Pythagoras of Samos

Pythagoras (569-475 B.C.) was born in Samos, Ionia, traveled with his father to Tyre and was taught there by the Chaldaeans and the learned men of Syria. Iamblichus, in his Life of Pythagoras, said that as a young man, Pythagoras visited Thales in Miletus, who advised him to learn mathematics and astronomy in Egypt. Porphyry's account suggests that Pythagoras visited many temples there, but was accepted into the priesthood only at Diospolis.

Pythagoras founded a school in Croton (now Crotone, in southern Italy). According to Iamblichus, his followers occupied an inner circle (esoterikoi) called the mathematikoi ("learners") and an outer circle (exoterikoi) called the akousmatikoi ("listeners"), according to their degree of intimacy with Pythagoras. Porphyry wrote, "The mathematikoi learned the more detailed and exactly elaborated version of this knowledge, the akousmatikoi (were) those who had heard only the summary headings of his (Pythagoras's) writings, without the more exact exposition."

Pythagoras was the first to call himself a philosopher, literally a lover of wisdom

Porphyry of Tyre wrote,"Pythagoras was indeed the first man to call himself a philosopher. Others before had called themselves wise (sophos), but Pythagoras was the first to call himself a philosopher, literally a lover of wisdom. More importantly, for Pythagoras and his followers, philosophy was not merely an intellectual pursuit, but a way of life, the aim of which was the assimilation to God. . . . Such things taught he, though advising above all things to speak the truth, for this alone deifies men. For as he had learned from the Magi, who call God Oremasdes [Ormuzd], God's body is light, and his soul is truth. He taught much else, which he claimed to have learned from Aristoclea at Delphi."


Pythagoreans celebrate sunrise image by Bronnikov
Pythagoreans Celebrate Sunrise
by Fyodor Bronnikov


The beliefs ascribed to Pythagoras (Encyclopedia Britannica) included: At its deepest level, reality is mathematical in nature. Philosophy can be used for spiritual purification. The soul can rise to union with the divine. Certain symbols have a mystical significance. All brothers of the order should observe strict loyalty and secrecy. Of Pythagoras of Samos, Ovid wrote:

There was a man here, Samian born, but he
Had fled from Samos, for he hated tyrants
And chose, instead, an exile's lot. His thought
Reached far aloft, to the great gods in Heaven,
And his imagination looked on visions
Beyond his moral sight. All things he studied
With watchful eager mind, and he brought home
What he had learned and sat among the people
Teaching them what was worthy, and they listened
In silence, wondering at the revelations
How the great world began, the primal cause,
The nature of things, what God is, whence the snows
Come down, where lightning breaks from, whether wind
Or Jove speaks in the thunder from the clouds,
The cause of earthquakes, by what law the stars
Wheel in their course, all the secrets hidden
From man's imperfect knowledge. – Ovid, Metamorphoses

Historiographer Robert Taylor wrote of him, "Pythagoras was a teacher of the purest system of morals ever propounded to man." We agree. Significantly, early sources attest that Plato had studied the teachings of Pythagoras.


The Life of Pythagoras of Samos: The biographical sketch of Pythagoras as recorded in Diogenes Laertius' Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, translated by Robert Drew Hicks, 1925.
» Learn more »


Pythagoras on Moral Law

There is no greater wonder than to range the starry heights, to leave the earth's dull regions, to ride the clouds, to stand on Atlas' shoulders, and see, far off, far down, the little figures wandering here and there, devoid of reason, anxious, in fear of death, and so advise them, and so make fate an open book. – Pythagoras, Ovid, Metamorphoses

I tell you that your bodies can never suffer evil, whether fire consumes them, or the waste of time. Our souls are deathless; always, when they leave our bodies, they find new dwelling-places. – Pythagoras, Ovid, Metamorphoses

All things are always changing, but nothing dies. The spirit comes and goes, is housed wherever it wills, shifts residence . . . but always it keeps on living. As the pliant wax is stamped with new designs, and is no longer what once it was, but changes form, and still is pliant wax, so do I teach that spirit is evermore the same, though passing always to ever-changing bodies. – Pythagoras, Ovid, Metamorphoses

Nothing is permanent in all the world. All things are fluid; every image forms, wandering through change. Time is itself a river in constant movement, and the hours flow by like water, wave on wave, pursued, pursuing, forever fugitive, forever new. That which has been, is not; that which was not, begins to be; motion and moment always in process of renewal. – Pythagoras, Ovid, Metamorphoses

Sobriety is the strength of the soul, for it preserves its reason unclouded by passion.

