The Golden Verses of Pythagoras, by Fabre d'Olivet, , at sacred-texts.com
Poetry, transported with the seat of religion from the mountains of Thrace to those of Phocis, lost there, as did religion, its primitive unity. Not only did each sovereign pontiff use it to spread his dogmas, but the opposed sects born of the rending of the cult, vying with each other, took possession of it. These sects, quite numerous, personified by the allegorical genius which presided over poetry, and which, as I have said, constituted its essence, were confused with the mind which animated them and were considered as a particular being. Thence, so many of the demi-gods, and the celebrated heroes, from whom the Greek tribes pretended to have descended; thence, so many of the famous poets to whom were attributed a mass of works that emanated from the same sanctuary, or were composed
for the support of the same doctrine. For it is well to remember that the allegorical history of these remote times, written in a different spirit from the positive history which has succeeded it, resembled it in no way, and that it is in having confused them that so many grave errors have arisen. It is a very important observation that I again make here. This history, confided to the memory of men or preserved among the sacerdotal archives of the temples in detached fragments of poetry, considered things only from the moral side, was never occupied with individuals, but saw only the masses; that is to say, peoples, corporations, sects, doctrines, even arts and sciences, as so many particular beings that it designated by a generic name. It is not that these masses were unable to have a chief to direct their movements, but this chief, regarded as the instrument of a certain mind, was neglected by history which attached itself to the mind only. One chief succeeded another without allegorical history making the least mention of it. The adventures of all were accumulated upon the head of one alone. It was the moral thing whose course was examined, whose birth, progress, or downfall was described. The succession of things replaced that of individuals. Positive history, which ours has become, follows a method entirely different. The individuals are everything for it: it notes with scrupulous exactitude dates and facts which the other scorns.
I do not pronounce upon their common merit. The moderns would mock that allegorical manner of the ancients, if they could believe it possible, as I am persuaded the ancients would have mocked the method of the moderns, had they been able to foresee its possibility in the future. How approve of what is unknown? Man approves of only what he likes; he always believes he knows all that he ought to like.
I can say, after having repeated this observation, that the poet Linus, who is regarded as the author of all the melancholy chants of the ancient world, represents nothing
less than lunar poetry detached from the doctrine of tolinos, of which I have spoken, and considered as schismatic by the Thracians; I can also say, that the poet Amphion, whose chants were, on the contrary, so powerful and so virile, typifies the orthodox solar poetry, opposed by these same Thracians; whereas the prophet Thamyris, who, it is said, celebrated in such stately verse the creation of the world and the war of the Titans, 1 I represents quite plainly the universal doctrine of Olen, re-established by his followers. The name of Amphion signifies the orthodox or national voice of Greece; that of Thamyris, the twin lights of the gods. * One feels, accordingly, that the evils which came to Linus and to Thamyris, one of whom was killed by Hercules, 2 and the other deprived of sight by the Muses, 3 are, in reality, only some sort of criticism or unfortunate incident sustained by the doctrines which they represented, on account of the opposition of the Thracians. What I have said concerning Linus, Amphion, and Thamyris, can be applied to the greater part of the poets who preceded Homer, and Fabricius names seventy of these 4; one could also extend it to Orpheus, but only on a certain side; for although it may be very true, that no positive detail is possessed regarding the character of the celebrated man, founder or propagator of the doctrine which has borne this name; although it may be very true, that all that concerns his birth, his life, and his death is completely unknown, it is none the less certain that this man has existed, that he has been actually the head of a very extended sect, and that the
allegorical fables which remain to us on this subject depict, more particularly than they have done with any other, the course of his thoughts and the success of his institutions.
Orpheus belongs, on the one side, to anterior times, and on the other, to times merely ancient. The epoch when he appeared is the line of demarcation between pure allegory and mixed allegory, the intelligible and the sentient. He taught how to ally the rational faculty with the imaginative faculty. The science which was a long time after called philosophy, originated with him. He laid its first basis.
