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Pythagoras

ancient Greek mathematician and philosopher
Reason is immortal, all else mortal.

Pythagoras of Samos (Πυθαγόρας; c. 582 BC – c. 496 BC) was an Ionian Greek philosopher, often revered as a great mathematician and scientist.

Contents

QuotesEdit

 
Let no one persuade you by word or deed to do or say whatever is not best for you.
 
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.
 
Number is the ruler of forms and ideas, and the cause of gods and daemons.
  • Dear youths, I warn you cherish peace divine,
    And in your hearts lay deep these words of mine.
  • Τὴν δ' ἀνθρώπου ψυχὴν διῃρῆσθαι τριχῆ, εἴς τε νοῦν καὶ φρένας καὶ θυμόν. νοῦν μὲν οὖν καὶ θυμὸν εἶναι καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἄλλοις ζῴοις, φρένας δὲ μόνον ἐν ἀνθρώπῳ.
  • ἀλλήλοις θ᾽ ὁμιλεῖν, ὡς τοὺς μὲν φίλους ἐχθροὺς μὴ ποιῆσαι, τοὺς δ᾽ ἐχθροὺς φίλους ἐργάσασθαι. ἴδιόν τε μηδὲν ἡγεῖσθαι.
  • ἐν ὀργῇ μήτε τι λέγειν μήτε πράσσειν
    • In anger we should refrain both from speech and action.
    • As quoted in Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, "Pythagoras", Sect. 23–24, as translated in Dictionary of Quotations (1906) by Thomas Benfield Harbottle, p. 370
  • Reason is immortal, all else mortal.
    • As quoted in Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, Sect. 30, as translated by Robert Drew Hicks (1925)
  • The most momentous thing in human life is the art of winning the soul to good or to evil.
    • As quoted in Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, as translated by Robert Drew Hicks (1925)
  • Power is the near neighbour of necessity.
    • As quoted in Aurea Carmina (8) by Hierocles of Alexandria, as translated in Dictionary of Quotations (1906) by Thomas Benfield Harbottle, p. 356

The SymbolsEdit

English translations of the Symbols of Pythagoras recorded by Iamblichus of Chalcis from those in The Golden Verses of Pythagoras and other Pythagorean Fragments (1904); selected and arranged by Florence M. Firth
 
Disbelieve nothing wonderful concerning the gods, nor concerning divine dogmas.
 
Assist a man in raising a burden; but do not assist him in laying it down.
  • When going to the temple to adore Divinity neither say nor do any thing in the interim pertaining to the common affairs of life.
    • Symbol 1
  • Sacrifice and adore unshod.
    • Symbol 3
  • Disbelieve nothing wonderful concerning the gods, nor concerning divine dogmas.
    • Symbol 4
  • Declining from the public ways, walk in unfrequented paths.
    • Symbol 5
  • Govern your tongue before all other things, following the gods.
    • Symbol 7
  • The wind is blowing, adore the wind.
    • Symbol 8
  • Cut not fire with a sword.
    • Symbol 9
    • Variant translation: Poke not the fire with a sword.
      • As quoted in Short Sayings of Great Men: With Historical and Explanatory Notes‎ (1882) by Samuel Arthur Bent, p. 455
  • Assist a man in raising a burden; but do not assist him in laying it down.
    • Symbol 11
  • Step not beyond the beam of the balance.
    • Symbol 14
  • Having departed from your house, turn not back; for the furies will be your attendants.
    • Symbol 15
  • Eat not the heart.
    • Symbol 30; explained in the edition used here: "This Symbol signifies that it is not proper to divulse the union and consent of the universe. And still further it signifies this, Be not envious, but philanthropic and communicative; and from this it exhorts us to philosophize. For philosophy alone among the sciences and arts is neither pained with the goods of others, nor rejoices in evils of neighbours, these being allied and familiar by nature, subject to the like passions, and exposed to one common fortune; and evinces that all men are equally incapable of foreseeing future events. Hence it exhorts us to sympathy and mutual love, and to be truly communicative, as it becomes rational animals.
    • Variant translation: Do not eat your heart.
  • Eat not the brain.
    • Symbol 31
  • Κυάμων ἀπέχεσθαι
    • Abstain from beans.
    • Symbol 37; This was long thought by many to be simply a dietary proscription, and often ridiculed, but many consider it to have originally been intended as advice against getting involved in politics, for voting on issues in his time was often done by using differently colored beans. Others have stated that it might signify a more general admonition against relying on the votes of people to determine truths of reality. The explanation provided in the translation used here states: "This Symbol admonishes us to beware of everything which is corruptive of our converse with the gods and divine prophecy."
  • Abstain from animals.
    • Symbol 39; explained in the edition used here: "This Symbol exhorts to justice, to all the honour of kindred, to the reception of similar life, and to many other things of a like kind."

