The Golden Verses of Pythagoras, by Fabre d'Olivet, , at sacred-texts.com
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THE ancients had the habit of comparing with gold all that they deemed without defects and pre-eminently beautiful: thus, by the Golden Age they understood, the age of virtues and of happiness; and by the Golden Verses, the verses, wherein was concealed the most pure doctrine. a They constantly attributed these Verses to Pythagoras, not that they believed that this philosopher had himself composed them, but because they knew that his disciple, whose work they were, had revealed the exact doctrine of his master and had based them all upon maxims issued from his mouth! b This disciple, commendable through his learning, and especially through his devotion to the precepts of Pythagoras, was called Lysis. c After the death of this philosopher and while his enemies, momentarily triumphant, had raised at Crotona and at Metaponte that terrible persecution which cost the lives of so great a number of Pythagoreans, crushed beneath the débris of their burned school, or constrained to die of hunger in the temple of the Muses, d Lysis, happily escaped from these disasters,
retired into Greece, where, wishing to spread the sect of Pythagoras, to whose principles calumnies had been attached, he felt it necessary to set up a sort of formulary which would contain the basis of morals and the principal rules of conduct given by this celebrated man. It is to this generous movement that we owe the philosophical verses that I have essayed to translate into French. These verses, called golden for the reason I have given, contain the sentiments of Pythagoras and are all that remain to us, really authentic, concerning one of the greatest men of antiquity. Hierocles, who has transmitted them to us with a long and masterly Commentary, assures us that they do not contain, as one might believe, the sentiment of one in particular, but the doctrine of all the sacred corps of Pythagoreans and the voice of all the assemblies. a He adds that there existed a law which prescribed that each one, every morning upon rising and every evening upon retiring, should read these verses as the oracles of the Pythagorean school. One sees, in reality, by many passages from Cicero, Horace, Seneca, and other writers worthy of belief, that this law was still vigorously executed in their time. b We know by the testimony of Galen in his treatise on The Understanding and the Cure of the Maladies of the Soul, that he himself read every day, morning and evening, the Verses of Pythagoras; and that, after having read them, he recited them by heart. However, I must not neglect to say that Lysis, who is the author of them, obtained so much celebrity in Greece that he was honoured as the master and friend of Epaminondas. c If his name has not been attached to this work, it is because at the epoch when he wrote it, the ancient custom still existed of considering things and not individuals: it was with the doctrine of Pythagoras that one was concerned, and not with the talent of Lysis which
had made it known. The disciples of a great man had no of her name than his. All their works were attributed to him. This is an observation sufficiently important to make and which explains how Vyasa in India, Hermes in Egypt, Orpheus in Greece, have been the supposed authors of such a multitude of books that the lives of many men would not even suffice to read them.
In my translation, I have followed the Greek text, such as is cited at the head of the Commentary of Hierocles, commentated on by the son of Casaubon, and interpreted into Latin by J. Curterius; London edition, 1673. This work, like all those which remain to us of the ancients, has been the subject of a great many critical and grammatical discussions: in the first place one must before everything else be assured of the material part. This part is today as authentic and as correct as it is possible to be, and although there exists still. several different readings, they are of too little importance for me to dwell upon. It is not my affair and besides, chacun doit faire son métier. That of the grammarian has ended where it ought to end. For how can man ever expect to advance if he never is willing to try some new thing which is offered. I shall not therefore make any criticizing remarks concerning the text, for I consider this text sufficiently examined; neither will I make any notes concerning the Commentaries, properly so-called, on these seventy-one lines, for I think it is sufficient having those of Hierocles, of Vitus Amerbachius, Theodore Marcilius, Henri Brem, Michel Neander, Jean Straselius, Guilhaume Diezius, Magnus-Daniel Omeis, André Dacier, etc. As I stated, I shall make examinations rather than commentaries, and I will give, regarding the inner meaning of the Verses, all the explanations that I believe useful for their complete development.
125:a Hiérocl., Comment. in Aur. Carmin. Proem.
125:b Fabric., Bibl. græc., p. 460; Dacier, Remarq. sur les Comm. dHiéroclès.
125:c Jamblic., De Vitâ Pythag., c. 30 et 33; Plutarch., De Gen. Socrat.
125:d Plutarch, De Repug. stoïc.; Diog. Laërt., l. viii., § 39; Polyb., l. ii.; Justin., l. xx., c. 4; Vossius, De Phil. sect., c. 6.
126:a Hiérocl., Aur. Carm., v. 71.
126:b Voyez Dacier, Rem. sur le Comment. dHiérocl.
126:c Plut., De Gen. Socr.; Ælian., Var. Hist., l. ii., c. 7.