Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
137. Perception 139. Philolaus

From Chapter VII., The Pythagoreans

138. The Pythagorean School
AFTER losing their supremacy in the Achaian cities, the Pythagoreans concentrated themselves at Rhegion; but the school founded there did not maintain itself for long, and only Archytas stayed behind in Italy. Philolaos and Lysis, the latter of whom had escaped as a young man from the massacre of Kroton, had already found their way to Thebes.1 We know from Plato that Philolaos was there towards the close of the fifth century, and Lysis was afterwards the teacher of Epameinondas.2 Some of the Pythagoreans, however, were able to return to Italy later. Philolaos certainly did so, and Plato implies that he had left Thebes some time before 399 B.C., the year Sokrates was put to death. In the fourth century, the chief seat of the school is the Dorian city of Taras, and we find the Pythagoreans heading the opposition to Dionysios of Syracuse. It is to this period that the activity of Archytas belongs. He was the friend of Plato, and almost realised the ideal of the philosopher king. He ruled Taras for years, and Aristoxenos tells us that he was never defeated in the field of battle.3 He was also the inventor of mathematical mechanics. At the same time, Pythagoreanism had taken root in the East. Lysis remained at Thebes, where Simmias and Kebes had heard Philolaos, while the remnant of the Pythagorean school of Rhegion settled at Phleious. Aristoxenos was personally acquainted with the last generation of this school, and mentioned by name Xenophilos the Chalkidian from Thrace, with Phanton, Echekrates, Diokles, and Polymnastos of Phleious. They were all, he said, disciples of Philolaos and Eurytos,4 and we learn from Plato that Simmias and Kebes of Thebes and Echekrates of Phleious were also associates of Sokrates.5 Xenophilos was the teacher of Aristoxenos, and lived in perfect health at Athens to the age of a hundred and five.6

139. Philolaos
This generation of the school really belongs, however, to a later period; it is with Philolaos we have now to deal. The facts we know about his teaching from external sources are few in number. The doxographers, indeed, ascribe to him an elaborate theory of the planetary system, but Aristotle never mentions his name in connexion with that. He gives it as the theory of "the Pythagoreans" or of "some Pythagoreans."7 It seems natural to suppose, however, that the Pythagorean elements of Plato's Phaedo and Gorgias come mainly from Philolaos. Plato makes Sokrates express surprise that Simmias and Kebes had not learnt from him why it is unlawful for a man to take his life,8 and it seems to be implied that the Pythagoreans at Thebes used the word "philosopher" in the special sense of a man who is seeking to find a way of release from the burden of this life.9 It is probable that Philolaos spoke of the body (σῶμα) as the tomb (σῆμα) of the soul.10 We seem to be justified, then, in holding that he taught the old Pythagorean religious doctrine in some form, and that he laid special stress on knowledge as a means of release. That is the impression we get from Plato, who is far the best authority we have.

We know further that Philolaos wrote on "numbers"; for Speusippos followed him in the account he gave of the Pythagorean theories on that subject.11 It is probable that he busied himself mainly with arithmetic, and we can hardly doubt that his geometry was of the primitive type described in an earlier chapter. Eurytos was his disciple, and we have seen (§ 47) that his views were still very crude.

We also know now that Philolaos wrote on medicine,12 and that, while apparently influenced by the theories of the Sicilian school, he opposed them from the Pythagorean standpoint. In particular, he said that our bodies were composed only of the warm, and did not participate in the cold. It was only after birth that the cold was introduced by respiration. The connexion of this with the old Pythagorean theory is clear. Just as the Fire in the macrocosm draws in and limits the cold dark breath which surrounds the world (§ 53), so do our bodies inhale cold breath from outside. Philolaos made bile, blood, and phlegm the causes of disease; and, in accordance with this theory, he had to deny that the phlegm was cold, as the Sicilian school held. Its etymology proved it to be warm. We shall see that it was probably this preoccupation with the medicine of the Sicilian school that gave rise to some of the most striking developments of later Pythagoreanism.

Burnet's Notes


1. Iambl. V. Pyth. 251. The ultimate authority for all this is Timaios. There is no need to alter the MS. reading Ἀρχύτου to Ἀρχίππου (as Diels does after Beckmann). We are dealing with a later generation, and the sentence opens with of οἱ δὲ λοιποὶ τῶν Πυθαγορείων, i.e. those other than Archippos and Lysis, who have been dealt with in the preceding section.

2. For Philolaos, see Plato, Phaed. 61 d 7; e 7; and for Lysis, Aristoxenos in Iambl. V. Pyth. 250 (R. P. 59 b).

3. Diog. viii. 79-83 (R. P. 61). Aristoxenos himself came from Taras. The story of Damon and Phintias (told by Aristoxenos) belongs to this time.

4. Diog. viii, 46 (R. P. 62).

5. The whole mise en scène of the Phaedo presupposes this, and it is quite incredible that Plato should have misrepresented the matter. Simmias and Kebes were a little younger than Plato and he could hardly have ventured to introduce them as disciples of Sokrates if they had not in fact been so. Xenophon too (Mem. i. 2. 48) includes Simmias and Kebes in his list of genuine disciples of Sokrates, and in another place (iii. 11, 7) he tells us that they had been attracted from Thebes by Sokrates and never left his side.

6. See Aristoxenos ap. Val. Max. viii. 13, ext. 3 ; and Souidas s.v.

7. See below, §§ 150-152.

8. Plato, Phaed. 61 d 6.

9. This appears to follow from the remark of Simmias in Phaed. 64 b. The whole passage would be pointless if the words φιλόσοφος, φιλοσοφεῖν, φιλοσοφία had not in some way become familiar to the ordinary Theban of the fifth century. Now Herakleides Pontikos made Pythagoras invent the word, and expound it in a conversation with Leon, tyrant of Sikyon or Phleious. Cf. Diog. i. 12 (R. P. 3), viii. 8; Cic. Tusc. v. 3. 8. Cf. also the remark of Alkidamas quoted by Arist. Rhet. B, 23. 1398 b i8, Θήβησιν ἅμα οἱ προστάται φιλόσοφοι ἐγένοντο καὶ εὐδαιμόνησεν ἡ πόλις.

10. For reasons which will appear, I do not attach importance in this connexion to Philolaos, fr. 14 Diels=23 Mullach (R. P. 89), but it does seem likely that the μυθολογῶν κομψὸς ἀνήρ of Gorg. 493 a 5 (R. P. 89 b) is responsible for the whole theory there given. He is certainly, in any case, the author of the τετρημένος πίθος, which implies the same general view. Now he is called ἴσως Σικελός τις ἢ Ἰταλικός, which means he was an Italian; for the Σικελός τις is merely an allusion to the Σικελὸς κομψὸς ἀνὴρ ποτὶ τὰν ματέρ' ἔφα of Timokreon. We do not know of any Italian from whom Socrates could have learnt these views except Philolaos or one of his associates.

11. See above, Chap. II. p. 102, n. 2.

12. It is a good illustration of the defective character of our tradition (Introd. p. 26) that this was quite unknown till the publication of the extracts from Menon's Iatrika contained in the Anonymus Londinensis. See Diels in Hermes, xxviii. pp. 417 sqq.

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