Pythagoras

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Rest satisfied with doing well, and leave others to talk of you as they please.

Pythagoras of Samos (Πυθαγόρας; c. 582 BC – c. 496 BC) was an Ionian Greek philosopher and founder of the religious movement called Pythagoreanism, often revered as a great mathematician, mystic and scientist.

Quotes[edit]

Let no one persuade you by word or deed to do or say whatever is not best for you.
Number is the ruler of forms and ideas, and the cause of gods and daemons.
Reason is immortal, all else mortal.
Sooner throw a pearl at hazard than an idle or useless word; and do not say a little in many words, but a great deal in a few.
There is no word or action but has its echo in Eternity.
Thought is an Idea in transit, which when once released, never can be lured back, nor the spoken word recalled.
The oldest, shortest words— "yes" and "no"— are those which require the most thought.
Time is the soul of this world.
  • By the air which I breathe, and by the water which I drink, I will not endure to be blamed on account of this discourse.
  • Dear youths, I warn you cherish peace divine,
    And in your hearts lay deep these words of mine.
  • Τὴν δ' ἀνθρώπου ψυχὴν διῃρῆσθαι τριχῆ, εἴς τε νοῦν καὶ φρένας καὶ θυμόν. νοῦν μὲν οὖν καὶ θυμὸν εἶναι καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἄλλοις ζῴοις, φρένας δὲ μόνον ἐν ἀνθρώπῳ.
    • The soul of man is divided into three parts, intelligence, reason, and passion. Intelligence and passion are possessed by other animals, but reason by man alone.
    • As reported by Alexander Polyhistor, and Diogenes Laërtius in Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, "Pythagoras", Sect. 30, in the translation of C. D. Yonge (1853)
  • ἀλλήλοις θ᾽ ὁμιλεῖν, ὡς τοὺς μὲν φίλους ἐχθροὺς μὴ ποιῆσαι, τοὺς δ᾽ ἐχθροὺς φίλους ἐργάσασθαι. ἴδιόν τε μηδὲν ἡγεῖσθαι.
  • ἐν ὀργῇ μήτε τι λέγειν μήτε πράσσειν
    • In anger we should refrain both from speech and action.
    • As quoted in Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, "Pythagoras", Sect. 23–24, as translated in Dictionary of Quotations (1906) by Thomas Benfield Harbottle, p. 370
  • Reason is immortal, all else mortal.
    • As quoted in Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, Sect. 30, as translated by Robert Drew Hicks (1925); also in The Demon and the Quantum: From the Pythagorean Mystics to Maxwell's Demon (2007) by Robert J. Scully, Marlan O. Scully, p. 11
  • The most momentous thing in human life is the art of winning the soul to good or to evil.
    • As quoted in Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, as translated by Robert Drew Hicks (1925)
    • Variant translation: The most momentous thing in human life is the art of winning the soul to good or evil.
      • As quoted in Ionia, a Quest (1954) by Freya Stark, p. 94
  • Power is the near neighbour of necessity.
    • As quoted in Aurea Carmina (8) by Hierocles of Alexandria, as translated in Dictionary of Quotations (1906) by Thomas Benfield Harbottle, p. 356
  • Number is the ruler of forms and ideas, and the cause of gods and daemons.
    • As quoted in Life of Pythagoras (c. 300) by Iamblichus of Chalcis, as translated by Thomas Taylor (1818)
    • Variants:
    • Number rules the universe.
    • As quoted in The Story of a Number‎ (1905) by E. Maor; also in Comic Sections (1993) by Desmond MacHale
  • Sobriety is the strength of the soul, for it preserves its reason unclouded by passion.
    • As quoted in The History of Philosophy: From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Present Century (1819) by William Enfield
    • Sobriety is the strength of the mind; for it preserves reason unclouded by passion.
      • As quoted in Bible of Reason (1831) by Benjamin F. Powell, p. 157
    • Strength of mind rests in sobriety; for this keeps your reason unclouded by passion.
      • As quoted in Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern English and Foreign Sources (1899) by James Wood
  • None but God is wise.
  • Silence is better than unmeaning words.
    • As quoted in Encyclopaedia Americana (1832) Vol. X, p. 445 edited by Francis Lieber, E. Wigglesworth, and Thomas Gamaliel Bradford
  • If there be light, then there is darkness; if cold, heat; if height, depth; if solid, fluid; if hard, soft; if rough, smooth; if calm, tempest; if prosperity, adversity; if life, death.
    • As quoted in Bibliotheca Sacra and Theological Review by Vol. IV, No. 8 (1847) by Dallas Theological Seminary, p. 107
  • Rest satisfied with doing well, and leave others to talk of you as they please.
    • As quoted in The World's Laconics: Or, The Best Thoughts of the Best Authors (1853) by Everard Berkeley
    • Variant: Rest satisfied with doing well, and leave others to talk of you as they will.
  • As soon as laws are necessary for men, they are no longer fit for freedom.
    • As quoted in Short Sayings of Great Men: With Historical and Explanatory Notes‎ (1882) by Samuel Arthur Bent, p. 454
  • Friends are as companions on a journey, who ought to aid each other to persevere in the road to a happier life.
    • As quoted in Gems of Thought: Being a Collection of More Than a Thousand Choice Selections, Or Aphorisms, from Nearly Four Hundred and Fifty Different Authors, and on One Hundred and Forty Different Subjects (1888). p. 97 by Charles Northend
  • Anger begins in folly, and ends in repentance.
    • As quoted in Treasury of Thought: Forming an Encyclopædia of Quotations from Ancient and Modern Authors (1894) by Maturin Murray Ballou
  • Choose always the way that seems the best, however rough it may be; custom will soon render it easy and agreeable.
    • As quoted in A Dictionary of Thoughts: Being a Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors of the World, both Ancient and Modern (1908) by Tyron Edwards, p. 101
  • It is better wither to be silent, or to say things of more value than silence. Sooner throw a pearl at hazard than an idle or useless word; and do not say a little in many words, but a great deal in a few.
    • As quoted in A Dictionary of Thoughts: Being a Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors of the World, both Ancient and Modern (1908) by Tyron Edwards, p. 525
  • Truth is so great a perfection, that if God would render himself visible to men, he would choose light for his body and truth for his soul.
    • As quoted in A Dictionary of Thoughts: Being a Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors of the World, both Ancient and Modern (1908) by Tyron Edwards, p. 592
  • There is no word or action but has its echo in Eternity.
    Thought is an Idea in transit, which when once released, never can be lured back, nor the spoken word recalled. Nor ever can the overt act be erased All that thou thinkest, sayest, or doest bears perpetual record of itself, enduring for Eternity.
    • As quoted in Pythagoron: The Religious, Moral, and Ethical Teachings of Pythagoras (1947) by Hobart Huson, p. 99
  • There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres.
    • As quoted in The Mystery of Matter‎ (1965) edited by Louise B. Young
  • As long as Man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings, he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.
    • Attribution to Pythagoras by Ovid, as quoted in The Extended Circle: A Dictionary of Humane Thought (1985) by Jon Wynne-Tyson, p. 260; also in Vegetarian Times, No. 168 (August 1991), p. 4
  • Time is the soul of this world.
  • Most men and women, by birth or nature, lack the means to advance in wealth and power, but all have the ability to advance in knowledge.
    • As quoted in The Golden Ratio (2002) by Mario Livio
  • Man know thyself; then thou shalt know the Universe and God.
    • As quoted in Fragments of Reality: Daily Entries of Lived Life (2006) by Peter Cajander, p. 109
  • The oldest, shortest words— "yes" and "no"— are those which require the most thought.
    • As quoted in Numerology for Relationships: A Guide to Birth Numbers (2006) by Vera Kaikobad, p. 78
  • A blow from your friend is better than a kiss from your enemy.
    • As quoted in Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists‎ (2007) by James Geary, p. 118
  • Write in the sand the flaws of your friend.
    • As quoted in Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists‎ (2007) by James Geary
  • Educate the children and it won't be necessary to punish the men.
    • As quoted in Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists‎ (2007) by James Geary

