The Golden Verses of Pythagoras, by Fabre d'Olivet, , at sacred-texts.com
I have spoken at considerable length of the skeptics; but I have believed it necessary in explaining a dogmatic work, whose esprit is wholly opposed to that of skepticism. When Lysis wrote in Greece, there had been no one as yet who doubted either the existence of the gods, or that of the Universe, or made the distinction between good and evil, virtue and vice. Arcesilaus and Pyrrho were not born, and the clouds that they raised afterwards concerning these great subjects of the meditation of the sages were not even suspected. The minds had inclined rather toward credulity than toward doubt; toward superstition than toward atheism; it was more necessary to limit their curiosity than
to excite their indifference. At that epoch, the philosophers enveloped the truth with veils, and rendered the avenues of science difficult, so that the vulgar might not profane them. They knew what had been too long forgotten: that all kinds of wood are not fitting to make a Mercury. Also their writers were obscure and sententious: in order to dishearten, not those who might be able to doubt, but those who were not in a condition to comprehend.
Today, as the minds are changed, it is of more importance to attract those who are able to receive the truth, than to keep at a distance those who are unable to receive it; the latter, separating themselves, are persuaded that they either possess it or have no need of it. I have given the history of skepticism; I have shown its origin and the sorry effects of its absolute and disordered influence; not in order to bring back the skeptics of the profession, but to endeavour to prevent the men who are still drifting in uncertainty from becoming so. I have essayed to show them by the example of one of the greatest reasoners of Germany, by the example of Kant, that reason alone, with whatever talents it may be accompanied, cannot fail to lead them to nothingness. I have made them see that this faculty so lauded is nothing of itself. I am content with the example of the Koenigsberg professor; but had I not feared prolixities, I would have added the example of Berkeley and that of Spinoza. The varied catastrophes of these three savants form a striking contrast. Kant, following step by step his pure Reason, comes to see that the knowledge of intelligible things is impossible and finds matter; Berkeley, led by the same reason, proves that the existence of matter is illusory, and that all is spirit; Spinoza, drawing irresistible arguments from this same faculty, shows that there exists and can exist only one sole substance and that therefore spirit and matter are but one. And do not think that, armed with reason alone, you can combat separately Spinoza, Berkeley, or Kant: their contradictory systems will clash in vain; they will triumph
over you and will push you into the dark and bottomless abyss of skepticism.
Now, how can this be done? I have told you: it is because man is not a simple being. Fix this truth firmly. Man is triple; and it is according as his volitive unity operates in one or the other of his modifications that he is led on to see, in such or such a way. Plato has said it, following Pythagoras, and I say it to you not only following Pythagoras and Plato, but following all the sages and all the theosophists of the world. Plato places in the superior and spiritual modification, composed of the same, that is to say of the indivisible substance of the universe, the hegemonicon, a or the intellectual assent; in the inferior and material modification, composed of the other or the diverse, that is to say, of the divisible substance, the physicon, b or the physical sense perception; in the median modification or the soul, properly speaking, composed of essence, that is to say, of the most subtle parts of matter elaborated by the spirit, the logicon, c or the moral, logical, or reasonable sentiment. One finds in Plutarch the résumé of the doctrine of a philosopher named Sylla, who, admitting, as did Plato, that man is composed of spirit, soul, and body, said that the body drew its origin from the earth, the soul from the moon, and the spirit from the sun. d But without disturbing ourselves for the present, with the origin of these three parts, since assuredly the earth, the moon, and the sun, which this philosopher has assigned them for principles, are things very difficult to understand in themselves, let us be content with knowing, as I have already said, that these
three great modifications which form the human Quaternary manifest themselves by sensation, sentiment, and assent, and develop the principal faculties of the instinct, the understanding, and the intelligence. The instinct is the seat of common sense; the understanding is that of reason; and the intelligence, that of sagacity or wisdom. Men can never acquire any science, any real knowledge, if the assent is not determined by favour of the intelligence which elects the principle and places it with sagacity; for one can really know or understand only that to which the intelligence has given consent. All the results that the understanding, deprived of intelligence, can procure by means of reason are only opinions, those of these results which are rigorously demonstrated in the manner of the geometricians are identities; common sense transported even into the understanding can give only notions, the certainty of which, however founded it may be upon experience, can never surpass that of physical sensation, whose transient and limited authority is of no weight in the assent of intelligible truths.