Our bodies also change. What we have been, what we now are, we shall not be tomorrow. Not even the so‑called elements are constant. – Pythagoras, Ovid, Metamorphoses

Nothing remains the same: the great renewer, Nature, makes form from form, and, oh, believe me that nothing ever dies. What we call birth is the beginning of a difference, no more than that, and death is only ceasing of what had been before. The parts may vary, shifting from here to there, hither and yon, and back again, but the great sum is constant. – Pythagoras, Ovid, Metamorphoses

Remember this: The heavens and all below them, earth and her creatures, all change, and we, part of creation, also must suffer change. We are not bodies only, but winged spirits. – Pythagoras, Ovid, Metamorphoses

The soul of man is divided into three parts, intelligence, reason, and passion. Intelligence and passion are possessed by other animals, but reason by man alone. – Pythagoras, in Laertius' Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers

We ought so to behave to one another as to avoid making enemies of our friends, and at the same time to make friends of our enemies. – Pythagoras, in Laertius' Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers

In anger we should refrain both from speech and action. – Pythagoras, in Laertius' Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers

Reason is immortal, all else mortal. – Pythagoras, in Laertius' Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers

The most momentous thing in human life is the art of winning the soul to good or to evil. – Pythagoras, in Laertius' Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers

Number is the ruler of forms and ideas, and the cause of gods and daemons. – Pythagoras, in Iamblichus' Life of Pythagoras

Sobriety is the strength of the soul, for it preserves its reason unclouded by passion. – Pythagoras, in Enfield's The History of Philosophy

None but God is wise. – Pythagoras, in Taylor's The Diegesis

Friends are as companions on a journey, who ought to aid each other to persevere in the road to a happier life. – Pythagoras, in Northend's Gems of Thought

Anger begins in folly, and ends in repentance. – Pythagoras, in Ballou's Treasury of Thought

Choose always the way that seems the best, however rough it may be; custom will soon render it easy and agreeable. – Pythagoras, in A Dictionary of Thoughts

It is better wither to be silent, or to say things of more value than silence. Sooner throw a pearl at hazard than an idle or useless word; and do not say a little in many words, but a great deal in a few. – Pythagoras, in A Dictionary of Thoughts

Truth is so great a perfection, that if God would render himself visible to men, he would choose light for his body and truth for his soul. – Pythagoras, in A Dictionary of Thoughts

There is no word or action but has its echo in Eternity. Thought is an Idea in transit, which when once released, never can be lured back, nor the spoken word recalled. Nor ever can the overt act be erased All that thou thinkest, sayest, or doest bears perpetual record of itself, enduring for Eternity. – Pythagoras, in Pythagoron: The Religious, Moral, and Ethical Teachings of Pythagoras

Above and before all things, worship God.Pythagoras, in The Sayings of the Wise

Tetraktys

Above all things reverence thy Self. Work at these things, practice them . . . they are what will put you on the path of divine virtue – yes, by the one who entrusted our soul with the tetraktys, source of ever‑flowing nature. Meditate upon my counsels; love them; follow them; To the divine virtues will they know how to lead thee. . . . Holding fast to these things, you will know the worlds of gods and mortals which permeates and governs everything. You will know, as is right, nature similar in all respects, so that you will neither entertain unreasonable hopes nor be neglectful of anything. – Pythagoras, in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras

Honor first the immortal gods, in the manner prescribed, and respect the oath. Next, honor the reverent heroes and the spirits of the dead by making the traditional sacrifices. Honor your parents and your relatives. As for others, befriend whoever excels in virtue. Yield to kind words and helpful deeds, and do not hate your friend for a trifling fault as you are able. For ability is near to necessity. – Pythagoras, in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras

Above the cloud with its shadow is the star with its light. Above all things reverence thy self. – Pythagoras, in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras

Practice justice in word and deed, and do not get in the habit of acting thoughtlessly about anything. – Pythagoras, in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras

Know that death comes to everyone, and that wealth will sometimes be acquired, sometimes lost. Whatever griefs mortals suffer by divine chance, whatever destiny you have, endure it and do not complain. But it is right to improve it as much as you can, and remember this: Fate does not give very many of these griefs to good people. – Pythagoras, in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras

Many words befall men, mean and noble alike; do not be astonished by them, nor allow yourself to be constrained. If a lie is told, bear with it gently. But whatever I tell you, let it be done completely. Let no one persuade you by word or deed to do or say whatever is not best for you. – Pythagoras, in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras

Do not let sleep close your tired eyes until you have three times gone over the events of the day. 'What did I do wrong? What did I accomplish? What did I fail to do that I should have done?' Starting from the beginning, go through to the end. Then, reproach yourself for the things you did wrong, and take pleasure in the good things you did. – Pythagoras, in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras

Holding fast to these things, you will know the worlds of gods and mortals which permeates and governs everything. And you will know, as is right, nature similar in all respects, so that you will neither entertain unreasonable hopes nor be neglectful of anything. – Pythagoras, in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras

Wretched men are the cause of their own suffering, who neither see nor hear the good that is near them, and few are the ones who know how to secure release from their troubles. – Pythagoras, in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras

All men assert that wisdom is the greatest good, but that there are few who strenuously seek out that greatest good. – Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus

Do not even think of doing what ought not to be done. – Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus

Choose rather to be strong in soul than in body. – Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus

It is difficult to walk at one and the same time many paths of life. – Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus

This is the Law of God, that virtue is the only thing that is strong; and that every thing else is a trifle. – Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus

It is requisite to defend those who are unjustly accused of having acted injuriously, but to praise those who excel in a certain good. – Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus

Nor is the man worthy who possesses great wealth, but he whose soul is generous. – Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus

When the wise man opens his mouth, the beauties of his soul present themselves to the view, like the statues in a temple. – Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus

Despise all those things which when liberated from the body you will not want. – Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus

Those alone are dear to Divinity who are hostile to injustice. – Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus

None can be free who is a slave to, and ruled by, his passions. – Pythagoras, Florilegium, XVIII, 23

It is not proper . . . to use freedom of speech ineffectually. Neither is the sun to be taken from the world, nor freedom of speech from erudition.Pythagoras in The Diegesis

Top ↑



References

Baldwin, William. The Sayings of the Wise: Or, Food for Thought. A Christian Library, Edward Arber, editor. London: Elliot Stock, 1908.

Ballou, Maturin Murray. Treasury of Thought: An Encyclopædia of Quotations from Ancient and Modern Authors. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1881.

The Complete Pythagoras. Opensource collection of Pythagoras biographies and fragments, Kenneth S. Guthrie, trans., Patrick Rousell, editor. Internet Archive, 2011.

Edwards, Tyron. The New Dictionary of Thoughts: A Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors of the World, both Ancient and Modern. Charlotte, NC: Britkin Publishing Co., 1927.

Enfield, William. The History of Philosophy: From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Present Century, Vol II of 2 vols. London: J. Johnson, 1819.

Huffman, Carl. "Pythagoras." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy online. Summer 2014 edition, Edward N. Zalta, editor [retrieved November 12, 2017]

Huson, Hobart. Pythagoron: The Religious, Moral, and Ethical Teachings of Pythagoras. Refugio, Texas, 1947.

Iamblichus of Chalcis. Life of Pythagoras. Thomas Taylor, translator. Los Angeles: Theosophical Publishing House, 1818.

Laertius, Diogenes. "Pythagoras" in Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. Robert Drew Hicks, trans. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1925.

Northend, Charles. Gems of Thought: Being a Collection of More Than a Thousand Choice Selections, Or Aphorisms. New York: D. Appleton and Co.,1888.

O'Connor, J. J. and E.F. Robertson, Pythagoras of Samos, The MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St. Andrews, Scotland, 1999.

O'Connor, J. J. and Robertson, E. F. Quotations by Pythagoras, The MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St. Andrews, Scotland, 1999.

Ovid. "Pythagoras Teaches His Philosophy," Metamorphoses, Book 15, lines 60‑477. Brookes More, trans., Boston, Cornhill Publishing Co. 1922. [Theoi Project, Aaron J. Atsma, New Zealand, retrieved November 13, 2017.]

Plutarch, Moralia, vol 12 of 14 vols., Frank Cole Babbitt, trans., Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957.

Porphyry, "Life of Pythagoras," in Heroes and Gods, Moses Hadas and Morton Smith (eds.), New York: Harper and Row, 1965.

Porphyry of Tyre, The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library: An Anthology of Ancient Writings which Relate to Pythagoras and Pythagorean Philosophy. Kenneth S. Guthrie and David R. Fideler, trans. Public Domain: 1919. [The Tertullian Project, retrieved November 13, 2017.]

Pythagoras. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved February 19, 2011.

Pythagoras. Pythagoras Quotes. Florilegium, XVIII, 23. Dictionary of Quotations. Thomas Benfield Harbottle, trans. London: Swan Sonnenschein and Co., Ltd. 1906.

Pythagoras. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved February 19, 2011.

The Golden Verses of Pythagoras and other Pythagorean Fragments. Selected and arranged by Florence M. Firth, 1904. Internet Sacred Text Archive [retrieved November 13, 2017.]

The Golden Verses of Pythagoras and other Pythagorean Fragments. Fabre d'Olivet, 1917. Internet Sacred Text Archive [retrieved November 13, 2017.]

Strohmeier, John and Peter Westbrook. Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras. Harmonia Books, 2011.

Taylor, Robert. The Diegesis: Being a Discovery of the Origin, Evidences, and Early History of ChristianityThe Diegesis: Being a Discovery of the Origin, Evidences, and Early History of Christianity. Boston: A. Kneeland 1834.


Note: We do not endorse the doctrine of transmigration of the soul from human to animal, which has been ascribed to Pythagoras by some writers.


Search Our Site