One should guard against believing, following in the footsteps of certain historians deceived by the meaning of allegorical fables, that when Orpheus appeared, Greece, still barbarous, offered only the traces of a civilization hardly outlined, or that the ferocious animals, tamed by the charm of his poetry, should represent, in effect, the inhabitants of this beautiful country. Men capable of receiving a cult so brilliant as that of Orpheus, a doctrine so pure, and mysteries so profound; men who possessed a language so formed, so noble, so harmonious as that which served that inspired man to compose his hymns, were far from being ignorant and savage to this degree. It is not true, as has been said and repeated without examination, that poetry had its birth in the forests, in regions rough and wild, nor above all, that it may be the concomitant of the infancy of the nations and the first stammerings of the human mind. Poetry, on the contrary, having attained its perfection, indicates always a long existence among the peoples, a civilization very advanced and all the splendour of a virile age. The sanctuary of the temple is its true cradle. Glance over the savage world and see if the Iroquois or the Samoyeds have a poetry. Have the peoples who were found in their infancy in the isles of the Pacific shown you hymns like those of Orpheus, epic monuments like the poems of Homer?
[paragraph continues] Is it not known that the Tartars who have subjugated Asia, those proud Manchus who today reign over China, have never been able to derive from their language, rebellious to all kinds of melody and rhythm, a single verse, 1 although since their conquests they have felt and appreciated the charms of this art? *
Bears and lions, tamed and brought nearer together by Orphic poetry, have no reference to men, but to things: they are the symbols of rival sects which, imbibing their hatred at the very foot of the altars, diffused it over all that surrounded them and filled Greece with troubles.
For a long time this country was a prey to the double scourge of religious and political anarchy. In detaching herself from the cult of the metropolis, she also detached herself from its government. Once a colony of the Phnicians, she had thrown off their yoke, not however spontaneously and en masse, but gradually, over and over again; so that there were twenty rival temples, twenty rival cities, twenty petty peoples divided by rite, by civil interest, and by the ambition of the priests and princes who governed them. The Thracians, remaining faithful to the ancient laws, were styled superstitious or enslaved, whereas the innovators and the insurgents were considered, by the Thracians and often by themselves, schismatics and rebels. Phoenicia had vainly wished to oppose this general desertion. Asia came to experience the most terrible shocks. India, which had long held the sceptre there, was buried for fifteen hundred years in her Kali-youg, or her age of darkness, and offered only the shadow of her ancient
splendour. * For fifteen centuries she had lost her unity by the extinction of her imperial dynasties. Many rival kingdoms were formed, 1 whose constant quarrels had left them neither the leisure nor the possibility of watching over and supporting their colonies from afar. The gradual lowering of the Mediterranean, and the alluvial deposit of the shores of Egypt raising the Isthmus of Suez, 2 had cut off all communication between this sea and the Red Sea, and, by barriers difficult to surmount, separated the primitive Phnicians, established upon the shores of the Indian Ocean, from those of Palestine. 3 The meridional Arabs were separated from
the septentrional, and both had broken with the Indians to whom they had formerly belonged. 1 Tibet had adopted a particular cult and form of government. 2 Persia had been subject to the empire of the Assyrians. 3 At last the political ties which united all these states, and which once formed only a vast group under the domination of the Indian monarchs, had become relaxed or broken on all sides. Egypt, long subject to the Philistines, known under the name of Shepherds, came at length to drive them out, and emerging from her lethargy prepared herself to seize the influence which Asia had allowed to escape. 4 Already the most warlike of her kings, Sethos, had extended his empire over both Libya and Arabia; Phoenicia and Assyria had been subjugated; he had entered triumphant into Babylon and was seated upon the throne of Belus. 5 He would not have hesitated to attempt the conquest of Greece, if he had been able as easily to lead his army there; but it was difficult for him to create a marine force, and above all to overcome the invincible repugnance that the Egyptians had for the sea. 6 Obliged to employ the Phnicians, his ancient enemies, he was able to draw from them only mediocre service. In spite of these obstacles and the stubborn resistance of the Greeks, he succeeded nevertheless in making some conquests and forming some partial settlements.
