Pythagoras

, one of the greatest men of antiquity, was born most probably about the year B. C. 586, but this date has been much contested. His father, Mnemarchus, of Samos, who was an engraver by trade, and dealt in rings and other trinkets, went with his wife to Delphi a few days after his marriage, to sell some goods during the feast and, while he stayed there, received an oracular answer from Apollo, who told him that if he embarked for Syria, the voyage would be very fortunate to him, and that his wife would there bring forth a son, who should be renowned for beauty and wisdom, and whose life would be a blessing to posterity. Mnemarchus obeyed the god, and Pythagoras was born at Sidon and, being brought to Samos, was educated there answerably to the great hopes that were conceived of him. He was called “the youth with the fine head of hair;” and, from the great qualities which appeared in him early, was soon regarded as a good genius sent into the world for the benefit of mankind.

Samos, in the mean time, afforded no philosophers capable of satisfying his ardent thirst after knowledge; and therefore, at eighteen, he resolved to travel in quest of them elsewhere. The fame of Pherecydes drew him first to the island of Syros; whence he went to Miletus, where he conversed with Thales. Then he went to Phoenicia, and stayed some time at Sidon, the place of his birth and from Sidon into BJgypt, where Thales and Solon had been before him. Amasis, king of Egypt, received him very kindly and, after having kept him some time at his court, gave him letters for the priests of Heliopolis. The Egyptians were very jealous of their sciences, which they rarely imparted to strangers nor even to their own cpuntrymen, till they had made them pass through the severest probations. The priests of Heliopolis sent him to those of Memphis and they directed him to the ancients of Diospolis, who, not daring to disobey the king, yefc unwilling to break in upon their own laws and customs, | received Pythagoras into a kind of noviciate, hoping he would soon be deterred from farther pursuits by the rigorous rules and ceremonies which were a necessary introduction to their mysteries. But Pythagoras went through all with wonderful patience, so far as even, according to some authors, to admit of circumcision.

After having remained twenty-five years in Egypt, he went to Babylon, afterwards to Crete, and thence to Sparta, to instruct himself in the laws of Minos and Lycurgus. Then he returned to Samos, which, finding under the tyranny of Polycrates, he quitted again, and visited the countries of Greece. Going through Peloponnesus, he stopped at Phlius, where Leo then reigned and, in his conversation with this prince, spoke with so much eloquence and wisdom, that Leo was at once delighted and surprised. He asked him at length, “what profession he followed?Pythagoras answered “None, but that he was a philosopher.” For, displeased with the lofty title of sages and wise men, which his profession had hitherto assumed, he changed it into one more modest and humble, calling himself a philosopher, that is, a lover of wisdom. Leo asked him “what it was to be a philosopher and the difference there was between a philosopher and other men?Pythagoras answered, that “life might well be compared to the Olympic games for, as in that vast assembly, some come in search of glory, others in search of gain, and a third sort, more noble than the two former, neither for fame nor profit, but only to enjoy the wonderful spectacle, and to see and know what passes in it; so we, in like manner, come into the world as into a place of public meeting, where some toil after glory, others after gain, and a few, contemning riches and vanity, apply themselves to the study of nature. These last,” said he, “are they whom T call philosophers.” And he thought them by far the noblest of the human kind, and the only part which spent their lives suitably to their nature for he was wont to say that “man was created to know and to contemplate.

