Hicetas of Syracuse

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Hicetas of Syracuse

(fl. fifth century b.c.)


Hicetas (Ικέταѕ) of Syracuse was a Pythagorean, who is mentioned only twice in the doxographical tradition of late antiquity (Diogenes Laertius, VIII. 85; Aetius, III. 9. 1–2) and once by Cicero (Academica priora II. 39. 123). So Little is known about him that even his existence as a historical person has been disputed.

Diogense Laertius (loc. cit.) in his notice about Philolaus, the Pythagorean of the late fifth century B.C., states that “he was the first to say that the earth moves in a circle, but some assert that Hicetas the Syracusan was the first.” Aetius (loc. cit.) says that “Thales and those following thim said that there was one earth, Hicetas the Pythagorean that there were two, this present one and the counter-earth.” Both these references, then, indicate that Hicetas was an adherent of the astronomical system connected with the name of Philolaus, according to which the earth was regarded as a planetary body circling round a central fire (the “hearth of the unverse”) in company with the counter-earth (supposed to be a body orbiting between the earth and the central fire with the same velocity as the earth), the moon, the sun, and the five planets, On the assumption of different orbital velocities for each of these planetary bodies, the observed motions and positions of sun, moon, and planets could be very roughly explained (for a full description, see D. R. Dicks, Early Greek Astronomy to Aristotle [London, 1970], p. 65 ff.).

On the other hand, Cicero (loc. cit.) says according to Theophrastus (Aristotle’s successor as head of the Lyceum), “Hicetas the Syracusan believes tha the sky, sun, moon, stars, and in fact all the heavenly bodies stand still, and that nothing at all moves in the universe except the earth; and that because it turns and twists with great speed about its axis, all the same phenomena are produced as if the sky was in motion and the earth standing still.” If Hicetas really held this view, it would prove him to be astronomically ignorant, since it would entail a complete disregard of the proper motions of the planetary bodies in the zodiac; but presumable Cicero, expressing himself with typical scientific incompetence, means no more than that Hicetas suggested that the daily phenomen of rising and setting could as well be accounted for by assuming a stationary heaven and the axial rotation of the earth as by assuming a stationary earth and the rotation of the assuming a stationary earth and the rotation of the heavens. In that case, Hicetas was an adherent of a theory—the axial rotation of the earth—that all sources agree in attributing to Heraclides of Pontus, a pupil of Plato (see Heath, p. 251 f.). In any event, there is a clear discrepancy between the views assigned to Hicetas by Diogenes Laertius and Aetius, on the one hand, and by Cicero on the other. Tannery (“Pseudonymes antiques,” in Revue des études grecques, 10 [1897], 127–137) suggests that Hicetas was simply a character in one of Heraclides’ dialogues, based on an actual Hicetas who became tyrant of Leontini in Sicily and is mentioned in Plutarch’s lives of Timoleon and Dion. This, however, seems unlikely (cf. Guthrie, I, 323–324), and, in any case, does not resolve the discrepancy in our sources.


In addition to the works mentioned in the text, see W.K.C. Guthrie, History of Greek Philosophy, I (Cambridge, 1962), 323–324, 327–329; T. L. Heath, Aristarchus of Samos (Oxford, 1913), pp. 187–189; and E. Wellmann, “Hiketas 4” in Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encyclopädie, VIII (1913), col.1597.

D. R. Dicks