A French translation Exposition des connaissances mathematiques utiles pour la lecture de platon was made by J. Dupuis in 1892, reprinted 1966.  Thanks to Google books, both are online.

And finally a curious English translation does seem to exist:

Theon, of Smyrna: Mathematics useful for understanding Plato; translated from the 1892 Greek/French edition of J. Dupuis by Robert and Deborah Lawlor and edited and annotated by Christos Toulis and others; with an appendix of notes by Dupuis, a copious glossary, index of works, etc. Series: Secret doctrine reference series Published: San Diego : Wizards Bookshelf, 1979. ISBN: 0913510246. 174pp. Notes: Cover title: Twn kata to mathematikon chresimwn eis ten Platonos anagnwsin.

Hmm.  That sounds like an amateur translation of the French of Dupuis.

So… what does he say?  Well, I find from the PDF that the material is actually on p.105 of Hiller, lines 4-5 (p.120 of the Google books PDF).  The magic word “Orphicos” appears above it, and then three lines of quotation.  The name of Evandros appears beneath. 

In the notes at the foot  of the page is a cross-reference to Zenobius V, 78, which we examined earlier.  Then a list of related material: Porphyry De antro nympharum 24, calling Mithras “demiurgos” (creator);  and Proclus’ commentary on the Timaeus of Plato p. 93 E, where the Orphic creator-god Phanes is given the same title.  Then a couple of old scholarly works are listed, on Orphism.  All this, incidentally, in a section on numbers. 

Let’s see if we can find out what the context is.

So now I go to Dupuis, who gives quite an introduction and even lists manuscripts.  The French National Library alone has a bunch of them, so this is plainly not a rare work, although I had never heard of it before.

A bit of guesswork and looking at an index for “Evandre” gives us page 173 (PDF page is 210), which is precisely the passage in question.  It is chapter 47 of the work.  Here it is, from Dupuis’ French.

47.  The number eight which is the first cube composed of unity and seven. Some say that there are eight gods who are masters of the universe, and this is also what we see in the sayings of Orpheus:

By the creators of things ever immortal,
Fire and water, earth and heaven, moon,
And sun, the great Phanes and the dark night.

And Evander reports that in Egypt may be found on a column an inscription of King Saturn and Queen Rhea: “The most ancient of all, King Osiris, to the immortal gods, to the spirit, to heaven and earth, to night and day, to the father of all that is and all that will be, and to Love, souvenir of the magificence of his life.”  Timotheus also reports the proverb, “Eight is all, because the spheres of the world which rotate around the earth are eight.” And, as Erastothenes says,

“These eight spheres harmonise together in making their revolutions around the earth.”

As a literary reference to syncretism between Mithras and Phanes, this lacks quite a bit.  But interesting, all the same, as examples of the sort of pseudo-knowledge being mixed up in antiquity.

2 Responses to “So who is Theo of Smyrna? (or even Theon of Smyrna)”


  1. ikokki

    Perhaps we could see that list of manuscripts on your “manuscripts of ancient authors” part of your website, some day?

  2. Roger Pearse

    I ought to do it, I agree.



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