Early contact descriptions of Europeans

Chinese author describes Dutch in the early 16th century:

During the reign of Ching-ti (thing-tee) (1506), foreigners from the west, called Fah-lan-ki (fah-lahn-kee, Franks), who said they had tribute, abruptly entered the Bogue (entrance of the West River), and by their exceedingly loud guns, shook the place far and near. This was reported at court, and an order was given to drive them away at once, and to stop trading with them. At this time also the Dutch came to Macao (mah-cow) in two or three large ships. Their clothes and their hair were red; their bodies were tall; they had blue eyes, sunk deep in their head. Their feet were one cubit and two-tenths long; and they frightened the people by their strange appearance.

An 18th century Japanese visitor on Dutch ship (from The Japanese Discovery of Europe, 1720 – 1830):

When we went aboard, the captain and many others took off their hats to salute us. They have dark, sallow faces, yellow hair, and green eyes. They seem to appear from nowhere, and just like goblins and demons. Who would not run away from them in fright?

Aztec reports of the first Spanish soldiers (From Broken Spears):

When the sacrifice was finished, the messengers reported to the king. They told him how they had made the journey, and what they had seen, and what food the strangers ate. Motecuhzoma was astonished and terrified by their report, and the description of the strangers’ food astonished him above all else.

He was also terrified to learn how the cannon roared, how its noise resounded, how it caused one to faint and grow deaf. The messengers told him: “A thing like a ball of stone comes out of its entrails: it comes out shooting sparks and raining fire. The smoke that comes out with it has a pestilent odor, like that of rotten mud. This odor penetrates even to the brain and causes the greatest discomfort. If the cannon is aimed against a mountain, the mountain splits and cracks open. If it is aimed against a tree, it shatters the tree into splinters. This is a most unnatural sight, as if the tree had exploded from within.”

The messengers also said: “Their trappings and arms are all made of iron. They dress in iron and wear iron casques on their heads. Their swords are iron; their bows are iron; their shields are iron; their spears are iron. Their deer carry them on their backs wherever they wish to go. These deer, our lord, are as tall as the roof of a house.

“The strangers’ bodies are completely covered, so that only their faces can be seen. Their skin is white, as if it were made of lime. They have yellow hair, though some of them have black. Their beards are long and yellow, and their moustaches are also yellow. Their hair is curly, with very fine strands.

“As for their food, it is like human food. It is large and white, and not heavy. It is something like straw, but with the taste of a cornstalk, of the pith of a cornstalk. It is a little sweet, as if it were flavored with honey; it tastes of honey, it is sweet- tasting food.

Their dogs are enormous, with flat ears and long, dangling tongues. The color of their eyes is a burning yellow; their eyes flash fire and shoot off sparks. Their bellies are hollow, their flanks long and narrow. They are tireless and very powerful. They bound here and there panting, with their tongues hanging out. And they are spotted like an ocelot.

When Motecuhzoma heard this report, he was filled with terror. It was as if his heart had fainted, as if it had shriveled. It was as if he were conquered by despair.

When they reached the city, they went directly to the king’s palace and spoke to him with all due reverence and humility: “Our lord and king, it is true that strange people have come to the shores of the great sea. They were fishing from a small boat, some with rods and others with a net. They fished until late and then they went back to their two great towers and climbed up into them. There were about fifteen of these people, some with blue jackets, others with red, others with black or green, and still others with jackets of a soiled color, very ugly, like our ichtilmatli. There were also a few without jackets. On their heads they wore red kerchiefs, or bonnets of a fine scarlet color, and some wore large round hats like small comales, which must have been sunshades. They have very light skin, much lighter than ours, They all have long beards, and their hair comes only to their ears.”

Universalism

This post has a lot of overlap with my ‘equality‘ post. The purpose of that one was to find quotes which could be interpreted as placing all humans on a similar footing in terms of worth, moral perfectibility, etc. The question here is of philosophies which indicate a expansive view of the human community and one’s obligations towards it.

So, who would be considered universalistic? I would say Christianity, Buddhism, Mohism, Stoics (and perhaps other Greek philosophies as well, though less explicitly). Confucianism, as it developed, could be considered universalistic but not impartial. Hinduism is questionable because of the stress it places on people’s specific obligations based on caste, and towards those of other castes.

Once again, as noted by jhappolati, the different ontologies of eastern and western philosophies complicate comparisons.

There’s not much debate about Buddhism and Christianity, I think, so I won’t quote anything from them. The Greek tradition experienced a strong turn towards universalism with the conquests of Alexander and the decline of city-states.

The Chinese Tradition – early statements

[See discussion at jhappolati.wordpress.com and resolution: “Confucianism is universalistic but not ‘impartialistic.’”]

Mencius. 7A, 45
Mencius said, ‘In regard to [inferior] creatures, the superior man loves them but is not humane to them (that is, showing them the feeling due human beings). In regard to people generally, he is humane to them but not affectionate. He is affectionate to his parents and humane to all people. He is humane to all people and feels love for all creatures.’

Taoism Chuang Tzu 23
If you step on a stranger’s foot in the marketplace, you apologize at length for your carelessness. If you step on your older brother’s foot, you give him an affectionate pat, and if you step on your parent’s foot, you know you are already forgiven. So it is said, “Perfect ritual makes no distinction of persons; perfect righteousness takes no account of things [wealth]; perfect knowledge does not scheme; perfect benevolence knows no [partiality in] affection; perfect trust dispenses with gold.”

