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Headword: Πυθαγόρας
Adler number: pi,3124
Translated headword: Pythagoras
Vetting Status: high
A proper name. Also [sc. attested is the phrase] 'Pythagorean doctrine'. Also 'Pythagorean men'.
[Note] that the Pythagorean "symbols" were the following:[1] 'do not stir fire with a knife';[2] 'do not step over a balance-beam';[3] 'do not sit down on a bushel';[4] 'do not eat heart';[5] 'join [someone] in taking down a burden, not in lifting it up';[6] 'always have [your] bedclothes packed up';[7] 'do not wear a ring carrying the image of a god';[8] 'efface the traces of a pot in the ashes';[9] 'do not wipe a seat with a lamp';[10] 'do not urinate turned toward the sun';[11] 'do not walk outside the main way';[12] 'do not be light in offering [your] right hand';[13] 'do not keep swallows under the same roof [as you]';[14] 'do not nourish a bird with crooked nails';[15] 'do not urinate or stand upon the cuttings of your nails or hair';[16] 'avoid a sharp knife'; 'be indifferent to the borders while traveling abroad'.[17] The meaning he attached to the exhortation 'not stirring fire with a knife' was not to cause the anger or the bad temper of powerful, easily-upset men; 'not stepping over a balance-beam' is not overstepping the limit of fairness and justice; 'not sitting on a bushel' is equivalent to taking into consideration even the future,[18] for the bushel [means] the daily food. By the expression 'not eating heart' he was showing that we should not wear our soul away with anxiety and sorrow. By saying that 'he who is traveling abroad should not turn back' he was recommending that those departing from life should not be eager to stay alive, and not let themselves be brought under the power of this world's pleasures. As for the remaining, we shall leave aside all the other "symbols" besides these, to avoid being redundant. But above all, he used to prohibit eating the erythinos[18] and the melanouros,[19] and to abstain from [eating] heart[20] and beans[21] and [sow's] womb[22] and mullet. Sometimes he was satisfied with just honey or honeycomb or bread; during the daytime he did not taste any wine, and as a relish he usually had vegetables boiled or raw, but rarely seafood. The garment he wore was white and clean, and his bed-clothing was white and made from wool, for linen cloths had not yet come to those regions. There is no information about him suffering from excess of eating, or having sexual intercourse or getting drunk. He used to abstain from ribaldry and from any pleasant pastime such as jokes and vulgar stories. [Even] when angry, he did not chastise any person, whether a slave or a free man. He also used to call admonishing 'correcting'. He used to practice divination, the kind using augurs and auspices as mediums, but not the kind performed by burning the offerings, with the exception of frankincense. As sacrificial victims he offered inanimate things;[23] though according to other sources, he only offered roosters and kids and sucklings. On the other hand they say that he agreed with eating all animals as food,[24] and only abstained from the ox used for ploughing, and from the ram. As for his philosophical doctrines, he learned them from his sister Theokleia.