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84Chapter XXII.—The “Sayings” Of Pythagoras.

But since also we have chosen to mention the sayings darkly expressed by Pythagoras to his disciples by means of symbols, it seems likewise expedient to remind (the reader) of the rest (of his doctrines. And we touch on this subject) on account also of the heresiarchs, who attempt by some method of this description to converse by means of symbols; and these are not their own, but they have, (in propounding them,) taken advantage of expressions employed by the Pythagoreans.661661    These sayings (Symbola Pythagorica) have been collected by, amongst others, Thomas Stanley, and more recently by Gaspar Orellius. The meaning and the form of the proverbs given by Hippolytus do not always correspond with, e.g., Jamblichus (the biographer of Pythagoras), Porphyry, and Plutarch. The curious reader can see the Proverbs, in all their variety of readings and explanations, in the edition of L. Gyraldus. Pythagoras then instructs his disciples, addressing them as follows:  “Bind up the sack that carries the bedding.” (Now,) inasmuch as they who intend going upon a journey tie their clothes into a wallet, to be ready for the road; so, (in like manner,) he wishes his disciples to be prepared, since every moment death is likely to come upon them by surprise.662662    This has been explained by Erasmus as a precept enjoining habits of tidiness and modesty. (In this way Pythagoras sought to effect) that (his followers) should labour under no deficiency in the qualifications required in his pupils.663663    Miller’s text here yields a different but not very intelligible meaning. Wherefore of necessity he was in the habit, with the dawn of day, of instructing the Pythagoreans to encourage one another to bind up the sack that carries the bedding, that is, to be ready for death. “Do not stir fire with a sword;”664664    Horace quotes this proverb (2 Serm., iii. 274) with a somewhat different meaning. Porphyry considers it a precept against irreverent language towards the Deity, the fire being a symbol—for instance, the vestal fire—of the everlasting nature of God. Σκάλευε in Hippolytus is also read, e.g., by Basil, ζαίνοντες, that is, cleaving. This alludes to some ancient game in which fire was struck at and severed. (meaning,) do not, by addressing him, quarrel with an enraged man; for a person in a passion is like fire, whereas the sword is the uttered expression. “Do not trample on a besom;”665665    Σάρον. This word also signifies “sweepings” or “refuse.” Some say it means a Chaldean or Babylonian measure. The meaning would then be: Neglect not giving good measure, i.e., practise fair dealing. This agrees with another form of the proverb, reading ζυγόν for σάρον—that is, overlook not the balance or scales. (meaning,) despise not a small matter. “Plant not a palm tree in a house;” (meaning,) foment not discord in a family, for the palm tree is a symbol of battle and slaughter.666666    Another meaning assigned to this proverb is, “Labour to no purpose.” The palm, it is alleged, when it grows of itself, produces fruit, but sterility ensues upon transplantation. The proverb is also said to mean: Avoid what may seem agreeable, but really is injurious. This alludes to the quality of the wine (see Xenophon’s Anab., ii.), which, pleasant in appearance, produced severe headache in those partaking of it. “Eat not from a stool;” (meaning,) do not undertake an ignoble art, in order that you may not be a slave to the body, which is corruptible, but make a livelihood from literature. For it lies within your reach both to nourish the body, and make the soul better.667667    “Eat not from a stool.” This proverb is also differently read and interpreted. Another form is, “Eat not from a chariot,” of which the import is variously given, as, Do not tamper with your health, because food swallowed in haste, as it must be when one is driving a team of horses, cannot be salutary or nutritive; or, Do not be careless, because one should attend to the business in hand; if that be guiding a chariot, one should not at the same time try to eat his meals. “Don’t take a bite out of an uncut loaf;” (meaning,) diminish not thy possessions, but live on the profit (of them), and guard thy substance as an entire loaf.668668    The word “entire” Plutarch adds to this proverb. Its ancient form would seem to inculcate patience and courtesy, as if one should not, when at meals, snap at food before others. As read in Plutarch, it has been also interpreted as a precept to avoid creating dissension, the unbroken bread being a symbol of unity. It has likewise been explained as an injunction against greediness. The loaf was marked by two intersecting lines into four parts, and one was not to devour all of these. (See Horace, 1 Epist., xvii. 49.)  “Feed not on beans; (meaning,) accept not the government of a city, for with beans they at that time were accustomed to ballot for their magistrates.669669    This is the generally received import of the proverb.  Ancient writers, however, put forward other meanings, connected chiefly with certain effects of beans, e.g., disturbing the mind, and producing melancholy, which Pythagoras is said to have noticed. Horace had no such idea concerning beans (see 2 Serm, vi. 63), but evidently alludes to a belief of the magi that disembodied spirits resided in beans. (See Lucian, Micyll.; Plutarch, Περὶ Παίδ.  ᾽Αγωγ. 17; Aulus Gellius, iv. 11; and Guigniaut’s Cruiser’s Symbolik, i. 160.) [See p. 12 supra, and compare vol. ii., this series, p. 383, and Elucidation III. p. 403.]


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