Mohism (Mozi – ‘Love III’)
“If we should classify one by one all those who hate others and injure others, should we find them to be universal in love or partial? Of course we should say they are partial. Now, since partiality against one another is the cause of the major calamities in the empire, then partiality is wrong… Partiality is to be replaced by universality… If we should classify one by one all those who love others and benefit others, should we find them to be partial or universal? Of course we should say they are universal. Now, since universal love is the cause of the major benefits in the world, therefore Mozi proclaims universal love is right.

Later Chinese Tradition
Chinese tradition as represented in standard moral texts in the last millenium shows a great deal of syncretism of the above traditions, as well as influence from Buddhism.

T’ai-Shang Kan-Ying P’ien (which had huge distribution in China, perhaps at levels comparable to the Bible in the West)
“With a compassionate heart turn toward all creatures.
Be faithful, filial, friendly, and brotherly.
First rectify thyself and then convert others.
Take pity on orphans, assist widows; respect the old, be kind to children.
Even the multifarious insects, herbs, and trees should not be injured.
Be grieved at the misfortune of others and rejoice at their good luck.
Assist those in need, and rescue those in danger.
Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and regard your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.”

See also, “The Tract of the Quiet Way

Greeks and Romans

Socrates (attributed by Plutarch)
I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.

Alexander the Great
from Mircea Eliade’s “A History of Religious Ideas”
“When the Macedonians mutinied at Opis – because as one of them put it, “You have made Persians your relatives” – Alexander exclaimed: “But I have made you all my relatives!” The sedition ended in a banquet of reconciliation to which, according to tradition, 3,000 persons were invited. At the end of it Alexander uttered a prayer for peace and wished that all the peoples on earth could live together in harmony and in unity of heart and mind (homonoia). “He had previously said that all men were sons of one Father, and that his prayer was the expression of his recorded belief that he had a mission from God to be the Reconciler of the World.(Tarn, Alexander the Great, p. 117)”

Zeno (from Plutarch)
“The much admired Republic of Zeno … is aimed at this main point, that our household arrangements should not be based on cities or parishes, each one marked out by its own legal system, but we should regard all men as our fellow citizens and local residents, and there should be one way of life and order, like that of a herd grazing together and nurtured by a common law. Zeno wrote this, picturing as it were, a dream or image of a philosopher’s well regulated society.”

Cicero (On Ends)
“The mere fact of their common humanity requires that one man should feel another man to be akin to him.”

“There is nothing so like anything else as we are to one another” and to treat foreigners worse than romans would lead to the destruction of “the whole foundation of the human community” and will lead to “the annihilation of all kindness, generosity, goodness and justice.”

Cicero (On Duties 1.50)
“The interests of society, however, and its common bonds will be best conserved, if kindness be shown to each individual in proportion to the closeness of his relationship. But it seems we must trace back to their ultimate sources the principles of fellowship and society that Nature has established among men. The first principle is that which is found in the connection subsisting between all the members of the human race; and that bond of connection is reason and speech, which by the processes of teaching and learning, of communicating, discussing, and reasoning associate men together and unite them in a sort of natural fraternity. In no other particular are we farther removed from the nature of beasts; for we admit that they may have courage (horses and lions, for example); but we do not admit that they have justice, equity, and goodness; for they are not endowed with reason or speech. This, then, is the most comprehensive bond that unites together men as men and all to all; and under it the common right to all things that Nature has produced for the common use of man is to be maintained, with the understanding that, while everything assigned as private property by the statutes and by civil law shall be so held as prescribed by those same laws, everything else shall be regarded in the light indicated by the Greek proverb: “Amongst friends all things in common.”
Furthermore, we find the common property of all men in things of the sort defined by Ennius; and, though restricted by him to one instance, the principle may be applied very generally:
Who kindly sets a wand’rer on his way
Does e’en as if he lit another’s lamp by his:
No less shines his, when he his friend’s hath lit.
In this example he effectively teaches us all to bestow even upon a stranger what it costs us nothing to give.

Cicero (On the Laws – book I)
“But of all the things which are a subject of philosophical debate there is nothing more worthwhile than clearly to understand that we are born for justice and that justice is established not by opinion but by nature. That will be clear if you examine the common bonds among human beings. There is no similarity, no likeness of one thing to another, so great as the likeness we all share. If distorted habits and false opinions did not twist weak minds and bend them in any direction, no one would be so like himself as all people would be like all others. Thus, whatever definition of a human being one adopts is equally valid for all humans… and the things that are impressed upon the mind, the rudiments of understanding which I mentioned before, are impressed similarly on all humans, and language, the interpreter of the mind, may differ in words but is identical in ideas. There is no person of any nation who cannot reach virtue with the aid of a guide… Trouble, happiness, desires, and fears pass equally through the minds of all, and if different peoples have different beliefs, that does not mean that the superstition that affects people who worship dogs and cats is not the same as that
which besets other races. What nation is there that does not cherish affability, generosity, a grateful mind and one that remembers good deeds? What nation does not scorn and hate people who are proud, or evildoers, or cruel, or ungrateful? From all these things it may be understood that the whole human race is bound together; and the final result is that the understanding of the right way of life makes all people better…

It follows, then, that we have been made by nature to receive the knowledge of justice one from another and share it among all people. … All people have reason, and therefore justice has been given to all…

… when he has (so to speak) got a grip on the god who guides and rules these things and has recognized that he is not bound by human walls as the citizen of one particular spot but a citizen of the whole world as if it were a single city…”

Dionysius of Helicarnassus (14.6.1 – adapted)
“The Romans are magnanimous, unlike the Athenians and Spartans who treated people of their own stock with the brutatlity of barbarians. Greeks are to be distinguished by barbarians, not by name or language, but by intelligence and a predilection for decent behaviour that shuns inhumane treatment. Those should be called Greeks whose plans and actions are fair and humane. ”

Epictetus
(Discourses, ii. 5. 26) – “Each human being is primarily a citizen of his own commonwealth; but he is also a member of the great city of gods and men, where of the city political is only a copy.”
(Golden sayings) – “Never, when asked one’s country, [should you answer], ‘I am an Athenian or a Corinthian,’ but ‘I am a citizen of the world.'”

