The Golden Verses of Pythagoras, by Fabre d'Olivet, , at sacred-texts.com
I have said that Pythagoras acknowledged two motives of human actions, the power of the Will and the necessity of Destiny, and that he subjected both to one fundamental law called Providence from which they emanated alike. The first of these motives was free, and the second constrained: so that man found himself placed between two opposed, but not injurious natures, indifferently good or bad, according as he understood the use of them. The power of the Will was exercised upon the things to be done,
or upon the future; the necessity of Destiny, upon the things done, or upon the past: and the one nourished the other unceasingly, by working upon the materials which they reciprocally furnished each other; for according to this admirable philosopher, it is of the past that the future is born, of the future that the past is formed, and of the union of both that is engendered the always existing present, from which they draw alike their origin: a most profound idea that the Stoics had adopted. a Thus, following this doctrine, liberty rules in the future, necessity in the past, and Providence over the present. Nothing that exists happens by chance but by the union of the fundamental and providential law with the human will which follows or transgresses it, by operating upon necessity. b The harmony of the Will and Providence constitutes Good; Evil is born of their opposition. Man has received three forces adapted to each of the three modifications of his being, to be guided in the course that he should pursue on earth and all three enchained to his Will. The first, attached to the body, is instinct; the second, devoted to the soul, is virtue; the third, appertaining to intelligence, is science or wisdom. These three forces, indifferent in themselves, take this name only through the good usage that the Will makes of it; for, through bad usage they degenerate into brutishness, vice, and ignorance. Instinct perceives the physical good or evil resulting from sensation; virtue recognizes the moral good or evil existing in sentiment; science judges the intelligible good or evil which springs from assent. In sensation, good or evil is called pleasure or pain; in sentiment, love or hate; in assent, truth or error. Sensation, sentiment, and assent, dwelling in the body, in the soul, and in the spirit, form a ternary, which becoming developed under favour of a relative unity constitutes the human quaternary, or Man considered abstractly. The three affections which compose this ternary act and react upon one another, and become mutually
enlightened or obscured; and the unity which binds them, that is to say, Man, is perfected or depraved, according as it tends to become blended with the Universal Unity or to become distinguished from it. The means that this ternary has of becoming blended with it, or of becoming distinguished from it, of approaching near or of drawing away from it, resides wholly in its Will, which, through the use that it makes of the instruments furnished it by the body, soul, and mind, becomes instinctive or stupefied; is made virtuous or vicious, wise or ignorant, and places itself in condition to perceive with more or less energy, to understand and to judge with more or less rectitude what there is of goodness, excellence, and justice in sensation, sentiment, or assent; to distinguish, with more or less force and knowledge, good and evil; and not to be deceived at last in what is really pleasure or pain, love or hatred, truth or error.
Indeed one feels that the metaphysical doctrine that I have just briefly set forth is nowhere found so clearly expressed, and therefore I do not need to support it with any direct authority. It is only by adopting the principles set down in the Golden Verses and by meditating a long time upon what has been written by Pythagoras that one is able to conceive the ensemble. The disciples of this philosopher having been extremely discreet and often obscure, one can only well appreciate the opinions of their master by throwing light upon them with those of the Platonists and Stoics, who have adopted and spread them without any reserve. a
Man, such as I have just depicted him, according to the idea that Pythagoras has conceived, placed under the
dominion of Providence between the past and the future, endowed with a free will by his essence, and being carried along toward virtue or vice with its own movement, Man, I say, should understand the source of the evils that he necessarily experiences; and far from accusing this same Providence which dispenses good and evil to each according to his merit and his anterior actions, can blame only himself if he suffers, through an inevitable consequence of his past mistakes. a For Pythagoras admitted many successive existences, b and maintained that the present, which strikes us, and the future, which menaces us, are only the expression of the past which has been our work in anterior times. He said that the greater part of men lose, in returning to life, the remembrance of these past existences; but that, concerning himself, he had, by a particular favour of the gods, preserved the memory of them. c Thus according to his doctrine, this fatal Necessity, of which man unceasingly complains, has been created by himself through the use of his will; he traverses, in proportion as he advances in time, the road that he has already traced for himself; and according as he has modified it by good or evil, as he sows so to speak, his virtues or his vices, he will find it again more smooth or laborious. when the time will come to traverse it anew.