[25] They say that during his descent into the underworld he saw Hesiod's soul bound to a bronze pillar, bitterly crying, and Homer's hanging from a tree and surrounded by serpents, as a punishment for what they had said about gods; he also saw that punishment was reserved for those who had not been willing to have intercourse with their own wives. He used to prohibit presenting the gods with slaughtered victims, [saying that only] a man not stained by any bloodshed should prostrate himself in front of an altar.[26] [He exhorted people] not to swear in the name of gods, but said that [each one] must train himself to appear trustworthy [sc. even without swearing].[27] He used to say that elderly people should be honored, because he was convinced that everything that is precedent in time is more honorable; as in the firmament the sunrise is more honorable than the sunset, in human life the beginning is more honorable than the end and in existence the processes of production are more honorable than those of destruction; and [as] god should be honored above the daemons, so should be the heroes above the humans, and then, above humans in general, especially one's parents. He also invited [people] to enjoy the company of each other in such a way as not to make friends into enemies, but to change enemies into friends; not to consider anything one's private property; to assist the law and to combat lawlessness; not to destroy or injure any cultivated plant, but also any animal, which does no harm to humans. He taught that modesty and discretion means to refrain from laughing, yet without looking angry; he exhorted [people] to avoid an excess of meat [sc. as food]; to keep time for relaxation and time for intense effort during a journey; to exercise the memory; not to say or do anything while being angry; to honour every form of divination; to sing accompanied by the lyre, making a suitable offering of thanks by means of a hymn praising gods and valiant men. [He also used to recommend] abstaining from eating fava beans, because they share with animated beings most of their properties, as they cause flatulence, and because on the other hand they keep the stomach in better order if they are not consumed at all; moreover, by keeping this habit even dreams are made quiet and calm. In the Pythagorean commentaries[28] the following teachings are also found: the beginning of all reality is the monad, and from the monad derives an indefinite dyad, so that the matter is subordinate to the monad since that is its cause. From the monad and from the indefinite dyad proceed the numbers, from the numbers the signs, from these the lines, of which the plane figures consist. Then from the plane figures are derived the solid ones, and from these the sensible bodies, whose elements are four: fire, water, earth and air. These undergo changes and transformations through the whole universe and give origin to the animated world, provided with an intellect, spherical, having in its center the earth, also spherical and inhabited. There also exist antipodes; and what is "up" for us is "down" for those [living at the antipodes]. In the world, light and darkness, heat and cold, dry and wet are equally distributed; among these, when the predominant is the heat there is summer, and when the predominant is the cold there is winter. Whenever these qualities are in balance there