The Golden VersesEdit

Quotes cited as from the Golden Verses, but drawn from various translations.
 
Above all things, reverence thy self
 
Meditate upon my counsels; love them; follow them;
To the divine virtues will they know how to lead thee.
 
I swear it by the one who in our hearts engraved
The sacred Tetrad, symbol immense and pure,
Source of Nature and model of the Gods.
  • Honor first the immortal gods
    • Translation from Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras by John Strohmeier and Peter Westbrook. (1999) ISBN 0-9653774-5-8
  • Honor your parents and your relatives. As for others, befriend whoever excels in virtue
    • Translation from Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras by John Strohmeier and Peter Westbrook. (1999)
  • 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.
    • Translation from Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras by John Strohmeier and Peter Westbrook. (1999)
  • Do nothing evil, neither in the presence of others, nor privately
    • Translation of Florence M. Firth [1]
  • πάντων δὲ μάλιστ' αἰσχύνεο σαυτόν
    • Above all things, respect thyself
      • Variant translations:
        Respect yourself above all
        Above all things reverence thy self
  • Meditate upon my counsels; love them; follow them;
    To the divine virtues will they know how to lead thee.

    I swear it by the One who in our hearts engraved
    The sacred Tetrad, symbol immense and pure,
    Source of Nature and model of the Gods.
  • Practice justice in word and deed, and do not get in the habit of acting thoughtlessly about anything.
    • As translated in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras by John Strohmeier and Peter Westbrook. (1999)
  • 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.
    • As translated in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras by John Strohmeier and Peter Westbrook. (1999)
  • 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.
    • As translated in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras by John Strohmeier and Peter Westbrook. (1999)
  • Consult and deliberate before thou act, that thou mayest not commit foolish actions. For it is the part of a miserable man to speak and to act without reflection.
    • Florence M. Firth translation
  • Let not sleep fall upon thy eyes till thou has thrice reviewed the transactions of the past day. Where have I turned aside from rectitude? What have I been doing? What have I left undone, which I ought to have done? Begin thus from the first act, and proceed; and, in conclusion, at the ill which thou hast done, be troubled, and rejoice for the good.
    • As translated in The Rambler No. 8 (14 April 1750) by Samuel Johnson
    • Variant translation: 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.
      • As translated in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras by John Strohmeier and Peter Westbrook. (1999)
  • 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.
    • As translated in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras by John Strohmeier and Peter Westbrook. (1999)
  • You will know that 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. Such is the fate that harms their minds; like pebbles they are tossed about from one thing to another with cares unceasing.
    • As translated in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras by John Strohmeier and Peter Westbrook (1999)