Seneca (Epistles, xlvii. 10)
“Kindly remember that he whom you call your slave sprang from the same stock, is smiled upon by the same skies, and on equal terms with yourself breathes, lives, and dies…
“The World is the mother of us all, and the ultimate origin of each one of us can be traced back to her, whether the steps in the ladder of descent be noble or humble. To no one is virtue forbidden; she is accessible to all; she admits everyone, she invites everyone in; free men and freedmen, slaves, kings, and exiles…
There is one short rule that should regulate human relationships. All that you see, both divine and human, is one. We are the parts of one great body. Nature created us from the same source and to the same end. She imbued us with mutual affection and sociability, she taught us to be fair and just, to suffer injury rather than to inflict it. She bids extend our hands to all in need of help. let that well-known line be in our hearts and on our lips: I am a man. I deem nothing pertaining to man foreign to me. ”

Marcus Aurelius
(Meditations, II) “Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him, For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away. ”
(Meditations III) “For the lot which is assigned to each man is carried along with him and carries him along with it. And he remembers also that every rational animal is his kinsman, and that to care for all men is according to man’s nature”
(Meditations IV) “If our intellectual part is common, the reason also, in respect of which we are rational beings, is common: if this is so, common also is the reason which commands us what to do, and what not to do; if this is so, there is a common law also; if this is so, we are fellow-citizens; if this is so, we are members of some political community; if this is so, the world is in a manner a state. For of what other common political community will any one say that the whole human race are members?”
(Meditations VIII)”He does not forget the brotherhood of all rational beings, nor that a concern for every man is proper to humanity; and he knows that it is not the world’s opinions he should follow, but only those of men whose lives confessedly accord with Nature.”

Hierocles (2nd century AD – fragment from Stobaeus)
“Each one of us is as it were entirely encompassed by many circles, some smaller, others larger, the latter enclosing the former on the basis of their different and unequal dispositions relative to each other. The first and closest circle is the one which a person has drawn as though around a centre, his own mind. This circle encloses the body and anything taken for the sake of the body. For it is virtually the smallest circle, and almost touches the centre itself. Next, the second one further removed from the centre but enclosing the first circle; this contains parents, siblings, wife, and children. The third one has in it uncles and aunts, grandparents, nephews, nieces, and cousins. The next circle includes the other relatives, and this is followed by the circle of local residents, then the circle of fellow-tribesmen, next that of fellow citizens, and then in the same way the circle of people from neighboring towns, and the circle of fellow-countrymen. The outermost and largest circle, which encompasses all the rest, is that of the whole human race… Once all these [circles] have been surveyed, it is the task of a well tempered man, in his proper treatment of each group, to draw the circles together somehow toward the
center, and to keep zealously transferring those from the enclosing circles into the enclosed ones… It is incumbent upon us to respect people from the third circle as if they were those from the second, and again to respect our other relatives as if they were those from the third circle. É The right point will be reached if, through our own initiative, we reduce the distance of the relationship with each person.”

Dio Chrysostom (ca. 40 – 120 AD) Discourse 7.133 – 133
In dealing with brothel-keepers and their trade we must certainly betray no weakness as though something were to be said on both sides, but must sternly forbid them and insist that no one… shall pursue such a business, thus levying a fee, which all the world condemns as shameful, upon brutality and lust… Neither barbarian women, I say, nor Greeks – of whom the latter were in former times almost free but now live in bondage utter and complete – shall they put in such shameful constraint… It is our duty, therefore, to give some heed to this and under no condition to bear this mistreatment of outcast and enslaved creatures with calmness and indifference, not only because all humanity has been held in honour and in equal honour by God, who begat it, having the same marks and tokens to show that it deserves honour, to wit, reason and the knowledge of evil and good…”

Jesus Mythicism

I tend to shift interests every so often, and I seem to be moving back towards questions of religion right now. I think this may be partly because of the new book by Bart Ehrman arguing that Jesus really existed. I was disturbed to discover the prevalence in the atheist community of belief in Jesus mythicism. This is simply not a very reasonable position. The fact that the accounts of Jesus almost certainly had various accretions does not make him equivalent to any random legendary figure like King Arthur or Achilles.

It’s a good reminder that simple-minded ‘skepticism’ is as likely to lead you astray as not being skeptical enough.

Ancient quotations: equality

All religions may declare people equal in a spiritual sense, but this does not mean they mean it in a political sense of equal rights, privileges, dignity, etc. In any case, these are quotes which could be interpreted as placing all humans on a similar footing in terms of worth, moral perfectibility, and so forth. This post has a lot of overlap with my ‘universalism‘ post. The purpose of that one was to find passages which indicate a expansive view of the human community and one’s obligations towards it.

Confucius (Analects 17.2)
Confucius said, “By nature men are pretty much alike; it is learning and practice that set them apart.

