HERMIPPUS OF SMYRNA, third-century B.C.E., Greek grammarian who wrote on “Zoroaster’s writings.” He lived in Alexandria and was a close associate of Callimachus (hence also referred to as Kallimacheios: Athenaeus 2.58 F; 5.213 F). He published extensive biographies (bioi) of eminent men and their disciples (e.g. Pythagoras, Aristotle, Gorgias), and also biographical accounts of the ancient lawgivers (peri nomothetōn) and of the Seven Sages (peri tōn hepta sophōn). In his work he based himself in part on the scholarly material in the Library of Alexandria, especially the “catalogs of books” (pinakes), but at the same time, he did not hesitate to fill the gaps in the record by resorting to the use of unscholarly sources, forced textual interpretations, and audacious improvisions. As a result of the prestige of the Alexandrian grammatical tradition, the extensive range of his work, and the numerous apparently authentic details of his bioi, Hermippus definitely influenced the biographical literature of the following centuries (including Plutarch and Diogenes Laërtius). According to Diogenes 1.8, he also published a multi-volume work on the Magi, viewed as Oriental wisdom-teachers (peri magōn).
As regards Iran, there is a significant fact that, in that work, Hermippus is said to have provided information also on the context of literature circulating from the early Hellenistic period attributed to an author named as Zoroaster (Zarathustra). Pliny (Historia naturalis 30.2.4) credits Hermippus with having “written on this art (sc. Magic) in the most exact fashion, while also making accessible, by the contents-lists prefaced to his volumes, the two million verses composed by Zoroaster” (qui de tota ea arte diligentissime scripsit, et viciens centum milia versuum a Zoroastre condita, indicibus quoque voluminum eius positis explanavit). Zoroaster is said to have lived 5,000 years before the Trojan War, and as his teacher Hermippius mentioned a man named Agonakes.
J. Bidez and F. Cumont, Les mages hellénisés I, Paris, 1938, pp. 21 f., 85-88.
M. Boyce and Grenet, Zoroastrianism, pp. 508, 525-25.
Originally Published: December 15, 2003
Last Updated: March 22, 2012
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