Chapter 8

Filial Piety

by Iamblichus Icon

When he was traveling from Sybaris to Crotona, he met some fishermen who were then drawing their nets heavily laden with fish. He told them that he knew the exact number of the fish they had caught.

But the fishermen promising they would perform whatever he should order them to do, if the event corresponded with his prediction, he ordered them, after they had accurately numbered the fish, to return them alive to the sea.

None of the fish died while he stood on the shore, though they had been away from the water a considerable time.

After paying the fishermen for their fish, he departed for Crotona. But they every where divulged the fact, and having learnt his name from some children, they told it to all men.

Those who heard of this wanted to see him. When they saw him, they were astonished at his countenance, and conjectured him to be such a man as he was in reality.

A few days after this, he entered the Gymnasium and delivered an oration to a crowd of yourng men.

  • He incited them to pay attention to their elders, evincing that in the world, in life, in cities, and in nature, that which has a precedency is more honorable than that which is consequent in time.

As for instance, that the east is more honorable than the west; the morning than the evening; the beginning than the end; and generation than corruption.

He observed that:

  • natives were more honorable than foreigners
  • the leaders of colonies were more honorable than the builders of cities
  • Gods were universally more honorable than dæmons
  • dæmons were more honorable than demigods
  • heroes were more honorable than men.
  • the parents are more honorable than their children.

He proved, by induction, that children should:

  • very much esteem their parents whom they owed as many thanks as a dead man should owe anyone who would bring him back into life.
  • love their parents, who benefitted them, above all others
  • never to give their parents pain

But parents alone benefit their children prior to their birth, and are the causes to their offspring of all their upright conduct; and that when children show themselves to be in no respect inferior to their parents in beneficence towards them, it is not possible for them in this respect to err.

The Gods will reasonably pardon those who honor their parents like they pardon the divinities themselves, since we learnt to honor divinity from our parents.

Hence, Homer also added the same name to the king of the Gods. He calls him the father of Gods and mortals.

Many other mythologists also said that the kings of the Gods have been ambitious to vindicate to themselves that excessive love which subsists through marriage, in children towards their parents.

This is why they introduced the hypothesis of father and mother among the Gods[12]. Father generated Minerva. Mother generated Vulcan who had a nature contrary to Minerva. In this way, what is most remote may participate of friendship.

All his auditors believed that the judgment of the immortals is most valid.

he said he would demonstrate to the Crotonians, by the example of Hercules the founder of the colony brought to Crotona, that it is necessary to be voluntarily obedient to the mandates of parents, as they knew from tradition that the God himself had undertaken such great labors in consequence of obeying 26 the commands of one older than himself, and being victorious in what he had undertaken to accomplish, had instituted in honor of his father the Olympic games.

He also showed them that they should associate with each other in such a manner, as never to be in a state of hostility to their friends, but to become most rapidly friends to their enemies; and that they should exhibit in modesty of behaviour to their elders, the benevolent disposition of children towards their parents; but in their philanthropy to others, fraternal love and regard.

He spoke about temperance and said that the juvenile age should make trial of its nature, this being the period in which the desires are in the most florishing state.

Afterwards, he exhorted them to consider, that this alone among the virtues was adapted to a boy and a virgin, to a woman, and to the order of those of a more advanced age; and that it was especially accommodated to the younger part of the community.

He also added, that this virtue alone comprehended the goods both of body and soul, as it preserved the health and also the desire of the most excellent studies. But this is evident from the opposite.

For when the Barbarians and Greeks warred on each other about Troy, each of them fell into the most dreadful calamities, through the incontinence of one man, partly in the war itself, and partly in returning to their native land.

Divinity ordained that the punishment of injustice alone should endure for a thousand and ten years, predicting by an oracle the capture of Troy, and ordering that virgins should be annually sent by the Locrians into the temple of Trojan Minerva.

Pythagoras also exhorted young men to cultivate learning. He called on them to observe how absurd it would be that they should judge the reasoning power to be the most laudable of all things, and should consult about other things through this, and yet bestow no time nor effort to exercise it.

though the attention which is paid to the body, resembles depraved friends, and rapidly fails; but erudition, like worthy and good men, endures till death, and for some persons procures immortal renown after death.

Pythagoras made these observations partly from history, and partly from philosophic dogmas, in which he showed that erudition is a natural excellence of disposition common to those in each genus, who rank in the first class of human nature. For the discoveries of these, become erudition to others.

But this is naturally so worthy of pursuit, that with respect to other laudable objects of attainment, it is not possible to partake of some of them through another person, such as strength, beauty, health, and fortitude; and others are no longer possessed by him who imparts them to another, such as wealth, dominion, and many other things which we shall omit to mention.

It is possible, however, for erudition 28 to be received by another, without in the least diminishing that which the giver possesses. In a similar manner also, some goods cannot be possessed by men;

but we are capable of being instructed, according to our own proper and deliberate choice. And in the next place, he who being thus instructed, engages in the administration of the affairs of his country, does not do this from impudence, but from erudition. For by education nearly men differ from wild beasts, the Greeks from the Barbarians, those that are free from slaves, and philosophers from the vulgar.

In short, those that have erudition possess such a transcendency with respect to those that have not, that seven men have been found from one city, and in one Olympiad, that were swifter than others in the course; and in the whole of the habitable part of the globe, those that excelled in wisdom were also seven in number.

But in the following times in which Pythagoras lived, he alone surpassed all others in philosophy. For he called himself by this name [viz. a philosopher], instead of a wise man.

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