The Symbols[edit]

English translations of the Symbols of Pythagoras recorded by Iamblichus of Chalcis from those in The Golden Verses of Pythagoras and other Pythagorean Fragments (1904); selected and arranged by Florence M. Firth
Disbelieve nothing wonderful concerning the gods, nor concerning divine dogmas.
Assist a man in raising a burden; but do not assist him in laying it down.
Abstain from beans.
  • When going to the temple to adore Divinity neither say nor do any thing in the interim pertaining to the common affairs of life.
    • Symbol 1
  • Sacrifice and adore unshod.
    • Symbol 3
  • Disbelieve nothing wonderful concerning the gods, nor concerning divine dogmas.
    • Symbol 4
  • Declining from the public ways, walk in unfrequented paths.
    • Symbol 5
  • Govern your tongue before all other things, following the gods.
    • Symbol 7
  • The wind is blowing, adore the wind.
    • Symbol 8
  • Cut not fire with a sword.
    • Symbol 9
    • Variant translation: Poke not the fire with a sword.
      • As quoted in Short Sayings of Great Men: With Historical and Explanatory Notes‎ (1882) by Samuel Arthur Bent, p. 455
  • Assist a man in raising a burden; but do not assist him in laying it down.
    • Symbol 11
  • Step not beyond the beam of the balance.
    • Symbol 14
  • Having departed from your house, turn not back; for the furies will be your attendants.
    • Symbol 15
  • Eat not the heart.
    • Symbol 30; explained in the edition used here: "This Symbol signifies that it is not proper to divulse the union and consent of the universe. And still further it signifies this, Be not envious, but philanthropic and communicative; and from this it exhorts us to philosophize. For philosophy alone among the sciences and arts is neither pained with the goods of others, nor rejoices in evils of neighbours, these being allied and familiar by nature, subject to the like passions, and exposed to one common fortune; and evinces that all men are equally incapable of foreseeing future events. Hence it exhorts us to sympathy and mutual love, and to be truly communicative, as it becomes rational animals.
    • Variant translation: Do not eat your heart.
  • Eat not the brain.
    • Symbol 31
  • Κυάμων ἀπέχεσθαι
    • Abstain from beans.
    • Symbol 37; This was long thought by many to be simply a dietary proscription, and often ridiculed, but many consider it to have originally been intended as advice against getting involved in politics, for voting on issues in his time was often done by using differently colored beans. Others have stated that it might signify a more general admonition against relying on the votes of people to determine truths of reality. The explanation provided in the translation used here states: "This Symbol admonishes us to beware of everything which is corruptive of our converse with the gods and divine prophecy."
  • Abstain from animals.
    • Symbol 39; explained in the edition used here: "This Symbol exhorts to justice, to all the honour of kindred, to the reception of similar life, and to many other things of a like kind."

