0004 Readings in the History of Philosophy – Pherekydes of Syros

For an explanation of this series, see 0001 – Readings in the History of Philosophy – Introduction


Pherekydes of Syros (6th century BC) is thought to be one of the first philosophers (non-poets) to author a cosmogony (an account of how the universe came into existence).  Pherekydes’ lost cosmogonic work, titled either Five Recesses (Pentemychos) or Seven Recesses (Heptamychos), explains how universe and gods were generated from Zas (Zeus), Cthonie (Earth) and Chronos (Time).


Syros in Greece
Syros in Greece


Although none of the works of Pherekydes survive today, we have the writings of many other authors who were familiar with Pherekydes’ writings while they still existed.  Today’s leading scholar on Pherekydes, Hermann S. Schibli, has reconstructed some of the themes and wording of what he believes was contained in Pentemychos, and I have provided this below.



CHRONOS and Zas always were, and also Chthonie (Ζὰς μὲν καὶ Χρόνος ἦσαν ἀεὶ καὶ Χθονίη). Once Chronos, alone and without a partner, cast forth his seed. From his seed he made fire, air, and water, and deposited these in five hollows. Lo, from the mixtures of fire, air and water in the hollows arose another generation of gods. The fiery gods dwelt in Ouranos and gleaming Aither, the gods of wind in gusty Tartaros, the watery gods in Chaos, and the gods of darkness dwelt in black Night.


After the generation of gods, born of the seed of Time, assumed their habitations, Zas became Eros and married Chthonie. The other gods built many large palaces for him; they provided all the necessary goods, the banquet tables, servants and maids, and when all the needful things had been accomplished, they performed the wedding. On the third day of the wedding, Zas fashioned a big and beautiful robe, and on it he embroidered Earth and Ogenos and the mansions of Ogenos. When he had finished his task, he presented the robe to Chthonie and said: ‘Because I wish to marry you, I honour you with this robe. Rejoice and be my consort!’ This they say was the first feast of unveiling, and hence arose the custom for both gods and men. And she responded as she received the robe from him: ‘I take this as my honour, and henceforth I shall be called Ge…’ The gods celebrated, feasting on ambrosia. And the Earth was like a winged oak, strong and mighty; its roots extended into the depths of Tartaros, its trunk was encircled by Ogenos, and its branches reached into Ouranos. The Earth flourished and Zas rejoiced.


But below the Earth, in a hollow of Tartaros, Ophioneus was born. He and his monstrous sons challenged Kronos. The battle-lines were drawn up, with Kronos the commander of one army and Ophioneus leading the Ophionidai. The terms of the battle were stated: whichever of them fell into Ogenos would be the defeated, while those who thrust them out and defeated them would possess Ouranos. A fierce conflict followed. Kronos had a strong ally in Zas; in single combat he overthrew Ophioneus. So Ophioneus and his brood were cast into Ogenos, and they dwell in the mansions of Ogenos to this day. Kronos, commander of the victorious army, was crowned by the other gods (from this arose the custom of the wearing of crowns by victors). Zeus honoured the victorious gods and assigned them their domains. Kronos had won Ouranos. These are the shares of the other gods: below Ouranos is the fiery Aither; below Aither the portion of Earth; below that portion is Tartaros; the daughters of Boreas, the Harpies and Thuella, guard it; there Zeus banishes any of the gods who behave with insolence. There also are the souls of men who have committed bloodshed. Their souls are borne through the portals and gates of Tartaros on an outflowing river to birth; the river is like the seed that leads to new life. And the souls of men depart from life and enter again the caves and hollows of Tartaros through its portals and gates. Alongside Tartaros is Chaos and the realms of dark Night.  (Pherekydes of Syros by Hermann S. Schibli)

Augustine and Cicero thought that Pherekydes was the first Greek philosopher to defend the immortality of the soul.  An interesting excerpt from Augustine’s letter to Volusianus makes this point.  An issue that maybe you were wondering about is the correspondence between Zas and Zeus and between Chronos and Kronos.  Father Time:  Chronos and Kronos is an interesting article that treats this subject and argues that this confusion goes back over 2000 years.  In addition, it has been speculated by some scholars that Plato was one of the first to introduce a creationist cosmogony into Greek Philosophy through the Demiurge, yet Pherekydes’ writings seem to have beat Plato to the punch (see Studies in Pre-Platonic Demiurgy).


Primary Sources


Other Reading:

Wiki – Pherecydes of Syros

Father Time:  Chronos and Kronos

Augustine on Pherecydes

Pherekydes of Syros by Hermann S. Schibli

Pherecydes of Syros

Studies in Pre-Platonic Demiurgy:  Pherecydes of Syros



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