[paragraph continues] Athens, so celebrated later, was one of the principal ones. 1
These events, these revolutions, calamitous in appearance, were in reality to produce great benefits. Greece, already impregnated with the learning of the Phnicians, which she had obtained and elaborated, afterward received that of the Egyptians and elaborated it still further. A man born in the heart of Thrace, but carried in his childhood into Egypt through the desire for knowledge, 2 returned to his country with one of the Egyptian colonies, to kindle there the new light. He was initiated into all the mysteries of religion and science: he surpassed, said Pausanias, all those who had preceded him, by the beauty of his verse, the sublimity of his chants, and the profoundness of his knowledge in the art of healing and of appeasing the gods. 3 This was Orpheus: he took this name from that of his doctrine * which aimed to cure and to save by knowledge.
I should greatly overstep the limits that I have prescribed for this discourse if I should recall in detail all that Greece owed to this celebrated man. The mythological tradition has consecrated in a brilliant allegory the efforts which he made to restore to men the truth which they had lost. His love for Eurydice, so much sung by the poets, is but the symbol of the divine science for which he longed. The name of this mysterious spouse, whom he vainly wished to return to the light, signified only the doctrine of the true science, the teaching of what is beautiful and veritable, by which he tried to enrich the earth. But
man cannot look upon the face of truth before attaining the intellectual light, without losing it; if he dare to contemplate it in the darkness of his reason, it vanishes. This is what the fable, which everyone knows, of Eurydice, found and lost, signifies.
Orpheus, who felt by his own experience, perhaps, the great disadvantage that he had here, of presenting the truth to men before they might be in condition to receive it, instituted the divine mysteries; an admirable school where the initiate, conducted from one degree to another, slowly prepared and tried, received the share of light in proportion to the strength of his intelligence, and gently enlightened, without risk of being dazzled, attained to virtue, wisdom, and truth. There has been but one opinion in antiquity concerning the utility of the mysteries, before dissolution had stained its precincts and corrupted its aim. All the sages, even Socrates, have praised this institution, 1 the honour of which has been constantly attributed to Orpheus. 2 It is not improbable that this sage had found the model in Egypt and that he himself had been initiated, as Moses 3 and Pythagoras 4 had been before and after him; but in this case an imitation was equivalent to a creation.
I have said that after the appearance of Orpheus, poetry had lost its unity: as divided as the cult, it had sustained its vicissitudes. Entirely theosophical in its principle, and calm as the Divinity which inspired it, it had taken in the midst of the opposed sects a passionate character which it had not had previously. The priests, who used it to uphold their opinions, had found, instead of the real inspiration, that sort of physical exaltation which results from the
fire of passions, whose movement and fleeting splendour entrance the vulgar. Vying with each other they had brought forth a mass of theological systems, had multiplied the allegorical fables concerning the universe, and had drowned, as it were, the unity of the Divinity in the vain and minute distinction of its infinite faculties; and as each composed in his own dialect and in pursuance of his own caprice, each devised unceasingly new names for the same beings, according as they believed they caught a glimpse of a certain new virtue in these beings that another had not expressed, it came to pass that not only were the gods multiplied by the distinction of their faculties, but still more by the diversity of names employed in expressing them. Very soon there was not a city nor a town in Greece, that did not have, or at least believed that it had, its own particular god. If one had carefully examined this prodigious number of divinities, one would have clearly seen that they could be reduced, by elimination, to a small number and would finally end by being mingled in a sole Universal Being; but that was very difficult for people, flattered, moreover, by a system which compared the condition of the gods with theirs, and offered them thus, protectors and patrons so much the more accessible as they were less occupied and less powerful. 1 Vainly, therefore, the Egyptian colony established at Athens presented to the adoration of this people imbued with the prejudice of polytheism, the sovereign of the gods under the title of the Most-High 2; the veneration of this people was turned wholly towards Minerva, who became its patron under the name of Athena, 3 as Juno was that of Argos, 4 Ceres, that of Eleusis, Phigalia, Methydrium, 5 etc.
