Pythagoras' TemperanceSeptember 9, 2015
How was temperance cultivated by Pythagoras? How did he delivere it to his associates?
We have already therefore narrated the common precepts concerning it, in which it is said that every thing incommensurate should be cut off with fire and sword. The abstinence also from animal food, is a precept of the same species; and likewise from certain foods calculated to produce intemperance, and impeding the vigilance and genuine energies of the reasoning power.
Farther still, to this species the precept belongs, that sumptuous food should indeed be introduced in banquets, but should [shortly after] be sent away, and given to the servants, being placed on the table merely for the sake of punishing the desires. Likewise, that no liberal and ingenuous woman should wear gold, but only harlots. And again, the exercise of taciturnity, and perfect silence, for the purpose of governing the tongue.
Likewise a strenuous and assiduous resumption and investigation of the most difficult theorems. But on account of all these, we must refer to the same virtue [i. e. to temperance,] abstinence from wine; paucity of food and sleep; an inartificial contempt of renown, wealth, and the like; a sincere reverence towards those to whom reverence is due, but an unfeigned similitude of behaviour and benevolence towards those of the same age; an animadversion and exhortation of those that are younger, without envy; and every thing else of the like kind.
The temperance also of those men, and how Pythagoras taught this virtue, may be learnt from what Hippobotus and Neanthes narrate of Myllias and Timycha who were Pythagoreans. For they say that Dionysius the tyrant could not obtain the friendship of any one of the Pythagoreans, though he did every thing to accomplish his purpose; for they had observed, and carefully avoided his monarchical disposition. He sent therefore to the Pythagoreans, a troop of thirty soldiers, under the command of Eurymenes the Syracusan, who was the brother of Dion, in order that by treachery their accustomed migration from Tarentum to Metapontum, might be opportunely effected for his purpose. For it was usual with them to change their abode at different seasons of the year, and they chose such places as were adapted to this migration.
In Phalæ therefore, a craggy part of Tarentum, through which the Pythagoreans must necessarily pass in their journey, Eurymenes insidiously concealed his troop, and when the Pythagoreans, expecting no such thing, came to that place about the middle of the day, the soldiers rushed upon them with shouts, after the manner of robbers.
But the Pythagoreans being disturbed and terrified at an attack so unexpected, and at the superior number of their enemies (for the whole number of the Pythagoreans was but ten), and considering also that they must be taken captive, as they were without arms, and had to contend with men who were variously armed,—they found that their only safety was in flight, and they did not conceive that this was foreign to virtue. For they knew that fortitude, according to the decision of right reason, is the science of things which are to be avoided and endured. This they now obtained.
For those who were with Eurymenes, being heavy-armed, would have abandoned the pursuit of the Pythagoreans, if the latter in their flight had not arrived at a certain field sown with beans, and which were in a sufficiently florishing condition. Not being willing therefore to violate the dogma which ordered 138 them not to touch beans, they stood still, and from necessity attacked their pursuers with stones and sticks, and whatever else they happened to meet with, till they had slain some, and wounded many of them. All the Pythagoreans however, were at length slain by the spearmen, nor would any one of them suffer himself to be taken captive, but preferred death to this, conformably to the mandates of their sect.
Eurymenes therefore, and his soldiers, were beyond measure disturbed on finding that they should not be able to bring one of the Pythagoreans alive to Dionysius, though they were sent by him for this purpose alone. Hence, having piled earth on the slain, and buried them in that place in a common sepulchre, they turned their steps homeward. As they were returning, however, they happened to meet with Myllias the Crotonian, and his wife Timycha the Lacedæmonian, whom the other Pythagoreans had left behind, because Timycha being pregnant, was now in her sixth month, and on this account walked leisurely.
These therefore, the soldiers gladly made captive, and led them to the tyrant, paying every attention to them, in order that they might be brought to him safe. But the tyrant having learnt what had happened, was greatly dejected, and said to the two Pythagoreans, You shall obtain from me honors transcending all others in dignity, if you will consent to reign in conjunction with me. All his offers however being rejected by Myllias and Timycha; If then, said he, you will only teach me one thing, I will dismiss you with a sufficiently safe guard.
