Definition of gymnosophist in English:



  • A member of an ancient Indian sect that wore very little clothing and was given to asceticism and contemplation.

    • ‘There he is said to have encountered the ‘gymnosophists’ and ‘magi’ who were thought to have influenced his later philosophical views.’
    • ‘One lineage of the family, apart from the second brother who was a blind snake-charmer, died out when, after migrating to the Punjab, they became sacred but doomed gymnosophists and crystal-eaters.’
    • ‘He accompanied Alexander the Great on his conquest of northern India, where he encountered Indian gymnosophists or naked wise men.’
    • ‘After Apollonius has recognized a lion as a reincarnation of Egypt's last pharaoh Amasis, he sets out in the company of ten disciples for the Ethiopian gymnosophists.’
    • ‘Then returning to Alexandria he made his way to Ethiopia to see the gymnosophists and the famous table of the sun spread in the sands of the desert.’
    • ‘Among others to take a keen interest in the gymnosophists was Pyrrho, founder of the philosophical school known as the Sceptics.’
    • ‘There was a probable purpose in his writing: to propagandize for the gentle philosophy of the gymnosophists, an obscure ascetic Hindu sect, and to proclaim the humanity, culture and martial skill of the dark-skinned Ethiopians.’
    • ‘The episode of Alexander's interview with the gymnosophists has come down to us in several versions, among which the one in Plutarch's Vita Alexandri is the most renowned.’
    • ‘The third-century heresy-hunter Hippolytus included naked gymnosophists among the philosophers whose ideas threatened the true faith.’
    • ‘Following these initial contacts, tales of the holy men of India, known to the Greeks as ‘gymnosophists’, began to circulate in the Hellenic world.’
    abstainer, recluse, hermit, solitary, anchorite, anchoress, desert saint, celibate, puritan, nun, monk
    View synonyms


Late Middle English: from French gymnosophiste, via Latin from Greek gumnosophistai (plural), from gumnos ‘naked’ + sophistēs ‘teacher of philosophy, sophist’ (see sophist).