Orpheus, instructed as was Moses, in the sanctuaries of Egypt, had the same ideas as the legislator of the Hebrews
upon the unity of God, but the different circumstances in which he found himself placed did not permit him to divulge this dogma; he reserved this for making it the basis of his mysteries, and continued, in the meantime, to personify in his poetry the attributes of the Divinity. His institutions, drawn from the same source, founded upon the same truths, received the imprint of his character and that of the people to whom he had destined them. As those of Moses were severe and, if one must admit, harsh in form, enemies of the sciences and arts, so those of Orpheus were brilliant, fitted to seduce the minds, favourable to all the developments of the imagination. It was beneath the allurements of pleasure, of joy, and of fêtes, that he concealed the utility of his lessons and the depth of his doctrine. Nothing was more full of pomp than the celebration of its mysteries. Whatever majesty, force, and grace, poetry, music, and painting had, was used to excite the enthusiasm of the initiate. 1 He found no pretext advantageous enough, no form beautiful enough, no charm powerful enough to interest the hearts and attract them toward the sublime truths which he proclaimed. These truths, whose force the early Christians have recognized, 2 went much further than those of which Moses had been the interpreter; they seemed to anticipate the times. Not only did he teach of the unity of God, * and give the most sublime ideas of this unfathomable Being 3; not only did he explain the birth of the Universe and the origin of things 4; but he represented this unique God under the emblem of a mysterious Trinity endowed
with three names 1; he spoke of the dogma which Plato announced a long time after concerning the Logos, or the Divine Word; and, according to Macrobius, taught even its incarnation or its union with matter, its death or its division in the world of sense, its resurrection or its transfiguration, and finally its return to the original Unity. 2
This inspired man, by exalting in Man the imagination, that admirable faculty which makes the charm of life, fettered the passions which trouble its serenity. Through him his disciples enjoyed the enthusiasm of the fine arts and he insisted that their customs should be pure and simple. 3 The régime that he prescribed for them was that which Pythagoras introduced later 4. One of the most pleasing rewards which he offered to their endeavours, the very aim of their initiation into his mysteries, was, putting themselves in communion with the gods 5; freeing themselves from the cycle of generations, purifying their soul, and rendering it worthy of projecting itself, after the downfall of its corporal covering toward its primal abode, to the realms of light and happiness. 6
Despite my resolution to be brief, I cannot resist the pleasure of speaking at greater length of Orpheus, and of recalling, as is my custom, things which, appearing today wholly foreign to my subject, nevertheless, when examined from my viewpoint, belong to it. Poetry was not at all in its origin what it became later, a simple accomplishment, regarded by those who profess to be savants as even rather frivolous *; it was the language of the gods, par excellence,
that of the prophets, the ministers of the altars, the preceptors and the legislators of the world. I rejoice to repeat this truth, after rendering homage to Orpheus, to this admirable man, to whom Europe owes the éclat with which she has shone and with which she will shine a long time. Orpheus has been the real creator of poetry and of music, 1 the father of mythology, of morals, and of philosophy: it is he who has served as model for Hesiod and Homer, who has illumined the footsteps of Pythagoras and Plato.
After having wisely accommodated the outward ceremonies to the minds of the people whom he wished to instruct, Orpheus divided his doctrine into two parts, the one vulgar, and the other mysterious and secret, following in this the method of the Egyptians, whose disciple he had been 2; then, turning his attention to poetry, and seeing into what chaos this science had fallen and the confusion that had been made of divine and profane things, he judiciously separated it into two principal branches, which he assigned, the one to theology, the other to natural philosophy. It can be said that he gave in each the precept and the example. As sublime a theosophist as he was profound as a philosopher, he composed an immense quantity of theosophical and philosophical verses upon all sorts of subjects. Time has destroyed nearly all of them; but their memory has been perpetuated. Among the works of Orpheus that were cited by the ancients and whose loss must be deplored, were found, on the subject of theosophy, The Holy Word or The Sacred Logos, * by which Pythagoras and Plato profited much; the Theogony, which preceded that of Hesiod more than five centuries; The Initiations to the Mysteries of the Mother of the Gods, ** and The Ritual of the Sacrifices, wherein he had recorded, undoubtedly, the divers parts of his doctrine 3: on the subject of philosophy, a celebrated
cosmogony was found, 1 in which an astronomical system was developed that would be an honour to our century, touching the plurality of the worlds, the station of the sun at the centre of the universe, and the habitation of the stars. 2 These extraordinary works emanated from the same genius who had written in verse upon grammar, music, natural history, upon the antiquities of the many isles of Greece, upon the interpretation of signs and prodigies, and a mass of other subjects, the details of which one can see in the commencement of the Argonautica of Onomacritus, which is attributed to him.
