Pythagorean Doctrine of Little Transcendent Value

but also Containing some Hyperborean Features

(from "The Path of Cinnabar")




[...] The first is The Pythagorean Golden Verses (I Versi d'Oro pitagorei), published for Atanor in 1959. In all truth, I only worked on this short book because the editors had requested me to do so: for Pythagorean doctrine does not really meet my taste. I agree with Bachofen that Pythagorean doctrine chiefly reflects the pre-Indo-European and Pelasgian 'civilization of the Mother'; I also believe that to some extent it reflects the Etruscan substrate of pre-Roman Italy. Yet Pythagorean doctrine - which is to say: the collected evidence that constitutes our understanding of the subject - is more complex and more hybrid than that. As is generally known, the Golden Verses are a rather late collection of material - dated to the Second, or even Third or Fourth century AD; despite the degree of renown they enjoyed in certain milieus in Antiquity, the Verses merely espouse a series of moral principles of little doctrinal and transcendent value. My edition of the Verses offers one of the best available translations of the text (a translation that already featured in the pages of Introduction to Magic); in order to provide the reader with a general overview of the subject, the volume also includes a commentary and introduction that takes account of the most important surviving evidence on Pythagorean doctrine, including Hierocles' commentary on the Verses.

The hybrid character of Pythagorean doctrine might also be discerned from the actual presence within such a doctrine, and particularly in relation to the myth of Pythagoras, of features of the Apollonian or even Hyperborean tradition - which, in themselves, are far removed from the ‘Woman Mysteries' that influenced Pythagorean doctrine in other respects. Among the Pythagorean elements that most clearly betray Indo-European and Hellenic origins, I mentioned the Pythagorean 'notion of the universe as cosmos: a composite and harmoniously ordered whole (Pythagoras, in fact, is regarded as the first ever to have used the term "cosmos''). To this I added the Pythagorean emphasis on limit, proportion and form; its doctrine of the harmonious unification of the various powers of the soul; its notion of eurhythmics; its appreciation of and care for the human body (an element which stands in contrast to the Pythagorean - and originally Orphic - view of the body as a prison); its experimental method of applying given principles - something that reflects the Pythagorean love of clarity and exactitude, and aversion to pseudo-metaphysical and mystical vagueness; its esteem for artistic beauty; its aristocratic and Doric conceptualization of political power (Pythagorean emphasis on the doctrinal, rather than the warrior and regal foundations of power not withstanding); its affirmation of the ideal of hierarchy, at least with regard to true knowledge. I here added 'at least' because in the social - as opposed to initiatory - field, Pythagoreans have generally been regarded as defending the doctrine of natural law - a view that would also agree with the Pythagorean valorization and divinization of the feminine, and with other dubious views ascribed to the followers of Pythagoras. In contrast, it is interesting to note - as Hierocles himself has recorded - that Pythagoreans understood apotheosis not as a vaguely mystical and pantheistic process, but as the divinization and immortalization of the individual - who, following apotheosis, would have been numbered among the gods. This view of apotheosis, if correctly ascribed to Pythagoreans, would bring Pythagorean doctrine into line with the Classical and Hellenic spirit - which contemplates 'heroic' forms of immortality; such a view also appears close to the initiatic doctrine concerning the so-called 'transformed' or 'perfect body' (i.e., the doctrine of 'resurrection’), a classic formulation of which was provided by Taoism (as I noted in my new edition of Lao Tzu's Tao-té-ching). Other sources, however, describe the Pythagorean conceptualization of apotheosis in a way that suggests the influence of a worldview opposite from that of the Classical.




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