are the most pleasant seasons of the year. The spring, which brings on flourishing, is the healthy period of that last, whilst the autumn, which brings on decaying, is the unwholesome one. But even in the daytime the dawn is the flourishing time; the evening is the decaying time; hence it is unhealthier. The air surrounding the earth has no movement and is unhealthy, and all the creatures living in it are mortal; the uppermost part, on the opposite, is always in motion, is pure and wholesome, and all the beings living inside it are immortal and, for that reason, divine. In them the preponderant quality is heat, which is the cause of life. The moon receives its light from the sun. More: between mankind and gods there is a kinship, inasmuch as humans partake of heat. The cause determining the arrangement (both for the whole universe and for its parts) is fate. From the sun a ray passes through the ether, both the cold and the dense one; this same ray penetrates into the depths and, by doing that, it vivifies everything. We bypass the other teachings, to avoid being redundant. [Also note] that Pythagoras used to recommended not picking up what is falling from the table, either with the purpose of educating them not to eat without moderation or because of some [other] goal; for Aristophanes[29] says that what falls down belongs to the heroes, and invites [people] not to pick up the leftovers falling from the table. Pythagoras also recommended not eating a white rooster, as it is sacred to the Sun and indicates the hours;[30] abstaining from eating fava beans because their shape looks similar to the masculine genitals; and [he said] that salt should be put before [us on the table] to remind us of justice, for salt preserves whatever it is used for, and its origin is in pure waters and in the sea. [He also taught] that bread should not be broken, because ancient people used to gather around one [loaf]; moreover bread, which unites around itself, should not be divided (another reason is that it brings cowardice in wars). Aristophon[31] says about the Pythagoreans: "he said that when he descended to see how they live in the underworld, he saw each one of them, but their condition was very different from that of [all the other] dead: for only with them did Pluto eat together, thanks to their piety. You can say[32] that he is quite a tolerant god, if he likes the company of people full of filth". "[They eat][33] vegetables and drink water with them, but none of the younger folk would ever tolerate their lice and their dirty clothes!".
And [there is] a saying: 'I will be more silent, even, than those initiated in Pythagoras'. For they used to spend a period of five years training silence.[34]
Of the Pythagoreans, some were devoted to theoretical inquiries and were called reverent (σεβαστικοί ), other were involved in mathematical speculation and were called "geometricians" and "mathematicians". And Pythagoras' companions used to be called Pythagorikoi, but the pupils of these men [were called] Pythagoreioi, and those followers otherwise external to the school were called Pythagoristai.[35] They used to abstain from eating animate things.
[Note also that] Pythagoras brought the elements of his doctrine from the Egyptians to the Greeks.[36]
Greek Original:
Πυθαγόρας: ὄνομα κύριον. καὶ Πυθαγόρειος λόγος. καὶ Πυθαγόρειοι ἄνδρες. ὅτι Πυθαγόρα τὰ σύμβολα ἦν τάδε: πῦρ μαχαίρᾳ μὴ σκαλεύειν: ζυγὸν μὴ ὑπερβαίνειν: ἐπὶ χοίνικος μὴ καθίζειν: καρδίαν μὴ ἐσθίειν: φορτίον συγκαθαιρεῖν, μηδὲ συνεπιτιθέναι: τὰ στρώματα ἀεὶ συνδεδεμένα ἔχειν: ἐν δακτυλίῳ θεοῦ εἰκόνα μὴ περιφέρειν: χύτρας ἴχνος συγχεῖν ἐν τῇ τέφρᾳ: λαδίῳ εἰς θάκον μὴ ὀμόργνυσθαι: πρὸς ἥλιον τετραμμένον μὴ ὀμιχεῖν: ἐκτὸς λεωφόρου μὴ βαδίζειν: μὴ ῥᾳδίως δεξιὰν ἐμβάλλειν: ὁμωροφίους χελιδόνας μὴ ἔχειν: γαμψώνυχα μὴ τρέφειν: ἀπονυχίσμασι καὶ κουραῖς μὴ ἐπουρεῖν μηδὲ ἐφίστασθαι: ὀξεῖαν μάχαιραν ἀποστρέφειν: ἀποδημοῦντα ἐν τοῖς ὅροις ἀνεπιστρεπτεῖν. ἤθελε δὲ αὐτῷ τὸ μὲν πῦρ μαχαίρᾳ μὴ σκαλεύειν, ὅτι δυναστῶν ὀργὴν καὶ οἰδούντων θυμὸν μὴ κινεῖν: τὸ δὲ ζυγὸν μὴ ὑπερβαίνειν, τουτέστι τὸ ἴσον καὶ δίκαιον μὴ ὑπερβαίνειν: ἐπί τε χοίνικος μὴ καθίζειν ἐν ἴσῳ τῷ φροντίδα ποιεῖσθαι καὶ τοῦ μέλλοντος: ὁ γὰρ χοίνιξ ἡμερήσιος τροφή. διὰ δὲ τοῦ καρδίαν μὴ ἐσθίειν, ἐδήλου, μὴ τὴν ψυχὴν ἀνίαις καὶ λύπαις κατατήκειν: διὰ δὲ τοῦ εἰς ἀποδημίαν βαδίζοντα μὴ ἐπιστρέφεσθαι, παρῄνει τὸ ἀπαλλαττομένοις τοῦ βίου μὴ ἐπιθυμητικῶς ἔχειν τοῦ ζῆν, μηδ' ὑπὸ τῶν ἐνθάδε ἡδονῶν ὑπάγεσθαι. καὶ τἄλλα πρὸς ταῦτα λοιπόν ἐστιν ἐκλαμβάνειν, ἵνα μὴ παρέλκωμεν. παντὸς δὲ μᾶλλον ἀπηγόρευε μήτε ἐρυθῖνον ἐσθίειν μήτε μελάνουρον, καρδίας τε ἀπέχεσθαι καὶ κυάμων καὶ μήτρας καὶ τρίγλης. ἐνίοτε αὐτὸν ἀρκεῖσθαι μέλιτι μόνῳ ἢ κηρῷ ἢ ἄρτῳ: οἴνου δὲ μεθ' ἡμέραν μὴ γεύεσθαι, ὄψῳ τε τὰ πολλὰ λαχάνοις ἑφθοῖς καὶ ὠμοῖς, τοῖς δὲ θαλαττίοις σπανίως. στολὴ δὲ αὐτῷ λευκὴ καὶ καθαρά, καὶ στρώματα λευκὰ ἐξ ἐρίων: τὰ γὰρ λινᾶ οὔπω εἰς ἐκείνους ἀφίκετο τοὺς τόπους. οὐδὲ πώποτε δὲ ἐγνώσθη οὔτε διαχωρῶν οὔτε ἀφροδισιάζων οὔτε μεθυσθείς. ἀπείχετο δὲ καταγέλωτος καὶ πάσης ἀρεσκείας, οἷον σκωμμάτων καὶ διηγημάτων φορτικῶν. ὀργιζόμενός τε οὔτε οἰκέτην ἐκόλαζεν οὔτε ἐλεύθερον οὐδένα. ἐκάλει δὲ τὸ νουθετεῖν πελαργᾶν. μαντικῇ τε ἐχρῆτο τῇ διὰ τῶν κληδόνων τε καὶ οἰωνῶν, ἥκιστα δὲ διὰ τῶν ἐμπύρων, ἔξω τῆς διὰ λιβάνου: θυσίαις τε ἐχρῆτο ἀψύχοις, οἱ δέ, ἀλεκτορίσι μόνον καὶ ἐρίφοις καὶ γαλαθηνοῖς. φασὶ δ' αὐτὸν συγχωρεῖν πάντα τὰ ἔμψυχα ἐσθίειν, μόνου δ' ἀπέχεσθαι βοὸς ἀροτῆρος καὶ κριοῦ. τὰ δὲ δόγματα ἔλαβε παρὰ τῆς ἀδελφῆς Θεοκλείας. φασὶ δ' αὐτὸν κατελθόντα εἰς ᾅδου τὴν μὲν Ἡσιόδου ψυχὴν ἰδεῖν πρὸς κίονι χαλκῷ δεδεμένην καὶ τρίζουσαν, τὴν δὲ Ὁμήρου κρεμαμένην ἀπὸ δένδρου καὶ ὄφεις περὶ αὐτήν, ἀνθ' ὧν εἶπον περὶ θεῶν: κολαζομένους δὲ καὶ τοὺς μὴ θέλοντας συνεῖναι ταῖς ἑαυτῶν γυναιξί. σφάγια δὲ θεοῖς προσφέρειν ἐκώλυε: βωμὸν δὲ προσκυνεῖν τὸν ἀναίμακτον. μηδὲ ὀμνύναι θεούς: ἀσκεῖν δὲ ἑαυτὸν δεῖν ἀξιόπιστον παρέχειν. τοὺς πρεσβυτέρους τιμᾶν δεῖν, τὸ προηγούμενον τῷ χρόνῳ τιμιώτερον ἡγουμένους: ὡς ἐν κόσμῳ ἀνατολὴν δύσεως, ἐν βίῳ τὴν ἀρχὴν τελευτῆς, ἐν ζωῇ γένεσιν φθορᾶς. καὶ θεὸν μὲν δαιμόνων προτιμᾶν, ἥρωας δὲ ἀνθρώπων, ἀνθρώπων δὲ μάλιστα γονέας. ἀλλήλοις τε ὁμιλεῖν, ὡς τοὺς μὲν φίλους ἐχθροὺς μὴ ποιῆσαι, τοὺς δὲ ἐχθροὺς φίλους ἐργάσασθαι: ἴδιόν τε μηδὲν ἡγεῖσθαι. νόμῳ βοηθεῖν, ἀνομίᾳ πολεμεῖν. φυτὸν ἥμερον μήτε φθίνειν μήτε σίνεσθαι, ἀλλὰ μήτε ζῷον, ὃ μὴ βλάπτει ἀνθρώπους. αἰδῶ καὶ εὐλάβειαν εἶναι, μήτε καταγέλωτι κατέχεσθαι μήτε σκυθρωπάζειν. φεύγειν σαρκῶν πλεονασμόν. ὁδοιπορίας ἄνεσιν καὶ ἐπίτασιν ποιεῖσθαι. μνήμην ἀσκεῖν. ἐν ὀργῇ μήτε τι λέγειν μήτε πράσσειν. μαντικὴν πᾶσαν τιμᾶν. ᾠδαῖς χρῆσθαι πρὸς λύραν: ὕμνῳ τε θεῶν καὶ ἀνδρῶν ἀγαθῶν εὔλογον ἔχειν χάριν. τῶν δὲ κυάμων ἀπέχεσθαι διὰ τὸ πνευματώδεις ὄντας μάλιστα μετέχειν τοῦ ψυχικοῦ, καὶ ἄλλως κοσμιωτέρας ἀπεργάζεσθαι μὴ παραληφθέντας τὰς γαστέρας: καὶ διὰ τοῦτο καὶ τὰς καθ' ὕπνους φαντασίας λείας τε καὶ ἀταράχους ἀποτελεῖν. ἐν ὑπομνήμασι δὲ Πυθαγορικοῖς καὶ ταῦτα εὕρηται: ἀρχὴν μὲν τῶν ἁπάντων μονάδα, ἐκ δὲ τῆς μονάδος ἀόριστον δυάδα, ὡς ἂν ὕλην τῇ μονάδι αἰτίῳ ὄντι ὑποστῆναι. ἐκ δὲ τῆς μονάδος καὶ τῆς ἀορίστου δυάδος τοὺς ἀριθμούς, ἐκ δὲ τῶν ἀριθμῶν τὰ σημεῖα, ἐκ δὲ τούτων τὰς γραμμάς, ἐξ ὧν τὰ ἐπίπεδα σχήματα: ἐκ δὲ τῶν ἐπιπέδων τὰ στερεὰ σχήματα, ἐκ δὲ τούτων τὰ αἰσθητὰ σώματα: ὧν καὶ τὰ στοιχεῖα εἶναι δ#, πῦρ, ὕδωρ, γῆν, ἀέρα: ἃ μεταβάλλειν καὶ τρέπεσθαι δι' ὅλων καὶ γίνεσθαι ἐξ αὐτῶν κόσμον ἔμψυχον, νοερόν, σφαιροειδῆ, μέσην περιέχοντα τὴν γῆν, καὶ αὐτὴν σφαιροειδῆ καὶ οἰκουμένην. εἶναι δὲ καὶ ἀντίποδας: καὶ τὰ ἡμῖν κάτω, ἐκείνοις ἄνω. ἰσόμοιρά τε εἶναι ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ φῶς καὶ σκότος, θερμὸν καὶ ψυχρόν, ξηρὸν καὶ ὑγρόν: ὧν κατ' ἐπικράτειαν θερμοῦ μὲν θέρος γίνεσθαι, ψυχροῦ δὲ χειμῶνα. ἐὰν δὲ ἰσομοιρῇ, τὰ κάλλιστα εἶναι τοῦ ἔτους: οὗ τὸ μὲν θάλλον ἔαρ ὑγιεινόν, τὸ δὲ φθίνον φθινόπωρον νοσερόν. ἀλλὰ καὶ τῆς ἡμέρας θάλλειν μὲν τὴν ἕω, φθίνειν δὲ τὴν ἑσπέραν: ὅθεν καὶ νοσερώτερον εἶναι. τόν τε περὶ τὴν γῆν ἀέρα ἄσειστον καὶ νοσερόν, καὶ τὰ ἐν αὐτῷ πάντα θνητά: τὸν δὲ ἀνωτάτω ἀεικίνητον εἶναι καὶ καθαρὸν καὶ ὑγιᾶ, καὶ πάντα τὰ ἐν αὐτῷ ἀθάνατα καὶ διὰ τοῦτο θεῖα: ἐπικρατεῖ γὰρ τὸ θερμὸν ἐν αὐτοῖς, ὅπερ ἐστὶ ζωῆς αἴτιον. τήν τε σελήνην λάμπεσθαι ὑφ' ἡλίου. καὶ ἀνθρώπων εἶναι πρὸς θεοὺς συγγένειαν, κατὰ τὸ μετέχειν ἄνθρωπον θερμοῦ. εἱμαρμένην τε τῶν ὅλων καὶ κατὰ μέρος αἰτίαν εἶναι τῆς διοικήσεως. διήκειν τε ἀπὸ τοῦ ἡλίου ἀκτῖνα διὰ τοῦ αἰθέρος, τοῦ τε ψυχροῦ καὶ παχέος: ταύτην δὲ τὴν ἀκτῖνα καὶ εἰς τὰ βένθη δύεσθαι καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ζωοποιεῖν πάντα. τὰ λοιπὰ παρήκαμεν, ἵνα μὴ παρέλκωμεν. ὅτι τὰ πίπτοντα ἀπὸ τῆς τραπέζης μὴ ἀναιρεῖσθαι παρεκελεύετο Πυθαγόρας, ἢ διὰ τὸ μὴ ἐθίζεσθαι ἀκολάστως ἐσθίειν ἢ ὅτι ἐπὶ τελευτῇ τινος: Ἀριστοφάνης γὰρ τῶν ἡρώων φησὶν εἶναι τὰ πίπτοντα, μήτε δὲ τὰ ἐντὸς τῆς τραπέζης πίπτοντα ἀναιρεῖσθαι. μήτε λευκὸν ἀλεκτρυόνα ἐσθίειν, ὡς ἱερὸν τοῦ ἡλίου καὶ τὰς ὥρας μηνύοντα. τοὺς κυάμους δὲ ἀποτρέπεσθαι, ὅτι αἰδοίοις ἐοίκασι: καὶ τοὺς ἅλας παρατίθεσθαι πρὸς ὑπόμνησιν τοῦ δικαίου: οἱ γὰρ ἅλες πᾶν σῴζουσιν ὅ τι καὶ παραλάβωσι, καὶ γεγόνασιν ἐκ τῶν καθαρῶν ὑδάτων καὶ θαλάσσης. ἄρτον δὲ μὴ καταγνύειν, ὅτι ἐπὶ ἕνα οἱ παλαιοὶ ἐφοίτων: καὶ μὴ διαιρεῖν, ὃς συνάγει ἐφ' ἑαυτόν: ἢ ὅτι εἰς πόλεμον δειλίαν ἐμποιεῖ. Ἀριστοφῶν λέγει περὶ τῶν Πυθαγοριστῶν: καταβὰς εἰς τὴν δίαιταν αὐτῶν κάτω ἰδεῖν ἑκάστους, διαφέρειν δὲ πάμπολυ τοὺς Πυθαγοριστὰς τῶν νεκρῶν: μόνοισι γὰρ τούτοισι τὸν Πλούτωνα συσσιτεῖν ἔφη δι' εὐσέβειαν. εὐχερῆ θεὸν λέγεις, εἰ τοῖς ῥύπου μεστοῖς ἥδεται ξυνών. λάχανά τε καὶ πίνουσιν ἐπὶ τούτοις ὕδωρ: φθεῖρας δὲ καὶ τρίβωνα τήν τ' ἀλουσίαν οὐδεὶς ἂν ὑπομείνειε τῶν νεωτέρων. καὶ παροιμία: σιωπηλότερος ἔσομαι καὶ τῶν Πυθαγόρᾳ τελεσθέντων. πενταετῆ γὰρ χρόνον ἤσκουν σιωπήν. τῶν δὲ Πυθαγορείων οἱ μὲν περὶ θεωρίαν καταγινόμενοι ἐκαλοῦντο σεβαστικοί, οἱ δὲ περὶ τὰ μαθήματα γεωμετρικοὶ καὶ μαθηματικοί. καὶ οἱ μὲν τῷ Πυθαγόρᾳ συγγινόμενοι ἐκαλοῦντο Πυθαγορικοί, οἱ δὲ τούτων μαθηταὶ Πυθαγόρειοι, οἱ δὲ ἄλλως ἔξωθεν ζηλωταὶ Πυθαγορισταί. ἐμψύχων δὲ ἀπείχοντο. ὅτι ἀπὸ τῶν Αἰγυπτίων ὁ Πυθαγόρας ἐξήνεγκε τὰ τῆς αὐτοῦ δόξης εἰς Ἕλληνας.
For Pythagoras see already pi 3120, pi 3121, pi 3123. The main body of the present entry stems from Diogenes Laertius 8.17-38; cf. already, in brief, pi 929. (Of the two subsidiary headwords, neither phrase occurs elsewhere in the Suda, though there are several collective mentions of '[the] Pythagorean[s]', and individual philosophers are designated 'Pythagorean'.)
[1] The σύμβολα , also called ἀκούσματα , were gnomic utterances whose enigmatic language, according to Iamblichus, was characteristic of the Pythagorean teaching method (cf. Life of Pythagoras 103. A different interpretation, considering the word a misinterpretation of συμβολλαί (a possible Doric form for σύμβουλαι , "counsels"), is suggested in a paper by W. Harris [see web address 1]. Iamblichus further notes that this method -- παλαιότροπος 'old-fashioned' all over Greece -- is to be connected with Egypt, like other Pythagorean-school features (ἐξαιρέτως δὲ παρ' Αἰγυπτίοις ποικιλώτατα ἐπρεσβεύετο , 'especially cultivated by Egyptians in a very complex way'). He also attributes the use of the σύμβολα to the mystical character of the school. On a superficial analysis, these expressions may well sound ridiculous in their obscurity, but should they be more closely analyzed, one by one, they will reveal a wisdom of unexpected depth, like the answers of the Pythia (cf. Life 103ff.).
That the use of such enigmatic, orally-transmitted maxims was very ancient is confirmed by the fact that handbooks devoted to their interpretation were composed in the fifth century BCE: Xenophon (Symposium 3.6) mentions an Anaximander (not the philosopher) as the author of an Explanation of the Pythagorean Symbola (also see alpha 1987). His interpretation was very probably of the allegorical kind, like the one devoted to epic poems, since Anaximander is also recorded as 'one who could detect the hidden meanings in Homer'. Similar works are attributed to Alexander Polyhistor (cf. Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 1.70) and to Philochorus. Some citations survive from the work of the Pythagorean Androcydes, the main source -- according to Burkert 166-167 -- of the later tradition concerning the Pythagorean sayings. Another important source was the Aristotelian book On Pythagoreans, some fragments of which can still be recognized in Iamblichus' biography. For similar lists of sayings. cf. Iamblichus, Life 106ff.; Porphyry, Life 42.
The σύμβολα are sorted by Iamblichus into three categories according to the problem they address: τί ἐστι; τὶ μάλιστα; τὶ πρακτέον; . This classification stems perhaps from Aristotle. The maxims recorded in the text of Diogenes Laertius and hence by the Suda, are of the third group. Also cf. Iamblichus, Life 103.
[2] This σύμβολον , like the following two, is recorded by the tradition stemming from Androcydes' book. Cf. Porphyry, Life 42.
[3] Iamblichus, Life 114, remarks: 'this symbol exhorts us [...] to honor equality and moderation [...] and to recognize justice as the most perfect virtue. And this virtue should not be known without proper attention (παρέργως ), but by means of theorems and scientific demonstrations'.
[4] = Aristotle fr. 197. The word χοῖνιξ denotes a dry measure for cereals; one χοῖνιξ of corn corresponded to the daily allowance of a single person, (cf. Herodotus 7.187; one slave's allowance in Thucydides 4.16). For this Pythagorean exhortation to avoid idleness cf. Plutarch, Life of Numa 14.3; De liberis educandis 12E; Aetia Romana et Graeca 281A, etc.; Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 10.452E [10.77 Kaibel]; Aelian, Varia Historia 1.26; etc. The explanation provided by Iamblichus, Protrepticon 116, connects the literal meaning of χοῖνιξ with material life, opposing it to spiritual life: 'nutriment is to be measured by the corporeal and animal nature, and not by a bushel; do not spend your life in indolence nor without being initiated into philosophy [...], take care for that part which is more divine in you, that is soul, and at first for the intellect which is in the soul, whose nutriment is measured, not by a bushel, but by contemplation and discipline'.
[5] This σύμβολον is explained below as related to not consuming one's own soul in useless worries, and can be compared with the Homeric expression θυμὸν ἔδειν . A different interpretation in Iamblichus, Life 123: 'it signifies that it is not proper to tear apart the sympathetic unity of the universe. And even more [it signifies]: be not envious, but philanthropic and communicative; and from this it exhorts us to practice philosophy'.
[6] This saying is witnessed by the Suda (via Diogenes Laertius) in an opposite version to the one occurring in Porphyry and Iamblichus: φορτίον συνεπιτιθέναι, μὴ συγκαθαιρεῖν as an exhortation not to encourage idleness but virtue. According to Iamblichus, Life 113, 'the Pythagoreans celebrate this saying as 'Herculean' denominating it from Hercules' labours'.
[8] A recommendation not to profane divine names, by making a mere ornament out of a sacred image. Cf. Iamblichus, Life 84; Porphyry, Life 42. The ring is further related, in Pythagorean doctrine, to the idea of a bond: in bodies, between their corporeal nature and their soul, or between the individual and their surroundings, as expressed by another σύμβολον prescribing 'not to wear any ring' as 'be spiritually free' (cf. Iamblichus, Life 119f.).
[9] This has been interpreted as relating to the search for reconciliation after a disagreement. However, it could be associated with some other σύμβολα which are apparently concerned with the relation between objects and their shape (like the one recommending to smooth out the bedclothes when getting up): the meaning would be related to being free from the corporeal world. An interpretation related to scientific practice is provided by Iamblichus (Life 124): 'whoever is about to devote himself to philosophy shall forget all the confusion and grossness which belongs to corporeal and sensible demonstrations, and rather use intelligible demonstrations. But ashes have been assumed here to mean the dust on the tables, where the Pythagoreans perform their demonstrations'.
[10] The Suda reads here λαδίῳ for δαδίῳ ("torch"): a clear mistake; cf. all other sources including Diogenes Laertius. The saying is explained as an exhortation not to mingle the peculiarities of wisdom and spiritual nature, expressed by the image of the torch (symbol of purification) with the corporeal nature (Iamblichus, Life 116). Reading λαδίῳ (an un-classical word related to ἐλάδιον ) implies a different interpretation, like 'do not spill oil upon a seat', perhaps related to avoiding a flattering attitude towards powerful persons.
[11] An exhortation to modesty; cf. Hesiod, Works and Days 727. Boehm 52-53 points out a passage in Plutarch, Roman Questions 40, focusing on performing physiological needs under a roof to avoid the open air, 'full of daemons and gods'. Also cf. ps.-Phocylides, Sententiae 94-95, μήδ' ἀθέατα δείξῃς ἠελίῳ , 'do not show to the sunlight things that are not to be seen'.
[12] This occurrence of the maxim as a previous one (cf. note 6) is inconsistent with the other testimony, implying that Pythagoras actually recommended not to walk on a public highway, probably teaching avoidance of the bad influence of the masses; cf. Iamblichus, Life 83, ὅτι οὐ δεῖ τὰς λεωφόρους βαδίζειν ὁδούς , 'one should not walk in the public highways', and 105, τὰς λεωφόρους ὁδοὺς ἐκκλίνων διὰ τῶν ἀτραπῶν βάδιζε , 'avoiding the public highways, walk in the untrodden paths' (also cf. Life 107.1 and 111.18). The word μὴ could be an erroneous insertion in Diogenes Laertius, due to the influence of a context where most of the σύμβολα are expressed in the negative form.
[13] An exhortation not to make ill-considered friendships. Iamblichus (Life 122) associates this saying with the mystical setting of the Pythagorean school, interpreting it as 'do not raise those who are not initiated'.
[14] i.e. associate not with vainly chattering people. Or, according to Iamblichus (Life 119), avoid confiding doctrine to indolent and inconstant people. Swallows are seen as a paradigm of light-hearted, inconsistent attitudes, not only for their voice, but also because, as Iamblichus points out, 'they visit only for a part of the year'.
[15] The birds with crooked nails could be a symbol for traitors and thieves to be avoided. Iamblichus, Life 117, refers this image to the necessity of being equal in giving and receiving, for crooked nails are related in animals to 'receiving rapidly and easily, but not leaving what they hold'.
[16] An exhortation to despise corporal, "base" things.
[17] Another exhortation to keep away from corporeal, sensible reality when applying one's own soul to philosophy. Diogenes Laertius' explanation (see below) refers the saying to the departure from life.
[18] This is the name of a red-colored fish. Iamblichus, Life 124, with reference to the etymology of the name, interprets the fish as a paradigm of the 'unblushing (ἀπηρυθριακὼς and impudent man', or of the stupid one 'who exaggeratedly blushes' (καθ' ὑπερβολὴν ἐρυθριῶντα .
[19] For this fish, a kind of catfish, cf. Aristotle, History of Animals 591a15. According to Iamblichus and to the other sources, it was considered sacred to the chthonian gods (cf. Life 111); the interdiction from eating its flesh would be included among Pythagoras' several exhortations to stay separate from earthly goods in contemplation of the divine world. Since the meaning of the name is "blacktail", this fish could also stand for wicked men with "black" character, whose company is to be avoided (cf. Aristotle fr.194).
[20] This remark could also refer to one of the previous symbols (cf. note 5). But the heart also had an important value in many mystical rituals, such as those related to the cult of Dionysus Zagreus. The same can be observed for the mullet (see below) and the blacktail fish (cf. note 19).