But at the same time that Orpheus opened thus to his successor two very distinct careers, theosophical and philosophical, he did not entirely neglect the other parts of this science: his hymns and his odes assigned him to a distinguished rank among the lyric poets; his Démétréïde presaged the beauties of Epopia, and the representations full of pomp, that he introduced into his mysteries, gave birth to Greek Melopia whence sprang dramatic art. He can therefore be regarded, not only as the precursor of Hesiod and Epimenides, but even as that of Homer, Æschylus, and Pindar. I do not pretend, in saying this, to take away anything from the glory of these celebrated men: the one who indicates a course, yields to the one who executes it: now this, especially, is what Homer did.
21:1 Plut., De Music. Tzetzes, Chiliads, vii.; Hist., 108.
21:* Amphion, in Greek Αμφίων, comes from the Phnician words אם (am), a mother-nation, a metropolis, פי (phi), a mouth, a voice, and יון (Jôn), Greece. Thence the Greeks have derived Ὀμφή, a mother-voice, that is, orthodox, legal, upon which all should be regulated.
Thamyris, in Greek Θάμυρις, is composed of the Phnician words תאם (tham), twin, אור (aur), light, יש (ish), of the being.
21:2 Plut., De Music.
21:3 Diod. Sicul., l. iii., 35. Pausan., In Bot., p. 585.
21:4 Bibliotheca Græca, p. 4.
23:1 Duhalde, t. iv., in-fol., p. 65. These Tartars had no idea of poetry before their conquest of China; also they imagined that it was only in China where the rules of this science had been formulated, and that the rest of the world resembled them.
23:* Kien-long, one of the descendants of Kang-hi, has made good verse in Chinese. This prince has composed an historical poem on the conquest of the Eleuth, or Oloth people, who, after having been a long time tributary to China, revolted. (Mém. concernant les Chin., t. i., p. 329.)
24:* The commencement of the Indian Kali-youg is placed 3101 or 3102 years before our era. Fréret has fixed it, in his chronological researches, at January 16, 3102, a half hour before the winter solstice, in the colure of which was then found the first star of Aries. The Brahmans say that this age of darkness and uncleanness must endure 432,000 years. Kali signifies in Sanskrit, all that which is black, shadowy, material, bad. From there, the Latin word caligo; and the French word galimatias; the last part of this word comes from the Greek word μῦθος, a discourse, which is itself derived from the Phnician מיט (mot or myt), which expresses all that moves, stirs up; a motion, a word, etc.
24:1 Asiat. Research., t. ii., p. 140. The Brahmans say that their imperial dynasties, pontifical as well as laic, or solar and lunar, became extinguished a thousand years after the beginning of the Kali-youg, about 2000 B.C. It was at this epoch that India was divided into many independent sovereignties and that a powerful reformer of the cult appeared in Magadha, who took the surname of Buddha.
24:2 Herod., l. ii. This historian said that in the early times all Egypt was a morass, with the exception of the country of Thebes; that nothing was seen of the land, which one saw there at the epoch in which he was writing, beyond Lake Mris; and that going up the river, during a seven days journey, all seemed a vast sea. This same writer said in the beginning of book i., and this is very remarkable, that the Phnicians had entered from the Red Sea into the Mediterranean, to establish themselves upon its shores, which they would have been unable to do if the Isthmus of Suez had existed. See what Aristotle says on this subject, Meteorolog., l. i., c. 54.
24:3 Asiat. Research., t. iii., p. 321. The excerpts that Wilford has made from the Pourana, entitled Scanda, the God of War, prove that the Palis, called Philistines, on account of their same country, Palis-sthan, going out from India, established themselves upon the Persian Gulf and, under the name of Phnicians, came afterwards along the coast of Yemen, on the borders of the Red Sea, whence they passed into the Mediterranean Sea, as Herodotus said, according to the Persian traditions. This coincidence is of great historical interest.
