Chapter 12

Pythagoras was a Philosopher

by Iamblichus Icon

Pythagoras was the first who called himself a philosopher.

This was not a new name. , but previously instructing us in a useful manner in a thing appropriate to the name.

He said that the entry of men into the present life resembled the progression of a crowd to some public spectacle where men of every description assemble with different views.

One hastens to sell his wares for money and gain. Another man does it to acquire renown by exhibiting his strength.

A third class of men – the most liberal – assemble for the sake of:

  • surveying the places
  • the beautiful works of art
  • the specimens of valor, and
  • the literary productions exhibited

Likewise in human life, men of various pursuits gather in one place.

  • Some are influenced by riches and luxury
  • Others are influenced by the love of power and dominion
  • Others have an insane ambition for glory
  • But the most pure and unadulterated character, is the philosopher. He contemplates the most beautiful things

The survey of all heaven and the stars that revolve in it is beautiful, when the order of them is considered.

For they derive this beauty and order by the participation of the first and the intelligible essence. But that first essence is the nature of number and reasons [i. e. productive principles,] which pervades through all things, and according to which all these [celestial bodies] are elegantly arranged, and fitly adorned.

Wisdom is a certain science which is conversant with the first beautiful objects, and these divine, undecaying, and possessing an invariable sameness of subsistence; by the participation of which other things also may be called beautiful.

But philosophy is the appetition of a thing of this kind. The attention therefore to erudition is likewise beautiful, which Pythagoras extended, in order to effect the correction of mankind.

Chapter 13

So many ancient and credible historians have written about Pythagoras.

His words had a recalling and admonitory nature, which extended as far as to irrational animals; by which it may be inferred that learning predominates in those endued with intellect, since it tames even wild beasts, and those which are considered to be deprived of reason.

Pythagoras detained the Daunian bear which had most severely injured the inhabitants, and that having gently stroked it with his hand for a long time, fed it with maze and acorns, and compelled it by an oath no longer to touch any living thing, he dismissed it.

But the bear immediately after hid herself in the mountains and woods, and was never seen from that time to attack any irrational animal.

Perceiving likewise an ox at Tarentum feeding in a pasture, and eating among other things green beans, he advised the herdsman to tell the ox to abstain from the beans.

The herdsman laughed at him, and said that he did not understand the language of oxen, but if Pythagoras did, it was in vain to advise him to speak to the ox, but fit that he himself should advise the animal to abstain from such food.

Pythagoras therefore, approaching to the ear of the ox, and whispering in it for a long time, not only caused him then to refrain from beans, but it is said that he never after tasted them.

This ox also lived for a long time at Tarentum near the temple of Juno, where it remained when it was old, and was called the sacred ox of Pythagoras. It was also fed by those that came to it with human food.

When likewise he happened to be conversing with his familiars about birds, symbols, and prodigies, and was observing that all these are the messengers of the Gods, sent by them to those men who are truly dear to the Gods, he is said to have brought down an eagle that was flying over Olympia, and after gently stroking, to have dismissed it. Through these things, therefore, and other things similar to these, he demonstrated that he possessed the same dominion as Orpheus, over savage animals, and that he allured and detained them by the power of voice proceeding from the mouth.

Chapter 14

With him likewise the best principle originated of a guardian attention to the concerns of men, and which ought to be pre-assumed by those who intend to learn the truth about other things.

He reminded many of his familiars, by most clear and evident indications, of the former life which their soul lived, before it was bound to this body, and demonstrated by indubitable arguments, that he had been Euphorbus the son of Panthus, who conquered Patroclus.

He especially praised the following funeral Homeric verses pertaining to himself, sung them most elegantly to the lyre, and frequently repeated them.

“The shining circlets of his golden hair,

Which ev’n the Graces might be proud to wear,

Instarr’d with gems and gold, bestrow the shore

With dust dishonor’d, and deform’d with gore.

As the young olive in some sylvan scene,

Crown’d by fresh fountains with eternal green,

Lifts the gay head, in snowy flowrets fair,

And plays and dances to the gentle air;

When lo! a whirlwind from high heav’n invades

The tender plant, and withers all its shades;

It lies uprooted from its genial bed,

A lovely ruin now defac’d and dead.

Thus young, thus beautiful, Euphorbus lay,

While the fierce Spartan tore his arms away.”[16]

But what is related about the shield of this Phrygian Euphorbus, being dedicated among other Trojan spoils to Argive Juno, we shall omit, as being of a very popular nature. That, however, which he wished to indicate through all these particulars is this, that he knew the former lives which he had lived, and that from hence he commenced his providential attention to others, reminding them of their former life.


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