The Golden Verses[edit]

Quotes cited as from the Golden Verses, but drawn from various translations.
Above all things reverence thy Self.
Work at these things, practice them... they are what will put you on the path of divine virtue — yes, by the one who entrusted our soul with the tetraktys, source of ever-flowing nature.
Meditate upon my counsels; love them; follow them; To the divine virtues will they know how to lead thee...
Holding fast to these things, you will know the worlds of gods and mortals which permeates and governs everything.
You will know, as is right, nature similar in all respects, so that you will neither entertain unreasonable hopes nor be neglectful of anything.
  • Above and before all things, worship GOD!
    • As quoted in The Sayings of the Wise: Or, Food for Thought: A Book of Moral Wisdom, Gathered from the Ancient Philosophers (1555) by William Baldwin [1908 edition]
    • Variant translation: Honor first the immortal gods, in the manner prescribed, and respect the oath.
      Next, honor the reverent heroes and the spirits of the dead by making the traditional sacrifices.
      Honor your parents and your relatives. As for others, befriend whoever excels in virtue.
      Yield to kind words and helpful deeds, and do not hate your friend for a trifling fault as you are able. For ability is near to necessity.
      • As quoted in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras by John Strohmeier and Peter Westbrook. (1999) ISBN 0-9653774-5-8
  • Above all things reverence thy Self.
    • Variant translations:
    • Respect yourself above all.
    • Above all things reverence thy self.
      Above all things, respect yourself.
      Above the cloud with its shadow is the star with its light. Above all things reverence thyself.
  • Work at these things, practice them, these are the things you ought to desire; they are what will put you on the path of divine virtue — yes, by the one who entrusted our soul with the tetraktys, source of ever-flowing nature. Pray to the gods for success and get to work.
    • As quoted in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras by John Strohmeier and Peter Westbrook. (1999)
  • Practice justice in word and deed, and do not get in the habit of acting thoughtlessly about anything.
    • As quoted in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras by John Strohmeier and Peter Westbrook. (1999)
  • Know that death comes to everyone, and that wealth will sometimes be acquired, sometimes lost. Whatever griefs mortals suffer by divine chance, whatever destiny you have, endure it and do not complain. But it is right to improve it as much as you can, and remember this: Fate does not give very many of these griefs to good people.
    • As quoted in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras by John Strohmeier and Peter Westbrook. (1999)
  • Many words befall men, mean and noble alike; do not be astonished by them, nor allow yourself to be constrained.
    If a lie is told, bear with it gently.
    But whatever I tell you, let it be done completely.
    Let no one persuade you by word or deed to do or say whatever is not best for you.
    • As quoted in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras by John Strohmeier and Peter Westbrook. (1999)
  • Let not sleep fall upon thy eyes till thou has thrice reviewed the transactions of the past day. Where have I turned aside from rectitude? What have I been doing? What have I left undone, which I ought to have done? Begin thus from the first act, and proceed; and, in conclusion, at the ill which thou hast done, be troubled, and rejoice for the good.
    • As translated in The Rambler No. 8 (14 April 1750) by Samuel Johnson
    • Let not sleep e'er close thy eyes
      Without thou ask thyself: What have I omitted and what done?
      Abstain thou if 'tis evil; persevere if good.
    • Do not let sleep close your tired eyes until you have three times gone over the events of the day. 'What did I do wrong? What did I accomplish? What did I fail to do that I should have done?' Starting from the beginning, go through to the end. Then, reproach yourself for the things you did wrong, and take pleasure in the good things you did.
      • As quoted in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras by John Strohmeier and Peter Westbrook. (1999)
  • Meditate upon my counsels; love them; follow them;
    To the divine virtues will they know how to lead thee.

