Lebanon in History from the Earliest Times to the Present

By Philip K. Hitti | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV INTELLECTUAL INTERESTS

THE early Roman period witnessed scientific and literary activity in Phoenician cities that probably excelled any earlier period. Strabo1 (d. A.D. 24) calls the Sidonians "philosophers in the sciences of astronomy and arithmetic", and adds that in his time the greatest store of knowledge was to be found in Phoenician cities. He signalizes Boethus, with whom he studied Aristotelian philosophy, and Boethus' brother Diodotus, who was likewise a "famous philosopher" but about whom nothing is known.2 other classical writers refer to "celebrated Phoenician poets" whose names even have not been prepared. Besides sidon, a number of cities -- Byblus, Tyre and Berytus -- contributed to the intellectual output of the age.

Philosophers and scholars

Philo of Byblus ( A.D. 64-161) composed in Greek a learned work of mythological-cosmogonical character in which he treated of the Phoenician religion, drawing on earlier Egyptian and Babylonian sources. He professed to have had as his authority an earlier Phoenician author, Sanchuniathon,3 an enigmatic native of Berytus of the six century. Preserved in part in Eusebius,4 this Phoenician source has been long disputed but the recent discovery of the Ugarit tablets leaves no doubt about the historicity of Sanchuniathon. The many correspondences between the material ascribed to him and the fresh mythological documents are striking. In fact, the entire account of Philo as checked by the tablets seems remarkably accurate. An extract from Sanchuniathon records the legendary hero of the foundation of Tyre who fought against his brother Usoos, "a hunter clad in skins". The story parallels that of the conflict between Jacob and Esau. It reflects the ever-present

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1
Bk. XVI, ch. 2, § 24.
3
Phoenician Sakkon-yaton (the God Sikkon has given).
4
In Karl Müller, Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum, vol. iii ( Paris), pp. 533 seq. What purports to be Philo's entire version was done into German under the title Sanchuniathon, Phönizische Geschichte ( Lübeck, 1837).

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