Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
140. Plato and the Pythagoreans 142. The Problem

From Chapter VII., The Pythagoreans

141. The "Fragments of Philolaos"
Boeckh argued that all the fragments preserved under the name of Philolaos were genuine; but no one will now go so far as that. The lengthy extract on the soul is given up even by those who maintain the genuineness of the rest.26 It cannot be said that this position is plausible. Boeckh saw there was no ground for supposing that there ever was more than a single work, and he drew the conclusion that we must accept all the remains as genuine or reject all as spurious.27 As, however, many scholars still maintain the genuineness of most of the fragments, we cannot ignore them altogether. Arguments based on their doctrine would, it is true, present the appearance of a vicious circle at this stage, but there are two serious objections to the fragments, which may be mentioned at once.

In the first place, we must ask whether it is likely that Philolaos should have written in Doric? Ionic was the dialect of science and philosophy till the time of the Peloponnesian War, and there is no reason to suppose the early Pythagoreans used any other.28 Pythagoras was himself an Ionian, and it is not likely that in his time the Achaian states in which he founded his Order had adopted the Dorian dialect.29 Alkmaion of Kroton seems to have written in Ionic.30 Diels says that Philolaos and then Archytas were the first Pythagoreans to use the dialect of their homes;31 but Philolaos can hardly be said to have had a home, and it is hard to see why an Achaian refugee at Thebes should write in Doric.32 Nor did Archytas write in the Laconian dialect of Taras, but in what may be called "common Doric," and he is a generation later than Philolaos, which makes a great difference. In the time of Philolaos and later, Ionic was still used even by the citizens of Dorian states for scientific purposes. The Syracusan historian Antiochos wrote in Ionic, and so did the medical writers of Dorian Kos and Knidos. The forged work of Pythagoras, which some ascribed to Lysis, was in Ionic; and so was the book on the Akousmata attributed to Androkydes,33 which shows that, even in Alexandrian times, it was believed that Ionic was the proper dialect for Pythagorean writings.

In the second place, there can be no doubt that one of the fragments refers to the five regular solids, four of which are identified with the elements of Empedokles.34 Now Plato tells us in the Republic that stereometry had not been adequately investigated at the time that dialogue is supposed to take place,35 and we have express testimony that the five "Platonic figures," as they were called, were discovered in the Academy. In the Scholia to Euclid we read that the Pythagoreans only knew the cube, the pyramid (tetrahedron), and the dodecahedron, while the octahedron and the icosahedron were discovered by Theaitetos.36 This sufficiently justifies us in regarding the "fragments of Philolaos" with suspicion, and all the more so as Aristotle does not appear to have seen the work from which these fragments come.37

Burnet's Notes


26. The passage is given in R. P. 68. For a full discussion of this and the other fragments, see Bywater, "On the Fragments attributed to Philolaus the Pythagorean" (J. Phil. i. pp. 21 sqq.).

27. Boeckh, Philolaos, p. 38. Diels (Vors. p. 246) distinguishes the Bakchai from the three books Περὶ φύσιος (ib. p. 239). As, however, he identifies the latter with the "three books" bought from Philolaos, and regards it as genuine, this does not seriously affect the argument.

28. See Diels in Arch. iii. pp. 460 sqq.

29. On the Achaian dialect, see O. Hoffmann in Collitz and Bechtel, Dialekt-Inschriften, vol. ii. p. 151. How slowly Doric penetrated into the Chalkidian states may be seen from the mixed dialect of the inscription of Mikythos of Rhegion (Dial.-Inschr. iii. 2, p. 498), which is later than 468-67 B.C. There is no reason to suppose that the Achaian dialect of Kroton was less tenacious of life. We can see from Herodotos that there was a strong prejudice against the Dorians there.

30. The scanty fragments contain one Doric (or Achaian ?) form, ἔχοντι (fr. 1), but Alkmaion calls himself Κροτωνιήτης, which is very significant; for Κροτωνιάτας is the Achaian as well as the Doric form.

31. Arch. iii. p. 460.

32. He is distinctly called a Krotoniate in the extracts from Menon's Ἰατρικά (cf. Diog. viii. 84). It is true that Aristoxenos called him and Eurytos Tarentines (Diog. viii. 46), but this only means that he settled at Taras after leaving Thebes. These variations are common in the case of migratory philosophers. Eurytos is also called a Krotoniate and a Metapontine (Iamb. V. Pyth. 148, 266). Cf. also p. 330, n. 1 on Leukippos, and p. 351, n, 1 on Hippon.

33. For Androkydes, see Diels, Vors. p. 281. As Diels points out (Arch. iii. p. 461), even Lucian has sufficient sense of style to make Pythagoras speak Ionic.

34. Cf. fr. 12=20 M. (R. P. 79), which I read as it stands in the MS. of Stobaios, but bracketing an obvious adscript or dittography, καὶ τὰ ἐν τᾷ σφαίρᾳ σώματα πέντε ἐντί [τὰ ἐν τᾷ σφαίρᾳ], πῦρ, ὕδωρ καὶ γᾶ καὶ ἀήρ, καὶ ὁ τᾶς σφαίρας ὁλκὰς πεμπτόν. In any case, we are not justified in reading τὰ μὲν τᾶς σφαίρας σώματα with Diels. For the identification of the four elements with four of the regular solids, cf. § 147, and for the description of the fifth, the dodecahedron, cf. § 148.

35. Plato, Rep. 528 b.

36. Heiberg's Euclid, vol. v. p. 654, 1, ἐν τούτῳ τῷ βιβλίῳ, τουτέστι τῷ ιγʹ, γράφεται τὰ λεγόμενα Πλάτωνος ε σχημάτων τῶν Πυθαγορείων ἐστίν, ὅ τε κύβος καὶ ἡ πυραμὶς καὶ τὸ δωδεκάεδρον, Θεαιτήτου δὲ τό τε ὀκτάεδρον καὶ τὸ εἰκοσάεδρον. It is no objection to this that, as Newbold points out (Arch. xix. p. 204), the inscription of the dodecahedron is more difficult than that of the octahedron and icosahedron. We have no right to reject the definite testimony quoted above (no doubt from Eudemos) on grounds of a priori probability. As a matter of fact, there are Celtic and Etruscan dodecahedra of considerable antiquity in the Louvre and elsewhere (G. Loria, Scienze esatte p. 39), and the fact is significant in view of the connexion between Pythagoreanism and the North which has been suggested.

37. Philolaos is quoted only once in the Aristotelian corpus, in Eth. Eud. B, 8. 1225 a 33 ἀλλ' ὥσπερ Φιλόλαος ἔφη εἶναί τινας λόγους κρείττους ἡμῶν, which looks like an apophthegm. His name is not even mentioned anywhere else, and this would be inconceivable if Aristotle had ever seen a work of his which expounded the Pythagorean system. He must have known the importance of Philolaos from Plato's Phaedo, and would certainly have got hold of his book if it had existed. It should be added that Tannery held the musical theory of our fragments to be too advanced for Philolaos. It must, he argued, be later than Plato and Archytas (Rev. de Phil. xxviii. pp. 233 sqq.). His opinion on such a point is naturally of the greatest weight.

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