Buddism (Dhammapada 393,396)
“Not by matted hair, nor by family, nor by birth does one become a brahmin. But in whom there exist both truth and righteousness, pure is he, a brahmin is he.
I do not call him a brahmin merely because he is born of a brahmin womb or sprung from a brahmin mother. Being with impediments, he should address others as “sir.” But he who is free from impediments, free from clinging–him I call a brahmin.”

Buddhism (Sutta Nipata 648)
“So what of all these titles, names, and races? They are mere worldly convention.”

Buddhism (Sutra of Hui Neng 1)
“You are a native of Kwangtung, a barbarian. How can you expect to be a Buddha?” asked the Patriarch.
Hui Neng replied, “Although there are northern men and southern men, north and south make no difference to their Buddha-nature. A barbarian is different from Your Holiness physically, but there is no difference in our Buddha-nature.”

Buddhism (Vimalakirti Sutra)
The goddess continued, “If the elder could again change out of the female state, then all women could also change out of their female states. All women appear in the form of women in just the same way as the elder appears in the form of a woman. While they are not women in reality, they appear in the form of women. With this in mind, the Buddha said, ‘In all things, there is neither male nor female.'”
[for a similar idea, see (Samyutta Nikaya i.128)]

Hinduism – nothing illustrates that spiritual equality doesn’t equal any relevant form of equality better than Hinduism – despite sayings about equality, it seems that it was Hindu religion that provides the basis of caste distinctions.

Hinduism (Bhagavad Gita 9.29)
“I look upon all creatures equally; none are less dear to me and none more dear.”

Hinduism (Rig Veda 8.51.9)
“Lord God of glory is He to whom both the Ariyans and the outcastes (Dasa) belong.”

Euripides (The Phonissae)
“Oh why, my son, art thou so set upon Ambition, that worst of deities?
Forbear; that goddess knows not justice; many are the homes and cities
once prosperous that she hath entered and left after the ruin of her
votaries; she it is thou madly followest. Better far, my son, prize
Equality that ever linketh friend to friend, city to city, and allies
to each other; for Equality is man’s natural law; but the less is
always in opposition to the greater, ushering in the dayspring of
dislike. For it is Equality that hath set up for man measures and
divisions of weights and hath distinguished numbers; night’s sightless
orb, and radiant sun proceed upon their yearly course on equal terms,
and neither of them is envious when it has to yield. Though sun and
gloom then both are servants in man’s interests, wilt not thou be
content with thy fair share of thy heritage and give the same to him?
if not, why where is justice? Why prize beyond its worth the monarch’s
power, injustice in prosperity? why think so much of the admiring
glances turned on rank? Nay, ’tis vanity. Or wouldst thou by heaping
riches in thy halls, heap up toil therewith? what advantage is it?
’tis but a name; for the wise find that enough which suffices for
their wants. Man indeed hath no possessions of his own; we do but
hold a stewardship of the gods’ property; and when they will, they
take it back again. Riches make no settled home, but are as transient
as the day. Come, suppose I put before thee two alternatives, whether
thou wilt rule or save thy city? Wilt thou say ‘Rule’?”

Euripides – Suppliant Women
“There is no despot in our land, no land
Who rules and makes laws at his own desire.
Free is our city, here the people rule,
Rich mand and poor, held equal by the law.”

“‘Who here will give wise counsel to the state?’
When every man is free to speak or not,
Each equal to the other.”

Menander
“No man is alien to me. In us all there is one nature”
“Mother – you’re killing me with all these pedigress, / Reeling off lists of all our grandfathers. / You won’t say, will you, there’s a man alive / Who hasn’t got a grandfather? I tell you, / A man who’s good by nature, Mother mine, / Even if he’s born an Ethiopian, / Is nobly born.”

Alcidamas (4th cent. BC)
“God has set everyone free. No one is made a slave by nature.”

Antiphon (5th-4th cent. BC)
“We revere and honour those born of noble fathers, but those who are not born of noble houses we neither revere nor honour. In this we are, in our relations with one another, like barbarians, since we are all by nature born the same in every way, both barbarians and Hellenes. And it is open to all men to observe the laws of nature, which are compulsory. Similarly all of these things can be acquired by all, and in none of these things is any of us distinguished as barbarian or Hellene. We all breathe into the air through mouth and nostrils, and we all eat with hands. . .”

Philemon (4th-3rd cent. BC)
“Though a man be a slave he is made of the same flesh as you. For no one was ever made a slave by nature; but chance has enslaved a man’s body.”

Zeno (Republic – from Plutarch)
“The much admired Republic of Zeno … is aimed at this main point, that our household arrangements should not be based on cities or parishes, each one marked out by its own legal system, but we should regard all men as our fellow citizens and local residents, and there should be one way of life and order, like that of a herd grazing together and nurtured by a common law. Zeno wrote this, picturing as it were, a dream or image of a philosopher’s well regulated society.”

Cicero (On Ends)
“The mere fact of their common humanity requires that one man should feel another man to be akin to him.”

Cicero (On the Laws – Book I)
“They think too that the concept of law is derived in the Greek form from the word ‘nomos,’ which implies that each person is given his share. I, however, prefer the derivation in the Latin from our word ‘Lego.’ The Greeks place the stress on equality; we place it on choice. Nevertheless both these qualities are attributes of the law.”

Cicero
“There is nothing so like anything else as we are to one another and to treat foreigners worse than romans would lead to the destruction of the whole foundation of the human community and will lead to the annihilation of all kindness, generosity, goodness and justice.”

