1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Menander (Milinda)
MENANDER (Milinda), a Graeco-Indian dynast. When the Graeco-Indian king Demetrius had been beaten by Eucratides of Bactria, about 160 b.c., and the kingdom of Eucratides (q.v.) dissolved after his assassination (c. 150 b.c.), a Greek dynasty maintained itself in the Kabul Valley and the Punjab. The only two kings of this dynasty mentioned by classical authors are Apollodotus and Menander, who conquered a great part of India. Trogus Pompeius described in his forty-first book (see the prologue) “the Indian history of these kings, Apollodotus and Menander,” and Strabo, xi. 516, mentions from Apollodotus of Artemita, the historian of the Parthians, that Menander “conquered more tribes than Alexander, as he crossed the Hypanis to the east and advanced to the Isamus; he and other kings (especially Demetrius) occupied also Patalene (the district of Patala near Hyderabad on the head of the delta of the Indus) and the coast which is called the district of Saraostes (i.e. Syrastene, in mod. Gujarat, Brahman Saurashtra) and the kingdom of Sigerdis (not otherwise known); and they extended their dominion to the Seres (i.e. the Chinese) and Phryni (?).” The last statement is an exaggeration, probably based upon the fact that from the mouth of the Indus trade went as far as China. That the old coins of Apollodotus and Menander, with Greek legends, were still in currency in Barygaza (mod. Broach), the great port of Gujarat, about A.D. 70 we are told by the Periplus maris Erythraei, 48. We possess many of these coins, which follow the Indian standard and are artistically degenerate as compared with the earlier Graeco-Bactrian and Graeco-Indian coins, with bilingual legends (Greek and Kharoshti, see Bactria). Apollodotus, who must have been the earlier of the two kings, bears the titles Soter, Philopator, and “Great King”; Menander, who must have reigned a long time, as his portrait is young on some coins and old on others, calls himself Soter and “Just” (δίκαιος). Their reigns may be placed about 140-80 B.C. Menander appears in Indian traditions as Milinda; he is praised by the Buddhists, whose religion he is said to have adopted, and who in the Milindapanha or Milinda Pan̄ho (see below), “the questions of Milinda” (Rhys Davids, Sacred Books of the East, xxxv., xxxvi.) relate his discourses with the wise Nāgasena. According to the Indians, the Greeks conquered Ayodhya and Pataliputra (Palimbothra, mod. Patna); so the conjecture of Cunningham that the river Isamus of Strabo is the Son, the great southern tributary of the Ganges (near Patna), may be true. The Buddhists praise the power and military, force, the energy and Wisdom of “Milinda”; and a Greek tradition preserved by Plutarch (Praec. reip. ger. 28, 6) relates that “when Menander, one of the Bactrian kings, died on a campaign after a mild rule, all the subject towns disputed about the honour of his burial, till at last his ashes were divided between them in equal parts.” (The Buddhist tradition relates a similar story of the relics of Buddha.) Besides Apollodotus and Menander, we know from the coins a great many other Greek kings of western India, among whom two with the name of Straton are most conspicuous. The last of them, with degenerate coins seems to have been Hermaeus Soter. These Greek dynasts may have maintained themselves in some part of India till about 40 B.C. But at this time the west, Kabul and the Punjab were already in the hands of a barbarous dynasty, most of whom have Iranian (Parthian) names, and who seem therefore to have been of Arsacid origin (cf. Vincent A. Smith, “The Indo-Parthian Dynasties from about 120 B.C. to A.D. 100,” in Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft, 1906, lx. 69 sqq.). Among them Manes, two kings named Azes, Vonones and especially Gondophares or Hyndophares are the most conspicuous. The latter, whose date is fixed by an inscription from the Kabul Valley dated from the year 103 of the Samvat era ( = A.D. 46), is famous by the legend of St Thomas, where he occurs as king of India under the name of Gundaphar. Soon afterwards the Mongolian Scyths (called Saka by the Indians), who had conquered Bactria in 139 B.C., invaded India and founded the great Indo-Scythian kingdom of the Kushan dynasty. (See Bactria; and Persia: Ancient History.)
The Milinda Pañho is preserved in Pali, in Ceylon, Burma and Siam, but was probably composed originally in the extreme north-west of India, and in a dialect spoken in that region. Neither date nor author is known; but the approximate date must have been about the 2nd century of our era. The work is entitled Milinda Pañho—that is, The Questions of King Milinda. In it the king is represented as propounding to a Buddhist Bhikshu named Nāgasena a number of problems, puzzles or questions in religion and philosophy; and as receiving, in each case, a convincing reply. It is a matter of very little importance whether a tradition of some such conversations having really taken place had survived to the time when the author wrote his book. In any case he composed both problems and answers; and his work is an historical romance, written to discuss certain points in the faith, and to invest the discussion with the interest arising from the story in which it is set. This plan is carried out with great skill. An introduction, giving the past and present lives of Milinda and Nāgasena, is admirably adapted to fill the reader with the idea of the great ability and distinction of the two disputants. The questions chosen are just those which would appeal most strongly to the intellectual taste of the India of that age. And the style of the book is very attractive. Each particular point is kept within easy limits of space, and is treated in a popular way. But the earnestness of the author is not concealed; and he occasionally rises into a very real eloquence. The work is several times quoted as authority by Buddhaghosa, who wrote about A.D. 450, and it is the only work, not in the canon, which receives this honour.
The Milinda has been edited in Pali by V. Trenckner, and translated into English by the present writer, with introductions in which the historical and critical points made in this article are discussed in detail. There is space here to mention only one further fact. M. Sylvain Lévy, working in collaboration with M. Specht, has shown that there are two, if not three, Chinese works, written between the 5th and 7th centuries, on the Questions of Milinda. They purport to be translations of Indian works. They are not, however, translations of the Pali text. They give, with alterations and additions, the substance of the earlier part of the Pali work; and are probably derived from a recension that may be older than the Pali.
Authorities.—V. Trenckner, Milinda-pañho (London, 1880); Rhys Davids, Questions of King Milinda (2 vols., Oxford, 1890-1894); R. Garbe, Beiträge zur indischen Kulturgeschichte (Berlin, 1903, ch. 3, Der Milinda-pañha); Milinda Prashṇaya, in Sinhalese, (Colombo, 1877); R. Morris, in the Academy (Jan. 11, 1881); Sylvain Lévy, Proceedings of the 9th International Congress of Orientalists (London, 1892), i. 518-529, and Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1891), p. 476.