The Pythagorean Method of Learning

September 18, 2015

How did Pythagoras teach his students?

  1. First, he tested them if they were able to refrain from speaking. He surveyed whether they could conceal in silence and preserve what they had learnt and heard.

  2. Second, he observed whether they were modest.

He was much more anxious that they should be silent than that they should speak. He likewise directed his attention to every other particular; such, as whether they were astonished by the energies of any immoderate passion or desire.

Nor did he in a superficial manner consider how they were affected with respect to anger or desire, or whether they were contentious or ambitious, or how they were disposed with reference to friendship or strife.

And if on his surveying all these particulars accurately, they appeared to him to be endued with worthy manners, then he directed his attention to their facility in learning and their memory.

In the first place, he considered whether they were able to follow what was said, with rapidity and perspicuity.

In the next place, whether a certain love and temperance attended them towards the disciplines which they were taught.

For he surveyed how they were naturally disposed with respect to gentleness. But he called this catartysis, i. e. elegance of manners.

And he considered ferocity as hostile to such a mode of education. For impudence, shamelessness, intemperance, slothfulness, slowness in learning, unrestrained licentiousness, disgrace, and the like, are the attendants on savage manners; but the contraries on gentleness and mildness. He considered these things, therefore, in making trial of those that came to him, and in these he exercised the learners. And those that were adapted to receive the goods of the wisdom he possessed, he admitted to be his disciples, and thus endeavoured to elevate them to scientific knowledge.

But if he perceived that any one of them was unadapted, he expelled him as one of another tribe, and a stranger.

His students performed their morning walks alone, and in places in which there happened to be an appropriate solitude and quiet, and where there were temples and groves, and other things adapted to give delight.

They thought it improper to converse with anyone, till they had rendered their own soul sedate, and had co-harmonised the reasoning power.

For they apprehended it to be a thing of a turbulent nature to mingle in a crowd as soon as they rose from bed. On this account all the Pythagoreans always selected for themselves the most sacred places. But after their morning walk they associated with each other, and especially in temples, or if this was not possible, in places that resembled them. This time, likewise, they employed in the discussion of doctrines and disciplines, and in the correction of their manners.

Chapter 21= The Pythagorean Lifestyle

After an association of this kind, they turned their attention bodilty health.

Most of them, however, used unction and the course; but a less number employed themselves in wrestling in gardens and groves; others in leaping with leaden weights in their hands, or in pantomime gesticulations, with a view to the strength of this body, studiously selecting for this purpose opposite exercises.

Their dinner consisted of bread and honey or the honey-comb; but they did not drink wine during the day. They also employed the time after dinner in the political economy pertaining to strangers and guests, conformably to the mandate of the laws. For they wished to transact all business of this kind 72 in the hours after dinner.

But when it was evening they again betook themselves to walking; yet not singly as in the morning walk, but in parties of two or three, calling to mind as they walked, the disciplines they had learnt, and exercising themselves in beautiful studies. After they had walked, they made use of the bath; and having washed themselves, they assembled in the place where they eat together, and which contained no more than ten who met for this purpose.

These, however, being collected together, libations and sacrifices were performed with fumigations and frankincense. After this they went to supper, which they finished before the setting of the sun. But they made use of wine and maze, and bread, and every kind of food that is eaten with bread, and likewise raw and boiled herbs.

The flesh of such animals was placed before them as it was lawful to immolate; but they rarely fed on fish= for this nutriment was not, for certain causes, useful to them. In a similar manner also they were of opinion, that the animal which is not naturally noxious to the human race, should neither be injured nor slain. But after this supper libations were performed, and these were succeeded by readings. It was the custom however with them for the youngest to read, and the eldest ordered what was to be read, and after what manner.

But when they were about to depart, the cup-bearer poured out a libation for them; and the libation being performed, the eldest announced to them the following precepts= That a mild and fruitful plant should neither be injured nor corrupted, nor in a similar manner, any animal which is not noxious to the human race.

It is necessary to speak piously and form proper conceptions of the divine, dæmoniacal, and heroic genera; and in a similar manner, of parents and benefactors. That it is proper likewise to give assistance to law, and to be hostile to illegality.

But these things being said, each departed to his own place of abode. They also wore a white and pure garment. And in a similar manner they lay on pure and white beds, the coverlets of which were made of thread; for they did not use woollen coverlets. With respect to hunting they did not approve of it, and therefore did not employ themselves in an exercise of this kind.

Such therefore were the precepts which were daily delivered to the disciples of Pythagoras, with respect to nutriment and their mode of living.