From Peloponnesus he passed into Italy, and settled at Croton; where the inhabitants, having suffered great loss in a battle with the Locrians, degenerated from industry and courage into softness and effeminacy. Pythagoras thought it a task worthy of him to reform this city; and accordingly began to preach to the inhabitants all manner of virtues; and, though he naturally met at first with great | opposition, yet at length he made such an impression on his hearers, that the magistrates themselves, astonished at the solidity and strength of reason with which he spake, prayed him to interpose in the affairs of the government, and to give such advice as he should judge expedient for the good of the state. When Pythagoras had thus reformed the manners of the citizens by preaching, and established the city by wise and prudent counsels, he thought it time to lay some foundation of the wisdom he professed; and, in order to establish his sect, opened a school. It is not to be wondered that a crowd of disciples offered themselves N to a man, of whose wisdom such prodigious effects had been now seen and heard. They came to him from Greece and from Italy; but, for fear of pouring the treasures of wisdom into unsound and corrupt vessels, he received not indifferently all that presented themselves, but took time to try them for he used to say, “every soft of wood is not fit to make a Mercury” ex quowis ligno nonjit Mercurius that is, all minds are not alike capable of knowledge. He gave his disciples the rules of the Egyptian priests, and made them pass through the austerities which he himself had endured. He at first enjoined them a five years* silence, during which they were only to hear after that, leave was given them to propose questions, and to state their doubts. They were not, however, even then, to talk without bounds and measure; for he often said to them, u Either hold your peace, or utter things more worth than silence,; and say not a little in many words, but much in few.“Having gone through the probation, they were obliged, before they were admitted, to bring all their fortune into the common stock, which was managed by persons chosen on purpose, and called ceconomists and, if any retired from the society, he often carried away with him more than he brought in. He was, however, immediately regarded by the rest as a dead person, his obsequies made, and a tomb raised for him which sort of ceremony was instituted to deter others from leaving the school, by shewing, that if a man, after having entered into the ways of wisdom, turns aside and forsakes them, it is in vain for him to believe himself living—he is dead .*

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Pythagoras is said, by the writers of his life, to have regarded music as something celestial and divine, and to have had such an opinion of its power over the human affection that, according to the Egyptian system, he ordered his disciples to be waked every morning, and lulled to sleep

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every night, by sweet sounds. He likewise considared it as greatly conducive to health, and made use of it in disorders of the body, as well as in those of the mind. His biographers and secretaries even pretend to tell us what kind of music he applied upon these occasions. Grave and solemn, we may be certain; aud vocal, say they, was preferred to instrumental, and the lyre to the flute, not only for its decency and gravity, but because instruction could be conveyed to the mind, by means of articulation in singing, at the same time as the ear was delighted by sweet sounds. This was said to have been the opinion of Minerva. In very high antiquity mankind gave human wisdom to their gods, and afterwards took it from them, to bestow it on mortals. “In perusing the list of illustrious men, who have sprung from the school of Pythagoras, it appears that the love and cultivation of music was so much a part of their discipline, that almost every one of them left a treatise behind him upon the subject.” Dr. Burney, in Rees’s Cyclopædia.

| The Egyptians believed the secrecy they observed to be recommended to them by the example of their gods, who would never be seen by mortals but through the obscurity of shadows. For this reason there was at Sais, a town of Egypt, a statue of Pallas, who was the same as Isis, with this inscription” I am whatever is, has been, or shall be; and no mortal has ever yet taken off the veil that covers me." They had invented, therefore, three ways of expressing their thoughts; the simple, the hieroglyphical, and the symbolical. In the simple they spoke plainly and intelligibly, as in common conversation; in the hieroglyphical they concealed their thoughts under certain images and characters; and in the symbolical they explained them by short expressions, which, under a sense plain and simple, included another wholly figurative. Pythagoras principally imitated the symbolical style of the Egyptians, which, having neither the obscurity of the hieroglyphics, nor the clearness of ordinary discourse, he thought very proper to inculcate the greatest and most important truths for a symbol, by its double sense, the proper and the figurative, teaches two things at once and nothing pleases the mind more, than the double image it represents to our view.

In this manner Pythagoras delivered many excellent things concerning God and the human soul, and a vast variety of precepts relating to the conduct of life, political as well as civil; and he made some considerable discoveries and advances in the arts and sciences. In arithmetic, the common multiplication table is, to this day, still called Pythagoras’s table. In geometry it is said he invented many theorems, particularly these three; 1st, Only three polygons, or regular plane figures, can fill up the space about a point, viz. the equilateral triangle, the square, and the | hexagon: 2d, The sum of the three angles of every triangle is equal to two right angles: 3d, In any right-angled triangle, the square on the longest side is equal to both the squares on the two shorter sides: for the discovery of this last theorem, some authors say he offered to the gods a hecatomb, or a sacrifice of a hundred oxen; Plutarch, however, says it was only one ox, and even that is questioned by Cicero, as inconsistent with his doctrine, which forbade bloody sacrifices: the more accurate therefore say, he sacrificed an ox made of flour, or of clay; and Plutarch even doubts whether such sacrifice, whatever it was, was made for the said theorem, or for the area of the parabola, which it was said Pythagoras also found out.

In astronomy his inventions were many and great. It is reported he discovered, or maintained the true system of the world, which places the sun in the centre, and makes all the planets revolve about him; from him it is to this day called the old or Pythagorean system; and is the same as that revived by Copernicus. He first discovered that Lucifer and Hesperus were but one and the same, being the planet Venus, though formerly thought to be two different stars. The invention of the obliquity of the zodiac is likewise ascribed tt> him. He first gave to the world the name Kocr/xoj, Kosmos, from the order and beauty of all things comprehended in it asserting that it was made according to musical proportion for as he held that the sun, by him and his followers termed the fiery globe of unity, was seated in the midst of the universe, and planets moving around him, so he held that the seven planets had an harmonious motion, and their distances from the sun corresponded to the musical intervals or divisions of the monochord. We may also add, that among the works that are cited of him, there are not only books of physic, and books of morality, like that contained in what are called his “Golden VersesJ” but treatises of politics and theology. Ah these works are lost but the vastness of his mind, and the greatness of his talents, appear from the wonderful things he performed. He delivered, as antiquity relates, several cities of Italy and of Sicily from the yoke of slavery he appeased seditions in others and he softened the manners, and brought to temper the most savage and unruly humours, of several people and several tyrants. Phalaris, the tyrant of Sicily, is said to have been the only one who could withstand the remonstrances of Pythagoras and he, | it seems, was so enraged at his lectures, that he ordered him to he put to death. But though the reasonings ol the philosopher could make no impression on the tyrant, yet they were sufficient to revive the spirit of the Agrigentines, and Phalaris was killed the very same day that he had fixed for the death of Pythagoras.

Pythagoras had a great veneration for marriage; and therefore at Croton, married Theano, daughter of Brontinus, one of the chief of that city. He had by her two sons, Arimnestus and Telauges which last succeeded his father in his school, and was the master of Empedocles. He had likewise one daughter, named Damo, who was distinguished by her learning as well as her virtues, and wrote an excellent commentary upon Homer. It is related that Pythagoras had given her some of his writings, with express commands not to impart them to any but those of his own family to which Damo was so scrupulously obedient, that even when she was reduced to extreme poverty, she refused a great sum of money for them. Some have indeed asserted, and Plutarch among them, that Pythagoras never wrote any thing; but this opinion is contradicted by others, and Plutarch is supposed to be mistaken. Whether he did or not, it is certain that whatever was written by his first disciples ought to be regarded as the work of himself; for they wrote only his opinions, and that so religiously, that they would not change the least syllable; respecting the words of their master as the oracles of a god; and alledging in confirmation of the truth of any doctrine only this, avrog t$a, t “He said so.” They looked on him as the most perfect image of the deitv among men. His house was called the temple of Ceres, and his courtyard the temple of the Muses; and, when he went into towns it was said he went thither, “not to teach men, but to heal them.

Pythagoras was persecuted in the last years of his life, and died a tragical death. There was at Croton a young man called Cylon, whom a noble birth and opulence had so puffed up with pride, that he thought he should do honour to Pythagoras in offering to be his disciple. The philosopher did not measure the merit of men by these exterior things; and therefore, finding in him much corruption and wickedness, refused to admit him. This extremely enraged Cylon, who sought nothing but revenge and, having rendered many persons disaffected to Pythagoras, | came one day accompanied by a crowd of profligates, and surrounding the house where he was teaching, set it on fire. Pythagoras had the luck to escape, and flying, took the way to Locrisj but the Locrians, fearing the enmity of Cylon, who was a man of power, deputed their chief magistrates to meet him, and to request him to retire elsewhere. He went to Tarentum, where a new persecution soon obliged him to retire to Metapontum. But the sedition of Croton proved as it were the signal of a general insurrection against the Pythagoreans the flame had gained all the cities of Greece the schools of Pythagoras were destroyed, and he himself, at the age of above eighty, killed at the tumult of Metapontum, or, as others say, was starved to death in the temple of the Muses, whither he was fled for refuge.

The doctrine of Pythagoras was not confined to the narrow compass of Magna Grsecia, now called the kingdom of Naples it spread itself all over Greece, and in Asia. The Romans admired his procepts long after his death and having received an oracle, which commanded them to erect statues in honour of the most wise and the most valiant of the Greeks, they erected two brazen statues one to Alcibiades as the most valiant, and the other to Pythagoras as the most wise. It was greatly to his honour, that the two most excellent men Greece ever produced, Socrates and Plato, in some measure followed his doctrine.

The sect of Pythagoras subsisted till towards the end of the reign of Alexander the Great. About that time the Academy and the Lyceum united to obscure and swallow up the Italic sect, which till then had held up its head with so much glory, that Isocrates writes: “We more admire, at this day, a Pythagorean when he is silent, than others, even the most eloquent, when they speak.” However, in after-ages, there were here and there some disciples of Pythagoras hut they were only particular persons, who never made any society nor had the Pythagoreans any more a public school. Notwithstanding the high encomiums bestowed upon this philosopher, Brucker, who has a very elaborate article on the subject, is of opinion that Pythagoras owed much of his celebrity and authority to imposture. Why did he so studiously court the society of Egyptian priests, so famous in antient times for their arts of deception; why did he take so much pains to be initiated in religious mysteries; why did he retire into a | subterraneous cavern in Crete; why did he assume the character of Apollo, at the Olympic games why did he boast that his soul had lived in former bodies, and that he had been first Æthalides the son of Mercury, then Euphorbus, then Pyrrhus of Delos, and at last Pythagoras, but that he might the more easily impose upon the credulity of an ignorant and superstitious people His whole manner of life, as far as it is known, confirms this opinion. Clothed in a long white robe, with a flowing beard, and, as some relate, with a golden crown on his head, he preserved among the people, and in the presence of his disciples, a commanding gravity and majesty of aspect. He made use of music to promote the tranquillity of his mind frequently singing, for this purpose, hymns of Thales, Hesiod, and Homer. He had such an entire command of himself, that he was never seen to express, in his countenance, grief, or joy, or anger. He refrained from animal food, and confined himself to a frugal vegetable diet, excluding from his simple bill of fare, for sundry mystical reasons, pulse or beans. By this artificial demeanour, Pythagoras passed himself upon the vulgar as a being of an order superior to the common condition of humanity, and persuaded them that he had received his doctrine from heaven. We find still extant a letter of Pythagoras to Hiero, tyrant of Syracuse; but this letter is certainly supposititious, Pythagoras having been dead before Hiero was born. “The Golden Verses of Pythagoras,” the real author of which is unknown, have been frequently published, with the f< Commentary of Hierocles,“and a Latin version and notes. Mr. Dacier translated them into French, with notes, and- added the” Lives of Pythagoras and Hieroclesand this work was published in English, the” Golden Verses" being translated from the Greek by N. Rowe, esq. in 17O7, 8vo. 1

1 Diogenes Laertius. Stanley. Brucker. Burney’s Hist, of Music, Huttow’s Dict.