By Hans Ten Dam
Reincarnation or rather metempsychosis ideas were already known in classical Greece. Orphic and Pythagorean sources have been known. Originally, those ideas probably would have come from Egypt or India or both, and some have suggested that these ideas came from the Celts in Gaul or from the Thracians. Recently, I came across an excellent study by Robert Long. His doctoral thesis, A Study of the Doctrine of Metempsychosis in Greece from Pythagoras to Plato was published by Princeton University Press in 1948. This very scholarly work seems to set the record straight.
The source of Greek reincarnation ideas was certainly Pythagoras, not his teacher Pherecydes, not the Orphic religion, not Egypt, not the Celts, not the Thracians, and most probably not India.
The idea that metempsychosis came from the Egyptians rests on the tales of Herodotus. Herodotus saw the Egyptians as the source of about everything. Absolutely nothing of his story is confirmed by any Egyptian source, though we have a multitude of texts about death and afterlife.
Some have declared that the Thracians of the fifth century B. C. believed in metempsychosis. Because of its supposed presence in both Thrace and Gaul, others assumed a ” Scythian” source for metempsychosis, the doctrine spreading from an area north of the Black Sea to Western Europe, to Greece and to India. This case depends on a few text passages on Thrace. Unfortunately, these passages do not refer to metempsychosis. The earliest evidence for metempsychosis in Thrace and Gaul is from the first century B.C. and so it is more likely that the Thracians and Celts acquired the doctrine from the Greeks than the other way round. Read more