FlorilegiumEdit

Quotes of Pythagoras from the Florilegium of Stobaeus, using various translations, including those from "Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus" in The Golden Verses of Pythagoras and other Pythagorean Fragments (1904); selected and arranged by Florence M. Firth
  • Do not even think of doing what ought not to be done.
    • "Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus" (1904)
  • Choose rather to be strong in soul than in body.
    • "Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus" (1904)
    • Choose rather to be strong of soul than strong of body.
      • As quoted in Florilegium, I.22, as translated in Dictionary of Quotations (1906) by Thomas Benfield Harbottle, p. 396
  • It is difficult to walk at one and the same time many paths of life.
    • "Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus" (1904)
  • It is requisite to choose the most excellent life; for custom will make it pleasant. Wealth is an infirm anchor, glory is still more infirm; and in a similar manner, the body, dominion, and honour. For all these are imbecile and powerless. What then are powerful anchors. Prudence, magnanimity, fortitude. These no tempest can shake. 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" (1904)
  • 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" (1904)
  • Neither will the horse be adjudged to be generous, that is sumptuously adorned, but the horse whose nature is illustrious; nor is the man worthy who possesses great wealth, but he whose soul is generous.
    • "Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus" (1904)
  • 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" (1904)
  • Remind yourself that 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" (1904)
  • Despise all those things which when liberated from the body you will not want; invoke the Gods to become your helpers.
    • "Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus" (1904)
  • Wind indeed increases fire, but custom love.
    • "Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus" (1904)
  • Those alone are dear to Divinity who are hostile to injustice.
    • "Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus" (1904)
  • None can be free who is a slave to, and ruled by, his passions.
    • As quoted in Florilegium, XVIII, 23, as translated in Dictionary of Quotations (1906) by Thomas Benfield Harbottle, p. 368
    • No one is free who has not obtained the empire of himself.
      • As translated by Nicholas Rowe(1732)
    • No man is free who cannot command himself.
      • As quoted in Moral Encyclopaedia, Or, Varlé's Self-instructor, No. 3 (1831) by by Charles Varle
    • No man is free who cannot control himself.
      • As quoted in 25 Days to Better Thinking and Better Living: A Guide for Improving Every Aspect of Your Life (2006) by Linda Elder and Richard Paul
  • It is not proper either to have a blunt sword or to use freedom of speech ineffectually.
    Neither is the sun to be taken from the world, nor freedom of speech from erudition.
  • Not frequently man from man.
    • As quoted in the translation of Thomas Taylor (1818); This has been interpreted as being an exhortation to moderation in homosexual liaisons.


DisputedEdit

  • Virtue is harmony.
    • This is often published as a direct quote of Pythagoras, but seems to be derived from the account of Diogenes Laertius of Pythagorean doctrines, where he simply describes the statement as a precept of his followers. In the translation of C. D. Yonge (1853) it is rendered, in regard to Pythagoreans:
They also say, that the most important privilege in man is, the being able to persuade his soul to either good or bad. And that men are happy when they have a good soul; yet, that they are never quiet, and that they never retain the same mind long. Also, that an oath is justice; and that on that account, Jupiter is called Jupiter of Oaths. Also, that virtue is harmony, and health, and universal good, and God; on which account everything owes its existence and consistency to harmony. Also, that friendship is a harmonious equality.


MisattributedEdit

  • There is nothing so easy but that it becomes difficult when you do it reluctantly.
    • Terence, in Heauton Timoroumenos [The Self-Tormentor]
  • Concern should drive us into action and not into a depression.
    • The Collected Works of Karen Horney‎ (1957) by Karen Horney, p. 154: "We may feel genuinely concerned about world conditions, though such a concern should drive us into action and not into a depression."
  • In this theater of man's life it is reserved only for God and angels to be lookers on.
    • Francis Bacon, in The Advancement of Learning (1605) Book II, xx, 8.