25:1 Niebuhr, Descript. de lArab., p. 164. Two powerful tribes became divided in Arabia at this epoch: that of the Himyarites, who possessed the meridional part, or Yemen, and that of the Koreishites, who occupied the septentrional part, or Hejaz. The capital of the Himyarites was called Dhofar; their kings took the title of Tobba and enjoyed an hereditary power. The Koreishites possessed the sacred city of Arabia, Mecca, where was found the ancient temple still venerated today by the Mussulmans.
25:2 Asiat. Research., t. iii., p. ii.
25:3 Diodorus Siculus, l. ii., 12. Strabo, l. xvi. Suidas, art. Semiramis.
25:4 Phot., Cod., 44. Ex. Diodor., l. xl. Syncell., p. 61. Joseph., Contr. Apion.
25:5 Hérod., l. ii. Diod. Siculus, l. i., § 2.
25:6 Diodor. Sicul., l. i., § 2. Delille-de-Salles, Hist. des Homm., Egypte, t. iii., p. 178.
26:1 Plat., in Tim. Dial. Theopomp. apud Euseb., Præp. Evan., l. x., c. 10. Diod. Sicul., l. i., initio.
26:2 Diodor. Sicul., l. i., initio.
26:3 Pausan., Bot., p. 768.
26:* This word is Egyptian and Phnician alike. It is composed of the words אור (aur), light, and רפא (roph), cure, salvation.
26: Eurydice, in Greek Εὐρυδίκη, comes from the Phnician words ראה (rohe), vision, clearness, evidence, and דך (dich), that which demonstrates or teaches: these two words are preceded by the Greek adverb εὖ, which expresses all that is good, happy, and perfect in its kind.
27:1 Plat., In Phædon. Ibid., In Panegyr. Aristot., Rhet., l. ii., c. 24. Isocr., Paneg. Cicero, De Leg., l. ii. Plutar., De Isid. Paus., In Phoc., etc.
27:2 Théodoret, Therapeut.
27:3 Philo, De Vitâ Mosis, l. i.
27:4 Jamblic., De Vitâ Pythag., c. 2. Apul., Florid., ii. Diog. Laërt., l. viii.
28:1 Voyage du jeune Anacharsis, t. i., Introd., p. 7.
28:2 Meurs., De Relig. Athen., l. i., c. 9.
28:3 Apollon., l. iii., p. 237.
28:4 Hygin., Fabl., 143.
28:5 Pausan., Arcad., p. 266, 268, etc.
29:1 Strabo, l. x; Meurs., Eleus., c. 21 et seq.; Paus., Ath., c. 28; Fulgent., Myth., l. i.; Philostr., In Apollon., l. ii.; Athen., l. xi.; Procl., In Tim. Comment., l. v.
29:2 Euseb., Præp. Evang., l. xiii., c. 52.
29:* The unity of God is taught in an Orphic hymn of which Justin, Tatian, Clement of Alexandria, Cyril, and Theodore have preserved fragments. (Orphei Hymn. Edente Eschenbach., p. 242.)
29:3 Clem. Alex., Admon. ad Gent., p. 48; ibid., Strom., l. v., p. 607.
29:4 Apoll., Arg., l. i., v. 496; Clem. Alex., Strom., l. iv., p. 475.
30:1 Thimothée, cité par Bannier, Mythol., i., p. 104.
30:2 Macrobius, Somm. Scip., l. i., c. 12.
30:3 Eurip., Hippol., V. 948.
30:4 Plat., De Leg., l. vi.; Jambl., De Vitâ Pythag.
30:5 Acad. des Insc., t. v., p. 117.
30:6 Procl., In Tim., l. v., p. 330; Cicero, Somm. Scip., c. 2, 3, 4, 6.
30:* Montesquieu and Buffon have been the greatest adversaries of poetry, they were very eloquent in prose; but that does not prevent one from applying to them, as did Voltaire, the words of Montaigne: "We cannot attain it, let us avenge ourselves by slandering it."
31:1 Horat., De Arte poét.; Strab., l. x.
31:2 Origen, Contr. Cels., l. i., p. 12; Dacier, Vie de Pythagore.
31:* Ἱερὸς λόγος.
31:** Θρονισμὸι μητρῶοι.
31:3 Fabric., Bibl. græc., p. 120, 129.