    I swear it by the One who in our hearts engraved
    The sacred Tetrad, symbol immense and pure,
    Source of Nature and model of the Gods.
  • Holding fast to these things, you will know the worlds of gods and mortals which permeates and governs everything. And you will know, as is right, nature similar in all respects, so that you will neither entertain unreasonable hopes nor be neglectful of anything.
    • As quoted in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras by John Strohmeier and Peter Westbrook. (1999)
  • You will know that wretched men are the cause of their own suffering, who neither see nor hear the good that is near them, and few are the ones who know how to secure release from their troubles. Such is the fate that harms their minds; like pebbles they are tossed about from one thing to another with cares unceasing. For the dread companion Strife harms them unawares, whom one must not walk behind, but withdraw from and flee.
    • As quoted in Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras by John Strohmeier and Peter Westbrook (1999)
  • There is geometry in the humming of the strings. There is music in the spacings of the spheres.
    • As quoted in the preface of the book entitled Music of the Spheres by Guy Murchie (1961)

Florilegium[edit]

Remind yourself that all men assert that wisdom is the greatest good, but that there are few who strenuously seek out that greatest good.
Quotes of Pythagoras from the Florilegium of Stobaeus, using various translations, including those from "Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus" in The Golden Verses of Pythagoras and other Pythagorean Fragments (1904); selected and arranged by Florence M. Firth
  • Do not even think of doing what ought not to be done.
    • "Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus" (1904)
  • Choose rather to be strong in soul than in body.
    • "Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus" (1904)
    • Choose rather to be strong of soul than strong of body.
      • As quoted in Florilegium, I.22, as translated in Dictionary of Quotations (1906) by Thomas Benfield Harbottle, p. 396
  • It is difficult to walk at one and the same time many paths of life.
    • "Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus" (1904)
  • It is requisite to choose the most excellent life; for custom will make it pleasant. Wealth is an infirm anchor, glory is still more infirm; and in a similar manner, the body, dominion, and honour. For all these are imbecile and powerless. What then are powerful anchors. Prudence, magnanimity, fortitude. These no tempest can shake. This is the Law of God, that virtue is the only thing that is strong; and that every thing else is a trifle.
    • "Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus" (1904)
  • It is requisite to defend those who are unjustly accused of having acted injuriously, but to praise those who excel in a certain good.
    • "Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus" (1904)
  • Neither will the horse be adjudged to be generous, that is sumptuously adorned, but the horse whose nature is illustrious; nor is the man worthy who possesses great wealth, but he whose soul is generous.
    • "Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus" (1904)
  • When the wise man opens his mouth, the beauties of his soul present themselves to the view, like the statues in a temple
    • "Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus" (1904)
  • Remind yourself that all men assert that wisdom is the greatest good, but that there are few who strenuously seek out that greatest good.
    • "Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus" (1904)
  • Despise all those things which when liberated from the body you will not want; invoke the Gods to become your helpers.
    • "Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus" (1904)
  • Wind indeed increases fire, but custom love.
    • "Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus" (1904)
  • Those alone are dear to Divinity who are hostile to injustice.
    • "Pythagorean Ethical Sentences From Stobæus" (1904)
  • None can be free who is a slave to, and ruled by, his passions.
    • As quoted in Florilegium, XVIII, 23, as translated in Dictionary of Quotations (1906) by Thomas Benfield Harbottle, p. 368
    • No one is free who has not obtained the empire of himself.
      • As translated by Nicholas Rowe(1732)
    • No man is free who cannot command himself.
      • As quoted in Moral Encyclopaedia, Or, Varlé's Self-instructor, No. 3 (1831) by by Charles Varle
    • No man is free who cannot control himself.
      • As quoted in 25 Days to Better Thinking and Better Living: A Guide for Improving Every Aspect of Your Life (2006) by Linda Elder and Richard Paul
  • It is not proper either to have a blunt sword or to use freedom of speech ineffectually.
    Neither is the sun to be taken from the world, nor freedom of speech from erudition.
  • Not frequently man from man.
    • As quoted in the translation of Thomas Taylor (1818); This has been interpreted as being an exhortation to moderation in homosexual liaisons.

The Sayings of the Wise (1555)[edit]

