Chapter 27

Pythagoras' Political Contributions Icon

September 13, 2015

The Crotonians used to be impelled to make sumptuous funerals and interments.

Someone said to them that he had heard Pythagoras say that the Olympian Gods attended to the dispositions of those who sacrificed, and not to the number of the sacrifices. On the contrary, the terrestrial Gods, as being allotted the government of things less important, rejoiced in banquets and lamentations, and farther still, in continual libations, in delicacies, and in celebrating funerals with great expense. Whence, on account of his wish to receive, Pluto is called Hades.

He suffers, therefore, those that slenderly honor him to remain for a longer time in the upper world; but he always draws down some one of those who are disposed to spend profusely in funeral solemnities, in order that he may obtain the honors which take 90 place in commemoration of the dead. In consequence of this advice, the Crotonians that heard it were of opinion, that if they conducted themselves moderately in misfortunes, they would preserve their own salvation; but that if they were immoderate in their expenses, they would all of them die prematurely.

A certain person also having been made an arbitrator in an affair in which there was no witness, led each of the litigants to a certain monument, and said to one of them, the man who is buried in this monument was transcendently equitable; in consequence of which the other litigant prayed that the dead man might obtain much good; but the former said that the defunct was not at all better for the prayers of his opponent.

Pythagoras, therefore, condemned what the former litigant said, but asserted that he who praised the dead man for his worth, had done that which would be of no small importance in his claim to belief. At another time, in a cause of great moment, he decided that one of the two who had agreed to settle the affair by arbitration, should pay four talents, but that the other should receive two. Afterwards, he condemned the defendant to pay three talents; and thus he appeared to have given a talent to each of them.

Two persons also had fraudulently deposited a garment with a woman who belonged to a court of justice, and told her she was not to give it to either of them unless both were present. Some time after, for the purpose of circumvention, 91 one of them received the common deposit, and said that it was with the consent of the other. But the other, who had not been present [when the garment was returned], acted the part of a sycophant, and related the compact that was made at the beginning, to the magistrates. A certain Pythagorean, however, taking up the affair said, that the woman had acted conformably to the compact, as both parties had been present.

Two other persons also appeared to have a strong friendship for each other, but had fallen into a silent suspicion through a flatterer of one of them, who told him that his wife had been corrupted by the other. It so happened however, that a Pythagorean came into a brazier’s shop, where he who conceived himself to be injured, was showing to the artist a sword which he had given him to sharpen, and was indignant with him because it was not sufficiently sharp. The Pythagorean, therefore, suspecting that the sword was intended to be used against him who was accused of adultery, said, This sword is sharper than all things except calumny. This being said, caused the man to consider with himself [what it was he intended to do], and not rashly to sin against his friend who was within, and who had been previously called [by him in order that he might kill him].

A zone also that had golden ornaments having fallen [at the feet] of a certain stranger in the temple of Esculapius, and the laws forbidding any one to take up that which 92 had fallen on the ground, a Pythagorean advised the stranger, who was indignant at this prohibition, to take away the golden ornaments which had not fallen to the ground, but to leave the zone, because this was on the ground.

That circumstance, likewise, which by the ignorant is transferred to other places, is said to have happened in Crotona, viz. that during a public spectacle, some cranes flew over the theatre, and one of those who had sailed into the port, said to the person who sat near him, Do you see the witnesses? which being heard by a certain Pythagorean, he brought them into the court, consisting of a thousand magistrates, where being examined, it was found that they had thrown certain boys into the sea, and that they called the cranes who flew over the ship [at the time,] witnesses of the deed. When likewise certain persons who had recently become disciples of Pythagoras were at variance with each other, he who was the junior of the two came to the other and said to him, that there was no occasion to refer the affair to a third person, but that it rested with them to commit their anger to oblivion.

He, therefore, to whom these words were addressed, replied that he was very much pleased in other respects with what had been said, but that he was ashamed that, being the elder, he had not first said the same thing to the other [who was the junior]. We might here also narrate what is said of Phinthias and Damon,[31] of Plato and Archytas, and likewise of Clinias and Prorus.

Omitting, however, these [for the present], we shall mention what is related of Eubulus the Messenian, who when he was sailing homeward, and was taken captive by the Tyrrhenians, was recognized by Nausitheus a Tyrrhenian and also a Pythagorean, because he was one of the disciples of Pythagoras, and was taken by him from the pirates, and brought with great safety to Messena. When the Carthaginians, also, were about to send more than 5,000 soldiers into a desert island, Miltiades the Carthaginian, perceiving among them the Argive Possiden (both of them being Pythagoreans), went to him, and not manifesting what he intended to do, advised him to return to his native country, with all possible celerity, and having placed him in a ship that was then sailing near the shore, supplied him with what was necessary for his voyage, and thus saved the man from the dangers 94 [to which he was exposed].

In short, he who should relate all that has taken place among the Pythagoreans in their associations with each other, would by the length of his narration exceed the proper quantity and the occasion of his treatise.

Some of the Pythagoreans were political characters, and adapted to govern.

For they were guardians of the laws, and ruled over certain Italian cities, unfolding to them, and counselling them to adopt the most excellent measures, but abstaining from public revenues.

They were greatly calumniated, yet at the same time the probity of the Pythagoreans, and the wish of the cities themselves prevailed, so that they were desired by them to administer their political concerns. But at this time the most beautiful of polities appear to have existed in Italy and in Sicily. For Charondas the Catanean, who appears to have been one of the best legislators, was a Pythagorean; as were also the Locrians Zaleucus and Timares, who were celebrated for their legislation.

Those also who established the Rheginic polities, that polity which is called Gymnasiarchic, and that which is denominated from Theocles, are said to have been Pythagoreans. Phytius likewise, Theocles, Elecaon, and Aristocrates, excelled among the Pythagoreans in their studies and manners, which also the cities in those places adopted at those times.

In short, Pythagoras was the inventor of the whole of political erudition, when he said that nothing is pure among things that have an existence; but that earth participates of fire, fire of air, air of water, and water of spirit.

And in a similar manner the beautiful participates of the deformed, the just of the unjust, and other things conformably to these.

From this hypothesis, however, the reasoning tends to either part. He also said, that there are two motions of the body and the soul; the one being irrational, but the other the effect of deliberate choice. That three certain lines also constitute polities, the extremes of which mutually touch each other, and produce one right angle; so that one of them has the nature of the sesquitertian; another that of the diapente; and the third is a medium between the other two.

But when we consider by a reasoning process the coincidences of the lines with each other, and also of the places under these, we shall find that they represent the best image of a polity. Plato has made the glory of this invention his own; for he clearly says in his Republic, “that the sesquitertian progeny conjoined with the pentad produces two harmonies.”

Pythagoras cultivated the moderation of the passions, and mediocrity, 96 and that by the conjunction of a certain precedaneous good, he rendered the life of each of his disciples happy. And in short, it is said that he discovered the choice of our good, and of the works adapted to our nature. It is likewise narrated of him, that he withdrew the Crotonians from harlots, and universally from an association with women that were not affianced.

For the wives of the Crotonians came to Theano the wife of Brontinus, one of the Pythagoreans, a woman of a wise and excellent soul, (and who was the author of that beautiful and admirable saying, “that it is lawful for a woman to sacrifice on the very day in which she has risen from the embraces of her husband,” which some ascribe to Theano the wife of Pythagoras) the Crotonian wives came therefore to her, and entreated her to persuade Pythagoras to discourse to them on the continence which was due from them to their husbands.

This she promised to do; and Pythagoras having accordingly made an oration to the Crotonians, which had the desired effect, the incontinence which then prevailed was entirely destroyed. It is further related likewise, that when ambassadors came to the city of the Crotonians from Sybaris, for the purpose of demanding the exiles, Pythagoras beholding one of the ambassadors, who with his own hand had slain one of his friends, made him no answer. But when the man interrogated him, and wished to converse with him, Pythagoras said, that it was not lawful to discourse with homicides. Whence also by certain persons he was thought to be Apollo.

All these particulars, therefore, and such as we have a little before mentioned concerning the destruction of tyrants, and the liberation of the cities of Italy and Sicily, and many other circumstances, are indications of the benefits conferred on mankind by Pythagoras in political concerns.

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