The Golden Verses of Pythagoras, by Fabre d'Olivet, , at sacred-texts.com
Drawn on by my subject, I have forgotten to say that, according to Porphyry, there is lacking in the Golden Verses as given by Hierocles, two lines which ought to be placed immediately before those which open the unitive part of the doctrine of Pythagoras called perfection; these are a:
On the moment of awakening, consider calmly
What are thy duties, and what thou shouldst accomplish.
These lines, which express the general outline of this last part, are remarkable, and one cannot conceive how Hierocles could have overlooked or neglected them. Although, it is true, they add nothing in the literal sense, they say much, however, in the figurative sense; they serve as proof of the division of this poem, which Hierocles himself has adopted without explanation. Lysis indicates quite strongly that he is about to pass on to a new teaching: he calls the attention of the disciple of Pythagoras to the new career which is opened before him, and to the means of traversing it and of attaining to the divine virtues which must crown it. This means is the knowledge of oneself, as I have said. This knowledge, so commended by the ancient sages, so t exalted by them, which must open the avenues of all the others and deliver to them the key of the mysteries of nature and the doors of the Universe; this knowledge, I say, could not be exposed unveiled at the epoch when Pythagoras lived, on account of the secrets that it would of necessity betray. Likewise this philosopher had the habit of proclaiming it under the emblem of the sacred Tetrad or of the Quaternary. This is why Lysis, in invoking the name of his master, designates it on this occasion with the most striking characteristic of his doctrine. "I swear," he said, "by the one who has revealed to our soul the knowledge of the Tetrad, that source of eternal Nature": that is to say,
[paragraph continues] I swear by the one who, teaching our soul to know itself, has put it in condition to know all nature of which it is the abridged image.
In many of my preceding Examinations I have already explained what should be understood by this celebrated Tetrad, and here would perhaps be the time to reveal its constitutive principles; but this revelation would lead me too far. It would be necessary in order to do this, to enter into details of the arithmological doctrine of Pythagoras which, lacking preliminary data, would become fatiguing and unintelligible. The language of Numbers of which this philosopher made use, following the example of the ancient sages, seems today entirely lost. The fragments which have come down to us serve rather to prove its existence than to give any light upon its elements; for those who have composed these fragments wrote in a language that they supposed understood, in the same manner as our modern writers when they employ algebraic terms. It would be ridiculous if one wished before having acquired any notion concerning the value and use of the algebraic signs, to explain a problem contained in these signs. This is, however, what has often been done relative to the language of Numbers. One has pretended, not only to explain it before having learned it, but even to write of it, and has by so doing rendered it the most lamentable thing in the world. The savants seeing it thus travestied have justly scorned it; as their contempt was not unreasonable they have made it reflect, by the same language upon the ancients who have employed it. They have acted in this as in many other things; they themselves creating the stupidity of ancient sciences and saying afterwards: antiquity was stupid.
One day I shall try, if I find the time and the necessary facilities, to give the true elements of the arithmological science of Pythagoras and I will show that this science was for intelligible things what algebra has become among us for physical things; but I shall only do so after having revealed
what the true principles of music are; for otherwise I should run the risk of not being understood.
Without perplexing ourselves, therefore, with the constitutive principles of the Pythagorean Quaternary. let us content ourselves with knowing that it was the general emblem of anything moving by itself and manifesting by its facultative modifications; for according to Pythagoras, 1 and 2 represent the hidden principles of things; 3, their faculties, and 4, their proper essence. These four numbers which, united by addition produce the number 10, constituted the Being, as much universal as particular; so that the Quaternary, which is as its virtue, could become the emblem of all beings, since there is none which may not recognize the principles, and which does not manifest itself by faculties more or less perfect, and which may not enjoy an existence universal or relative; but the being to which Pythagoras applied it most commonly was Man. Man, as I have said, manifests himself as does the Universe, under the three principal modifications of body, soul, and spirit. The unknown principles of this first Ternary are what Plato calls the same, and the other, the indivisible and the divisible. The indivisible principle gives the spirit; the divisible the body; and the soul has birth from this last principle elaborated by the first. a Such was the doctrine of Pythagoras which was borrowed by Plato. It had been that of the Egyptians, as can be seen in the works which remain to us under the name of Hermes. Synesius, who had been initiated into their mysteries, said particularly, that human souls emanated from two sources: the one luminous, which flows from heaven on high; the other tenebrous, which springs from the earth in the abysmal depths of which it finds its origin. b The early Christians, faithful to theosophical tradition, followed the same teaching; they established a great difference between the spirit and the soul. They considered the soul as an issue of the material principle,
and in consequence being neither enlightened nor virtuous in itself. The spirit, said Basil, is a gift of God: it is the soul of the soul, as it were; it is united to the soul; it enlightens it, it rescues it from earth and raises it to heaven. a Beausobre, who relates these words, observes that this sentiment was common to several Fathers of the primitive church, particularly to Tatian. b
I have spoken often of this first Ternary, and even of the triple faculties which are attached to each of its modifications; but as I have done many times, I believe it useful to present here the ensemble, so as to have the opportunity of uniting, under the same viewpoint, the volitive unity, from which results the human Quaternary, in general, and in the particular being, which is man.
