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By Anant Pai

The enormous and the Dwarf: A Jataka story ( Amar Chitra Katha)

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Among his other accomplishments Thales was an entrepreneur. Foreseeing a bumper crop of olives one spring in Miletus and Chios, Thales unobtrusively cornered the oil presses. When late summer came, and the olives began to drop, the growers paid Thales what he persuaded them was not an exorbitant rental for the use of the presses. The crops were saved. In this way, perhaps, Thales financed his protracted education in the temples and market places of Egypt and Babylonia. The Milesians and Chians also learned something from the transaction.

History and tradition record that Thales spent several years in Egypt and Mesopotamia studying arithmetic, geometry, and philosophy. Wisdom as a Profession Neither the Egyptians nor the Babylonians succeeded in teaching him anything about finance. It should be remembered that this pioneer of mathematics and philosophy is known to us only through legends and references to his teachings by later mathematicians and philosophers. No contemporary record of his life or sayings has survived; and it is possible that we have a ludicrously erroneous picture of Thales the man.

Some of these sturdy thinkers were independently well off, others graciously accepted a living from wealthy patrons. I 44 Wisdom as a Profession 45 The most remarkable feature of this alliance between material wealth and pure thought is absence of the profit motive. The priests had promised the kings eternal rewards, and some had even hinted that the slaves would be generously recompensed after they were dead. The intellectuals promised nobody anything. They may have been too honest to assume obligations they felt themselves unable to discharge.

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