The idea that eastern, non-Greek sages living a life close to nature possessed a special sort of wisdom first entered the Greek imaginaire when Alexander’s expedition to India was reported in the narratives of Onesicritus, Megasthenes, and Nearchus. Megasthenes (ap. Strabo 22.214.171.1242) distinguished Brahmans (Βραχμᾶνες), royal counsellors (executed by Alexander when he suppressed the revolt of Sambus, whom they had encouraged, Arr. Anab. 6.16.5, 6.17.2), from ascetic “Gymnosophists” or Garmanes (i.e., Buddhist Sramans). Onesicritus claimed to have been sent by Alexander to meet the latter, to have conversed with two called Dandamis and Calanus, and to have requested them to come to Alexander (Strabo 15.1.63–65.715–716, Plut. Alex. 64–65, Arr. Anab. 7.2.2–4). This they did, probably at Taxila, where Aristobulus claimed to have seen an older and a younger gymnosophist standing as they dined at Alexander’s table (Strabo 126.96.36.1994).The episode has been seen as a fiction of Onesicritus,1 but Arrian’s report of a logos about Alexander meeting Indian sages (Anab.
Heliodorus was the author of the Aethiopica, the latest and longest Greek novel to survive from antiquity. In his work, Heliodorus claims to be a Phoenician from Emesa, but there are good reasons against treating this as an authoritative autobiographical statement. The Aethiopica tells the adventures of Charicleia, the white daughter of the black queen and king of Ethiopia. Her mother abandons her, and she is brought up by foster-fathers in Ethiopia and Delphi. There she falls in love with the young Greek Theagenes, with whom she travels via Egypt to Ethiopia. They are almost sacrificed to the local gods, but Charicleia’s parents eventually recognise her. The protagonists become priests and marry. The novel is a narratologically ambitious work that draws on the structure of the Odyssey (in mediis rebus beginning, embedded heterodiegetic narratives) and takes these devices to a whole new level. A wide range of topics play important roles in the Aethiopica, such as religion, multiculturalism, identity, and epistemology.