Pheidon of Argos
The 'invention' of weights
A compilation of source material
This small compilation is based mainly on more or less ready available texts that are relevant to this theme. I will make comments on peculiarities and errors in the various text fragments as far as I am able to do so and whenever this seems relevant.
The reference to Herodotus was probably only meaningful to Plinius and Eusebius, as in the middle ages the knowledge of the Greek language in the western world took a very steep nose dive. It was only around 1450 that Lorenzo Valla made the first (incomplete) translation from Greek into Latin. An edition that was completed by Johannes Petrus Lucensis and was published in 1494, gives 'spacia' i.e. spaces or distances as translation for metra. The word metra should normally be translated as 'measures'. I consulted two dictionaries, however from which I learned that for this specific spot, the word metra should be translated as 'weights and measures'. This is the way how both Godley and Rawlinson do it
The reference of Aristotle was probably also only meaningful to Plinius and perhaps to Eusebius as the text got lost. It was not before 1891 that large part of it on papyrus was discovered in Egypte.
The reference of Plinius to Gellius, who prefers Palamedes as the inventor of weights and measures, is to the annalist Gnaeus Gellius (2nd - 1st century BC) and not to Aulus Gellius (123-165 AD), the author of Noctes Atticae.
Somewhat unexpected, in the middle of july 2002, I found a reference in Diogenes Laertius to Pythagoras as the one who according to Aristoxenus (fl. 330 BC) introduced weights and measures to the Greeks. This attribution seems to be a single occurence and is not mentioned by other authors. Eusebius for instance does mention both Aristoxenus, albeit erroneously as being a contemporary of the poet Simonides (556-468 BC), and Pythagoras' heydays and death. It is therefor, that I have moved the 'Diogenes' text to an Appendix
In his Etymologiae Isidore refers in the second sentence of the fragment to Sapientiae Salomonis, 11:21 Omnia in mensura et numero et pondere, disposuisti: one of the most cited phrases from the Bible, according to Ernst Curtius. In the 1483 edition chapter 14 "de ignitis" from book 16 is omitted, therefor in this edition "de ponderibus" becomes chapter 24 in stead of 25. The Migne version differs also from the 1483 edition in stressing the fact that Moses lived before all the pagan philosophers. The antiquity of biblical events was considered an important argument for the superiority of Christianity over pagan creeds. In his short Chronicon, written some years after the Etymologiae, Isidore mentions that both weights and measures were discovered by Pheidon, following Eusebius
When we compare both Migne versions of the texts, it seems that Hrabanus copies the text of Isidore's Etymologiae to the last detail. There are a few slight discrepancies in the structure of several sentences, but these might be of an editorial nature.
The last entry on Pheidon is to the text on the Cluny tapestry which associates the man who is depicted beneath this text, with the act of inventing the process of weighing with weights.The text fragments
Herodotus (490-424 BC) Historiae liber 6; caput 127.
From the Peloponnese came Leocedes, son of Phidon the tyrant of Argos, that Phidon who made weights and measures for the Peloponnesians and acted more arrogantly than any other Greek; he drove out the Elean contest-directors and held the contests at Olympia himself. (ed. A. D. Godley)Latin translation by Lorenzo Valla and Johannes Petrus Lucensis
From the Peloponnese came several - Leocedes, son of that Pheidon, king of the Argives, who established weights and measures throughout the Peloponnese, and was the most insolent of all the Grecians - the same who drove out the Elean directors of the Games, and himself presided over the contests at Olympia (George Rawlinson, 1942)
E peloponneso Leocides Phidonis argiorum tyranni filius eius inq? Phidonis: qui spacia peloponnensibus statuit longe omnium graecorum isolentissimus: qui su? mottis helie?sium agonothetis idem munerariis ipse agonotetha extitit in olympia idem certamen premiumque proposuit.
Aristotle of Stagira (384-322 BC) The Athenian Constitution I: 10;Translated by Sir Frederic G. Kenyon
These seemed to be the democratic features of his laws; but in addition, before the period of his legislation, he [Solon] carried through his abolition of debts, and after it his increase in the standards of weights and measures, and of currency.  During his administration the measures were made larger than those of Pheidon, and the mina, which previously had a standard of seventy drachmas, was raised to the full hundred. The standard coin in earlier times was the two-drachma piece. He also made weights corresponding with the coinage, sixty-three minas going to the talent; and the odd three minas were distributed among the staters and the other values
Plinius the Elder (77 AD) Historia Naturalis liber 7; caput 198.
fabricam ferrariam invenerunt Cyclopes, figlinas Coroebus Atheniensis, in iis orbem Anarcharsis Scythes, ut alii, Hyperbius Corinthius. fabricam materiariam Daedalus et in ea serram, asciam, perpendiculum, terebram, glutinum, ichthyocollam; normam autem et libellam et tornum et clavem Theodorus Samius, mensuras et pondera Phidon Argivus aut Palamedes, ut maluit Gellius; ignem e silice Pyrodes Cilicis filius, eundem adservare ferula Prometheus;
Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339) Chronici Canones; translated into Latin by Jerome of Stridon (345-420)From Eusebii Pamphili Chronici Canones. Edidit Iohannes Knight Fotheringham, MCMXXIII
Fidon Argiuus mensuras et pondera primus inuenit.Phidon Argivus mensuras et pondera primus invenit.From Migne, PL XXVII, col 339-340.