Quotes about PythagorasEdit

 
I have often admired the mystical way of Pythagoras, and the secret Magic of numbers. ~ Thomas Browne
  • Whenever he heard a person who was making use of his symbols, he immediately took him into his circle, and made him a friend.
    • Aristoxenus, as quoted in Birth of the Symbol: Ancient Readers at the Limits of Their Texts (2004) by Peter Struck
  • Pythagoras was said to have been the first man to call himself philosopher; in fact, the world is indebted to him for the word philosopher.
    • Grover W. Brunton, Pythagoras: The First Philosopher and Discoverer of the Forty-seventh Problem of Euclid (2005)
  • 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.
    • Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie and David R. Fideler, The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library: An Anthology of Ancient Writings which Relate to Pythagoras and Pythagorean Philosophy (1919)
  • I wished to show that Pythagoras, the first founder of the vegetable regimen, was at once a very great physicist and a very great physician; that there has been no one of a more cultured and discriminating humanity; that he was a man of wisdom and of experience; that his motive in commending and introducing the new mode of living was derived not from any extravagant superstition, but from the desire to improve the health and the manners of men.
  • Pythagoras could not have been the discoverer of the relation, because, in one guise or another,my his property was known and used by scholars and artisans of Oriental lands thousands of years before Pythagoras.
  • Pythagoras did not possess a proof of the theorem which bears his name [...] he was temperamentally uninterested in proofs of this nature, as may readily be gleaned from the methods which he used in his numerological deductions.
  • After his father's death, though he was still but a youth, his aspect was so venerable, and his habits so temperate that he was honored and even reverenced by elderly men, attracting the attention of all who saw and heard him speak, creating the most profound impression. That is the reason that many plausibly asserted that he was a child of the divinity. Enjoying the privilege of such a renown, of an education so thorough from infancy, and of so impressive a natural appearance he showed that he deserved all these advantages by deserving them, by the adornment of piety and discipline, by exquisite habits, by firmness of soul, and by a body duly subjected to the mandates of reason. An inimitable quiet and serenity marked all his words and actions, soaring above all laughter, emulation, contention, or any other irregularity or eccentricity; his influence at Samos was that of some beneficent divinity. His great renown, while yet a youth, reached not only men as illustrious for their wisdom as Thales at Miletus, and Bias at Prione, but also extended to the neighboring cities. He was celebrated everywhere as the "long-haired Samian," and by the multitude was given credit for being under divine inspiration.
    • Iamblichus of Chalcis in Life of Pythagoras translated by Thomas Taylor; Ch. 2: Youth, Education, Travels
  • It is impossible to decide whether a particular detail of the Pythagorean universe was the work of the master, or filled in by a pupil—a remark which equally applies to Leonardo or Michelangelo. But there can be no doubt that the basic features were conceived by a single mind; that Pythagoras of Samos was both the founder of a new religious philosophy, and the founder of Science.
    • Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe (1959, 1963)
  • The votaries of Pythagoras of Samos [...] say that he declined to wear apparel made from dead animal products and, to guard his purity, abstained from all flesh diet, and from the offering of animals in sacrifice. For that he would not stain the altars with blood; nay, rather the honey-cake and frankincense and the hymn of praise, these they say were the offerings made to the Gods by this man, who realized that they welcome such tribute more than they do the hecatombs and the knife laid upon the sacrificial basket.
  • It was through philosophy, he said, that he had come to be surprised at nothing.
    • Plutarch in Recta Audiendi Rationa, XI.
  • The following became universally known: first, that he maintains that the soul is immortal; second, that it changes into other kinds of living things; third, that events recur in certain cycles and that nothing is ever absolutely new; and fourth, that all living things should be regarded as akin. Pythagoras seems to have been the first to bring these beliefs into Greece.
  • He ordained that his disciples should speak well and think reverently of the Gods, muses and heroes, and likewise of parents and benefactors; that they should obey the laws; that they should not relegate the worship of the Gods to a secondary position, performing it eagerly, even at home; that to the celestial divinities they should sacrifice uncommon offerings; and ordinary ones to the inferior deities. (The world he Divided into) opposite powers; the "one" was a better monad, light, right, equal, stable and straight; while the "other" was an inferior duad, darkness, left, unequal, unstable and movable.
    • Porphyry of Tyre, in "The Life of Pythagoras" as translated by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie in The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library: An Anthology of Ancient Writings which Relate to Pythagoras and Pythagorean Philosophy (1919); also quoted in The Golden Chain: An Anthology of Pythagorean and Platonic Philosophy (2004) by Algis Uzdavinys
  • Such things taught he, though advising above all things to speak the truth, for this alone deifies men.
    • Porphyry of Tyre, as translated by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie in The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library: An Anthology of Ancient Writings which Relate to Pythagoras and Pythagorean Philosophy (1919); also quoted in The Golden Chain: An Anthology of Pythagorean and Platonic Philosophy (2004) by Algis Uzdavinys
  • Pythagoras, as everyone knows, said that "all things are numbers." This statement, interpreted in a modern way, is logical nonsense, but what he meant was not exactly nonsense. He discovered the importance of numbers in music and the connection which he established between music and arithmetic survives in the mathematical terms "harmonic mean" and "harmonic progression." He thought of numbers as shapes, as they appear on dice or playing cards. We still speak of squares or cubes of numbers, which are terms that we owe to him.
  • Personal religion is derived from ecstasy, theology from mathematics, and both are to be found in Pythagoras.
    • Bertrand Russell, in A History of Western Philosophy (1945), Book One, Part I, Chapter III, Pythagoras, p. 36
  • The combination of mathematics and theology, which began with Pythagoras, characterized religious philosophy in Greece, in the Middle Ages, and in modern times down to Kant. Orphism before Pythagoras was analogous to Asiatic mystery religions. But in Plato, Saint Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, Spinoza, and Kant there is an intimate blending of religion and reasoning, of moral aspiration with logical admiration of what is timeless, which comes from Pythagoras, and distinguishes the intellectualized theology of Europe from the more straightforward mysticism of Asia. It is only in quite recent times that it has been possible to say clearly that Pythagoras was wrong. I do not know of any other man who has been as influential as he was in the sphere of thought. I say this because what appears as Platonism is, when analyzed, found to be in essence Pythagoreanism. The whole conception of an eternal world, revealed to the intellect but not to the senses, is derived from him. But for him, Christians would not have thought of Christ as the Word; but for him, theologians would not have sought logical proofs of God and immortality.
  • What seems certain is that Pythagoras developed the idea of mathematical logic... He realized that numbers exist independently of the tangible world and therefore their study was untainted by inaccuracies of perception. This meant he could discover truths which were independent of opinion of prejudice and which were more absolute then any previous knowledge.
  • Pythagoras was a teacher of the purest system of morals ever propounded to man.
  • Pythagoras was a man; and with all his imperfections on his head, we shall look among the race of men, for his better, in vain, yea, for his equal, or his second, but in vain. Pythagoras was entirely a Deist, a steady maintainer of the unity of God, and of the eternal obligations of moral virtue.

