World Creation & Human Evolution according to the Ancient Tradition, as presented by Diodorus Siculus

In this post we present the Ancients’ perception on how the World was created, how Living organisms, including Humans, emerged, and how the first Humans were living.


“Now as regards the first origin of mankind two opinions have arisen among the best authorities both on nature and on history. One group, which takes the position that the universe did not come into being and will not decay, has declared that the race of men also has existed from eternity, there having never been a time when men were first begotten; the other group, however, which hold that the universe came into being and will decay, has declared that, like it, men had their first origin at a definite time.

(NovoScriptorium: It is very interesting to note that, as in our times, the Ancients did not all share the same opinion on a scientific subject. The debate on the origins of the Universe and Man is actually one that included both Science and Theology since the very beginning. While the lifetime of the Universe in comparison to a single person’s lifetime appears indeed ‘infinite’, we do know with certainty the time frame, beginnings and endings, of many events -e.g. the Glacial periods. Hence, both views can be equally accepted depending on the discussion)

7 1 When in the beginning, as their account runs, the universe was being formed, both heaven and earth were indistinguishable in appearance, since their elements were intermingled: then, when their bodies separated from one another, the universe took on in all its parts the ordered form in which it is now seen; the air set up a continual motion, and the fiery element in it gathered into the highest regions, since anything of such a nature moves upward by reason of its lightness (and it is for this reason that the sun and the multitude of other stars became involved in the universal whirl); while all that was mud-like and thick and contained an admixture of moisture sank because of its weight into one place; 2 and as this continually turned about upon itself and became compressed, out of the wet it formed the sea, and out of what was firmer, the land, which was like potter’s clay and entirely soft. 3 But as the sun’s fire shone upon the land, it first of all became firm, and then, since its surface was in a ferment because of the warmth, portions of the wet swelled up in masses in many places, and in these pustules covered with delicate membranes made their appearance. Such a phenomenon can be seen even yet in swamps and marshy places whenever, the ground having become cold, the air suddenly and without any gradual change becomes intensely warm. 4 And while the wet was being impregnated with life by reason of the warmth in the manner described, by night the living things forthwith received their nourishment from the mist that fell from the enveloping air, and by day were made solid by the intense heat; and finally, when the embryos had attained their full development and the membranes had been thoroughly heated and broken open, there was produced every form of animal life. 5 Of these, such as had partaken of the most warmth set off to the higher regions, having become winged, and such as retained an earthy consistency came to be numbered in the class of creeping things and of the other land animals, while those whose composition partook the most of the wet element gathered into the region congenial to them, receiving the name of water animals. 6 And since the earth constantly grew more solid through the action of the sun’s fire and of the winds, it was finally no longer able to generate any of the larger animals, but each kind of living creatures was now begotten by breeding with one another.

(NovoScriptorium: We cannot but admire the effort of the ancient people to explain Existence in a scientific way, regardless if they are right or wrong. It is obvious from the text that they believed in a form of Evolution; that Life was the product of a series of natural combinations. In all these, the Sun-Earth relationship was, is and will always be, evidently, crucial. Interestingly, we receive the information that they knew that ‘larger animals’ were living on Earth at some distant Past and that they disappeared because of the “sun’s fire and of the winds”)


7 And apparently Euripides also, who was a pupil of Anaxagoras the natural philosopher, is not opposed to this account of the nature of the universe, for in his Melanippe he writes as follows:

‘Tis thus that the heav’n and earth were once one form; But since the two were sundered each from each,

They now beget and bring to life all things,

The trees and birds, the beasts, the spawn of sea,

And race of mortals.

8 1 Concerning the first generation of the universe this is the account which we have received. But the first men to be born, he says, led an undisciplined and bestial life, setting out one by one to secure their sustenance and taking for their food both the tenderest herbs and the fruits of wild trees. Then, 2 since they were attacked by the wild beasts, they came to each other’s aid, being instructed by expediency, and when gathered together in this way by reason of their fear, they gradually came to recognize their mutual characteristics. 3 And though the sounds which they made were at first unintelligible and indistinct, yet gradually they came to give articulation to their speech, and by agreeing with one another upon symbols for each thing which presented itself to them, made known among themselves the significance which was to be attached to each term. 4 But since groups of this kind arose over every part of the inhabited world, not all men had the same language, inasmuch as every group organized the elements of its speech by mere chance. This is the explanation of the present existence of every conceivable kind of language, and, furthermore, out of these first groups to be formed came all the original nations of the world.

