PYTHAGORIC LIFE by IAMBLICHUS (XII)


( BEING  CONTINUED FROM  25/10/17)

Chapter XXVIII.

That which follows after this, we shall no longer discuss generally, but direct our attention particularly to the works resulting from the virtues of Pythagoras. And we shall begin in the first place from the Gods, as it is usual to do, and indeavour to exhibit his piety, and the admirable works which he performed. Let this, therefore, be one specimen of his piety, which also we have before mentioned, that he knew what his soul was, and whence it came into the body, and also its former lives, and that of these things he gave most evident indications. After this also, let the following be another specimen; that once passing over the river Nessus with many of his associates, he spoke to it, and the river in a distinct and clear voice, in the hearing of all his followers, answered, Hail Pythagoras! Farther still, nearly all historians of his life confidently assert, that in one and the same day he was present at Metapontum in Italy, and Tauromenium in Sicily, and discoursed in common with his disciples in both places, though these cities are separated from each other by many stadia both by land and sea, and cannot be passed through in a great number of days. The report, also, is very much disseminated, that he showed his golden thigh to the Hyperborean Abaris, who said that he resembled the Apollo among the Hyperborearis, and of whom Abaris was the priest; and that he did this in order that Abaris might apprehend this to be true, and that he was not deceived in his opinion. Ten thousand other more divine and more admirable particulars likewise are uniformly and unanimously related of the man: such as infallible predictions of earthquakes, rapid expulsions of pestilence and violent winds, instantaneous cessations of the effusion of hail, and a tranquillization of the waves of rivers and seas, in order that his disciples might easily pass over them. Of which things also, Empedocles the Agrigentine, Epimenides the Cretan, and Abaris the Hyperborean, receiving the power of effecting, performed certain miracles of this kind in many places. Their deeds, however, are manifest. To which we may add, that Empedocles was surnamed an expeller of winds; Epimenides, an expiator; and Abaris, a walker on air; because being carried on the dart which was given to him by the Hyperborean Apollo, he passed over rivers and seas and inaccessible places, like one walking on the air. Certain persons likewise are of opinion, that Pythagoras did the same thing, when in the same day he discoursed with his disciples at Metapontum and Tauromenium. It is also said, that he predicted there would be an earthquake from the water of a well which he had tasted; and that a ship which was sailing with a prosperous wind, would be merged in the sea. And let these, indeed, be the indications of his piety.

Again, however, assuming a more elevated exordium, I am desirous to exhibit the principles of the worship of the Gods, which Pythagoras and his followers established; viz. that all such particulars as they define with respect to doing or not doing a thing, have for the mark at which they aim, a consent with divinity. This also is with them the principle, [of piety] and their whole life is arranged with a view to follow God. The language, too, of their philosophy is this, that men act ridiculously in exploring good from any other source than the Gods; and that their conduct in this respect resembles that of a man, who in a country governed by a king should reverence one of the magistrates in the city, and neglect him who is the ruler of all of them. For they were of opinion that such was the conduct of mankind. For since God is, and is the Lord of all things, it is universally acknowledged that good is to be requested of him. For all men impart good to those whom they love, and to those with whom they are delighted; but they give the contrary to good, to those to whom they are contrarily disposed. It is evident, therefore, that those things are to be done, in which God delights. It is, however, not easy for a man to know what these are, unless he obtains this knowledge from one who has heard God, or has heard God himself, or procures it through divine art. Hence also, the Pythagoreans were studious of divination. For this alone is an interpretation of the benevolence of the Gods. And in short, he will conceive an employment of this kind to be worthy of regard, who believes that there are Gods; but he who thinks that either of these is folly, will also be of opinion that both are foolish. Many of the mandates, however, of the Pythagoreans were introduced from the mysteries; for they did not conceive them to be the productions of arrogance, but to originate from a certain divinity. And in a similar manner, all the Pythagoreans believe such things as are mythologically related of Aristeas the Proconesian, and Abaris the Hyperborean, and other particulars of a like nature. For they consider every thing of this kind to be credible; and of many [such] things they make trial themselves. They also frequently recollect such-like particulars as appear to be fabulous, as not disbelieving in any thing which may be referred to divinity. A certain person therefore relates, that Eurytus said, that a shepherd feeding his sheep near the tomb of Philolaus, heard some one singing. But the person to whom this was related, did not at all disbelieve the narration, but asked what kind of harmony it was? Both of them, however, were Pythagoreans, and Eurytus was the disciple of Philolaus. It is, likewise said, that a certain person told Pythagoras, that he appeared to himself once to converse with his father who was dead, and that he asked Pythagoras what this indicated? Pythagoras replied, that it indicated nothing; but that he had in reality conversed with his father. As therefore, said he, nothing is signified by my now discoursing with you, so neither is any thing signified by your conversing with your father. Hence, in all particulars of this kind, they did not think that they were stupid, but those that disbelieved in them. For they did not conceive that some things are possible to the Gods, but others impossible, as those fancy who reason sophistically; but they believed that all things are possible to the Gods. And this very assertion is the beginning of the verses, which they ascribe to Linus, and which are as follow:

All things may be the objects of our hope,
Since nothing hopeless any where is found:
All things with ease Divinity effects,
And nought can frustrate his almighty power.

But they thought that their opinions deserved to be believed, because he who first promulgated them, was not any casual person, but a God. For this was one of their questions: What was Pythagoras? For they say that he was the Hyperborean Apollo; of which this was an indication, that rising up in the Olympic games, he showed his golden thigh; and also that he received the Hyperborean Aoaris as his guest, and was presented by him with the dart on which he rode through the air. But it is said that Abaris came from the Hyperborean regions, in order that he might collect gold for the temple, and that he predicted a pestilence. He also dwelt in temples, and was never seen either to eat or drink. It is likewise said, that rites which purify from evil are performed by the Lacedæmonians, and that on this account Lacedæmon was never infested with pestilence. Pythagoras, therefore, caused this Abaris to acknowledge [that he was more than man,] receiving from him at the same time the golden dart, without which it was not possible for him to find his way. In Metapontum also, certain persons praying that they might obtain what a ship contained that was then sailing into port, Pythagoras said to them, You will then have a dead body. In Sybaris, too, he caught a deadly serpent and dismissed it. In a similar manner likewise in Tyrrhenia, he caught a small serpent, whose bite was fatal. But in Crotona a white eagle, it is said, suffered Pythagoras to stroke it. A certain person also wishing to hear him discourse, he said that he could not, till some sign appeared. And after this a white bear was seen in Cauconia; the death of which he predicted to one who was about to tell him that it was dead. He likewise reminded Myllias the Crotonian that he had been Midas the son of Gordius. And Myllias passed over to the continent of Asia, in order to perform at the sepulchre [of Midas] those rites which had been enjoined him by Pythagoras. It is likewise said, that the person who bought his house, and who dug up that which had been buried in it, did not dare to tell any one what he saw [on this occasion]. But instead of suffering for this offence, he was seized at Crotona for sacrilege, and put to death. For he took away a golden beard which had fallen from a statue. These things therefore, and others of the like kind, are related by the Pythagoreans, in order to render their opinions worthy of belief. And as these are acknowledged to be true, and it is impossible they should have happened to one man, they consequently think it is clear, that what is related of Pythagoras, should be received as pertaining to a being superior to man, and not to a mere man. This also is the meaning of their enigmatical assertion, that man, bird, and another third thing, are bipeds. For the third thing is Pythagoras. Such, therefore, was Pythagoras on account of his piety, and such he was truly thought to be.

With respect to oaths, however, all the Pythagoreans religiously observe them, being mindful of the Pythagoric precept,

First to th’ immortal Gods thy homage pay,
As they by law are orderly dispos’d;
And reverence thy oath, but honor next
Th’ illustrious heroes.

