Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
42. Transmigration 44. Akousmata

From Chapter II., Science and Religion

43. Abstinence
It has indeed been doubted whether we can accept what we are told by such late writers as Porphyry on the subject of Pythagorean abstinence. Aristoxenos undoubtedly said Pythagoras did not abstain from animal flesh in general, but only from that of the ploughing ox and the ram.54 He also said that Pythagoras preferred beans to every other vegetable, as being the most laxative, and that he was partial to sucking-pigs and tender kids.55 The palpable exaggeration of these statements shows, however, that he is endeavouring to combat a belief which existed in his own day, so we can show, out of his own mouth, that the tradition which made the Pythagoreans abstain from animal flesh and beans goes back to a time long before the Neopythagoreans. The explanation is that Aristoxenos had been the friend of the last of the Pythagoreans; and, in their time, the strict observance had been relaxed, except by some zealots whom the heads of the Society refused to acknowledge.56 The "Pythagorists" who clung to the old practices were now regarded as heretics, and it was said that the Akousmatics, as they were called, were really followers of Hippasos, who had been excommunicated for revealing secret doctrines. The genuine followers of Pythagoras were the Mathematicians.57 The satire of the poets of the Middle Comedy proves, however, that, even though the friends of Aristoxenos did not practise abstinence, there were plenty of people in the fourth century, calling themselves followers of Pythagoras, who did.58 We know also from Isokrates that they still observed the rule of silence.59 History has not been kind to the Akousmatics, but they never wholly died out. The names of Diodoros of Aspendos and Nigidius Figulus help to bridge the gulf between them and Apollonios of Tyana.

We have seen that Pythagoras taught the kinship of beasts and men, and we infer that his rule of abstinence from flesh was based, not on humanitarian or ascetic grounds but on taboo. This is strikingly confirmed by a statement in Porphyry's Defence of Abstinence, to the effect that, though the Pythagoreans did as a rule abstain from flesh, they nevertheless ate it when they sacrificed to the gods.60 Now, among primitive peoples, we often find that the sacred animal is slain and eaten on certain solemn occasions, though in ordinary circumstances this would be the greatest of all impieties. Here, again, we have a primitive belief; and we need not attach any weight to the denials of Aristoxenos.61

Burnet's Notes


54. Aristoxenos ap. Diog. viii. 20, πάντα μὲν τὰ ἄλλα συγχωρεῖν αὐτὸν ἐσθίειν ἔμψυχα, μόνον δ' ἀπέχεσθαι βοὸς ἀροτῆρος καὶ κριοῦ.

55. Aristoxenos ap. Gell. iv. 11, 5, Πυθαγόρας δὲ τῶν ὀσπρίων μάλιστα τὸν κύαμον ἐδοκίμασεν· λειαντικόν τε γὰρ εἶναι καὶ διαχωρητικόν· διὸ καὶ μάλιστα κὲχρηται αὐτῷ; ib. 6, "porculis quoque minusculis et haedis tenerioribus victitasse, idem Aristoxenus refert." It is just possible that Aristoxenos may be right about the taboo on beans. We know that it was Orphic, and it may have been transferred to the Pythagoreans by mistake. That, however, would not affect the general conclusion that at least some Pythagoreans practised abstinence from various kinds of animal food, which is all that is required.

56. Yet even Aristoxenos recorded that, when Pherekydes died, he was buried by Pythagoras at Delos (Diog. i. 118). It was, perhaps, too notorious to be denied.

57. Hippasos of Kroton or Metapontion (in the catalogue of Iamblichos he is a Sybarite) is, we shall see, the regular scapegoat of the Pythagoreans. Iamblichos, who here follows Nikomachos, says (V. Pyth. 81; R. P. 56) that the μαθηματικοί were admitted to be Pythagoreans by the ἀκουσματικοί but did not recognise them in return. We are told (Diog. viii. 7) that the μυστικὸς λόγος ascribed to Pythagoras was really by Hippasos, who wrote it ἐπὶ διαβολῇ Πυθαγόρου, i.e. to throw discredit on him by representing him as a purely religious teacher. The term Πυθαγοριστής seems to have been used specially of the Akousmatics, while the scientific Pythagoreans were called Πυθαγόρειοι in the same way as the followers of other schools were called Ἀναξαγόρειοι, Ἡρακλείτειοι, and the like.