(NovoScriptorium: We notice here a well-established belief in the crucial evolutionary role of Chance and Probabilities. We also notice the stable belief in the ‘Law of Necessity’ as a key-point in any Evolutionary discussion. Interestingly, modern views on how Humans evolved Socially do not differ much from the above. Please take some time to read the following articles “Compassion from the earliest archaics to modern humans; a tool for a better understanding of human evolution” & “The evolutionary significance of Neanderthal healthcare“. What is even more interesting is that the ancients did not believe in some kind of ‘cradle’ for all Humans; instead, we read “groups of this kind arose over every part of the inhabited world“. If we choose to focus the discussion on the species “Homo Sapiens”, up to now, contrary to the ancient beliefs, there seems to be such a ‘cradle’, in Africa. But, if we include all previous Human forms -Hominins- in the discussion, it appears that indeed there have been many different groups on many parts of Earth, each one evolving independently from the other. The description of the ‘first men’ resembles our current descriptions for the ‘Hunters-Gatherers’ human groups)

5 Now the first men, since none of the things useful for life had yet been discovered, led a wretched existence, having no clothing to cover them, knowing not the use of dwelling and fire, and also being totally ignorant of cultivated food. 6 For since they also even neglected the harvesting of the wild food, they laid by no store of its fruits against their needs; consequently large numbers of them perished in the winters because of the cold and the lack of food. 7 Little by little, however, experience taught them both to take to the caves in winter and to store such fruits as could be preserved. 8 And when they had become acquainted with fire and other useful things, the arts also and whatever else is capable of furthering man’s social life were gradually discovered. 9 Indeed, speaking generally, in all things it was necessity itself that became man’s teacher, supplying in appropriate fashion instruction in every matter to a creature which was well endowed by nature and had, as its assistants for every purpose, hands and speech and sagacity of mind.”

(NovoScriptorium: “large numbers of them perished in the winters because of the cold and the lack of food“. We teach quite the same nowadays. ‘Cold’ (winters, glacials) is exactly one of the main factors we rely to explain, e.g. the small numbers of the various Neanderthal groups. It is evident that the ancients knew well that their ancestors were living in caves at some point in the Past. The use of fire is hailed as a milestone in Human Evolutionary History; Civilization -‘the arts‘ and ‘whatever else is capable of furthering man’s social life‘- appeared after the use of fire and it evolves since then. The original Greek text instead of ‘hands and speech and sagacity of mind‘ has ‘χείρας και λόγον και ψυχής αγχίνοιαν‘ which translates as ‘hands and speech and sagacity of soul‘. This makes a lot of difference, as it includes Theology in the whole discussion. And this is because the soul was, according to the ancient Greeks, a creation and gift of Zeus to Man:

Ancient Greek: (24) ‘Γλυκερόν δε τέκος (ψυχή) Διός εξεκαλείτο’

‘Λέγοι γούν η ψυχή περί του Διός -του δημιουργήσαντος το πάν- μετά δή πατρικάς διανοίας ψυχή εγώ ναίω, θέρμη ψυχώσα τα πάντα. Κατέθετο γαρ νούν μεν ενί ψυχή, ψυχήν δ’ ενί σώματι αργώ, ημέας εγκατέθηκε πατήρ ανδρών τε θεών τε’.

English: ‘It was called (the soul) the sweet child of Deus/Zeus’

‘so says the soul about Deus/Zeus, who created everything “in the midst of the father’s intellect, I the soul, I dwell/reside; I animate everything with heat/warmness. Because He placed the nous inside the soul and He placed the soul inside a lazy/sluggard body, the Father of men and gods installed us (i.e. nous and soul)” ’ – Source: “Orphicorum Fragmenta“.

The soul (psyche) is strongly/inseparably attached to the (mind) nous in Greek Philosophical Thought)

(Source: “The Library of History”, Book I, by Diodorus Siculus, Loeb Classical Library)


Research-Selection-Comments for NovoScriptorium: Isidoros Aggelos

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