Hence a certain Pythagorean, being compelled by law to take an oath, yet in order that he might preserve a Pythagoric dogma, though he would have sworn religiously, chose instead of swearing to pay three talents, this being the fine which he was condemned to pay to the defendant. That Pythagoras however thought that nothing was from chance and fortune, but that all events happened conformably to divine providence, and especially to good and pious men, is confirmed by what is related by Androcydes in his treatise on Pythagoric Symbols, of Thymaridas the Tarentine, and a Pythagorean. For when through a certain circumstance he was about to sail from his own country, and his friends who were present were embracing him, and bidding him farewell, some one said to him, when he had now ascended into the ship, May such things happen to you from the Gods, O Thymaridas, as are conformable to your wishes! But he replied, predict better things; for I should rather wish that such things may happen to me as are conformable to the will of the Gods. For he thought it was more scientific and equitable, not to resist or be indignant with divine providence. If, therefore, any one wishes to learn what were the sources whence these men derived so much piety, it must be said, that a perspicuous paradigm of the Pythagoric theology according to numbers, is in a certain respect to be found in the writings of Orpheus. Nor is it to be doubted, that Pythagoras receiving auxiliaries from Orpheus, composed his treatise Concerning the Gods, which on this account also he inscribed the Sacred Discourse, because it contains the flower of the most mystical place in Orpheus; whether this work was in reality written by Pythagoras, as by most authors it is said to have been, or as some of the Pythagoric school who are both learned and worthy of belief assert, was composed by Telauges; being taken by him from the commentaries which were left by Pythagoras himself to his daughter Damo, the sister of Telauges, and which it is said after her death were given to Bitale the daughter of Damo, and to Telauges the son of Pythagoras, and the husband of Bitale, when he was of a mature age. For when Pythagoras died, he was left very young with his mother Theano. In this Sacred Discourse also, or treatise concerning the Gods (for it has both these inscriptions), who it was that delivered to Pythagoras what is there said concerning the Gods, is rendered manifest. For it says:

that Pythagoras the son of Mnesarchus was instructed in what pertains to the Gods, when he celebrated orgies in the Thracian Libethra, being initiated in them by Aglaophemus; and that Orpheus the son of Calliope, having learnt wisdom from his mother in the mountain Pangæus, said, that the eternal essence of number is the most providential principle of the universe, of heaven and earth, and the intermediate nature; and farther still, that it is the root of the permanency of divine natures, of Gods and dæmons.”35

From these things, therefore, it is evident that he learnt from the Orphic writers that the essence of the Gods is defined by number. Through the same numbers also, he produced an admirable fore-knowledge and worship of the Gods, both which are especially most allied to numbers. This, however, may be known from hence; for it is necessary to adduce a certain fact, in order to procure belief of what is said. When Abaris performed sacred rites in his accustomed manner, he procured a fore-knowledge of future events, which is studiously cultivated by all the Barbarians, through sacrificing animals, and especially birds; for they are of opinion that the viscera of such animals are subservient to a more accurate inspection. Pythagoras, therefore, not wishing to suppress his ardent pursuit of truth, but to impart it to him through a certain safer way, and without blood and slaughter, and also because he thought that a cock was sacred to the sun, furnished him with a consummate knowledge of all truth, as it is said, through the arithmetical science. He also obtained from piety, faith concerning the Gods. For Pythagoras always proclaimed, that nothing admirable pertaining to the Gods or divine dogmas should be disbelieved, because the Gods are able to accomplish all things. And the divine dogmas in which it is requisite to believe, are those which Pythagoras delivered. Thus, therefore, the Pythagoreans believed in, and assumed the things about which they dogmatized, because they were not the progeny of false opinion. Hence Eurytus the Crotonian, the auditor of Philolaus said, that a shepherd feeding his sheep near the tomb of Philolaus, heard some one singing. But the person to whom this was related, did not at all disbelieve the narration, but asked what kind of harmony it was. Pythagoras himself, also, being asked by a certain person what was indicated by seeming in sleep to converse with his father who was dead, answered that it indicated nothing. For neither, said he, is any thing portended by your speaking with me.

