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.


Zenobius on Mithras

While working over the Wikipedia Mithras article, I found mention of syncretism with the Orphic deity Phanes.  It seems that we learn of this from inscriptions; but also that there is literary evidence of the syncretism of Mithras and Phanes, in the proverbs of Zenobius.  The reference is: ”Proverbia” 5.78 (in  Corpus paroemiographorum Graecorum vol. 1, p.151) This is Century V, 78 of Zenobius’ work.  The reference comes from Manfred Clauss’s splendid book on Mithras, p.70 n.84.  In the Google books PDF it is p.208.  But… I don’t see the name of Phanes here.   I see a list of deities; the name of Mithras is among them.  Can anyone with more Greek than me help?

I have posted about this obscure 2nd century proverb collector before.  His work doesn’t exist in English, and yet here again are interesting snippets on antiquity.

UPDATE: Fortunately I find more information in Albert de Jong, Traditions of the Magi: Zoroastrianism in Greek and Latin literature, p.309:

A final text that must be discussed is a list of elements attributed to an unknown Evandrus by the excerptor Didymus Zenobius 5.78.  “Evandrus said that the gods who rule over everything are eight: Fire, Water, Earth, Heaven, Moon, Sun, Mithra, Night.”  The appearance of Mithra in this list suggested to some an Iranian background to this passage.  An almost identical list can be found in Theon of Smyrna, but there instead of Mithra we find the name of Phanes.[226] In an interpretation of these passages, Reitzenstein invoked the importance of the Elements in Manichaean and Zoroastrian literature, and concluded that the lists of elements were typical for Iranian religions.

Both phrases, however, are concerned wilh the proverb “All is eight” …; this ogdoad is divided into a monad and a heptad. There can be no doubt that the lists are Greek; more particularly, they have an Orphic background. This is not only evident from the reference to the Night in both lists of eight elements, but particularly from the reference to Phanes. It is well known that Phanes and Mithras were connected with each other in the context of the Mithraic mysteries. There is not only icono-graphic evidence for this identification, but also textual evidence, from a famous Mithraic inscription to Zeus-Helios-Mithras-Phanes.[228] Theo of Smyrna also explicitly introduces the list as deriving from Orphic literature.

226. Theo Smyrnaeus, p. 104, 20 Hiller.

228 CIMRM 475; for Mithras and Phanes, cf. H.M.Jackson, “Love makes the World go round: The Classical Greek Ancestry of the Youth with the Zodiacal Circle in Late Roman Art’, in Hinnells (ed.). Studies in Mithraism 131-164.

This seems to be the evidence; without the inscriptions, it would probably not be very good.  It would be nice to track down Theo of Symrna, tho.


More Zenobius

A query in CLASSICS-L has brought some more info on this obscure 2nd century AD compiler of proverbs.

Andrew Chugg writes:

It’s a bit questionable whether Zenobius is an author or merely a compiler, since according to the Suda (s.v. Zenobios) his Proverbia consists of the proverbs of Arius Didymus of Alexandria and Tarrhaeus (Lucillus of Tarrha in Crete). He himself seems to have taught rhetoric under Hadrian in Rome.

I don’t know of a modern English translation of the whole work, but he is often quoted on various matters, especially concerning Alexandria.

If you’re mainly interested in Proverbia 3.94, then you could try Fraser’s Ptolemaic Alexandria. If you are interested in the whole work, then scholars of Didymus may be able to help. Obviously, it is quite likely that 3.94 is actually Didymus.

Terrence Lockyer adds:

The TLG text (for “Zenobius Sophista” as it classifies him) is from:

 – E. L. von Leutsch and F. G. Schneidewin (edd.), Epitome collectionum Lucilli Tarrhaei et Didymi, Corpus paroemiographorum Graecorum, vol. 1 (Goettingen : Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1839;  repr. Hildesheim : Georg Olms Verlag 1965)

which is in Google Books, whence it can be downloaded as a PDF, at

and thereby also in the Internet archive at

from which (following the “All files:  HTTP” link) one can download the book in PDF.

There is an apparent scanning issue on pp. 440-1 of the book / 501-2 of the PDF affecting the lower part of the notes, and again between pp. 513 and 514 of the book / 572 and 575 of the PDF, where, however, the affected pages seem to be duplicated, so nothing is lost), DJVU (which I’ve not checked), or the original scans, from the list of files at

The issues with a small number of pages (4 of 603, and two of them duplicates) do not appear when one reads the book on-line at Google Books, so presumably will not be visible in the PDF downloadable thence.

The (Google Books) PDF looks pretty decent, but there is an issue at the bottom left of p. 223 (280 of the PDF) where a mark visible in browsing the book via Google is much darker and obscures a bit of the note (one or two words on the left of the last three lines), and again on 233 (290 of the PDF, where the first half of the last three lines in the left column is affected), and on 258 (315 of the PDF, perhaps two words obscured);  while 247 (304 of the PDF) is wavy, there is a duplication of pp. 440-1 (on PDF pp. 501-2) with a hand in view on each duplicated page (as in the Internet Archive version, where I should have said that the pages are in fact also repeated, so nothing is actually lost), and pp. 491 (552) and 493 (554) have issues at bottom right.

P. 491 appears to be missing from the Internet Archive PDF.

In short, neither file is perfect, but the two together seem usable enough.

The text of Zenobius starts on p.55 of the Google books PDF, covering pp.1-177 of the edition.  There is no translation of any of it, sadly.  The pages contain only a limited amount of Greek; p.24 seems to contain 57 words, suggesting a total word count of ca. 11,000 words; about £500, at 5p a word, if I commissioned a translation.  Tempted…! 

The TLG tells me it’s actually 27,271, or about double that.  Still not a huge amount… but then there is the hassle of finding a translator and chasing him up, etc.  If I could pay the money and just get the translation, I probably would!


No Zenobius in English?

I never cease to be astonished at the quantity of ancient Greek literature that does not exist in English.  A few days ago I was looking into the testimonia for the tomb of Alexander.  Andrew Chugg has the following on his site:

“Ptolemy Philopator built [in 215 BC] in the middle of the city of Alexandria a memorial building, which is now called the Sema, and he laid there all his forefathers together with his mother, and also Alexander the Macedonian.”
Zenobius, 2nd century AD (Zenobius Proverbia III.94)

A scanty Wikipedia article tells me that Zenobius was a 2nd century collector of proverbs.  Yet I can find no trace of a translation.