Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Golden Verses of Pythagoras - And other Pythagorean Fragments

Book Review: The Golden Verses of Pythagoras – And Other Pythagorean Fragments – By Pythagoras and his lot (several translators) – Forgotten Books 2007 – first published 1904

This is a small book of mostly aphorisms and commentary of the philosophical tenets of Pythagoras. Pythagoras was a Greek philosopher who found sanctuary in Italy in the 500s BCE. He was more or less a contemporary of Buddha, Lao Tzu, Plato, and Socrates.

Pythagorean philosophy is closely related to that of Plato and the later neo-platonism, all of which had a strong influence on the Alexandrian Hermeticism that would later influence the Renaissance systems of ceremonial magick. Undoubtably these ideas also influenced most western thought from Rome into Christianity.

Some key exhortations in these writings are to seek truth through contemplation and discipline, to tend to the mind and not get lost in the pleasures of the body, to observe, to converse, to theorize, and to practice manners and moderation. Philosophy in those days was not so much an academic pursuit but more a lifestyle.

Other Pythagorean philosophers commenting are Hierocles, Democrates, Demophilus, Stobeaus, Sextus, and Iamblichus. The introduction was by the famous theosophist Annie Besant.

The ideals of Justice, Truth, and Duty are emphasized. Paying honor to the gods, heroes, spirits, one’s parents and loved ones and those who are irtuous is encouraged. Self-control and vanquishing the passions is taught. Reason is highly venerated.

Many of these sayings are to be contemplated. Some are simple, others more difficult. Some of the translations are a bit hard to follow for me – strange wording I guess.

There is an idea of monotheism here – of one unifying Divinity whom the immortal gods are a part and we a reflection of. It is said that to utilize reason and intellect and self-control is to honour divinity. The idea (as in Plato) of Becoming is mentioned. In Plato’s philosophy there is Being and Becoming where one utilizes the philosophical path to transform himself.

I did find one statement derogatory to women in the Golden Sentences of Democrates but some other interesting one-liners as follows:

21. Fools frequently become wise under the pressure of misfortunes.

28. It is good not only to refrain from doing an injury, but even from the very wish.

42. Glory and wealth without wisdom are not secure possessions

57. Conduct yourself to all men without suspicion; and be accommodating and cautious in your behavior.

83. The world is a scene; life is a transition. You came, you saw, you departed

84. The world is a mutation: life a vain opinion.

Pythagoras is also associated with mathematical, musical, and mystical knowledge. Mystery schools count him as a venerable ancestor. In the Golden Verses there is a suggestion that by practicing virtue, being reasonable, and avoiding overindulgence one can contact one’s original divine nature and at the death of the body – become an immortal god. This is akin to the liberating transformation of enlightenment or fulfillment of one’s supposed human destiny.

The Symbols of Pythagoras are very short sentences that are rather cryptic but Iamblichus provides commentary as in Symbol 23 – Wear not a ring.

"The precept, therefore, Wear not a ring, is equivalent to, Philosophize truly, and separate your soul from its surrounding bond. For philosophy is the meditation of death and the separation of the soul from the body"

There is also in Pythagorean philosophy a summons to abstain from the meats thereby honouring our kindred (life) and making easier the transmutation of the soul into the Divine.

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