Pythagoras likewise used pure and white garments, and in a similar manner white and pure coverlids; for he did not use those that were made of wool. And this custom he also delivered to his auditors. In speaking also of the natures superior to man, he employed honorable appellations, and words of good omen, and upon every occasion made mention of and reverenced the Gods; so that while at supper, he performed libations to the divinities, and ordered his disciples to celebrate with hymns the beings that are above us, every day. He paid attention likewise to rumors and omens, prophecies, and lots, and in short, to all casual circumstances. Moreover, he sacrificed to the Gods with millet, cakes, honey-combs, and other fumigations. But he did not sacrifice animals, nor did any one of the contemplative philosophers. His other disciples, however, viz. the acusmatici, and the politici, were ordered by him to sacrifice animals, such as a cock, or a lamb, or some other animal recently born, but not frequently. At the same time they were prohibited from sacrificing oxen. This also is an indication of the honor which he paid to the Gods, that he exhorted his disciples never to employ the names of the Gods uselessly in swearing. On which account also Syllus, one of the Pythagoreans in Crotona, paid a fine for not swearing, though he could have sworn without violating truth. An oath too such as the following is ascribed to the Pythagoreans, as they were unwilling, through reverence, to name Pythagoras; just as they very much abstained from using the names of the Gods. But they manifested the man through the invention of the tetractys.

I swear by him who the tetractys found,
Whence all our wisdom springs, and which contains
Perennial Nature’s fountain, cause, and root.

And, in short, it is said that Pythagoras was emulous of the Orphic mode of writing and [piety of] disposition; and that he honored the Gods in a way similar to that of Orpheus, placing them in images and in brass, not conjoined to our forms, but to divine receptacles;36 because they comprehend and provide for all things, and have a nature and morphe similar to the universe. He also promulgated purifications, and initiations as they are called, which contain the most accurate knowledge of the Gods. And farther still, it is said, that he was the author of a compound divine philosophy and worship of the Gods; having learnt indeed some things from the followers of Orpheus, but others from the Egyptian priests; some from the Chaldæans and Magi; some from the mysteries performed in Eleusis, in Imbrus, Samothracia, and Delos; and some also from those which are performed by the Celtæ, and in Iberia. It is also said that the Sacred Discourse of Pythagoras is extant among the Latins, and is read not to all, nor by all of them, but by those who are promptly disposed to learn what is excellent, and apply themselves to nothing base. He likewise ordained that men should make libations thrice, and observed that Apollo delivered oracles from the tripod, because the triad is the first number. That sacrifices also should be made to Venus on the sixth day, because this number is the first that partakes of every number, and, when divided in every possible way, receives the power of the numbers subtracted and of those that remain. But that it is necessary to sacrifice to Hercules on the eighth day of the month from the beginning, looking in so doing to his being born in the seventh month. He further asserted, that it was necessary that he who entered a temple should be clothed with a pure garment, and in which no one had slept; because sleep in the same manner as the black and the brown, is an indication of sluggishness; but purity is a sign of equality and justice in reasoning. He also ordered, that if blood should be found involuntarily spilt in a temple, a lustration should be made, either in a golden vessel, or with the water of the sea; the former of these [i.e. gold] being the most beautiful of things, and a measure by which the price of all things is regulated; but the latter as he conceived being the progeny of a moist nature, and the nutriment of the first and more common matter. He likewise said, that it was not proper to bring forth children in a temple; because it is not holy that in a temple the divine part of the soul should be bound to the body. He further ordained, that on a festive day neither the hair should be cut, nor the nails pared; not thinking it fit that we should leave the service of the Gods for the purpose of increasing our good. He also said, that a louse ought not to be killed in a temple; conceiving that a divine power ought not to participate of any thing superfluous and corruptible. But that the Gods should be honored with cedar, laurel, cypress, oak, and myrtle; and that the body should not be purified with these, nor should any of them be divided by the teeth. He likewise ordained, that what is boiled should not be roasted; signifying by this that mildness is not in want of anger. But he would not suffer the bodies of the dead to be burned; following in this the Magi, being unwilling that any thing divine should communicate with a mortal nature. He likewise thought it was holy for the dead to be carried out in white garments; obscurely signifying by this the simple and first nature, according to number and the principle of all things. But above all things he ordained, that an oath should be taken religiously; since that which is behind is long.37 And he said, that it is much more holy to be injured than to kill a man: for judgment is deposited in Hades, where the soul and its essence, and the first nature of things are [properly] estimated. Farther still, he ordered that sepulchral chests [i.e. biers] should not be made of cypress, because the sceptre of Jupiter was made of this wood, or for some other mystic reason. He likewise ordained that libations should be performed before the table of Jupiter the Saviour, and of Hercules and the Dioscuri; in so doing celebrating Jupiter as the presiding cause and leader of this nutriment; Hercules, as the power of nature; and the Dioscuri, as the symphony of all things. But he said, that libations should not be offered with closed eyes. For he did not think it fit, that any thing beautiful should be undertaken with shame and bashfulness. Moreover, when it thundered, he ordained that the earth should be touched, in remembrance of the generation of things. But he ordered that temples should be entered from places on the right hand, and that they should be departed out of from the left hand. For he asserted that the right hand is the principle of what is called the odd number, and is divine; but that the left hand is a symbol of the even number, and of that which is dissolved. And such is the mode which he is said to have adopted in the cultivation of piety. But other particulars which we have omitted concerning it, may be conjectured from what has been said. So that I shall cease to speak further on this subject.

(TO BE CONTINUED)

TRANSLATED FROM THE GREEK.
BY THOMAS TAYLOR.
Approach ye genuine philosophic few,The Pythagoric Life belongs to you :
But far, far off ye vulgar herd profane ;

For Wisdom’s voice is heard by you in vain :
And you, Mind’s lowest link, and darksome end,Good Rulers, Customs, Laws, alone can mend.

PUBLISHED 1818 IN LONDON

NOTES

35. “The Pythagoreans,” (says Syrianus in Aristot. Metaphys. Lib. 13.) “received from the theology of Orpheus, the principles of intelligible and intellectual numbers, they assigned them an abundant progression, and extended their dominion as far as to sensibles themselves. Hence that proverb was peculiar to the Pythagoreans, that all things are assimilated to number. Pythagoras, therefore, in THE SACRED DISCOURSE, clearly says, that ‘number is the ruler of forms and ideas, and is the cause of Gods and dæmons.’ He also supposes, that ‘to the most ancient and artificially ruling deity, number is the canon, the artificial reason, the intellect also, and the most undeviating balance of the composition and generation of all things.’” Αὐτός μέν Πῦθγόρας, ἐν τ ἱέρῳ λογῳ, διαρρήδην μορφών καί ἰδέων κράντορα τόν ἀριθμόν ἐλεγεν ἐιναι, καί θέων καί διαμόνων αἴτιον· καί τῷ πρέσβυτατῳ καί κρατιστεύοντι τέχνιτῃ θέῳ κανονα, καί λογον τεχνικόν, νουν τε καί σταθμάν ἀκλῐνέσταταν τόν ἀριθμόν ὑπεικε συστάσιος καί γενέσεως τῶν πάντων. Syrianus adds: “But Philolaus declared that number is the governing and self-begotten bond of the eternal permanency of mundane natures.” Φιλόλαυς δε, τῆς τῶς κοσμικών ἀιωνιας διαμόνης τής κρατιστεύουσαν καί αὐτογενή συοχην ἐιναι ἀπεφῃνατο τόν ἀριθμόν. “And Hippasus, and all those who were destined to a quinquennial silence, called number the judicial instrument of the maker of the universe, and the first paradigm of mundane fabrication.” ι δε πέρα Ιππασον ἀκουσματικοί ἐιπον κρῐτῐκόν κοσμουργόυ θέου ὄργᾰνον, καί παράδειγμα πρωτόν κοσμοποιἴας. “But how is it possible they could have spoken thus sublimely of number, unless they had considered it as possessing an essence separate from sensibles, and a transcendency fabricative, and at the same time paradigmatic?”

 

36. i.e. To spheres; Iamblichus indicating by this, that Pythagoras as well as Orpheus considered a spherical figure as the most appropriate image of divinity. For the universe is spherical; and, as Iamblichus afterwards observes, the Gods have a nature and morphe similar to the universe; morphe, as we learn from Simplicius, pertaining to the color, figure, and magnitude of superficies. Kiessling, having no conception of this meaning, and supposing the whole passage to be corrupt, has made nonsense of it by his alterations. For according to his version, Pythagoras, after the manner of Orpheus, worshipped the Gods not bound to a human form, but to divine numbers. For instead of ἴδρυμασι he reads ἀριθμοις. But divine numbers both according to Orpheus and Pythagoras are the Gods themselves.

 

37. i.e. Futurity is long; Pythagoras signifying by this, that those who do not take an oath religiously, will be punished in some future period, if they are not at present.

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