These are the dogmas by means of which Pythagoras established the necessity of Destiny, without harming the power of the Will, and left to Providence its universal empire, without being obliged either to attribute to it the origin of evil, as those who admitted only one principle of things, or to give to evil an absolute existence, as those who admitted two principles. In this, he was in accordance with the ancient doctrine which was followed by the oracles of the gods. d The Pythagoreans, however, did not regard
pain, that is to say, whatever afflicts the body in its mortal life, as veritable evils; they called veritable evils only sins, vices, and errors into which one falls voluntarily. In their opinion, the physical and inevitable evils being illustrated by the presence of virtue, could be transformed into blessings and become distinguished and enviable. a These last evils, dependent upon necessity, Lysis commended to be judged for what they were; that is, to consider as an inevitable consequence of some mistake, as the chastisement or remedy for some vice; and therefore to endure them, and far from irritating them further by impatience and anger, on the contrary to modify them by the resignation and acquiescence of the will to the judgment of Providence. He does not forbid, as one sees in the lines cited, assuaging them by lawful means; on the contrary, he desires that the sage should apply himself to diverting them if possible, and healing them. Thus this philosopher did not fall into the excess with which the Stoics have been justly reproached. b He considered pain evil, not that it was of the same nature as vice, but because its nature, a purgative for vice, makes it a necessary consequence. Plato adopted this idea, and made all the inferences felt with his customary eloquence. c
As to what Lysis said, always following Pythagoras, that the sage was never exposed to the cruelest evils, this can be understood as Hierocles has understood it, in a simple and natural manner, or in a more mysterious manner as I stated. It is evident at once, in following the inferences of the principles which have been given, that the sage is not, in reality, subject to the severest evils, since, not aggravating by his emotions those which the necessity of destiny
inflict upon him, and bearing them with resignation, he alleviates them; living happy, even in the midst of misfortune, in the firm hope that these evils will no more trouble his days, and certain that the divine blessings which are reserved for virtue, await him in another life. a Hierocles, after having revealed this first manner of explaining the verse in question, touches lightly upon the second, in saying that the Will of man can have an influence on Providence, when, acting in a lofty soul, it is assisted by succour from heaven and operates with it. b This was a part of the doctrine taught in the mysteries, whose divulgence to the profane was forbidden. According to this doctrine, of which sufficiently strong traces can be recognized in Plato, c the Will, exerting itself by faith, was able to subjugate Necessity itself, to command Nature, and to work miracles. It was the principle upon which was founded the magic of the disciples of Zoroaster. d Jesus saying parabolically, that by means of faith one could remove mountains, e only spoke according to the theosophical traditions known to all the sages. "The uprightness of the heart and faith triumphs over all obstacles," said Kong-Tse f; "all men can render themselves equal to the sages and to the heroes whose memory the nations revere," said Meng-Tse; "it is never the power which is lacking, it is the will; provided one desire, one succeeds." g These ideas of the Chinese theosophists are found in the writings of the Indians, h and even in those of some Europeans who, as I have already observed, had not enough erudition to be imitators. "The greater the will," said Boehme, "the greater the being and
the more powerfully inspired." a "Will and liberty are the same thing." b "It is the source of light, the magic which makes something from nothing." c
The Will which goes resolutely forward is faith; it models its own form in spirit and overcomes all things; by it, a soul receives the power of carrying its influence in another soul, and of penetrating its most intimate essences. When it acts with God it can overthrow mountains, break the rocks, confound the plots of the impious, and breathe upon them disorder and dismay; it can effect all prodigies, command the heavens, the sea, and enchain death itself: it subjugates all. Nothing can be named that cannot be commanded in the name of the Eternal. The soul which executes these great things only imitates the prophets and the saints, Moses, Jesus, and the apostles. All the elect have a similar power. Evil disappears before them. Nothing can harm the one in whom God dwells." d
It is in departing from this doctrine, taught as I have said in the mysteries, that certain gnostics of the Alexandrian school assert that evils never attended the true sages, if there were found men who might have been so in reality; for Providence, image of divine justice, would never allow the innocent to suffer and be punished. Basil, who was one of those who supported this Platonic opinion, e was sharply reprimanded by the orthodox Christians, who treated him as a heretic, quoting to him the example of the martyrs. Basil replied that the martyrs were not entirely innocent, because there is no man exempt from faults; that God punishes in them, either evil desires, actual and secret sins, or sins that the soul had committed in a previous existence; and as they did not fail to oppose him again with the example of Jesus, who, although fully innocent, had, however,
suffered the torture of the cross, Basil answered without hesitation that God had been just, in his opinion, and that Jesus, being man, was no more than another exempt from sin. a
168:a Senec., De Sen., l. vi., c. 2.
168:b Hiérocl., Aur. carmin., v. 18.
169:a Jamblic., De Vitâ Pythag.; Porphyr., ibid., et de Abstin.; Vitâ Pythag. apud; Phot., Cod., 259; Diog. Laërt., In Pythag., l. viii.; Hierocl., Comment. in Aur. Carm.; ibid., De Provident.; Philost., In Vitâ Apollon; Plutar., De Placit. philos.; ibid., De Procreat. anim.; Apul., In Florid.; Macrob., In Saturn. et Somn. Scip.; Fabric., Bibl. græc. in Pythag.; Clem. Alex., Strom., passim., etc.
170:a Hiérocl., Aur. Carm., v. 14; Phot., Cod., 242 et 214.
170:b Diog. Laërt., In Pythag.; ibid., In Emped.
170:c Hiérocl., Pont. apud Diog. Laërt., l. viii., § 4.
170:d Maximus Tyrius has made a dissertation upon the origin of Evil, in p. 171 which he asserts that the prophetic oracles, having been consulted on this subject, responded by these two lines from Homer:
171:a Hiérocl., Aur. Carm., v. 18.
171:b Plutar., De Repugn. Stoïc.
171:c In Gorgi. et Phileb.
172:a Hiérocl., Aur. Carmin., v., 18.
172:b Hiérocl., Aur. Carmin., v. 18, 49 et 62.
172:c In Phédon; In Hipp., ii.; In Theæt.; De Rep., l. iv., etc.
172:d Hyde, De Relig. Vet. Pers., p. 298.
172:e Evan. S. Math., ch. xvii., v. 19.
172:f Vie de Kong-Tzée (Confucius), p. 324.
172:g Meng-Tzée, cité par Duhalde, t. ii., p. 334.
172:h Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita, lect. ii.
173:a XL Questions sur lAme (Viertzig Fragen von der Seilen Orstand, Essentz, Wesen, Natur and Eigenschafft, etc. Amsterdam, 1682). Quest. 1.
173:c IX Textes, text. 1 et 2.
173:d XL Questions, quest. 6.
173:e Plato, In Theag.