Epimenides of Knossos (Crete) (Greek: Ἐπιμενίδης) was a semi-mythical 6th century BC Greek seer and philosopher-poet. While tending his father's sheep, he is said to have fallen asleep for fifty-seven years in a Cretan cave sacred to Zeus, after which he reportedly awoke with the gift of prophecy (Diogenes Laertius i. 109–115). Plutarch writes that Epimenides purified Athens after the pollution brought by the Alcmeonidae, and that the seer's expertise in sacrifices and reform of funeral practices were of great help to Solon in his reform of the Athenian state. The only reward he would accept was a branch of the sacred olive, and a promise of perpetual friendship between Athens and Cnossus (Plutarch, Life of Solon, 12; Aristotle, Ath. Pol., 1).
Athenaeus also mentions him, in connection with the self-sacrifice of the erastes and eromenos pair of Cratinus and Aristodemus, who were believed to have given their lives in order to purify Athens. Even in antiquity there were those who held the story to be mere fiction (The Deipnosophists, XIII. 78–79). Diogenes Laertius preserves a number of spurious letters between Epimenides and Solon in his Lives of the Philosophers. Epimenides was also said to have prophesied at Sparta on military matters.
He died in Crete at an advanced age; according to his countrymen, who afterwards honoured him as a god, he lived nearly three hundred years. According to another story, he was taken prisoner in a war between the Spartans and Cnossians, and put to death by his captors, because he refused to prophesy favourably for them. Pausanias reports that when Epimenides died, his skin was found to be covered with tattooed writing. This was considered odd, because the Greeks reserved tattooing for slaves. Some modern scholars have seen this as evidence that Epimenides was heir to the shamanic religions of Central Asia, because tattooing is often associated with shamanic initiation. The skin of Epimenides was preserved at the courts of the ephores in Sparta, conceivably as a good-luck charm. Epimenides is also reckoned with Melampus and Onomacritus as one of the founders of Orphism.
Several prose and poetic works, now lost, were attributed to Epimenides, including a theogony, an epic poem on the Argonautic expedition, prose works on purifications and sacrifices, a cosmogony, oracles, a work on the laws of Crete, and a treatise on Minos and Rhadymanthus.
Epimenides' Cretica is quoted twice in the New Testament. Its only source is a 9th century Syriac commentary by Isho'dad of Merv on the Acts of the Apostles, discovered, edited and translated (into Greek) by Prof. J. Rendel Harris in a series of articles in the Expositor (Oct. 1906, 305–17; Apr. 1907, 332–37; Apr. 1912, 348–353). In the poem, Minos addresses Zeus thus:
Τύμβον ἐτεκτήναντο σέθεν, κύδιστε μέγιστε,
Κρῆτες, ἀεὶ ψευδεῖς, κακὰ θηρία, γαστέρες ἀργαί.
Ἀλλὰ σὺ γ᾽ οὐ θνῇσκεις, ἕστηκας γὰρ ζοὸς αίεί,
Ἐν γὰρ σοὶ ζῶμεν καὶ κινύμεθ᾽ ἠδὲ καὶ ἐσμέν.
They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one-
The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever,
For in thee we live and move and have our being.
The "lie" of the Cretans is that Zeus was mortal; Epimenides considered Zeus immortal. "Cretans, always liars", with the same theological intent as Epimenides, also appears in the Hymn to Zeus of Callimachus. The fourth line is quoted without attribution in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 17, verse 28.
The second line is quoted, with a veiled attribution ("a prophet of their own"), in the Epistle to Titus, chapter 1, verse 12, to warn Titus about the Cretans. The "prophet" in Titus 1:12 is identified by Clement of Alexandria as Epimenides (Stromata, i. 14). In this passage, Clement mentions that "some say" Epimenides should be counted among the seven wisest philosophers.
Chrysostom (Homily 3 on Titus) gives an alternate fragment:
For even a tomb, O King, of you
They made, who never died, but aye shall be.
It is not clear when Epimenides became associated with the Epimenides paradox, a variation of the liar paradox. Epimenides himself does not appear to have intended any irony or paradox in his statement "Cretans, always liars." In his epistle to Titus, Saint Paul wants to warn Titus that "Cretans are always liars". To justify his claim Saint Paul cites Epimenides' poem. This may be a contradiction, or perhaps just a bit of humor, because Saint Paul quotes a Cretan person to prove that Cretans are always liars. In the Middle Ages, many forms of the liar paradox were studied under the heading of insolubilia, but these were not associated with Epimenides.
（Ἐπιμενίδης). A Cretan, contemporary with Solon, and born perhaps in B.C. 659, at Phaestus, in the island of Crete, according to some accounts, or at Cnosus according to others. Many marvellous tales are related of him. It is said that, going by his father's order in search of a sheep, he laid himself down in a cave, where he fell asleep and slept for fifty years, on which legend Goethe has written a poem. He then made his appearance among his fellow-citizens with long hair and a flowing beard, and with a knowledge of medicine and natural history which then appeared more than human. Another story told of this Cretan was that he had the power of sending his soul out of his body and recalling it at pleasure; that he had familiar intercourse with the gods, and possessed the power of prophecy. The event of his life by which he is best known was his visit to Athens at the request of the inhabitants, in order to pave the way for the legislation of Solon by purifications and propitiatory sacrifices. These rites were intended, according to the spirit of the age, to allay the feuds and party dissensions which prevailed there; and, although what he enjoined was mostly of a religious nature (for instance, the sacrifice of a human victim, the consecration of a temple to the Eumenides, and of two altars to Hybris and Anaidea, the two evil powers which were exerting their influence on the Athenians), there can be little doubt that his object was political, and that Solon's constitution would hardly have been accepted had it not been recommended and sanctioned by some person who, like Epimenides, claimed from men little less than the veneration due to a superior being. The Athenians wished to reward Epimenides with wealth and public honours, but he refused to accept any remuneration, and demanded only a branch of the sacred olive-tree and a decree of perpetual friendship between Athens and his native city. Epimenides is said to have lived, after his return to Crete, to the age of 157 years. Other accounts give his age as nearly 230 years. Divine honours were paid him by the Cretans after his death.
Epimenides composed a theogony and other poems concerning religious mysteries. He wrote also a poem on the Argonautic Expedition, and other works, which are entirely lost. His treatise on oracles and responses, mentioned by St. Jerome, is said to have been the work from which St. Paul quotes in the epistle to Titus (i. 12). See Diog. Laert. i. 109; Val. Max. viii. 13. See the monograph by Schultess, De Epimenide Crete (Vienna, 1877).