Cicero (On the Commonwealth – Book I)
“Furthermore, virtue is the same in human and god, and it is found in no other species besides; and virtue is nothing else than nature perfected and taken to its highest level… But of all the things which are a subject of philosophical debate there is nothing more worthwhile than clearly to understand that we are born for justice and that justice is established not by opinion but by nature. That will be clear if you examine the common bonds among human beings. There is no similarity, no likeness of one thing to another, so great as the likeness we all share. If distorted habits and false opinions did not twist weak minds and bend them in any direction, no one would be so like himself as all people would be like all others. Thus, whatever definition of a human being one adopts is equally valid for all humans. That, in turn, is a sufficient proof that there is no dissimilarity within the species; if there were, then no one definition would apply to all. In particular, reason, the one thing by which we stand above the beasts, through which we are capable of drawing inferences, making arguments, refuting others, conducting discussions and demonstrations – reason is shared by all, and though it differs in the particulars of knowledge, it is the same in the capacity to learn… The similarity of the human race is as remarkable in perversities as it is in proper behavior. All people are ensnared by pleasure; and even if it is an enticement to bad conduct it still has some similarity to natural goodness… Trouble, happiness, desires, and fears pass equally through the minds of all, and if different peoples have different beliefs, that does not mean that the superstition that affects people who worship dogs and cats is not the same as that which besets other races. What nation is there that does not cherish affability, generosity, a grateful mind and one that remembers good deeds? What nation does not scorn and hate people who are proud, or evildoers, or cruel, or ungrateful? From all these things it may be understood that the whole human race is bound together; and the final result is that the understanding of the right way of life makes all people better… All people have reason, and therefore justice has been given to all…”

Seneca (Epistles, xlvii. 10)
“Kindly remember that he whom you call your slave sprang from the same stock, is smiled upon by the same skies, and on equal terms with yourself breathes, lives, and dies.”

Seneca (Epistulae Morales 95. 51-53)
“There is one short rule that should regulate human relationships. All that you see, both divine and human, is one. We are the parts of one great body. Nature created us from the same source and to the same end. She imbued us with mutual affection and sociability, she taught us to be fair and just, to suffer injury rather than to inflict it. She bids extend our hands to all in need of help. let that well-known line be in our hearts and on our lips: I am a man. I deem nothing pertaining to man foreign to me.”

Seneca (Epistulae Morales XC)
“In.. the Golden Age, government, so Posidonius maintains, was in the hands of the wise. They kept the peace, protected the weaker from the stronger… to govern was to serve, not to rule. No one used to try out the extent of his power over those to whom he owed that power in the first place….
If God were to allow a man to fashion the things of this earth and allot its peoples their social customs, that man would not be satisfied with any other system than the one which tradition says existed in those peopleÕs time… Share and share alike they enjoyed nature… what it all amounted to was undisturbed possession of resources owned by the community. I can surely call that race of men one of unparalleled riches, it being impossible to find a single pauper in it. Into this ideal state of things burst avarice…
All was equally divided among people living in complete harmony. The stronger had not yet started laying hands on the weaker; the avaricious person had not yet started hiding things away, to be hoarded for his own private use, so shutting the next man off from actual necessities of life; each cared as much about the other as about himself…
They were still merciful to dumb animals. Man was far and away from killing man, not out of fear and provocation, but simply for entertainment.”

Marcus Aurelius
(Meditations, II) “… from him I received the idea of a polity in which there is the same law for all, a polity administered with regard to equal rights and equal freedom of speech, and the idea of a kingly government which respects most of all the freedom of the governed”
(Meditations, II) “But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him, For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.”
(Meditations VII) “For there is one universe made up of all things, and one God who pervades all things, and one substance, and one law, one common reason in all intelligent animals, and one truth; if indeed there is also one perfection for all animals which are of the same stock and participate in the same reason.”
“He does not forget the brotherhood of all rational beings, nor that a concern for everyman is proper to humanity…”

Dio Chrysostom (ca. 40 – 120 AD) Discourse 7.133 – 133
In dealing with brothel-keepers and their trade we must certainly betray no weakness as though something were to be said on both sides, but must sternly forbid them and insist that no one… shall pursue such a business, thus levying a fee, which all the world condemns as shameful, upon brutality and lust… Neither barbarian women, I say, nor Greeks – of whom the latter were in former times almost free but now live in bondage utter and complete – shall they put in such shameful constraint… It is our duty, therefore, to give some heed to this and under no condition to bear this mistreatment of outcast and enslaved creatures with calmness and indifference, not only because all humanity has been held in honour and in equal honour by God, who begat it, having the same marks and tokens to show that it deserves honour, to wit, reason and the knowledge of evil and good…”

Comparing Christianity & Judaism with surrounding cultures

Often when Christian or Jewish morality is being compared favourably to other ancients civilizations, it is being compared to the Greco-Romans, who it has to be admitted, were not extremely compassionate, or the baby-sacrificing Canaanites. But there are other civilizations that they can be compared to –  places like Egypt. Actually, Strabo even called the Jews “Egyptian in origin.”

Starting with human sacrifice : as with Greece and Rome, human sacrifice had disappeared by the historic period in Egypt, being certainly gone by 2800 BC, with evidence before that being questionable, but possibly indicating retainer sacrifice.