Myllias therefore asking him what it was he wished to learn; Dionysius replied, It is this, why your companions chose rather to die, than to tread on beans?
But Myllias immediately answered, My companions indeed submitted to death, in order that they might not tread upon beans, but I would rather tread on them, than tell you the cause of this. Dionysius therefore, being astonished at this answer, ordered him to be forcibly taken away, but commanded Timycha to be tortured= for he thought, that as she was a woman, pregnant, and deprived of her husband, she would easily tell him what he wanted to know, through fear of the torments.
The heroic woman, however, grinding her tongue with her teeth, bit it off, and spit it at the tyrant; evincing by this, that though her sex being vanquished by the torments might be compelled to disclose something which ought to be concealed in silence, yet the member subservient to the developement of it, should be entirely cut off. So much difficulty did they make 140 in admitting foreign friendships, even though they should happen to be royal.
Similar to these also, were the precepts concerning silence, and which tended to the exercise of temperance. For the subjugation of the tongue, is of all other continence the most difficult. The persuading likewise the Crotonians to abstain from the profane and spurious association with harlots, pertains to the same virtue. And besides this, the correction through music, by means of which Pythagoras restored a young man to temperance, who had become furious through love. The exhortation also, which leads from lascivious insolence, must be referred to the same virtue. And these things Pythagoras delivered to the Pythagoreans, he himself being the cause of them.
For they so attended to their bodies, that they might always remain in the same condition, and not at one time be lean, but at another, abounding in flesh. For they considered this to be an indication of an anomalous life. In a similar manner also with respect to the mind, they were careful that they might not be at one time cheerful, and at another sad, but that they might be mildly joyful with uniformity.
But they expelled rage, despondency, and perturbation. And it was a precept with them, that no human casualties ought to be unexpected by those who are endued with intellect, but that they should expect every thing may happen which it is not in their power to prevent.
But if at any time they were in a rage, or oppressed with sorrow, or any thing else of this kind, they separated themselves from the rest of their associates, and each by himself alone, endeavoured to digest and heal the passion.
This also is said of the Pythagoreans, that no one of them when angry, either punished a servant, or admonished any free man, but each of them waited till his mind was restored to its former [tranquil] condition. But they called to admonish, pædartan.
For they accomplished this waiting by employing silence and quiet. Hence Spintharus relates of Archytas the Tarentine, that returning after a certain time from the war which the city of Tarentum waged against the Messenians, to inspect some land which belonged to him, and finding that the bailiff and the other servants, had not paid proper attention to the cultivation of it, but had greatly neglected it, being enraged, he was so indignant, that he told his servants it was well for them he was angry; since, if this had not happened, they would not have escaped the punishment due to so great an offence. Spintharus likewise says that a similar thing is related of Clinias. For he also deferred all admonitions and punishments, till his mind was restored to tranquillity.
It is farther related of the Pythagoreans, that they expelled from themselves lamentation, weeping, and every thing else of this kind; and that neither gain, nor desire, nor anger, nor ambition, nor any thing of a similar nature, became the cause of dissension among them; but that all the Pythagoreans were so disposed towards each other, as a worthy father is towards his offspring.
This also is a beautiful circumstance, that they referred every thing to Pythagoras, and called it by his name, and that they did not ascribe to themselves the glory of their own inventions, except very rarely. For there are very few whose works are acknowledged to be their own. The accuracy too, with which they preserved their writings is admirable.
For in so many ages, no one appears to have met with any of the commentaries of the Pythagoreans, prior to the time of Philolaus. But he first published those three celebrated books, which Dion the Syracusan is said to have bought, at the request of Plato, for a hundred mina. For Philolaus had fallen into a certain great and severe poverty; and from his alliance to the Pythagoreans, was a partaker of their writings.
With respect also to opinion, it is related that they spoke of it as follows= That it is the province of a stupid man to pay attention to the opinion of every one, and especially to that of the multitude. 143 Far it belongs to a few only to apprehend and opine rightly; since it is evident that this pertains to the intelligent alone. But they are few.
It is manifest therefore, that a power of this kind does not extend itself to the multitude. But it is also stupid to despise the opinion of every one. For it will happen that he who is so disposed will be unlearned and incorrigible. It is however necessary that he who is destitute of science should learn those things of which he is ignorant, and has no scientific knowledge.
