Pythagoras. Lover of Wisdom, by Ward Rutherford

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Ed. The Aquarian Press, 1984. Size 21,5 x 13,5 cm. State: Used, excellent. 128 pages

Pythagoras is the mystery man of Greek philosophy, a figure so shadowy, so shrouded in enigma and doubt that some have questioned his very existence and suggested he is a figure of pure legend. While so extreme a view can safely be rejected, one is compelled to recognize a total lack of certainty about the man, his life and his teachings. He had no amanuensis; no eye-witnesses have told us their stories. He left no writings of his own. We have not even the exiguous information of a gravestone to tell us his dates of birth and death. Was he sage or charlatan? A miracle-worker or a trickster? Was he a moral teacher or merely the focus of what we should today call a “fringe cult”? All these views have been canvassed almost from his own day and are still with us.

His name, wich means “Mouth of Apollo”, links him with the god and his sanctuary at Delphi. Originally the oracular shrine of the earth goddess Gaia, Apollo appropriated the sanctuary after slaying its guardian serpent – hence, the honorific title Python was given to him while his prophetic mediums were called the Pythia. In the lifetime of Pythagoras the Delphic Oracle was at the peak of an influence it exerted not only over the Greek city-states, but far beyond. The Lydian king Croesus and the Egyptian pharaoh Ahmose II sent tributes and consulted it.

The legend of the seizure of the shrine (it was probably re-dedicated to Apollo about 1500 BC) symbolizes a shift in Greek religion from the femenine to the masculine dominated. However, the worship of Apollo soon became something more fundamental than a mere shift of gender. It was the beginning of a reformation that was to continue sporadically for centuries, reaching a fresh crisis about or before the time of Pythagoras. He was in the vanguard of these changes and so, on these grounds alone, it is not surprising to find his named associated with Apollo. If certain of his exegists are to be believed, he seems to have enjoyed a semi-official status in respect to the Delphic shrine , for he is credited with the authorship of at least one of the moral aphorisms written on its walls.

This Apolline link is carried even further by some writers, for whom he is the god’s “son”, while others went as far as to declare that in Pythagoras was Apollo’s actual living incarnation. He is also often spoken of as a daimon – that is to say, a being midway between the human and the divine.

However, while, on the one hand, we have those who carry adulation to the point of dedication we also have, on the other, his contemptuous detractors. Heraclitus of Ephesus, probably a contemporary, cites him in proof of his contention that “much learning does not each insight”, for, out of his extensive study Pythagoras only “contrived…a polymathy, a worthless artifice”. He was not alone in his denunciation. Zeno the Eleatic attacked the Pythagoreans in his book “Against the Philosophers”. Diogenes Laertius (200-250 A. D.) quoted a passage from Xenophanes of Colphon ridiculing the doctrine of transmigration of the soul. On seeing a man beating a dog, Pythagoras is alleged to have protested, “Stop, do not beat him, it is the soul of a friend. I recognize his voice”. Comedians in the late fifth and early fourth centuries BC made jokes about a supposed ban on eating meat, such as the following side-splitter:

First Comedian: The Pythagoreans eat no living things
Second Comedian: But Epicharides the Pythagorean eats dog
First Comedian: Only after he’s killed it

As to Pythagoras’s followers, they were often represented as a tribe of dirty, barefoot cranks, a species of antique hippy.

In the foregoing brief outline of the life of Pythagoras it has, of course, been impossible to stick rigidly to incontrovertible fact because, as is so often the case with the ancient world, this is so sparse it could be contained in a sentence or two. Even the facts we have are not indisputable. Instead I have presented the various versions given by those whose credentials are most reliable, wherever possible indicating why, in my opinion, one is to be preferred over another.

We have already seen that, besides being the teacher of a philosophical system, Pythagoras was regarded as a prophet. In the Renaissence the title of Magus was freely applied to him. This is no more than a euphemism for “magician” and in the Greek, from which it comes, signified precisely that. It was used in fifteenth-century Europe because magic had overtones of witchcraft and the conjuration of evil spirits, which not only set it beyond the pale of intellectual respectabilly, but could also call down the wrath of the Church. It was to prove one of the disappointmentes of the Renaissence that the revolution in religious beliefs it had wrought was not to be extended to greater tolerance in the direction of occultism. In this respect, as in so many others, the reformed Church proves as obdurate as the unreformed.

The mark of the magician was his special relationship with the universal -the elemental- forces, which enabled him to communicate, even unite himself, with them. He felt, saw, heard things intangible, invisible and inaudible to others. He could address animal creation and, through this, possessed power over it.

Such abilities were certainly comprehended in the title “daimon” attached to Pythagoras, one intended to express the favour shown him by Apollo whose mark he bore as his famous “golden thigh”.

There are certains things by which, traditionally, those chosen by destiny have been recognized by their fellows. Invariably, their coming into the world is accompanied by some marvel. The birth of the Buddha was foretold by his mother’s dream in which the sacred white elephant touched her left side with a lotus; the birth of Christ, offspring of the Holy Spirit, was announced by the angel Gabriel. In the case of Pythagoras, we find his mother, Parthenis, the virgin, becoming pregnant by the intervention of Apollo.

Such beings are expected to refine innate gifts through a long and arduous period of training at the hands of those with arcane and esoteric knowledge. So we have Pythagoras setting off on his travels, their twenty-year duration corresponding with the twenty-year training period of the Druids, the Brahmins or the Magi.

Training is always crowned by a time of lonely contemplation. It was through this that the Buddha achieved Enlightenment, while Christ had his forty days in the wilderness. The experience is one of hunger, thirst and terrifying hallucinations, the gradual mergence with the surrounding forces. It culminates in a ritualized death and rebirth, events symbolized in the Christian baptism and the Jewish circumcision. In the case of Pythagoras, the period of contemplation took place in Crete, where he was initiated into the secret rites of Idaean Zeus…

1- Philosophy’s Mystery Man
2- Greece in Pythagoras’s Day
3- Erly life
4- The Exile
5- Genesis of the Daimon
6- “All Things Are Number”
7- The Pyhtagoreans
8- Cosmos and Limits
9- The Roots of Pythagoreanism
10- Dispersal and Dissemination
11- Pythagoras and the Renaissance
12- Pythagoras and the Western Esoteric Tradition
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