Part 2

Pythagoras' Activities

April 28, 2022
  1. Returning to Ionia, he opened a school, now called Pythagoras’s Semicircles. Samians meet there to deliberate about matters of common interest. Outside the city he made a cave adapted to the study of his philosophy, in which he abode day and night, discoursing with a few of his associates. He was now forty years old, says Aristoxenus.

Seeing that Polycrates’s government was becoming so violent that soon a free man would become a victim of his tyranny, he journeyed towards Italy.

  1. Diogenes, in his treatise about the Incredible Things Beyond Thule, has treated Pythagoras’s affairs so carefully, that I think his account should not be omitted. He says that the Tyrrhenian Mnesarchus was of the race of the inhabitants of Lemnos, Imbros and Scyros and that he departed thence to visit many cities and various lands. During his journeys he found an infant lying under a large, tall poplar tree.

On approaching, he observed it lay on its back, looking steadily without winking at the sun. In its mouth was a little slender reed, like a pipe; through which the child was being nourished by the dew-drops that distilled from the tree. This great wonder prevailed upon him to take the child, believing it to be of a divine origin. The child was fostered by a native of that country, named Androcles, who later on adopted him, and entrusted to him the management of affairs. On becoming wealthy, Mnesarchus educated the boy, naming him Astrasus, and rearing him with his own three sons, Eunestus, Tyrrhenus, and Pythagoras; which boy, as I have said, Androcles adopted.

  1. He sent the boy to a lute-player, a wrestler and a painter. Later he sent him to Anaximander at Miletus, to learn geometry and astronomy. Then Pythagoras visited the Egyptians, the Arabians, the Chaldeans and the Hebrews, from whom he acquired expertery in the interpretation of dreams, and he was the first to use frankincense in the worship of divinities.

  2. In Egypt he lived with the priests, and learned the language and wisdom of the Egyptians, and three kinds of letters:

  • the epistolic
  • the hieroglyphic
  • the symbolic. This imitates the common way of speaking, while the others express the sense by allegory and parable.

In Arabia he conferred with the King.

In Babylon, he associated with the other Chaldeans, especially attaching himself to Zabratus, by whom he was purified from the pollutions of this past life, and taught the things which a virtuous man ought to be free.

Likewise he heard lectures about Nature, and the principles of wholes. It was from his stay among these foreigners that Pythagoras acquired the greater part of his wisdom.

  1. Astraeus was by Mnesarchus entrusted to Pythagoras, who received him, and after studying his physiognomy and the emotions of his body, instructed him.

First, he accurately investigated the science about the nature of man, discerning the disposition of everyone he met. None was allowed to become his friend or associate without being examined in facial expression and disposition.

Pythagoras had another youthful disciple from Thrace named Zamolxis because he was born wrapped in a bear’s skin. In Thracian, he was called Zalmus. Some say he was named Thales, and that the barbarians worshipped him as Hercules.

Pythagoras loved him, and instructed him in:

  • sublime speculations concerning sacred rites, and
  • the nature of the Gods.

Dionysiphanes says that he was a servant of Pythagoras, who fell into the hands of thieves and by them was branded.

Then when Pythagoras was persecuted and banished, (he followed him) binding up his forehead on account of the scars.

Others say that, the name Zamolxis signifies a foreigner.

Pherecydes, in Delos fell sick. Pythagoras attended him until he died, and performed his funeral rites.

Pythagoras then, longing to be with Hermodamas the Creophylian, returned to Samos.

After enjoying his society, Pythagoras trained the Samian athlete Eurymenes, who though he was of small stature, conquered at Olympia through his surpassing knowledge of Pythagoras’ wisdom.

While according to ancient custom the other athletes fed on cheese and figs, Eurymenes, by the advice of Pythagoras, fed daily on flesh, which endued his body with great strength.

Pythagoras imbued him with his wisdom, exhorting him to go into the struggle, not for the sake of victory, but the exercise; that he should gain by the training, avoiding the envy resulting from victory. For the victors, are not always pure, though decked with leafy crowns.

Later, when the Samians were oppressed with the tyranny of Polycrates, Pythagoras saw that life in such a state was unsuitable for a philosopher, and so planned to travel to Italy.

At Delphi, he inscribed an elegy on the tomb of Apollo, declaring that Apollo was the son of Silenus, but was slain by Pytho, and buried in the place called Triops, so named from the local mourning for Apollo by the three daughters of Triopas.

Going to Crete, Pythagoras besought initiation from the priests of Morgos, one of the Idaean Dactyli, by whom he was purified with the meteoritic thunder-stone. In the morning he lay stretched upon his face by the seaside; at night, he lay beside a river, crowned with a black lamb’s woolen wreath.

Descending into the Idaean cave, wrapped in black wool, he stayed there twenty-seven days, according to custom; he sacrificed to Zeus, and saw the throne which there is yearly made for him.

On Zeus’s tomb, Pythagoras inscribed an epigram, “Zeus deceased here lies, whom men call Jove. – Pythagoras to Zeus”

When he reached Italy, he was stopped at Crotona.

His presence was that of a free man, tall, graceful in speech and gesture, and in all things else. Dicaearchus relates that the arrival of this great traveler, endowed with all the advantages of nature, and prosperously guided by fortune, produced on the Crotonians so great an impression, that he won the esteem of the elder magistrates, by his many and excellent discourses.

They ordered him to exhort the young men, and then to the boys who flocked out of the school to hear him; and lastly to the women, who came together on purpose.

Through this, he achieved great reputation. He drew great audiences from the city, both men and women. Among them was an illustrious person named Theano.

He also drew audiences from among the neighboring barbarians, among whom were magnates and kings.

What he told his audiences cannot be said with certainty, for he enjoined silence upon his hearers. But the following is a matter of general information.

He taught that the soul was immortal and that after death it transmigrated into other animated bodies. After certain specified periods, the same events occur again; that nothing was entirely new; that all animated beings were kin, and should be considered as belonging to one great family. Pythagoras was the first one to introduce these teachings into Greece.

His speech was so persuasive.

According to Nicomachus, in one address made on first landing in Italy he made more than 2,000 adherents.

Both men and women built a large auditorium out of the desire to live with him.

Foreign visitors were so many that they built whole cities, settling that whole region of Italy now known as Magna Grecia.

His ordinances and laws were by them received as divine precepts, and without them would do nothing.

They ranked him among the divinities.

They held all property in common. They ranked him among the divinities, and whenever they communicated to each other some choice bit of his philosophy, from which physical truths could always be deduced, they would swear by the Tetractys, adjuring Pythagoras as a divine witness, in the words.

“I call to witness him who to our souls expressed The Tetractys, eternal Nature’s fountain-spring.”