Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
38. Life of Pythagoras 40. Downfall of the Order

From Chapter II., Science and Religion

39. The Order
The Pythagorean Order was simply, in its origin, a religious fraternity, and not, as has been maintained, a political league.40 Nor had it anything whatever to do with the "Dorian aristocratic ideal." Pythagoras was an Ionian, and the Order was originally confined to Achaian states.41 Moreover the "Dorian aristocratic ideal" is a fiction based on the Sokratic idealisation of Sparta and Crete. Corinth, Argos, and Syracuse are quite forgotten. Nor is there any evidence that the Pythagoreans favoured the aristocratic party.42 The main purpose of the Order was the cultivation of holiness. In this respect it resembled an Orphic society, though Apollo, and not Dionysos, was the chief Pythagorean god. That is doubtless due to the connexion of Pythagoras with Delos, and explains why the Krotoniates identified him with Apollo Hyperboreios.43

Burnet's Notes


40. Plato, Rep. x. 600 a 9, clearly implies that Pythagoras held no public office. The view that the Pythagorean sect was a political league, maintained in modern times by Krische (De societatis a Pythagora conditae scopo politico, 1830), goes back as Rohde has shown (loc. cit.), to Dikaiarchos, the champion of the "Practical Life," just as the view that it was primarily a scientific society goes back to the mathematician and musician Aristoxenos.

41. The idea that the Pythagoreans represented the "Dorian ideal" dies very hard. In his Kulturhistorische Beiträdge (Heft i. p. 59), Max C. P. Schmidt imagines that later writers call the founder of the sect Pythagoras instead of Pythagores, as he is called by Herakleitos and Demokritos, because he had become "a Dorian of the Dorians." The fact is simply that Πυθαγόρας is the Attic form of Πυθαγόρης, and is no more "Doric" than Ἀναξαγόρας. Even in the reign of Trajan, the Samians still knew that Πυθαγόρης was the correct spelling. Cf. the title vignette in Diels, Vors.

42. The only statement which might suggest that Pythagoras took the aristocratic side is the remark in Diogenes (viii. 3) ὥστε σχεδὸν εἶναι ἀριστοκρατίαν τὴν πολιτείαν. That may come from Timaios, but (as the adverb σχεδόν shows) it is not to be taken literally. The Pythagorean rule was no doubt an ἀριστοκρατία in the sense given to the word by Sokrates in Plato's Republic, but it was not based either on birth or on wealth, so that it was not an aristocracy in the common Greek sense of the word, and still less an oligarchy. It was more like the "Rule of the Saints." Kylon, the chief opponent of the Pythagoreans, is described by Aristoxenos (Iamb. V. Pyth. 248) as γένει καὶ δόξῃ καὶ πλούτῳ πρωτεύων τῶν πολιτῶν. Taras, later the chief seat of the Pythagoreans, was a democracy. (Cf. Strabo, vi. p. 280, ἴσχυσαν δέ ποτε οἱ Ταραντῖνοι καθ' ὑπερβολὴν πολιτευόμενοι δημοκρατικῶς . . . ἀπεδέξαντο δὲ καὶ τὴν Πυθαγόρειον φιλοσοφίαν κτλ. The truth is that, at this time, the new religion appealed to the people rather than the aristocracies, which were apt to be "free-thinking." Xenophanes, not Pythagoras, is their man.

43. We have the authority of Aristotle, fr. 186. 1510 b 20, for this identification. The names of Abaris and Aristeas stand for a mystical movement parallel to the Orphic, but based on the worship of Apollo. The later tradition makes them predecessors of Pythagoras; and that this has some historical basis appears from Herod. iv. 13 sqq., and above all from the statement that Aristeas had a statue at Metapontion, where Pythagoras died. The connexion of Pythagoras with Salmoxis belongs to the same order of ideas. As the legend of the Hyperboreans is Delian, we see that the religion taught by Pythagoras was genuinely Ionian in its origin, and had nothing to do with Dionysos.

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