Dispose thy Soul to all good and necessary things!
True and perfect Friendship is, to make one heart and mind of many hearts and bodies.
If thou intend to do any good; tarry not till to-morrow! for thou knowest not what may chance thee this night.
The best and greatest winning is a true friend; and the greatest loss is the loss of time.
Quotes of Pythagoras as translated in The Sayings of the Wise: Or, Food for Thought: A Book of Moral Wisdom, Gathered from the Ancient Philosophers (1555) by William Baldwin [1908 edition]
  • When a reasonable Soul forsaketh his divine nature, and becometh beast-like, it dieth. For though the substance of the Soul be incorruptible: yet, lacking the use of Reason, it is reputed dead; for it loseth the Intellective Life.
  • A good Soul hath neither too great joy, nor too great sorrow: for it rejoiceth in goodness; and it sorroweth in wickedness. By the means whereof, when it beholdeth all things, and seeth the good and bad so mingled together, it can neither rejoice greatly; nor be grieved with over much sorrow.
  • Order thyself so, that thy Soul may always be in good estate; whatsoever become of thy body.
  • Dispose thy Soul to all good and necessary things!
  • Patience cometh by the grace of the Soul.
  • True and perfect Friendship is, to make one heart and mind of many hearts and bodies.
  • He is not rich, that enjoyeth not his own goods.
  • By Silence, the discretion of a man is known: and a fool, keeping Silence, seemeth to be wise.
  • A fool is known by his Speech; and a wise man by Silence.
  • The King that followeth Truth, and ruleth according to Justice, shall reign quietly: but he that doth the contrary, seeketh another to reign for him.
  • Tell not abroad what thou intendest to do; for if thou speed not, thou shalt be mocked!
  • If thy fellows hurt thee in small things, suffer it! and be as bold with them!
  • Take not thine enemy for thy friend; nor thy friend for thine enemy!
  • Rejoice not in another man's misfortune!
  • Let thy mind rule thy tongue!
  • Hear gladly!
  • Attempt nothing above thy strength!
  • Be not hasty to speak; nor slow to hear!
  • Wish not the thing, which thou mayest not obtain!
  • If thou intend to do any good; tarry not till to-morrow! for thou knowest not what may chance thee this night.
  • Use examples; that such as thou teachest may understand thee the better!
  • Reason not with him, that will deny the principal truths!
  • Honor Wisdom; and deny it not to them that would learn; and shew it unto them that dispraise it! Sow not the sea fields!
  • Wisdom thoroughly learned, will never be forgotten.
    Science is got by diligence; but Discretion and Wisdom cometh of GOD.
  • Without Justice, no realm may prosper.
  • Happy is that City that hath a wise man to govern it.
  • To use Virtue is perfect blessedness.
  • Envy has been, is, and shall be, the destruction of many. What is there, that Envy hath not defamed, or Malice left undefiled? Truly, no good thing.
  • A solitary man is a God, or a beast.
  • None but a Craftsman can judge of a craft.
  • Repentance deserveth Pardon.
  • The best and greatest winning is a true friend; and the greatest loss is the loss of time.
  • It is better to suffer, than to do, wrong.
  • He is worst of all, that is malicious against his friends.
  • Evil destroyeth itself.
  • Better be mute, than dispute with the Ignorant.


Disputed[edit]

  • Virtue is harmony.
    • This is often published as a direct quote of Pythagoras, but seems to be derived from the account of Diogenes Laertius of Pythagorean doctrines, where he simply describes the statement as a precept of his followers. In the translation of C. D. Yonge (1853) it is rendered, in regard to Pythagoreans:
They also say, that the most important privilege in man is, the being able to persuade his soul to either good or bad. And that men are happy when they have a good soul; yet, that they are never quiet, and that they never retain the same mind long. Also, that an oath is justice; and that on that account, Jupiter is called Jupiter of Oaths. Also, that virtue is harmony, and health, and universal good, and God; on which account everything owes its existence and consistency to harmony. Also, that friendship is a harmonious equality.


Misattributed[edit]

  • There is nothing so easy but that it becomes difficult when you do it reluctantly.
    • Terence, in Heauton Timoroumenos [The Self-Tormentor]
  • Concern should drive us into action and not into a depression.
    • The Collected Works of Karen Horney‎ (1957) by Karen Horney, p. 154: "We may feel genuinely concerned about world conditions, though such a concern should drive us into action and not into a depression."
  • In this theater of man's life it is reserved only for God and angels to be lookers on.
    • Francis Bacon, in The Advancement of Learning (1605) Book II, xx, 8.

Quotes about Pythagoras[edit]