Quotes about PythagoreanismEdit

  • If someone associates with a true Pythagorean, what will he will get from him, and in what quantity? I would say: statesmanship, geometry, astronomy, arithmetic, harmonics, music, medicine, complete and god-given prophecy, and also the higher rewards—greatness of mind, of soul, and of manner, steadiness, piety, knowledge of the gods and not just supposition, familiarity with blessed spirits and not just faith, friendship with both gods and spirits, self-sufficiency, persistence, frugality, reduction of essential needs, ease of perception, of movement, and of breath, good color, health, cheerfulness, and immortality.
 
The Tetractys
  • Those who dwelt in the common auditorium adopted this oath:
    "I swear by the discoverer of the Tetraktys,
    which is the spring of all our wisdom;
    The perennial fount and root of Nature."
  • Why was the Tetraktys so revered? Because to the eyes of the sixth century BC Pythagoreans, it seemed to outline the entire nature of the universe.
  • On the question whether mathematics was discovered or invented, Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans had no doubt—mathematics was real, immutable, omnipresent, and more sublime than anything that could conceivably emerge from the human mind. The Pythagoreans literally embedded the universe into mathematics. In fact, to the Pythagoreans, God was not a mathematician—mathematics was God!
  • The speculations of the early philosophers did not end in the investigation of the properties of number and space. The Pythagoreans attempted to find, and dreamed they had found, in the forms of geometrical figures and in certain numbers, the principles of all science and knowledge, whether physical or moral.
  • While most sophists emphasized the reality of change—in particular, the Atomists, followers of Leucippus and Democritus—the Pythagoreans stressed the study of the unchangeable elements in nature and society. In their search for the eternal laws of the universe they studied geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music (the quadrivium).

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit