Chapter 3-4

Pythagoras Sails for Egypt

by Iamblichus Icon

Pythagoras was thus benefited by and learned from Thales. For this, he entirely abstained from wine, animal food, and voracity. He confined himself to such essential nutrition which was easy to digest.

Because of this:

  • his sleep was short
  • his soul vigilant and pure, and
  • his body stayed in a state of perfect and invariable health

These enabled him to sail to Sidon, being persuaded that this was his natural country. It also could help him easily pass from thence into Egypt.

Here, he conversed with the prophets who were the descendants of Mochus the physiologist, and with others, and also with the Phœnician hierophants.

He was likewise initiated in:

  • all the mysteries of Byblus and Tyre, and
  • the sacred operations performed in many parts of Syria

He did not engage in these for the sake of superstition, but from:

  • a love of contemplation.
  • an anxiety that nothing might escape his observation which deserved to be learnt in the arcana or mysteries of the Gods.

Pythagoras thus learned the mysteries of the Phoenicians which were derived from the sacred rites in Egypt like a colony and a progeny. He hoped the learn of more beautiful, divine, and genuine monuments of erudition in Egypt.

He joyfully remembered the admonitions of Thales. And so he immediately embarked for Egypt through some Egyptian sailors who very opportunely landed on the Phœnician coast under mount Carmelus where Pythagoras was living in a temple away from all society.

The sailors gladly received him, thinking that they would gain greatly by selling him. But during the voyage, they perceived his continence and venerable nature they became benevolent towards him.

He unexpectedly appeared to them on their landing from the summit of mount Carmelus. They knew that that mountain was more sacred than the others and inaccessible to the vulgar. He leisurely descended without looking back, or suffering any delay from precipices or opposing stones. When he came to the boat, he said only: “Are you bound for Egypt?”

This made them think that he was more than a modest youth. They said yes. He then ascended the ship and sat silent the whole voyage where he was not likely to bother the sailors’ work.

But Pythagoras remained in one and the same unmoved state for 2 nights and 3 days, neither partaking of food nor drink. He might sleep for a short time unobserved by the sailors.

The sailors noticed how their voyage had been continued and uninterrupted, contrary to their expectations, as if some deity had been present. They put all these things together and concluded that a divine dæmon had really passed over with them from Syria into Egypt.

In Egypt, the sailors reverently assisted him in descending from the ship.

After they had placed him on the purest sand, they raised a temporary altar before him. They heaped on it from their present abundance the fruits of trees, and presenting him as it were with the first fruits of their freight, they departed from thence, and hastened to their destined port.

But Pythagoras’ body through such long fasting had become weaker. He did not oppose the sailors in assisting him to descend from the ship. He immediately on their departure ate as much of the fruits needed to restore his strength.

From thence also he arrived safely at the neighbouring lands, constantly preserving the same tranquillity and modesty of behaviour.

Chapter 4: Pythagoras in Egypt

He frequented all the Egyptian temples with the greatest diligence and with accurate investigation.

He was both admired and loved by the priests and prophets with whom he associated.

Having learnt with the greatest solicitude every particular, he did not neglect to hear:

  • of any transaction that was celebrated in his own time, or
  • of any man famous for his wisdom, or
  • any mystery in whatever manner it might be performed

Nor did he omit to visit any place in which he thought something more excellent might be found.

He went to all the priests who furnished him with their own wisdom.

He spent 22 years in Egypt, in the adyta of temples, astronomizing and geometrizing. He was initiated, not in a superficial or casual manner, in all the mysteries of the Gods. He was taken captive by the soldiers of Cambyses, and brought to Babylon.

Here he gladly associated with the Magi who taught him the most perfect worship of the Gods.

Through their assistance likewise, he arrived at the summit of arithmetic, music, and other disciplines. After associating with them 12 years, he returned to Samos around 56 years old.

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