Or Zamolxis (Ζάμολξις), said to have been so called from the bear's skin (Ζάλμος) in which he was clothed as soon as he was born,1 according to the story current among the Greeks on the Hellespont, was a Getan, who had been a slave to Pythagoras in Samos, but was manumitted, and acquired not only great wealth, but large stores of knowledge from Pythagoras, and from the Egyptians, whom he visited in the course of his travels. He returned among the Getae, introducing the civilization and the religious ideas which he had gained, especially regarding the immortality of the soul. He persuaded the king to make him a sharer of his authority, and was made priest of the chief deity of the Getae, and was afterwards himself regarded as a deity. He was said to have lived in a subterraneous cave for three years, and after that to have again made his appearance among the Getae.2
Herodotus inclines to place the age of Zalmoxis a long time before Pythagoras, and expresses a doubt not only about the story itself, but as to whether Zalmoxis were a main, or an indigenous Getan deity. The latter appears to have been the real state of the case.3 The Getae believed that the departed went to him. Every four years they selected a man by lot to go as a messenger to Zalmoxis, and tell him what they needed. The mode in which the man was killed is described by Herodotus.4
The Pythagorean doctrines respecting the soul spreading in various forms among the barbaric races who came in contact with the Greeks seem to have given rise to this whole fable about Zalmoxis.
- Porphyrius. Life of Pythagoras, c. 14.
- Herodotus. Histories iv, 95; Strabo. Geography vii, p. 297 ff.
- Iamblichus. On the Pythagorean Way of Life, 173; Diogenes Laertius. Vitae philosophorum viii, 1; Photius. Codices, 166.
- Histories iv, 94; comp. Clement of Alexandria. Stromata iv, p. 497
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.