In particular he was concerned, more conspicuously than anyone else, with matters to do with sacrifices and temple purifications, thinking that even if this would gain him no advantage from the gods it would at least bring him high repute among men. Andthat is what happened. For he so surpassed others in renown that all the young men desired to be his pupils, while the older men were more pleased to see their children associating with him than looking after their own affairs. Nor can we distrust their judgement; for even now those who claim to be his pupils receive for their silence more admiration than those who have the greatest reputation for speaking. – Isocrates, Busiris 28-29

[Pythagoras], according to Timaeus, was the first to say that friends’ possessions are held in common and that friendship is equality. And his pupils contributed their goods to a common store. – Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers VIII 10

At that time, in the regions of Italy which were then called Great Greece, the Pythagorean meeting places were burned down and general constitutional unrest ensued – a not unlikely event, given that the leading men in each state had been thus unexpectedly killed. The Greek cities in these regions were filled with bloodshed and revolution and turmoil of every kind. – Polybius, Histories II xxxix 1-3

What is most just? –Sacrificing. – What is most wise? – Number (and secondly, the assigning of names to things). – What is most wise of the things among us? – Medicine. – What is most Noble? – Harmony. – What is most powerful? – Knowledge. – What is most good? – Happiness. – What is most truly said? – That men are wretched…

One must have children (for one must leave servants of God in one’s place)

And others such as: Do not help anyone to put down a burden (for one must not become a cause of idleness); rather, help him to take it up. Do not have intercourse for the purpose of siring children with a woman who wears gold.

Give no advice which is not for the good of the receiver; for advice is sacred. Labor is good, pleasures of every sort are bad; for those who have come for punishment must be punished.

Why you must not break a loaf of bread), some say you should not divide what brings people together (in the old days, after the foreign fashion, all friends came together over a single loaf).

For they think it ridiculous for men to look for the good from anywhere except from the gods: it is as if you were living in a monarchy and paid service to some lieutenant among the citizens, ignoring the ruler of all – that, they think, is just what men actually do. For since God exists and is sovereign over everything, it is agreed that one must ask for the good from the sovereign; for everyone gives good things to those whom they love and in whom they delight, and the opposite to those to whom they are disposed in the opposite way. – Iamblichus, On the Pythagorean Way of Life xviii 81-87

Diogenes Laertius, Book VIII - Pythagoras

Be not shameless, before any man.

when Leon the tyrant of Phlius asked him who he was, he said, "A philosopher,"[7] and that he compared life to the Great Games, where some went to compete for the prize and others went with wares to sell, but the best as spectators; for similarly, in life, some grow up with servile natures, greedy for fame and gain, but the philosopher seeks for truth.

He forbids us to pray for ourselves, because we do not know what will help us. Drinking he calls, in a word, a snare, and he discountenances all excess, saying that no one should go beyond due proportion either in drinking or in eating. Of sexual indulgence, too, he says, "Keep to the winter for sexual pleasures, in summer abstain; they are less harmful in autumn and spring, but they are always harmful and not conducive to health." Asked once when a man should consort with a woman, he replied, "When you want to lose what strength you have."

Friends have all things in common" and "Friendship is equality"; indeed, his disciples did put all their possessions into one common stock. For five whole years they had to keep silence, merely listening to his discourses without seeing him,[8] until they passed an examination, and thenceforward they were admitted to his house and allowed to see him.

Indeed, his bearing is said to have been most dignified, and his disciples held the opinion about him that he was Apollo come down from the far north.

who forbade even the killing, let alone the eating, of animals which share with us the privilege of having a soul. This was the excuse put forward; but his real reason for forbidding animal diet was to practise people and accustom them to simplicity of life, so that they could live on things easily procurable, spreading their tables with uncooked foods and drinking pure water only, for this was the way to a healthy body and a keen mind.

And the rest of the Pythagoreans used to say that not all his doctrines were for all men to hear

Xenophilus by name, asked by some one how he could best educate his son, replied, "By making him the citizen of a well-governed state." Throughout Italy Pythagoras made many into good men and true, men too of note like the lawgivers Zaleucus and Charondas; for he had a great gift for friendship, and especially, when he found his own watchwords adopted by anyone, he would immediately take to that man and make a friend of him.

don't stir the fire with a knife, don't step over the beam of a balance, don't sit down on your bushel,[17] don't eat your heart, don't help a man off with a load but help him on, always roll your bed-clothes up, don't put God's image on the circle of a ring, don't leave the pan's imprint on the ashes, don't wipe up a mess with a torch, don't commit a nuisance towards the sun, don't walk the highway, don't shake hands too eagerly, don't have swallows under your own roof, don't keep birds with hooked claws, don't make water on nor stand upon your nail-and hair-trimmings, turn the sharp blade away, when you go abroad don't turn round at the frontier.

18. This is what they meant. Don't stir the fire with a knife: don't stir the passions or the swelling pride of the great. Don't step over the beam of a balance: don't overstep the bounds of equity and justice. Don't sit down on your bushel: have the same care of to-day and the future, a bushel being the day's ration. By not eating your heart he meant not wasting your life in troubles and pains. By saying do not turn round when you go abroad, he meant to advise those who are departing this life not to set their hearts' desire on living nor to be too much attracted by the pleasures of this life.