[21] Among the numerous dietary restrictions of the Pythagorean school, the one concerning fava beans seems to have been especially important. Iamblichus says that the Pythagoreans carefully avoided walking through a blossoming fava field. Aristoxenus is the only source not speaking about this interdiction; others offer different explanations. According to Aristotle (fr.195) and Porphyry (De antro Nympharum 19; cf. Heraclides Ponticus fr.41; Callimachus, fr.553 Pfeiffer) the fava bean is ἀγόνατος , the only one among plants not having joints. Burkert 183 quotes a couplet from scholion T to Homer, Iliad 13.589, linking bean blossoms to reincarnation, for these would be the vehicle the souls pass through to return to earth (also cf. Varro in Pliny the Elder, Natural History 18.118). Elsewhere the shape of the fava, reminiscent of masculine genitals, suggests a relation between these beans and generation. Porphyry (De abstinentia 4.16) excludes the favas from the vegetables offered to mankind by Demeter, with an obscure reference to mysteries. A rationalizing explanation might take into consideration the actual difficulty of digesting beans (cf. Diogenes Laertius' explanation below), or even an allergy Pythagoras might have suffered from.
[22] This interdiction is probably related to the sexual connotations of the womb/matrix.
[23] The sacrifice of an ox made of a kind of sweet dough, to celebrate a geometrical discovery, is recorded by Porphyry, Life 36; cf. Gregory of Nazianzus, Epigrams 198. See also pi 3121, epsilon 1003.
[24] The sources are not in complete agreement about Pythagoras' vegetarianism. Eudoxus (fr. 325 Lasserre, in Porphyry, Life 7) states that he was a strict vegetarian, avoiding any association with butchers and hunters (cf. pi 3121); Iamblichus (Life 108) even mentions some legends about Pythagoras converting wild animals to vegetarianism. On the other hand Aristoxenus (frs.25, 28, 29), the passage of Diogenes Laertius quoted by the Suda, and Iamblichus all say that the philosopher accepted some kind of animal food, namely kids, piglets and cockerels. Such remarks could, however, echo attempts to undermine Pythagoras' habits by emphasizing their presumed absurdity. (Other sources do not record anything about vegetarianism: see Aristotle fr.194.)
[25] This information suffers from a corruption in the text, arising from a misunderstanding of a source. Diogenes Laertius' passage actually reads, as the Suda does, Θεοκλείας ἀδελφῆς , but the whole remark is related to the legend of Pythagoras receiving his doctrine from a priestess in Delphi, whose name is Themistokleia. Diogenes himself gives the correct information in a previous passage of the Life: cf. 8 παρὰ τῆς Θεμιστοκλείας τῆς ἐν Δελφοῖς .
[26] cf. Pythagoras' visit to the "bloodless" altar of Apollo Genetor during his stay at Delos (Iamblichus, Life, 25). For the connection of the philosopher with the cult of Apollo, see Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 1.1 (and pi 3121). Kroton, the first place where he settled his community, is also related to this god, whom the disciples called on as their leader according to Iamblichus (Life 30).
[27] Diodorus Siculus 10.9.2 tells of Pythagoras instructing disciples about rarely taking oaths and of the necessity of keeping one's own word.
[28] The account of the Pythagorean doctrine stems from Alexander Polyhistor FGrH 273 F93.
[29] Aristophanes fr. 305 Kock (320 PCG III.2).
[30] Alexander (via Diogenes) says that the white rooster is sacred both to the Sun and to the Moon.
[31] Aristophon fr. 12 (Kock and PCG IV), from the Pythagorista.
[32] Aristophon fr. 13 (Kock and PCG IV), also from the Pythagorista.
[33] The words ἐσθίουσι δὲ are lost in the Suda, but restored from Diogenes Laertius' text.
[34] Iamblichus, Life 122. For the silence, see pi 3121 (and for the proverb sigma 469). Iamblichus, Life 194-5, tells the story of a woman (Timycha) choosing under torture to cut off her own tongue rather than reveal some of the aporrheta.
[35] Photius, cod. 249 Bekker, 438b19ff; cf. scholia to Theocritus, Idylls 14.5.
[36] Perhaps from Damascius, Asmus suggested; cf. under iota 159.
Riedweg, C., Pythagoras: his life, teaching and influence, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005
Kahn, C.H., Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans : a brief history, Indianapolis: Hackett, 2001
Burkert, W., Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism, transl. by E.L. Mynar Jr., Cambringe, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972
Bindel, E., Pythagoras: Leben und Lehre in Wirklichkeit und Legende, Stuttgart: Verlag Freies Geistesleben, 1962
Long, H.S., A study of the doctrine of metempsychosis in Greece from Pythagoras to Plato, Princeton, N.J., 1948
Delatte, A., Etudes sur la littérature pythagoricienne, Paris, 1915
Boehm, F. De symbolis Pythagoreis, Diss. Berlin 1905
Hoeck, C., De acusmatis sive symbolis Pythagoricis, Diss. Kiel 1894
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Translated by: Antonella Ippolito on 15 December 2005@22:41:17.
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