Philosopher, Mathematician, Astronomer, Geographer, Historian (c.370 BC – c.285 BC)
Dicaearchus was a Peripatetic philosopher, a contemporary of Aristoxenos, tutor of Aristotle and colleague of Theophrastus. Sometimes credited as a philosopher and a rhetorician more than a geometer and geographer, Dicaearchus was a poly-scientist who made significant contributions to several disciplines, as was common at the time. His name means “the one who rules with justice”.
He was born in Messene of Sicily. He lived and worked most of his life in Peloponnesus. Highly admired by Peripatetic and Latin philosophers alike, Dicaearchus compiled treatises on geography, philosophy, politics, ethics and religion. Unfortunately, only excerpts remain as a legacy of his work, still enough, however, to appreciate the magnitude of his thinking.
His greatest work in geography and cartography is Circuit of the Earth, a book that contained tables and maps drawn by himself of the then known world, based on descriptions by Diogenes Laertius. In his book Enumeration of the mountains of Greece, Dicaearchus writes down the height of all the mountains of Peloponnesus that he measured using diopters. Among his greatest works was Life of Greece, a book which provided descriptions on the lives of Greeks from the very ancient times to the times of Alexander the Great. The book also contained descriptions on the culture, religion, lifestyle, theatres and music of the Greeks, as well as political aspects, topography and the city-states of the Greek world. He was one of the first to compile a treatise on geodesy.
Other works of Dicaearchus include philosophical dialogues such as Lesviakos and Politiakos, political treatises such as Tripolitikos (Three City Dialogue), a work where democracy, aristocracy and monarchy are compared between them, biographies of Pythagoras, Plato, Alcaeus and the 7 Sages, On Musical Games, Hypothesis on the Myths of Sophocles and Euripides and several books on ethics. As a scientist, Dicaearchus studied the effects of the sun on the ocean waves and attempted to measure the distance between Gibraltar and ancient Messene. In addition, he attempted to measure the length of the Earth’s equator.
Dicaearchus, even though one of the most prolific philosophers of antiquity with an exquisitely rich bibliography, remains one of Greece’s lesser known geniuses due to most of his work having been lost. Had his work been preserved, many parts of the ancient Greek culture which remain unknown today would have been revealed.
- “Dicaearchus”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. N.I. Luvaris, Passas, I. Athens: 1946. Print.
- Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades: Athens, 1996. Print.
- Φιλίστωρ, Ιωάννης. Δικαίαρχος: Ἐνας αρχαίος Μεσσήνιος φιλόσοφος και γεωγράφος. Θέματα Ελληνικής Ιστορίας. Istorikathemata.com. November 4, 2013. Web. December 5, 2018.