Some say that he contented himself with just some honey or a honeycomb or bread, never touching wine in the daytime, and with greens boiled or raw for dainties, and fish but rarely. His robe was white and spotless, his quilts of white wool, for linen had not yet reached those parts. 20. He was never known to over-eat, to behave loosely, or to be drunk. He would avoid laughter and all pandering to tastes such as insulting jests and vulgar tales. He would punish neither slave nor free man in anger. Admonition he used to call "setting right."

He is said to have advised his disciples as follows: Always to say on entering their own doors:

Where did I trespass? What did I achieve? And unfulfilled what duties did I leave?

Not to call the gods to witness, man's duty being rather to strive to make his own word carry conviction. To honour their elders, on the principle that precedence in time gives a greater title to respect; for as in the world sunrise comes before sunset, so in human life the beginning before the end, and in all organic life birth precedes death. 23. And he further bade them to honour gods before demi-gods, heroes before men, and first among men their parents; and so to behave one to another as not to make friends into enemies, but to turn enemies into friends. To deem nothing their own. To support the law, to wage war on lawlessness. Never to kill or injure trees that are not wild, nor even any animal that does not injure man. That it is seemly and advisable neither to give way to unbridled laughter nor to wear sullen looks. To avoid excess of flesh, on a journey to let exertion and slackening alternate, to train the memory, in wrath to restrain hand and tongue, 24. to respect all divination, to sing to the lyre and by hymns to show due gratitude to gods and to good men. To abstain from beans because they are flatulent and partake most of the breath of life; and besides, it is better for the stomach if they are not taken, and this again will make our dreams in sleep smooth and untroubled.

The most momentous thing in human life is the art of winning the soul to good or to evil. Blest are the men who acquire a good soul; [23] they can never be at rest, nor ever keep the same course two days together.

Right has the force of an oath, and that is why Zeus is called the God of Oaths. Virtue is harmony, and so are health and all good and God himself; this is why they say that all things are constructed according to the laws of harmony. The love of friends is just concord and equality.

He bade his disciples not to pick up fallen crumbs, either in order to accustom them not to eat immoderately, or because connected with a person's death; nay, even, according to Aristophanes, crumbs belong to the heroes, for in his Heroes he says:

Nor taste ye of what falls beneath the board !

Not to break bread; for once friends used to meet over one loaf, as the barbarians do even to this day; and you should not divide bread which brings them together

Old age may be compared to everything that is decreasing, while youth is one with increase. Health means retention of the form, disease its destruction. Of salt he said it should be brought to table to remind us of what is right; for salt preserves whatever it finds, and it arises from the purest sources, sun and sea.

Xenophanes confirms the statement about his having been different people at different times in the elegiacs beginning:

Now other thoughts, another path, I show.

Their food is just greens, and to wet it pure water is all that they drink; And the want of a bath, and the vermin, and their old threadbare coats so do stink That none of the rest will come near them.

39. Pythagoras met his death in this wise.[32] As he sat one day among his acquaintances at the house of Milo, it chanced that the house was set ablaze out of jealousy by one of the people who were not accounted worthy of admittance to his presence, though some say it was the work of the inhabitants of Croton anxious to safeguard themselves against the setting-up of a tyranny. Pythagoras was caught as he tried to escape; he got as far as a certain field of beans, where he stopped, saying he would be captured rather than cross it, and be killed rather than prate about his doctrines; and so his pursuers cut his throat.[33] So also were murdered more than half of his disciples, to the number of forty or thereabouts; but a very few escaped, including Archippus of Tarentum and Lysis, already mentioned.

40. Dicaearchus, however, says that Pythagoras died a fugitive in the temple of the Muses at Metapontum after forty days' starvation. Heraclides, in his Epitome of the Lives of Satyrus, says that, after burying Pherecydes at Delos, he returned to Italy and, when he found Cylon of Croton giving a luxurious banquet to all and sundry, retired to Metapontum to end his days there by starvation, having no wish to live longer. On the other hand, Hermippus relates that, when the men of Agrigentum and Syracuse were at war, Pythagoras and his disciples went out and fought in the van of the army of the Agrigentines, and, their line being turned, he was killed by the Syracusans as he was trying to avoid the beanfield; the rest, about thirty-five in number, were burned at the stake in Tarentum for trying to set up a government in opposition to those in power.

41. Hermippus gives another anecdote. Pythagoras, on coming to Italy, made a subterranean dwelling and enjoined on his mother to mark and record all that passed, and at what hour, and to send her notes down to him until he should ascend. She did so. Pythagoras some time afterwards came up withered and looking like a skeleton, then went into the assembly and declared he had been down to Hades, and even read out his experiences to them. They were so affected that they wept and wailed and looked upon him as divine, going so far as to send their wives to him in hopes that they would learn some of his doctrines; and so they were called Pythagorean women. Thus far Hermippus.