It was Pythagoras who first called heaven kosmos, because it is perfect, and "adorned" with infinite beauty and living beings.
It was through philosophy, he said, that he had come to be surprised at nothing. ~ Plutarch
I do not know of any other man who has been as influential as he was in the sphere of thought. ~ Bertrand Russell
Even the seeming remoteness of Pythagorean teaching helps one to realize that the current world view, while it seems destined to dominate the planet, is fleeting and temporary and, like others before it, will pass. ~ John Strohmeier and Peter Westbrook
  • Ten is the very nature of number. All Greeks and all barbarians alike count up to ten, and having reached ten revert again to the unity. And again, Pythagoras maintains, the power of the number 10 lies in the number 4, the tetrad. This is the reason: if one starts at the unit (1) and adds the successive number up to 4, one will make up the number 10 (1+2+3+4 = 10). And if one exceeds the tetrad, one will exceed 10 too.... So that the number by the unit resides in the number 10, but potentially in the number 4. And so the Pythagoreans used to invoke the Tetrad as their most binding oath: "By him that gave to our generation the Tetractys, which contains the fount and root of eternal nature..."
  • Whenever he heard a person who was making use of his symbols, he immediately took him into his circle, and made him a friend.
    • Aristoxenus, as quoted in Birth of the Symbol: Ancient Readers at the Limits of Their Texts (2004) by Peter Struck
  • It seems probable that the early Greeks were largely indebted to the Phoenicians for their knowledge of practical arithmetic or the art of calculation, and perhaps also learnt from them a few properties of numbers. It may be worthy of note that Pythagoras was a Phoenician; and according to Herodotus, but this is more doubtful, Thales was also of that race.
  • Pythagoras was said to have been the first man to call himself philosopher; in fact, the world is indebted to him for the word philosopher. Before that time the wise men called themselves sages, which was interpreted to mean those who know. Pythagoras was more modest. He coined the word philosopher, which he defined as one who is attempting to find out.
    • Grover W. Brunton, Pythagoras: The First Philosopher and Discoverer of the Forty-seventh Problem of Euclid (2005)
  • There remains no firm basis for the belief that Pythagoras was a geometer and in any case no attestation of his having written anything.
  • The apparently ancient reports of the importance of Pythagoras and his pupils in laying the foundations of mathematics crumble on touch, and what we can get hold of is not authentic testimony by the efforts latecomers to paper over a crack, which they obviously found surprising, by the use of various kinds of reconstruction and reinterpretation. On the other hand, there are ancient and unassailable indications of a Greek mathematics antedating Pythagoras and quite outside his sphere of influence.
  • Koyré's exaltation of the "Platonic and Pythagorean" elements of the Scientific Revolution... was based on a demonstrably false understanding of how Galileo reached his conclusions. Koyré asserted that Galileo merely used experiments as a check on the theories he devised by mathematical reasoning. But later research has definitively established that Galileo's experiments preceeded his attempts to give a mathematical account of their results.
    • Clifford D. Conner, A People's History of Science (2005)
  • A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — "Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood." — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.
  • Pythagoras is the founder of European culture in the Western Mediterranean sphere.
  • Nor need you question but that Pythagoras a long time be­fore he found the demonstration for which he offered the Heca­tomb, had been certain, that the square of the side subtending the right angle in a rectangle triangle, was equal to the square of the other two sides: and the certainty of the conclusion condu­ced not a little to the investigating of the demonstration, un­derstanding me alwayes to mean in demonstrative Sciences.
  • Let us suppose that we have set the problem of finding a solution to the equation \scriptstyle x^2=2. \, This is a problem for which the Babylonians around 1700 BC found the excellent approximation \scriptstyle \sqrt{2}. ...This is the identical problem which Pythagoras asserted had no fractional solution and in whose honor he was supposed to have sacrificed a hecatomb of oxen—the problem which caused the existentialist crisis in ancient Greek mathematics. The \scriptstyle \sqrt{2} exists (as the diagonal of the unit square); yet it does not exist (as a fraction)!
    • Philip J. Davis and Reuben Hersh, The Mathematical Experience (1980) p.180
  • Pythagoras was indeed the first man to call himself a philosopher. Others before had called themselves wise (sophos), but Pythagoras was the first to call himself a philosopher, literally a lover of wisdom.
    More importantly, for Pythagoras and his followers philosophy was not merely an intellectual pursuit, but a way of life, the aim of which was the assimilation to God.
    • Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie and David R. Fideler, The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library: An Anthology of Ancient Writings which Relate to Pythagoras and Pythagorean Philosophy (1919)
  • Pythagoras, the son of Mnesarchus, was the most learned of all men of history; and having selected from these writings, he thus formed his own wisdom and extensive learning, and mischievous art.
  • No one will deny that the soul of Pythagoras was sent to mankind from Apollo's domain, having either been one of his attendants, or more intimate associates, which may be inferred both from his birth, and his versatile wisdom.
  • After his father's death, though he was still but a youth, his aspect was so venerable, and his habits so temperate that he was honored and even reverenced by elderly men, attracting the attention of all who saw and heard him speak, creating the most profound impression. That is the reason that many plausibly asserted that he was a child of the divinity. Enjoying the privilege of such a renown, of an education so thorough from infancy, and of so impressive a natural appearance he showed that he deserved all these advantages by deserving them, by the adornment of piety and discipline, by exquisite habits, by firmness of soul, and by a body duly subjected to the mandates of reason. An inimitable quiet and serenity marked all his words and actions, soaring above all laughter, emulation, contention, or any other irregularity or eccentricity; his influence at Samos was that of some beneficent divinity. His great renown, while yet a youth, reached not only men as illustrious for their wisdom as Thales at Miletus, and Bias at Prione, but also extended to the neighboring cities. He was celebrated everywhere as the "long-haired Samian," and by the multitude was given credit for being under divine inspiration.
    • Iamblichus of Chalcis in Life of Pythagoras translated by Thomas Taylor; Ch. 2: Youth, Education, Travels
  • Pythagoras conceived that the first attention that should be given to men should be addressed to the senses, as when one perceives beautiful figures and forms, or hears beautiful rhythms and melodies. Consequently he laid down that the first erudition was that which subsists through music's melodies and rhythms, and from these he obtained remedies of human manners and passions, and restored the pristine harmony of the faculties of the soul. 
  • The Ionians were optimistic, heathenly materialists... Every philosopher of the period seems to have had his own theory regarding the nature of the universe around him. ...The sixth century scene evokes the image of an orchestra expectantly tuning up, each player absorbed in his own instrument only, deaf to the caterwaulings of the others. Then there is a dramatic silence, the conductor enters the stage, raps three times with his baton, and harmony emerges from the chaos. The maestro is Pythagoras of Samos, whose influence on the ideas, and thereby on the destiny, of the human race was probably greater than that of any single man before or after him.
    • Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe (1959, 1963)
  • It is impossible to decide whether a particular detail of the Pythagorean universe was the work of the master, or filled in by a pupil—a remark which equally applies to Leonardo or Michelangelo. But there can be no doubt that the basic features were conceived by a single mind; that Pythagoras of Samos was both the founder of a new religious philosophy, and the founder of Science, as the word is understood today.
    • Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe (1959, 1963)
  • What appeared here, at the center of the Pythagorean tradition in philosophy, is another view of psyche that seems to owe little or nothing to the pan-vitalism or pan-deism (see theion) that is the legacy of the Milesians.
    • Francis E. Peters, in Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon (NYU Press 1967), p. 169 ISBN: 0814765521
  • It was through philosophy, he said, that he had come to be surprised at nothing.
    • Plutarch in Recta Audiendi Rationa, XII, as quoted in
  • The following became universally known: first, that he maintains that the soul is immortal; second, that it changes into other kinds of living things; third, that events recur in certain cycles and that nothing is ever absolutely new; and fourth, that all living things should be regarded as akin. Pythagoras seems to have been the first to bring these beliefs into Greece.
  • He ordained that his disciples should speak well and think reverently of the Gods, muses and heroes, and likewise of parents and benefactors; that they should obey the laws; that they should not relegate the worship of the Gods to a secondary position, performing it eagerly, even at home; that to the celestial divinities they should sacrifice uncommon offerings; and ordinary ones to the inferior deities. (The world he Divided into) opposite powers; the "one" was a better monad, light, right, equal, stable and straight; while the "other" was an inferior duad, darkness, left, unequal, unstable and movable.
    • Porphyry of Tyre, in "The Life of Pythagoras" as translated by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie in The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library: An Anthology of Ancient Writings which Relate to Pythagoras and Pythagorean Philosophy (1919); also quoted in The Golden Chain: An Anthology of Pythagorean and Platonic Philosophy (2004) by Algis Uzdavinys
  • Such things taught he, though advising above all things to speak the truth, for this alone deifies men. For as he had learned from the Magi, who call God Oremasdes, God's body is light, and his soul is truth. He taught much else, which he claimed to have learned from Aristoclea at Delphi.
    • Porphyry of Tyre, as translated by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie in The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library: An Anthology of Ancient Writings which Relate to Pythagoras and Pythagorean Philosophy (1919); also quoted in The Golden Chain: An Anthology of Pythagorean and Platonic Philosophy (2004) by Algis Uzdavinys
    • Unsourced variant: Speak the truth in all situations.
  • Pythagoras, as everyone knows, said that "all things are numbers." This statement, interpreted in a modern way, is logical nonsense, but what he meant was not exactly nonsense. He discovered the importance of numbers in music and the connection which he established between music and arithmetic survives in the mathematical terms "harmonic mean" and "harmonic progression." He thought of numbers as shapes, as they appear on dice or playing cards. We still speak of squares or cubes of numbers, which are terms that we owe to him. He also spoke of oblong numbers, triangular numbers, pyramidal numbers, and so on. These were the numbers of pebbles [or calculi] (or as we would more naturally say, shot) required to make the shapes in question.
  • Personal religion is derived from ecstasy, theology from mathematics, and both are to be found in Pythagoras.
    • Bertrand Russell, in A History of Western Philosophy (1945), Book One, Part I, Chapter III, Pythagoras, p. 36
  • The combination of mathematics and theology, which began with Pythagoras, characterized religious philosophy in Greece, in the Middle Ages, and in modern times down to Kant. Orphism before Pythagoras was analogous to Asiatic mystery religions. But in Plato, Saint Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, Spinoza, and Kant there is an intimate blending of religion and reasoning, of moral aspiration with logical admiration of what is timeless, which comes from Pythagoras, and distinguishes the intellectualized theology of Europe from the more straightforward mysticism of Asia. It is only in quite recent times that it has been possible to say clearly that Pythagoras was wrong. I do not know of any other man who has been as influential as he was in the sphere of thought. I say this because what appears as Platonism is, when analyzed, found to be in essence Pythagoreanism. The whole conception of an eternal world, revealed to the intellect but not to the senses, is derived from him. But for him, Christians would not have thought of Christ as the Word; but for him, theologians would not have sought logical proofs of God and immortality.
  • What seems certain is that Pythagoras developed the idea of mathematical logic... He realized that numbers exist independently of the tangible world and therefore their study was untainted by inaccuracies of perception. This meant he could discover truths which were independent of opinion of prejudice and which were more absolute then any previous knowledge.
  • Pythagoras was a teacher of the purest system of morals ever propounded to man.
  • Pythagoras was a man; and with all his imperfections on his head, we shall look among the race of men, for his better, in yain, yea, for his equal, or his second, but in vain. Pythagoras was entirely a Deist, a steady maintainer of the unity of God, and of the eternal obligations of moral virtue. No Christian writings, even to this day, can compete in sublimity and grandeur with what this illustrious philosopher has laid down concerning God, and the end of all our actions; and it is likely, says Bayle, that he would have carried his orthodoxy much farther, had he had the courage to expose himself to martyrdom.
  • It was Pythagoras who first called heaven kosmos, because it is perfect, and "adorned" with infinite beauty and living beings.
    • Algis Uzdavinys in The Golden Chain: An Anthology of Pythagorean and Platonic Philosophy (2004) p. 4; also in The Life of Pythagoras by an unknown ancient author, as quoted in The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library: An Anthology of Ancient Writings which Relate to Pythagoras and Pythagorean Philosophy (1919)
  • It was a maxim of Pythagoras that the two most excellent things for man were to speak the truth, and to render benefits to each other.
    • Joseph Dame Weeks, History of the Knights of Pythias, with an Account of the Life and Times of Damon and Pythias (1874) Note: The bolded portion of this has sometimes been presented as a quote of Pythagoras, but has not been found in this form in any existing translations of his statements.
  • Around 600 BCE, Pythagoras observed that the tones of a lyre sound most harmonious when the ratio of string lengths forms a simple whole-number fraction. Inspired by such hints, Pythagoras and his followers made a remarkable intuitive leap. They foresaw the possibility of a different kind of world-model, less dependent on the accident of our senses but more in tune with Nature's hidden harmonies, and ultimately more faithful to reality. This is the meaning of... "All things are number."