Slavery: naturally Greece and Rome come off looking bad in this comparison. However, first we need to clear up something about Jewish slave practices. While much is made of the leniency of Jewish slave practices, in fact this is only because they had two sets of rules in regards to slaves: one for Jewish slaves (7 year terms, treated more as servants…) and another for non-Jewish slaves. No such special treatment existed for non-Jewish slaves, who were, in fact, the majority of slaves. From the book “Jewish Slavery in Antiquity”:

According to the Torah, no restrictions apply to Israelites’ purchase of slaves of other ethnic origins (cf. Lev. 25: 44–5). Such slaves may be given to one’s children as an inheritance, that is, they may be enslaved permanently or as long as the master wishes (Lev. 24: 46). No particular precautions have to be taken with regard to their treatment. The Israelite master is allowed to ‘treat them as slaves’ (ibid.). Unlike Israelite slaves, whose enslavement is seen as a lapse of fortune and a reversal of the Exodus experience (see especially Lev. 25: 42: ‘For they are my servants, whom I freed from the land of Egypt; they may not give themselves over into servitude’), a curse rests on certain other nations such as the Canaanites and Gibeonites, a curse which justified their permanent enslavement.

The situation is Egypt is difficult to determine, partly because of how one defines ‘slaves’ – but some estimates hovering around 10% (compared to up to a 1/3 in the Greco-Roman heartland. There were many statements about the obligation to treat slaves well in Egyptian writings.

Infanticide: Strabo says this about the Egyptians (also showing their similarity to the Jews): “One of the customs most zealously observed among the egyptians is this, that they rear every child that is born, and circumcise the males, and excise the females, as is also customary among the Jews, who are also Egyptian in origin, as I have already stated in my account of them.” From Wikipedia:

In Egyptian households at all social levels children of both sexes were valued and there is no evidence of infanticide. The religion of the Ancient Egyptians forbade infanticide and during the Greco-Roman period they rescued abandoned babies from manure heaps, a not uncommon method of infanticide by Greeks or Romans, and were allowed to either adopt them as foundlings or raise them as slaves, often giving them names such as “copro -” to memorialise their rescue. Strabo considered it a peculiarity of the Egyptians that every child must be reared. Diodorus indicates infanticide was a punishable offence.

Women: Joyce tyldesley on women in ancient Egypt (source):

An exception to most other ancient societies, Egyptian women achieved parity with Egyptian men. They enjoyed the same legal and economic rights, at least in theory, and this concept can be found in Egyptian art and contemporary manuscripts. The disparities between people’s legal rights were based on differences in social class and not on gender. Legal and economic rights were afforded to both men and women.

Egyptian women’s rights extended to all legally defined areas of Egyptian civilization. Women could manage, own, and sell private property, which included slaves, land, portable goods, servants, livestock, and money. Women could resolve legal settlements. Women could conclude any kind of legal settlement. Women could appear as a contracting partner in a marriage contract or a divorce contract; they could execute testaments; they could free slaves; women could make adoptions. Women were entitled to sue at law. This amount of freedom was at variance with that of the Greek women who required a designated male, called a kourios, to represent or stand for her in all legal contracts and proceedings.

On executions and the value of human life. From “Social Justice in the Ancient World”:

…the monarch himself was responsible and liable for pronouncing sentences in capital cases. It is significant that kings are occasionally depicted as reluctant to execute criminals. Indeed, monarchs who were not troubled by this responsibility could be suspected of acting unjustly.

For example… a literary composition dating to about 1600 BC, contains a portrayal of the Old Kingdom monarch, Khufu… the king is told of a man named Djedi who is reputed to have the ability to restore to life a person who had been decapitated…

“‘Is the rumor true that you are able to re-attach a head that has been severed (from its body)?’
‘Yes, I am able, my sovereign, my lord.’ Djedi answered.
Then the king said, ‘Have a prisoner who is in jail brought to me, and execute his sentence!’
But Djedi said, ‘No, my sovereign, my lord – not to a human being! Behold it is forbidden to do such a thing to the precious cattle (of god)!'”

…the attitude and belief expressed by Djedi to the king should be regarded as a widely held tenet of ancient Egyptian morality. Human beings, even criminals, were ultimately considered to be under the watchful eye of the divine… and were not to be killed on a whim. Royal power was limited by divine injunction.

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More on Egyptian ethics

Early Tomb Inscription (From “Social Justice in the Ancient world”):

I have carried out justice for my lord;
I have satisfied him with what he loves.
I spoke truly; I did what was right;
I spoke fairly, and reported accurately.
I held onto what was opportune, so as to stand well with people.
I adjudicated between two, so as to content them both,
I rescued the weak from one stronger than he, as much as was in my power.
I gave bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked, water to the thirsty.
I brought the deceased who could not afford transportation to the cemetary;
I buried him who had no son.
I furnished transportation for him who lacked it.
I respected my father, and pleased my mother, rearing up their chldren.

‘This basic list… is further expanded as time goes by to include such statements as, ‘I was one who was father to the orphan, and who gave aid to the widow’ (Sethe 1928: 79); ‘I was friend to the lowly; well-disposed to the one who had nothing. I helped the hungry who had no goods, and was generous to those in misery’ (Sethe 1928: 80-81); ‘Whoever was lost, I put back on the road, I rescued the one who was robbed’ (Sethe 1928: 7).

Inasmuch as such statements appear consistently in tomb inscriptions and funerary stela over millenia and are also alluded to in legal stipulations, judicial documents, and wisdom-texts, one may refer to these tenets of ma’at as being in a real sense, ‘canonical’ – precepts to which all segments of ancient Egyptian soceity were expected to adhere.

