Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
139. Philolaus 141. The "Fragments of Philolaus"

From Chapter VII., The Pythagoreans

140. Plato and the Pythagoreans
Such, so far as I can judge, was the historical Philolaos, though he is usually represented in a very different light and has even been called a predecessor of Copernicus. To understand this, we must turn our attention to the story of a literary conspiracy.

We have seen that there are one or two references to Philolaos in Plato,13 but these hardly suggest that he played an important part in the development of Pythagorean science. The most elaborate account we have of this is put by Plato into the mouth of Timaios the Lokrian, of whom we know no more than he has chosen to tell us. It is clear at least that he is supposed to have visited Athens when Sokrates was still in the prime of life,14 and that he must have been practically a contemporary of Philolaos. It hardly seems likely that Plato should have given him the credit of discoveries which were really due to his better known contemporary. However, Plato had many enemies and detractors, and Aristoxenos was one of them. We know he made the extraordinary statement that most of the Republic was to be found in a work by Protagoras,15 and he seems also to be the original source of the story that Plato bought "three Pythagorean books" from Philolaos and copied the Timaeus out of them. According to this, the "three books" had come into the possession of Philolaos; and, as he had fallen into great poverty, Dion was able to buy them from him, or from his relatives, at Plato's request, for a hundred minae.16 It is certain, at any rate, that this story was already current in the third century; for the sillographer Timon of Phleious addresses Plato thus: "And of thee too, Plato, did the desire of discipleship lay hold. For many pieces of silver thou didst get in exchange a small book, and starting from it didst learn to write Timaeus."17 Hermippos, the pupil of Kallimachos, said that "some writer" said Plato himself bought the books from the relatives of Philolaos for forty Alexandrian minae and copied the Timaeus out of it; while Satyros, the Aristarchean, says he got it through Dion for a hundred minae.18 There is no suggestion in any of these accounts that the book was by Philolaos himself; they imply rather that what Plato bought was either a book by Pythagoras, or at any rate authentic notes of his teaching, which had come into the hands of Philolaos. In later times, it was generally supposed that the forgery entitled The Soul of the World, which goes by the name of Timaios the Lokrian, was meant;19 but it has now been proved that this cannot have existed earlier than the first century A.D. Moreover, it is plain that it is based on Plato's Timaeus itself, and that it was written in order to bolster up the story of Plato's plagiarism. It does not, however, fulfil the most important requirement, that of being in three books, which is always an essential feature of that story.20

Not one of the writers just mentioned professes to have seen these famous "three books";21 but at a later date there were at least two works which claimed to represent them. Diels has shown how a treatise in three sections, entitled Παιδευτικόν, πολιτικόν, φυσικόν, was composed in the Ionic dialect and attributed to Pythagoras. It was largely based on the Πυθαγορικαὶ ἀποφάσεις of Aristoxenos, but its date is uncertain.22 In the first century B.C., Demetrios Magnes professes to quote the opening words of the work published by Philolaos.23 These, however, are in Doric. Demetrios does not actually say this work was written by Philolaos himself, though it is no doubt the same from which a number of extracts are preserved under his name in Stobaios and later writers. If it professed to be by Philolaos, that was not quite in accordance with the original story; but it is easy to see how his name may have become attached to it. We are told that the other book which passed under the name of Pythagoras was really by Lysis.24 Boeckh has shown that the work ascribed to Philolaos probably consisted of three books also, and Proclus referred to it as the Bakchai,25 a fanciful Alexandrian title which recalls the "Muses" of Herodotos. Two of the extracts in Stobaios bear it. It must surely be confessed that the whole story is very suspicious.

Burnet's Notes


13. See p. 276, n. 2, and p. 278, n. 2.

14. This follows at once from the fact that he is represented as conversing with the elder Kritias (p. 203, n. 3), who is very aged, and with Hermokrates, who is quite young.

15. Diog. iii. 37. For similar charges, cf. Zeller, Plato, p. 429, n. 7.

16. Iambl. V. Pyth. 199. Diels is clearly right in ascribing the story to Aristoxenos (Arch. iii. p. 461, n. 26).

17. Timon, fr. 54 (Diels), ap. Gell. iii. 17 (R. P. 60 a).

18. For Hermippos and Satyros, see Diog. iii. 9; viii. 84, 85.

19. So Iambl. in Nicom. p. 105, 11; Proclus, in Tim. p. 1, Diehl.

20. They are τὰ θρυλούμενα τρία βιβλία (Iambl. V. Pyth. 199), τὰ διαβόητα τρία βιβλία (Diog. viii. 15).

21. As Bywater said (J. Phil. i. p. 29), the history of this work "reads like the history, not so much of a book, as of a literary ignis fatuus floating before the minds of imaginative writers."

22. Diels, "Ein gefälschtes Pythagorasbuch" (Arch, iii. pp. 451 sqq.).

23. Diog. viii. 85 (R. P. 63 b). Diels reads πρῶτον ἐκδοῦναι τῶν Πυθαγορικῶν <βιβλία καὶ ἐπιγράψαι Περὶ> Φύσεως.

24. Diog. viii. 7.

25. Proclus, in Eucl. p. 22, 15 (Friedlein). Cf. Boeckh, Philolaos, pp. 36 sqq. Boeckh refers to a sculptured group of three Bakchai, whom he supposes to be Ino, Agaue, and Autonoe.

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