58. For the fragments, see Diels, Vors. 45 E. The most striking are Antiphanes, fr. 135, Kock, ὥσπερ Πυθαγορίζων ἐσθίει | ἔμψυχον οὐδέν; Alexis, fr. 220, οἱ Πυθαγορίζοντες γάρ, ὡς ἀκούομεν, | οὔτ' ὄψον ἐσθίουσιν οὔτ' ἄλλ' οὐδὲ ἓν | ἔμψυχον; fr. 196 (from the Πυθαγορίζουσα), ἡ δ' ἑστίασις ἰσχάδες καὶ στέμφυλα | καὶ τυρὸς ἔσται· ταῦτα γὰρ θύειν νόμος | τοῖς Πυθαγορείοις; Aristophon, fr. 9 (from the Πυθαγοριστής, πρὸς τῶν θεῶν οἰόμεθα τοὺς πάλαι ποτέ, | τοὺς Πυθαγοριστὰς γενομένους ὄντως ῥυπᾶν | ἑκόντας ἢ φορεῖν τριβῶνας ἡδέως; Mnesimachos, fr. 1, ὡς Πυθαγοριστὶ θύομεν τῷ Λοχίᾳ | ἔμψυχον οὐδὲν ἐσθίοντες παντελῶς. See also Theokritos xiv. 5, τοιοῦτος καὶ πρᾶν τις ἀφίκετο Πυθαγορικτάς, | ὠχρὸς κἀνυποδητός· Ἀθηναῖος δ' ἔφατ' ἦμεν..

59. Bousiris, § 29, ἔτι γὰρ καὶ νῦν τοὺς προσποιουμένους ἐκείνου μαθητὰς εἶναι μᾶλλον σιγῶντας θαυμάζουσιν ἢ τοὺς ἐπὶ τῷ λέγειν μεγίστην δόξαν ἔχοντας. The Pythagorean silence was called ἐχεμυθία or ἐχερρημοσύνη, both of which seem to be good Ionic words. It is probable that the silence was disciplinary rather than a means of keeping the doctrine secret.

60. See Bernays, Theophrastos' Schrift über Frömmigkeit. Porphyry's tract, Περὶ ἀποχῆς ἐμψύχων, is addressed to Castricius Firmus, who had fallen away from the strict vegetarianism of the Pythagoreans. The passage referred to is De abst. p. 58, 25 Nauck, ἰστοροῦσι δέ τινες καὶ αὐτοὺς ἅπτεσθαι τῶν ἐμψύχων τοὺς Πυθαγορείους, ὅτε θύοιεν θεοῖς. This does not come, like most of Porphyry's tract, from Theophrastos, but it is in all probability from Herakleides of Pontos. See Bernays, op. cit. p. 11. Cf. also Plutarch, Q. conv. 729 c (οἱ Πυθαγορικοὶ) ἐγεύοντο τῶν ἱεροθύτων ἀπαρξάμενοι τοῖς θεοῖς.

61. Porphyry (V. Pyth. c 15) has preserved a tradition to the effect that Pythagoras recommended a flesh diet for athletes (Milo?). This story must have originated at the same time as those related by Aristoxenos, and in a similar way. In fact, Bernays has shown that it comes from Herakleides of Pontos (Theophr. Schr. n. 8). Iamblichos (V. Pyth. 5. 25) and others (Diog. viii. 13, 47) got out of this by supposing it referred to a gymnast of the same name. We see here how the Neoplatonists endeavoured to go back to the original form of the Pythagorean legend, and to explain away the fourth-century reconstruction.

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