It is likewise necessary that the learner should pay attention to the opinion of him who possesses science, and is able to teach. And universally, it is necessary that those young men who wish to be saved, should attend to the opinion of their elders, and of those who have lived well. But in the whole of human life there are certain ages (denominated by them as it is said endedasmenæ) which it is not in the power of any casual person to connect with each other. For they are expelled by each other, unless some one conducts a man from his birth, in a beautiful and upright manner. It is necessary therefore, when a child is educated well, and is formed to temperance and fortitude, that a great part of his education should be given to the age of adolescence [which is that of a lad].
In a similar manner also, when a lad is formed to temperance and fortitude, it is necessary that a great part of his education should be transferred 144 to the age of manhood. For that which happens to the multitude is absurd and ridiculous. For they fancy it is requisite that boys should be orderly and temperate, and should abstain from every thing which appears to be troublesome and indecorous; but that when they have arrived at adolescency, they may for the most part do whatever they please.
Hence there is nearly a conflux of both kinds of errors into this age. For lads commit many faults which are both puerile and virile. For, in short, to avoid every kind of sedulity and order, and to pursue every species of sport, and puerile intemperance and insolence, are most adapted to the age of a boy. Such a disposition therefore as this, is derived from the puerile into the following age. But the genus of strong desires, and of different species of ambition, and in a similar manner the remaining impulses and dispositions, when they are of a severe and turbulent nature, are derived from the virile age into that of adolescency. Hence this of all the ages demands the greatest attention. And universally, no man ought to be suffered to do whatever he pleases, but it is always necessary that there should be a certain inspection, and a legal and elegantly-formed government, to which each of the citizens is obedient. For the animal, when left to itself and neglected, rapidly degenerates into vice and depravity.
It is likewise said, that the Pythagoreans frequently 145 inquired and doubted why we accustom boys to take their food in an orderly and commensurate manner, and show them that order and symmetry are beautiful; but that the contraries to these, disorder and incommensuration, are base; and that he who is given to wine and is insatiable, is held in great disgrace. For if no one of these is useful to us when we have arrived at the age of virility, it was in vain that we were accustomed, when boys, to an order of this kind. And there is also the same reason concerning the other manners [to which we are accustomed when boys].
This, therefore, is not seen to happen in other animals which are disciplined by men; but immediately from the first, a whelp and a colt are accustomed to, and learn those things which it is requisite for them to do when they have arrived at the perfection of their nature.
Universally, it is said that the Pythagoreans exhorted both those they happened to meet, and their familiars, to avoid pleasure as a thing that required the greatest caution. For nothing so much deceives us, or precipitates us into error, as this passion. In short, as it seems, they contended that we should never do any thing with a view to pleasure as the end. For this scope is, for the most part, indecorous and noxious. But they asserted, that especially looking to the beautiful and decorous, we should do whatever 146 is to be done. And that in the second place we should look to the advantageous and the useful. These things, however, require no casual judgment.
With respect to what is called desire, these men are said to have asserted as follows= That desire indeed, itself, is a certain tendency, impulse, and appetite of the soul, in order to be filled with something, or to enjoy something present, or to be disposed according to some sensitive energy; but that there is also a desire of the contraries to these, and this is a desire of the evacuation and absence, and of having no sensible perception of certain things. That this passion likewise is various, and is nearly the most multifarious of all those that pertain to man. But that many human desires are adscititious, and procured by men themselves. Hence, this passion requires the greatest attention, and no casual care and corporeal exercise.
For that the body when empty should desire food, is natural= and again, it is also natural, that when filled, it should desire an appropriate evacuation. But to desire superfluous nutriment, or superfluous and luxurious garments or coverlids, or habitations, is adscititious. They also reasoned in the same manner concerning furniture, vessels, servants, and cattle subservient to food. And universally, with respect to human passions, they are nearly things of such a kind, as to be nowhere permanent, but to proceed to infinity.