It should be pointed out that literature of this type – used to educate scribes and employees of the royal administration – is attested for millenia; and this fact suggests that such appeals on behalf of the needy, again, represented a widely held standard of morality, undoubtedly embodying the very requirements of ma’at [Justice].

More moral texts from ancient Egypt:

The Instructions of Amenemope (c. 1300-1000 BC)

Do not jeer at a blind man nor tease a dwarf,
Neither interfere with the condition of a cripple;
Do not taunt a man who is in the hand of God [insane],
Nor scowl at him if he errs.
Man is clay and straw,
And God is his potter;
He overthrows and he builds daily,
He impoverishes a thousand if He wishes.
He makes a thousand into examiners,
When He is in His hour of life.
How fortunate is he who reaches the West,
When he is safe in the hand of God.

Do not expose a widow if you have caught her in the fields,
Nor fail to give way if she is accused.
Do not turn a stranger away your oil jar
That it may be made double for your family.
God loves him who cares for the poor,
More than him who respects the wealthy.

Also: The maxims of Vizier Ptah-hotep (c. 2200 BC)

Ancient quotations: returning evil with good

Jesus said “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighborh and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” So I went looking for quotes of pagans who said something similar (as long as they were pre-Christian or near contemporaries).

The Advice of an Akkadian Father to his Son (c. 2200 B.C. – source)
“Do not return evil to your adversary; requite with kindness the one who does evil to you, maintain justice for your enemy, be friendly to your enemy.”

Buddhism

Dhammapada 3-5
“He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me!” In those who harbor such thoughts hatred is not appeased.
“He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me!” In those who do not harbor such thoughts hatred is appeased.
Hatreds never cease through hatred in this world; through non-hatred alone they cease. This is an eternal law.

Dhammapada 223-234
“Overcome the angry by non-anger; overcome the wicked by goodness; overcome the miser by generosity; overcome the liar by truth.
Speak the truth; yield not to anger; when asked, give even if you only have a little.”

Dhammapada 197
“Let us live happily, not hating those who hate us. Let us therefore overcome anger by kindness, evil by good, falsehood by truth.”

Majjhima Nikaya 1.129
“Monks, even if bandits were to savagely sever you, limb by limb, with a double-handled saw, even then, whoever of you harbors ill will at heart would not be upholding my Teaching. Monks, even in such a situation you should train yourselves thus: ‘Neither shall our minds be affected by this, nor for this matter shall we give vent to evil words, but we shall remain full of concern and pity, with a mind of love, and we shall not give in to hatred. On the contrary, we shall live projecting thoughts of universal love to those very persons, making them as well as the whole world the object of our thoughts of universal love – thoughts that have grown great, exalted and measureless. We shall dwell radiating these thoughts which are void of hostility and ill will.’ It is in this way, monks, that you should train yourselves.”

Confucianism

Analects 4.3-4
“Of the adage, Only a good man knows how to like people, knows how to dislike them, Confucius said, ‘He whose heart is in the smallest degree set upon Goodness will dislike no one.'”

Analects 14.36
“Someone said, ‘What do you say concerning the principle that injury should be recompensed with kindness?’ The Master said, ‘With what will you then recompense kindness? Recompense injury with justice, and recompense kindness with kindness.'” [This shows Confucius did not teach “turn the other cheek” – but it is proposing justice, not revenge or anger – note that is also indicates someone else was teaching “turning the other cheek” – Taoists or Mohists?]

Taoism

Tao Te Ching 49
“The Sage has no interests of his own, But takes the interests of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; He is also kind to the unkind; For Virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; He is also faithful to the unfaithful: For Virtue is faithful. In the midst of the world, the Sage is shy and self-effacing. For the sake of the world he keeps his heart in its nebulous state. All the people strain their ears and eyes: The Sage only smiles like an amused infant.”

Jainism

Samanasuttam 136
“Man should subvert anger by forgiveness, subdue pride by modesty, overcome hypocrisy with simplicity, and greed by contentment.”

Hinduism

Ramayana, Yuddha Kanda 115
“A superior being does not render evil for evil; this is a maxim one should observe; the ornament of virtuous persons is their conduct. One should never harm the wicked or the good or even criminals meriting death. A noble soul will ever exercise compassion even towards those who enjoy injuring others or those of cruel deeds when they are actually committing them–for who is without fault?”

Greeks & Romans

Socrates (Crito, 49c)
“Then we ought not to retaliate or render evil for evil to anyone, whatever evil we may have suffered from him. But I would have you consider, Crito, whether you really mean what you are saying. For this opinion has never been held, and never will be held, by any considerable number of persons; and those who are agreed and those who are not agreed upon this point have no common ground, and can only despise one another when they see how widely they differ. Tell me, then, whether you agree with and assent to my first principle, that neither injury nor retaliation nor warding off evil by evil is ever right.”

Musonius Rufus (Discourse 10)
“For to scheme how to bite back the biter and to return evil for evil is the act not of a human being but of a wild beast, which is incapable of reasoning that the majority of wrongs are done to men through ignorance and misunderstanding, from which man will cease as soon as he has been taught,”
(Fragment 41) “We say that the despicable man is recognized among other things by his inability to harm his enemies, but actually he is much more easily recognized by his inability to help them.”

Seneca (On Anger)
“Man’s nature, then, does not crave vengeance; neither, therefore, does anger accord with man’s nature, because anger craves vengeance. And I may adduce here the argument of Plato – for what harm is there in using the arguments of others, so far as they are our own? “The good man,” he says, “does no injury.” Punishment injures; therefore punishment is not consistent with good, nor, for the same reason, is anger, since punishment is consistent with anger. If the good man rejoices not in punishment, neither will he rejoice in that mood which takes pleasure in punishment; therefore anger is contrary to nature.”