The three faculties which, as I have said, distinguish each of the three human modifications are: sense perception for the body, sentiment for the soul, and assent for the spirit. These three faculties develop instinct, understanding, and intelligence, which produce by a common reaction, common sense, reason, and sagacity.
Instinct, placed at the lowest degree of the ontological hierarchy, is absolutely passive; intelligence, raised to the summit, is entirely active, and understanding placed in the centre, is neuter. Sense perception perceives the sensations, sentiment conceives the ideas, assent elects the thoughts; perception, conception, election are modes of acting, of the instinct, the understanding, and the intelligence. The understanding is the seat of all the passions that the instinct feeds continually, excites, and tends to make unruly; and that the intelligence purifies, tempers, and seeks always to put in harmony. The instinct, reacted upon by the understanding, becomes common sense: it perceives notions more or less clearly, following more or less, the influence that it accords to the understanding.
[paragraph continues] The understanding, reacted upon by the intelligence, becomes reason: it conceives of opinions so much the more just, as its passions are the more calm. Reason cannot by its own movement attain to wisdom and find truth, because being placed in the middle of a sphere and forced from there, it describes, from the centre to the circumference, a ray always straight and subordinate to the point of departure; it has against it infinity, that is to say, that truth being one, and residing in a single point of the circumference, it cannot be the subject of reason, only as far as it is known beforehand, and as reason is placed in the direction convenient for its encounter. Intelligence, which can only put reason in this direction by the assent that it gives at the point of departure, would never know this point only by wisdom which is the fruit of inspiration: now, inspiration is the mode of acting of the will, which joining itself to the triple Ternary, as I have just described, constitutes the human ontological Quaternary. It is the will which envelops the primordial Ternary in its unity, and which determines the action of each of its faculties according to its own mode without the will it would have no existence. The three faculties by which the volitive unity is manifested in the triple Ternary, are memory, judgment, and imagination. These three faculties, acting in a homogeneous unity, have neither height nor depth and do not affect one of the modifications of the being, any more than another; they are all wherever the will is, and the will operates freely in the intelligence or in the understanding; in the understanding or in the instinct: where it wills to be there it is; its faculties follow it everywhere. I say that it is wherever it wills to be when the being is wholly developed; for following the course of Nature, it is first in the instinct and only passes into the understanding and into the intelligence successively and in proportion as the animistic and spiritual faculties are developed. But in order that this development may take place, the will must determine it; for without the will
there is no movement. Be assured of this. Without the operation of the will, the soul is inert and the spirit sterile. This is the origin of that inequality among men of which
I have spoken. When the will does not disengage itself from matter, it constitutes instinctive men; when it is concentrated in the understanding, it produces animistic men; when it acts in the spirit, it creates intellectual men. Its perfect harmony in the primordial Ternary, and its action more or less energetic in the uniformity of their faculties, equally developed, constitute the extraordinary men endowed with sublime genius; but the men of this fourth class which represents the autopsy of the mysteries, a are extremely rare. Often it suffices for a powerful will, acting either in the understanding or in the intelligence and concentrating wholly there, to astonish men by the strength of reasoning and outbursts of wisdom, which draws the name of genius without being wholly merited. Recently there has been seen in Germany the most extraordinary reasoning, in Kant, failing in its aim through lack of intelligence; one has seen in the same country the most exalted intelligence, in Boehme, giving way for want of reason. There have been in all times and among all nations men similar to Boehme and to Kant. These men have erred through not knowing themselves; they have erred, through a lack of harmony that they might have been able to acquire, if they had taken the time to perfect themselves; they have erred, but their very error attests the force of their will. A weak will, operating either in the understanding or in the intelligence, makes only sensible men and men of intellect. This same will acting in the instinct produces artful men; and if it is strong and violently concentrated through its original attraction in this corporal faculty, it constitutes men dangerous to society, miscreants, and treacherous brigands.
After having applied the Pythagorean Quaternary to
[paragraph continues] Man, and having shown the intimate composition of this Being, image of the Universe, according to the doctrine of the ancients, I ought perhaps to use all the means in my power, in order to demonstrate with what facility the physical and metaphysical phenomena which result from their combined action can be deduced; but such an undertaking would necessarily draw me into details foreign to these examinations. I must again put off this point as I have put off many others; I will take them up in another work, if the savants and the thinkers to whom I address myself approve the motive which has put the pen in my hand.
227:a Porphyr., Vitâ Pythag.
229:a Plato, ut suprà.
229:b Synes., De Provident., c. 5.
230:a Beausobre, Hist. du Manich., t. ii., p. 33.
230:b Tatian, Orat. contr. Cræc., p. 152.
232:a Plato, In Gorgia; ibid., In Phæd.; ibid., De Rep., l. vii.; August., De Civit. Dei, l. iii., c. 1, et l. x., c. 29.