Hence attention should be paid to youth from the earliest period, in order that they may aspire after such things as are proper, may avoid vain and superfluous desires, and thus be undisturbed by, and purified from, such-like appetites, and may despise those who are objects of contempt, because they are bound to [all-various] desires. But it must be especially observed, that vain, noxious, superfluous, and insolent desires subsist with those who have the greatest power. For
there is not any thing so absurd, which the soul of such boys, men, and women, does not incite them to perform. In short, the variety of food which is assumed, is most manifold. For there are an infinite number of fruits, and an infinite multitude of roots, which the human race uses for food. It likewise uses all-various kinds of flesh; 148 and it is difficult to find any terrestrial, aerial, or aquatic animal, which it does not taste. It also employs all-various contrivances in the preparation of these, and manifold mixtures of juices. Hence it properly follows that the human tribe is insane and multiform, according to the motion of the soul, for each kind of food that is introduced into the body, becomes the cause of a certain peculiar disposition.
We however perceive that some things become immediately the cause of a great change in quality, as is evident in wine. For when it is drank abundantly, it makes men at first more cheerful, but afterwards more insane and indecorous. But men are ignorant of those things which do not exhibit a power of this kind; though every thing that is eaten is the cause of a certain peculiar disposition. Hence it requires great wisdom, to be able to know and perceive, what kind and what quantity of food ought to be used. This science, however, was at first unfolded by Apollo and Pæon; but afterwards by Esculapius and his followers.
With respect to generation also, the Pythagoreans are said to have made the following observations. In the first place, they thought it necessary to guard against what is called untimely [offspring]. For neither untimely plants, nor animals, are good; but prior to their bearing fruit, it is necessary that a certain time should intervene, in order that seeds 149 and fruit may be produced from strong and perfect bodies. It is requisite, therefore, that boys and virgins should be accustomed to labors and exercises, and appropriate endurance, and that food should be given to them adapted to a life of labor, temperance, and endurance. But there are many things of this kind in human life, which it is better to learn at a late period, and among these is the use of venery.
A boy should be so educated, as not to seek after such a connexion as this, within the 20th year of his age.
But when he arrives at this age, he should use venery rarely. This however will be the case, if he thinks that a good habit of body is an honorable and beautiful thing. For intemperance and a good habit of body, are not very much adapted to subsist together in the same person. It is also said, that those laws were praised by the Pythagoreans, which existed prior to their time in Grecian cities, and which prohibited the having connexion with a woman who is a mother, or a daughter, or a sister, either in a temple, or in a public place. For it is beautiful and advantageous that there should be numerous impediments to this energy.
These men also apprehended, as it seems, that preternatural generations, and those which are effected in conjunction with wanton insolence, should be entirely prevented from taking place; but that those should be suffered to remain, which are 150 according to nature, and subsist with temperance, and which take place in the chaste and legal procreation of children.
They likewise were of opinion that great providential attention should be paid by those who beget children, to the future progeny.
The first, therefore, and the greatest care which should be taken by him who applies himself to the procreation of children is, that he lives temperately and healthfully, that he neither fills himself with food unseasonably, nor uses such aliments as may render the habits of the body worse than they were, and above all things, that he avoids intoxication. For they thought that depraved seed was produced from a bad, discordant, and turbid temperament.
And universally they were of opinion, that none but an indolent and inconsiderate person would attempt to produce an animal, and lead it into existence, without providing with all possible diligence that its ingress into being and life might be most elegant and pleasing. For those that are lovers of dogs, pay every possible attention to the generation of whelps, in order that they may be produced from such things as are proper, and when it is proper, and in such a way as is proper, and thus may become a good offspring. The same attention also is paid by those who are lovers of birds.
And it is evident that others also who are studious about the procreation of generous animals, endeavour by all possible means, that the generation of them may not be in vain. It would be absurd therefore that men should pay no attention to their own offspring, but should both beget them casually and with perfect carelessness, and, after they are begotten, nourish and educate them with extreme negligence. For this is the most powerful and most manifest cause of the vice and depravity of the greater part of mankind. For with the multitude the procreation of children is undertaken in a beastly and rash manner. And such were the assertions, and such the doctrine of these men, which they verified both in words and deeds, respecting temperance; these precepts having been originally received by them from Pythagoras himself, like certain oracles delivered by the Pythian Apollo.