Divine Harmony (1999)[edit]

Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras by John Strohmeier and Peter Westbrook. (1999) ISBN 0-9653774-5-8
The concept of a harmonious universe ordered according to "the Great Chain of Being" — a chain that connects the continuum of matter, body, mind, soul and spirit — stands as one of the most fundamental ideas of western thought.
  • Pythagoras stands at the fountainhead of our culture. The ideas he set in motion were, according to Daniel Boorstin, "among the most potent in modern history," resulting directly in many of the pillars upon which the modern world is built. In particular, the very existence of science becomes possible only when it is realized that inner, purely subjective, mathematical forms have a resonance with the form and behavior of the external world — a Pythagorean perception. And a world at peace — that is to say, in a nuclear age, the survival of our planet — is predicated upon ideas of universal brotherhood to which Pythagoras, while not the sole author, made an enormous contribution. Even the seeming remoteness of Pythagorean teaching helps one to realize that the current world view, while it seems destined to dominate the planet, is fleeting and temporary and, like others before it, will pass.
  • Pythagoras' teachings have enormous relevance in understanding both the sources of our culture and, perhaps more importantly, where it may be heading or may need to head. But to appreciate this we have to understand him in modern terms.
  • At the dawn of our century, scientists were proclaiming that our understanding of the world was almost complete. Only one or two small problems in physics remained to be solved. One of these problems had to do with black body radiation and was solved by Max Planck. His solution, however, formed the foundation for quantum mechanics which was to sweep aside almost the whole edifice of fundamental assumptions in physics, and with it our understanding of the world.
    A hundred years later we are faced with a similar situation. The mechanistic viewpoint that began to dominate our world view in the seventeenth century has almost completed its hegemony. This paradigm, as historian Hugh Kearney points out, stems from only one of three main systems of thought that flowed from Greek thought into the modern world, each of which has dominated our world view at different points in our history. ... In spite of the dominance of mechanistic thought in the contemporary world, a perplexing residue of the magical tradition still survives in the form of several issues, solutions to which do not appear possible within the context of a purely mechanical view of the world.
  • It is important to recognize that the materialist, scientific paradigm that dominates the late twentieth century world and provides the basis for its dominant institutions, has its basis in the life and work of Pythagoras, one of the most significant representatives of the perennial philosophy and a founder of the magical tradition. This spirit, which gave rise to our world view, is a spirit that must be recaptured if our civilization is to flourish. The choice is a clear one to many, and was summed up in a book title by the late Pythagorean and futurist Buckminster Fuller, Utopia or Oblivion.
  • The concept of a harmonious universe ordered according to "the Great Chain of Being" — a chain that connects the continuum of matter, body, mind, soul and spirit — stands as one of the most fundamental ideas of western thought. ... It continues to be a profound influence upon the deepest strata of our thought. And yet a major rift has appeared in the consciousness of our time because the theme of harmonia has not been translated into the realm of human conduct. The challenge of our time may be to revive it, and make divine harmony "the great theme" of the next millennium. Any success we have in accomplishing this will be based, in large part, on the achievements of Pythagoras.

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