Anacharsis was a Scythian of princely rank and a famous philosopher. According to Herodotus (iv. 76) he was the son of Gnurus, and brother of Saulius, king of Thrace; according to Lucian (Scytha) the son of Daucetas. He was part of a nomadic tribe on the Euxine shores (Black Sea) in modern day Crimea. His mother was Greek and instructed in the Greek language.

He left his native country to travel in pursuit of knowledge, and came to Athens just at the time that Solon was occupied with his legislative measures. He became acquainted with Solon, and by the simplicity of his way of living, his talents, and his acute observations on the institutions and usages of the Greeks, he excited general attention and admiration. He was the first stranger who received the privileges of citizenship.

The fame of his wisdom was such, that he was even reckoned by some among the seven sages. Some writers affirmed, that after having been honored with the Athenian franchise, he was initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries. It was he who compared laws to spiders' webs, which catch small flies and allow bigger ones to escape.

His simple and forcible mode of expressing himself gave birth to the proverbial expression "Scythian eloquence," but his epigrams are as unauthentic as the letters which are often attributed to him. According to Strabo he was the first to invent an anchor with two flukes. Barthelemy borrows his name as the title for his Anacharsis en Grece.

After he had resided several years at Athens, he travelled through different countries in quest of knowledge, and returned home filled with the desire of instructing his countrymen in the laws and the religion of the Greeks. According to the account in Herodotus, on his return to Thrace, he was killed by his brother Saulius, while celebrating the orgies of Cybele at Hylaea. Diogenes Laertius gives a somewhat different version-that he was killed by his brother while hunting.

He is said to have written a metrical work on legislation and the art of war. Cicero (Tusc. Disp. v. 32) quotes from one of his letters, of which several, though of doubtful authenticity, are still extant. Various sayings of his have been preserved by Diogenes and Athenaeus. (Herod, iv. 46, 76, 77; Plut. Sol. 5, Conviv. Sept. Sapient.; Diog. Laert. i. 101, &c.; Strab. vii. p. 303; Lucian, Scytha and Anacharsis; Athen. iv. p. 159, x. pp. 428, 437, xiv. p. 613; Aelian, V. H. v. 7.)


1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Volume 1. pg. 905.

William Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) pg. 157.

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