The Golden Verses of Pythagoras, by Fabre d'Olivet, , at sacred-texts.com
The aim of the doctrine of Pythagoras was to enlighten men, to purify them of their vices, to deliver them from their errors, and to restore them to virtue and to truth; and after having caused them to pass through all the degrees of the understanding and intelligence, to render them like unto the immortal gods.
This philosopher had for this purpose divided his doctrine into two parts: the purgative part and the unitive
part. Through the first, man became purified of his uncleanness, emerged from the darkness of ignorance, and attained to virtue: through the second, he used his acquired virtue to become united to the Divinity through whose means he arrived at perfection. These two parts are found quite distinct in the Golden Verses. Hierocles, who has clearly grasped them, speaks of it in the beginning of his Commentaries and designates them by two words which contain, he said, all the doctrine of Pythagoras, Purification and Perfection. a The Magians and the Chaldeans, all of whose principles Pythagoras had adopted, were agreed on this point, and in order to express their idea, made use of a parabolical phrase very celebrated among them. "We consume," they said, "the refuse of matter by the fire of divine love." b An anonymous author who has written an history of Pythagoras, preserved by Photius, said that the disciples of this great man taught that one perfects oneself in three ways: in communing with the gods, in doing good in imitation of the gods, and in departing from this life to rejoin the gods. c The first of these ways is contained in the first three lines of the Golden Verses which concern the cult rendered, according to the law and according to the faith, to the Gods, to the glorified Heroes, and to the Spirits. The second, that is, the Purification, begins at the fourth line which makes the subject of this Examination. The third, that is, the union with the Divinity, or Perfection, begins at the fortieth line of my translation:
Let not sleep eer close thy tired eyes.
Thus the division that I have believed ought to be made of this short poem is not at all arbitrary, as one sees the judicious Bay le had remarked it before me. d
It is worthy of observation, that Pythagoras begins the purgative part of his doctrine by commending the observance of natural duties, and that he places in the rank of primary virtues, filial piety, paternal and conjugal love. Thus this admirable philosopher made it his first care to strengthen the ties of blood and make them cherished and sacred; he exhorts respect to children, tenderness to parents, and union to all the members of the family; he follows thus the profound sentiment which Nature inspires in all sentient beings, very different in this from certain legislators, blinded by false politics, who. in order to conduct men to I know not what power and what imaginary welfare, have wished, on the contrary, to break those ties, annihilate those relationships of father, son, and brother, to concentrate, they said, upon a being of reason called Country the affection that the soul divides among those objects of its first love. a If the legislators had cared to reflect a moment, they would have seen that there existed no country for the one who had no father, and that the respect and love that a man in his virile age feels for the place of his birth, holds its principle and receives its force from those same sentiments that he felt in his infancy for his mother. Every effect proclaims a cause; every edifice rests upon a foundation: the real cause of love of country is maternal love; the sole foundations of the social edifice are paternal power and filial respect. From this sole power issues that of the prince, who, in every well-organized state, being considered as father of the people, has right to the obedience and respect of his children.
I am going to make here a singular comparison which I
beg the reader to observe. Moses, instructed in the same school as Pythagoras, after having announced the Unity of God in the famous Decalogue which contains the summary of his law, and having commanded its adoration to his people, announces for the first virtue, filial piety a: "Honour," he said, "thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be multiplied in this country of Adam, that Jhôah, thy Gods, has given thee." b
The theocratic legislator of the Hebrews in making this commandment places recompense by the side of precept: he declares formally that the exercise of filial piety draws with it a long existence. Now, it must be remarked that Moses being content with enclosing in his doctrine the sole purgative part, doubtless judging his people not in a condition to support the unitive part, spoke to them nowhere of the immortality which is its consequence; contenting himself with promising the joys of temporal blessings, among which he carefully placed in the first rank a long life. Experience has proved, relative to people in general,
that Moses spoke with a profound understanding of the causes which prolong the duration of empires. Filial piety is the national virtue of the Chinese, the sacred foundation upon which reposes the social edifice of the greatest and the most ancient people of the world. a This virtue has been to China, for more than four thousand years, what love of country was to Sparta or to Rome. Sparta and Rome have fallen notwithstanding the sort of fanaticism with which their children were animated, and the Chinese Empire which existed two thousand years before their foundation, still exists two thousand years after their downfall. If China has been able to preserve herself in the midst of the flux and reflux of a thousand revolutions, to save herself from her own wrecks, to triumph over her own defects, and to subjugate even her conquerors, she owes it to this virtue which, raising itself from the humblest citizen to the Son of heaven seated upon the imperial throne, animates all the hearts with a sacred fire, of which Nature herself provides the nourishment and eternalizes the duration. The Emperor is the father of the state; two hundred million men, who regard themselves as his children, compose his immense family; what human effort could overthrow this colossus? b
138:a Clem. Alex., Eclog. Theod., § 30.
138:b Hist. du Manich., t. i., p. 572.
138:c Gods, Heroes, and Demons signify in the Greek words θεός, Ἥρωες, Δαίμων, whence they are derived, the Principle-Beings attained to perfection; the ruling Principle-Beings; Terrestrial Existences. The word θεός is formed from the word אוש (aôs), a Principle-Being, preceded by the hemantique letter ת (θ, th), which is the sign of perfection. The word Ἥρωες is composed of the same word אוש (aôc), preceded by the word הרר (herr), expressing all that rules. The word Δαίμων comes from the ancient word Δῆμ, land, united with the word ὤν, existence.
139:a Κάθαρσις καὶ τελειότης.
139:b Lil. Greg. Gyral., Pythag. Symb. Interpret., p. 92.
139:c Apud Phot. Cod., 249.
139:d Dict. Crit., art. PYTHAGORAS, rem. Q.
140:a Not long since, a man rather well organized mentally, but very slightly enlightened by the true science, brought out a book entitled Ruverabhoni, in which, heaping up all the ancient and modern sophisms pronounced against the social organization founded upon the establishment of the family, he aspired to change the instinct of nature, in this respect, and to found true happiness upon the débris of all the ties of blood, of all the affections of the soul, and of all the duties of consanguinity.
141:a As I give the same meaning as did Moses and not that of the Septuagint copied by the Vulgate, I transcribe here the original text, so that those who understand Hebrew may see that I have not deviated from it.
Exodus, ch. 20, v. 12.
141:b This country of Adam, in Hebrew האדמה (ha-adamah), adaméenne. This word, which has been vulgarly translated by the Earth, signifies it only by metaphor. Its proper sense, which is very difficult to grasp, depends always on that which is attached to the name of Adam, whence it is derived. Jhôah, in Hebrew יהוה, pronounced very improperly Jehovah, on account of a defective punctuation of the Masoretes, is the proper name of GOD. This name was formed by Moses in a manner as ingenious as sublime, by means of the contraction of the three tenses of the verb הוה (hôeh), to be. It signifies exactly will be-being-been; that which is, was, and shall be. One renders it well enough by Eternal. It is Eternity, or the Time-without-Limit of Zoroaster. This name is quite generally followed, as it is here, with the words אלהיך (Ælohî-cha), thy Gods, in order to express that the Unity contained in Jhôah, comprehends the infinity of the gods, and takes the place of it with the people of Israel.
142:a Mémoires concern, les Chinois, t. iv., p. 7.
142:b Mém. concern. les Chinois, ibid.