Isidore of Seville (615) Etymologiae, libri XX. Liber 16, caput 24 or 25.
De ponderibus Caput.xxiiii.The image is scanned from a 1483 edition by Peter Loslein in Venice. I embellished the image text with a capital P, that I copied from the 7th line and enlarged accordingly. The words fidon argiuus are presented in negative to facilitate detection. A positive and much enlarged image of the words fidon argiuus is visible above the title of this page. The full text (in page size images) is stored at the BNF in the collection of Italian books before 1601.
Onderum ac mensurarum iuuat cognoscere modum. Nam omnia corporalia sicut scriptum est a summis usque ad ima in mensura et numero et pondere, disposita sunt atque formata. Cunctis corporeis rebus pondus natura dedit, suum quoque regit omnia pondus. Primus moyses in heremo filiis Israel pondera et mensuras dedit. Primus fidon argiuus ponderum rationem in grecia constituit, et licet alii antiquiores exstiterint, sed iste hac arte experientior fuit. Pondus dicitur, eo quod in statera libratum pendeat, hinc et pensum. Abusiue autem pondus, libra una est. Vnde etiam dipondium dictum est, quasi duo pondera, quod nomen adhuc in usu retinetur.From Migne, PL LXXXII, col 590.
CAPUT XXV. De ponderibus.
1. Ponderum, ac mensurarum juvat cognoscere modum. Nam omnia corporalia, sicut scriptum est, a summis usque ad ima, in mensura, et numero, et pondere disposita sunt, atque formata. Cunctis enim corporeis rebus pondus natura dedit. Suum quoque regit omnia pondus. 2. Primus Moyses, qui omnes antecedit gentilium philosophos tempore, nobis et mensuras, et numeros, et pondus, diversis in Scripturae suae locis narravit. Primus Phidon Argivus ponderum rationem in Graecia constituit, et licet alii antiquiores exstiterint, sed iste hac arte experientior fuit. 3. Pondus dictum, eo quod in statera libratum pendeat, hinc et pensum. Abusive autem pondus libra una est. Unde etiam dipondium dictum, quasi duo pondera, quod nomen adhuc in usu retinetur.
Isidore of Seville (620) Chronicon.From Migne, PL LXXXIII, col 1031.
34.  Azarias annos LII. Olympias primum Graecis instituitur. Agnus in Graecia loquitur. Sardanapalus rex sponte incendio concrematur. Assyriorumque regnum in Medos transfertur. Tunc Hesiodus poeta claruit. Atque Phidon Argivus mensuras et pondera reperit. Osee, Amos, Isaias, et Jona, in Judaea hac aetate prophetantibus.
Maurus, Hrabanus (846) De Rerum Naturis Liber 18 caput 1from Migne, PL CXI, col. 479.
Ponderum ac mensurarum juvat cognoscere modum: nam omnia corporalium (sicut scriptum est) a summis usque ad vina [ima], in mensura et numero et pondere disposita sunt atque formata (Sap. XI). Cunctis enim corporeis rebus pondus natura dedit. Suum quoque regit omnia pondus. Primus Moyses, qui omnes antecedit gentilium philosophos tempore, nobis et numeros et mensuras et pondus diversis scripturae suae locis narravit. Deinde Phidon argivus ponderum rationem in Graecia constituit, et licet alii antiquiores exstiterint, sed iste hac arte experientior fuit. Pondus dictum eo, quod in statera libratum pendeat: hinc et pensum. Abusive autem pondus libra una est. Unde etiam dipondium dictum est, quasi duo pondera: quod nomen adhuc in usu retinetur.From the website Rabanus Maurus, De rerum naturis of W. Schipper. The text is a transcription of MS Augiensis 96 and 68 from the Badische Landesbibliothek in Karlsruhe and according to mr. Schippers it might still contain errors .
Ponderem ac mensurarum iuuat cognoscere modum. Nam omnia corporalia sicut scriptum est: A summis usque ad ima in mensura et numero et pondere, disposita sunt atque formata. Cunctis enim corporeis rebus pondus, natura dedit. Suum quoque regit omnia pondus. Primum Moyses qui omnes antecedit gentilium philosophos tempore nouit numeros et mensuras et pondus diuersis scripturis suae locis narrauit. Primum Fidon Argiuus ponderum rationem in Grecia constituit, et licet alii antiquiores exstiterint, sed iste hac arte experientior fuit pondus dicitur, eo quod in statera libratum pendeat. Hinc et pensum, abusiue autem pondus, libra una est. Vnde etiam dipondius dictum est, quasi duo pondera, quod nomen adhuc in usu retinetur.
Cluny Tapestry: CL 22845 (early 16th century).
GIIOHARGIIIVS . TROVVA . LART . DE . PAISSER . AUS . POISFrom a picture made by the author
Appendix Diogenes Laertius (fl 240) Lives of Eminent Philosophers Liber VIII, cap 14.
From vol 185, Loeb Classical Library.Translated by RD Hicks (Loeb Classical Library)
He (=Pythagoras) too, according to Aristoxenus the musician, was the first to introduce weights and measures into Greece.
Last Update: july 23, 2002
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