Epictetus
(Discourses ii, 12) “There is this fine circumstance connected with the character of a Cynic that he must be beaten like an ass, and yet, when beaten, must love those who beat him, as the father, as the brother of all.”
(Discourses iv, 5) “How, then, is there left any place for fighting, to a man who has this opinion? … ‘Such a person has reviled you.’ Great thanks to him for not having, struck you. ‘But he has struck me also.’ Great thanks that he did not wound you “But he wounded me also.” Great thanks that he did not kill you… And why do you not come forth and proclaim that you are at peace with all men whatever they may do, and laugh at those chiefly who think that they can harm you?”

Marcus Aurelius
VI – “One thing here is worth a great deal, to pass thy life in truth and justice, with a benevolent disposition even to liars and unjust men.”
VII -“It is peculiar to man to love even those who do wrong. And this happens if, when they do wrong, it occurs to thee that they are kinsmen [‘kinsmen’ here refers to any member of the human race], and that they do wrong through ignorance and unintentionally, and that soon both of you will die…”
VI 6: “The best way of avenging thyself is not to become like the wrongdoer.”
VII – “When a man has done thee any wrong, immediately consider with what opinion about good or evil he has done wrong. For when thou hast seen this, thou wilt pity him, and wilt neither wonder nor be angry. For either thou thyself thinkest the same thing to be good that he does or another thing of the same kind. It is thy duty then to pardon him. But if thou dost not think such things to be good or evil, thou wilt more readily be well disposed to him who is in error.”

Ancient Quotations: the golden rule in positive form

I’d heard that Jesus was the first to phrase the golden rule in its positive form, so I decided to look into it. There are, of course, many statements of the Golden Rule in its negative form. Some religions, like Buddhism, state it pretty much exclusively in negative form.

I am limiting myself to the more blatant expressions of the principle in antiquity. Undoubtedly, one can get a similar tenor if one looks at some passage as a whole. But what I wanted was an explicit recognition of the principle, specifically in its positive form. There are many pages on the internet that list different statements of the golden rule, but are unsatisfactory (to me) for the following reasons: 1) They don’t distinguish between negative and positive forms, 2) they include quotes from all time periods (who really cares if modern pagans or 15th century Sufi’s have the golden rule?) – I am interested in quotes that are pre-Christian or around the same time; and 3) they are often not sourced at all, or just plain made up.

Mo Tzu (5th – 4th cent. B.C. (From Mozi – Book 15 – ‘Love’ III):

“…the fa (model) of inclusively caring for each other and in interaction benefiting each other is to regard others’ states as though regarding one’s state, regard others’ families as though regarding one’s family, and regard other persons as though regarding one’s person .”

The Mahabharata Anusasana Parva 113.8 [~ 3rd cent. BC – 3rd cent. AD]

“Do not to others what you do not wish done to yourself; and wish for others too what you desire and long for yourself–this is the whole of Dharma; heed it well.”

Bhagavad Gita (6.32)

By comparison with himself, in all (beings)
Whoso sees the same, Arjuna,
Whether it be pleasure or pain,
He is deemed the supreme disciplined man.

[Buddhism & Hinduism are somewhat odd in regards to this issue, in terms of the ego being an illusion, and therefore the distinction between oneself and others also an illusion. Later, this would lead Mahayana Buddhism to put more emphasis on a more ‘positive’ form of action.]

Jesus (Mathew 7:12)

“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”

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So, it was at least not very common in the ancient world.

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Quotations that didn’t make cut:

Leviticus 19:18 (5th century B.C.): “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,” because it is immediately preceded by statement specifying “among your people.” Aristotle‘s “we should conduct ourselves toward others as we would have them act toward us,”  didn’t make it because he is referring to friends. Plato (The Laws, 11) didn’t make  it because, despite some translations, ie. Jowett’s, making it sound like a straightforward statement of the golden rule in the positive form, newer translations tend to be more like this: “In the next place our business transactions one with another will require proper regulation. The following will serve for a comprehensive rule:—as far as possible, no one shall touch my goods nor move them in the slightest degree, if he has in no wise at all got my consent; and I must act in like manner regarding the goods of all other men, keeping prudent mind.” This latter translation is both more narrowly defined, and not even in the positive form. [jhappolati has confirmed that this is the better translation].

Various other ancients are credited with giving the golden rule in positive form, but I have not been able to find any sources backing up those claims, and suspect they are not real: Zoroaster (628 – 551 B.C. – or perhaps as early as 11th or so B.C.) supposedly says: “That which is good for all and any one, for whomsoever – that is good for me… what I hold good for self, I should for all.” (Gathas, 43.1) – However, in the translation I looked at, there is no such line. Similarly Isocrates (b. 436 BC), Aristippus of Cyrene (b. 435 BC) are credited with stating the positive form of the golden rule, but I can find no evidence to support that. (Although, Isocrates does seem to employ the golden rule in a practical way: “Deal with weaker states as you would expect stronger states to deal with you”; “Conduct yourself toward your parents as you would have your children conduct themselves toward you”; “…give a just verdict, and prove yourselves to be for me such judges as you would want to have for yourselves,” etc.)

Once again, many stressed the negative golden rule, and for example Confucians often talked about the ethic of reciprocity, however as initially defined by Confucius at least, it was in negative form.