42. Pythagoras had a wife, Theano by name, daughter of Brontinus of Croton, though some call her Brontinus's wife and Pythagoras's pupil. He had a daughter Damo, according to the letter of Lysis to Hippasus, which says of him, "I am told by many that you discourse publicly, a thing which Pythagoras deemed unworthy, for certain it is that, when he entrusted his daughter Damo with the custody of his memoirs, he solemnly charged her never to give them to anyone outside his house. And, although she could have sold the writings for a large sum of money, she would not, but reckoned poverty and her father's solemn injunctions more precious than gold, for all that she was a woman."

43. They also had a son Telauges, who succeeded his father and, according to some, was Empedocles' instructor. At all events Hippobotus makes Empedocles say:

Telauges, famed Son of Theano and Pythagoras.

Telauges wrote nothing, so far as we know, but his mother Theano wrote a few things. Further, a story is told that being asked how many days it was before a woman becomes pure after intercourse, she replied, "With her own husband at once, with another man never." And she advised a woman going in to her own husband to put off her shame with her clothes, and on leaving him to put it on again along with them. Asked "Put on what?" she replied, "What makes me to be called a woman."

44. To return to Pythagoras. According to Heraclides, the son of Serapion, he was eighty years old when he died, and this agrees with his own description of the life of man, though most authorities say he was ninety. And there are jesting lines of my own upon him as follows:

Not thou alone from all things animate Didst keep, Pythagoras. All food is dead When boil'd and bak'd and salt-besprinkle-d; For then it surely is inanimate.


So wise was wise Pythagoras that he Would touch no meats, but called it impious, Bade others eat. Good wisdom: not for us To do the wrong; let others impious be.

45. And again:

If thou wouldst know the mind of old Pythagoras, Look on Euphorbus' buckler and its boss. He says "I've lived before." If, when he says he was, He was not, he was no-one when he was.

And again, of the manner of his death:

Woe! Woe! Whence, Pythagoras, this deep reverence for beans? Why did he fall in the midst of his disciples? A bean-field there was he durst not cross; sooner than trample on it, he endured to be slain at the cross-roads by the men of Acragas.

He flourished in the 60th Olympiad[39] and his school lasted until the ninth or tenth generation. 46. For the last of the Pythagoreans, whom Aristoxenus in his time saw, were Xenophilus from the Thracian Chalcidice, Phanton of Phlius, and Echecrates, Diocles and Polymnastus, also of Phlius, who were pupils of Philolaus and Eurytus of Tarentum.

There were four men of the name of Pythagoras living about the same time and at no great distance from one another: (1) of Croton, a man with tyrannical leanings; (2) of Phlius, an athlete, some say a trainer; (3) of Zacynthus; (4) our subject, who discovered the secrets of philosophy [40], and to whom was applied the phrase, "The Master said" (Ipse dixit), which passed into a proverb of ordinary life. 47. Some say there was also another Pythagoras, a sculptor of Rhegium, who is thought to have been the first to aim at rhythm and symmetry; another a sculptor of Samos; another a bad orator; another a doctor who wrote on hernia and also compiled some things about Homer; and yet another who, so we are told by Dionysius, wrote a history of the Dorian race. Eratosthenes says, according to what we learn from Favorinus in the eighth book of his Miscellaneous History, that the last-named was the first to box scientifically, in the 48th Olympiad,[41] keeping his hair long and wearing a purple robe; and that when he was excluded with ridicule from the boys' contest, he went at once to the men's and won that; 48. this is declared by Theaetetus's epigram:

Know'st one Pythagoras, long-haired Pythagoras, The far-fam'd boxer of the Samians? I am Pythagoras; ask the Elians What were my feats, thou'lt not believe the tale.

Favorinus says that our philosopher used definitions throughout the subject matter of mathematics; their use was extended by Socrates and his disciples, and afterwards by Aristotle and the Stoics.

Further, we are told that he was the first to call the heaven the universe and the earth spherical,[43] though Theophrastus says it was Parmenides, and Zeno that it was Hesiod. 49. It is said that Cylon was a rival of Pythagoras, as Antilochus[44] was of Socrates.

Pythagoras the athlete was also the subject of another epigram as follows:

Gone to box with other lads Is the lad Pythagoras, Gone to the games Olympian Crates' son the Samian.

The philosopher also wrote the following letter:

Pythagoras to Anaximenes.

"Even you, O most excellent of men, were you no better born and famed than Pythagoras, would have risen and departed from Miletus. But now your ancestral glory has detained you as it had detained me were I Anaximenes's peer. But if you, the best men, abandon your cities, then will their good order perish, and the peril from the Medes will increase. 50. For always to scan the heavens is not well, but more seemly is it to be provident for one's mother country. For I too am not altogether in my discourses but am found no less in the wars which the Italians wage with one another."

Having now finished our account of Pythagoras, we have next to speak of the noteworthy Pythagoreans; after them will come the philosophers whom some denominate "sporadic" [i.e. belonging to no particular school]; and then, in the next place, we will append the succession of all those worthy of notice as far as Epicurus, in the way that we promised. We have already treated of Theano and Telauges: so now we have first to speak of Empedocles, for some say he was a pupil of Pythagoras.

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