Let us venture now to divulge a secret of the mysteries to which Pythagoras made allusion when he said: that not all kinds of wood are fitting to make a Mercury; and notwithstanding the vulgar prejudice which is opposed to this truth, let us affirm that animistic equality among men is a chimera. I feel that here I am about to clash greatly with theological ideas and to put myself in opposition to many brilliant paradoxes that modern philosophers, more virtuous than wise, have raised and sustained with more talent and reason than sagacity; but the force of my subject draws me on and since I am explaining the doctrine of Pythagoras, it is indeed necessary that I should say why Lysis, after having examined and commended in detail all the human virtues in the purgative part of his teachings, begins again a new instruction in the unitive part and promises to lead one to divine virtues. This important distinction
that he makes between these two kinds of virtues has been made by Plato, Aristotle, Galen, and many others of the philosophers of antiquity. a One of them, Macrobius, to whom we owe the knowledge and explanation of many of the mystic secrets, which, notwithstanding the extreme care exercised to conceal them, were rumoured outside of the sanctuaries, has made a comparison between the degrees of the initiation and those that one admits in the exercise of the virtues; and he enumerates four. b This number, which is related to the universal Quaternary, has been the most constantly followed, although it may have varied, however, from three to seven. The number three was regarded by the ancients as the principle of nature, and the number seven as its end. c The principal degrees of initiation were, to the number of three, as the grades of the apprentice, companion, and master are in Free Masonry today. From this comes the epithet of Triple, given to the mysterious Hecate, and even to Mithra, considered as the emblem of mystic knowledge. d Sometimes three secondary degrees were added to the three principal ones and were terminated by an extraordinary revelation, which raising the initiate to the rank of Epopt, or seer par excellence, gave him the true signification of the degrees through which he had already passed e; showed him nature unveiled, f and admitted him to the contemplation of divine knowledge. g It was for the Epopt alone that the last veil fell, and the sacred vestment which covered the statue of the
[paragraph continues] Goddess was removed. This manifestation, called Epiphany, shed the most brilliant light upon the darkness which until then had surrounded the initiate. It was prepared, said the historians, by frightful tableaux with alternatives of both terror and hope. a The grade of Elect has replaced that of Epopt among the Free Masons, without in any sense offering the same results. The forms are indeed nearly preserved; but the substance has disappeared. The Epopt of Eleusis, Samothrace, or Hierapolis was regarded as the foremost of men, the favourite of the gods, and the possessor of celestial treasures; the sun shone, in his sight, with a purer brightness; and the sublime virtue that he had acquired in the tests, more and more difficult, and the lessons more and more lofty, gave him the faculty of discerning good and evil, truth and error, and of making a free choice between them. b
But if the various grades of initiation expressed symbolically the different degrees of virtue to which men in general can attain, the tests that one was made to pass through at each new grade, made known in particular, whether the man who presented himself to obtain it, was worthy or unworthy. These tests were at first sufficiently easy; but they became increasingly difficult to such an extent that the life of the new member was frequently in danger. One would know in that way to what sort of man this life belonged, and verify by the crucible of terror and of suffering, the temper of the soul and the claim of his right to the truth. It is known that Pythagoras owed to his extreme patience and to the courage with which he surmounted all the obstacles, his initiation into the Egyptian mysteries. c Those who attained as he did the last degree of initiation were very rare; the greater number went no further than the second grade and very few attained the third. Lessons
proportionate to their strength and to those of the faculties that had been recognized as dominating in them were given; for this is the essential point in this Examination, one learned in the sanctuaries to divide the mass of humanity into three great classes, dominated by a fourth more elevated, according to the relations that were established between the faculties of men and the parts of the Universe to which they corresponded. In the first were ranged the material or instinctive men; in the second, the animistic, and in the third, the intellectual men. Thus all men were by no means considered as equal among them. The pretended equality which was made on the exterior was mere compliance to the errors of the vulgar, who, having seized the authority in most of the cities of Greece and Italy, forced the truth to conceal an exposure which would have injured it. The Christian cult, raised upon the extinction of all enlightenment, nourished in the hearts of slaves and lowly citizens, sanctified in the course of time a precedent favourable to its growth. Those, however, among the Christians who were called gnostics, a on account of the particular knowledge that they possessed, and especially the Valentinians who boasted that they had preserved the knowledge of the initiation, wished to make a public dogma of the secret of the mysteries in this respect, pretending that the corruption of men being only the effect of their ignorance and of their earthly attachment, it was only necessary in order to save them, to enlighten them regarding their condition and their original destination b; but the orthodox ones, who felt the danger into which this doctrine was drawing them, condemned the authors as heretics.
This condemnation, which satisfied the pride of the vulgar, did not prevent the small number of sages remaining silent, faithful to the truth. It is only necessary to open ones eyes, and detaching them a moment from Judea, to
see that the dogma of inequality among men had served as basis for the civil and religious laws of all the peoples of the earth, from the orient of Asia to the occidental limits of Africa and Europe. Everywhere, four great established divisions under the name of Castes, recalled the four principal degrees of initiation and retraced upon humanity en masse, the Universal Quaternary. Egypt had, in this respect, in very ancient times, given example to Greece a; for this Greece, so proud of her liberty, or rather of her turbulent anarchy, had been at first subjected to the common division, even as it is seen in Aristotle and Strabo. b The Chaldeans were, relative to the peoples of Assyria, c only what the Magi were among the Persians, d the Druids among the Gauls, e and the Brahmans among the Indians. It is quite well known that this last people, the Brahmans, constitute the foremost and highest of the four castes of which the whole nation is composed. The allegorical origin that religion gives to these castes proves clearly the analogy of which I have spoken. The following is what is found relative to this in one of the Shastras. "At the first creation by Brahma, the Brahmans sprang from his mouth; the Kshatrys issued from his arms; the Vaisyas from his thighs, and the Soudras from his feet." It is said in another of these books containing the cosmogony of the Banians, that the first man, called Pourou, having had four sons named Brahma, Kshetri, Vaisa, and Souderi, God designated them to be chiefs of the four tribes which he himself instituted. f The sacred books of the Burmans, which appear
anterior to those of the other Indian nations, establish the same division. The Rahans, who fill the sacerdotal offices among these peoples, teach a doctrine conformable to that of the mysteries. They say that inequality among men is a necessary consequence of their past virtues or past vices, and that they are born in a nation more or less enlightened, in a caste, in a family, more or less illustrious, according to their previous conduct. a This is very close to the thought of Pythagoras; but no one has expressed it with greater force and clearness than Kong-Tse. I think I have no need to say that these two sages did not copy each other. The assent that they gave to the same idea had its source elsewhere than in sterile imitation.
The Chinese people, from time immemorial, have been divided into four great classes, relative to the rank that men occupy in society, following the functions that they execute therein, b very nearly as do the Indians: but this division, that long custom has rendered purely political, is looked upon very differently by the philosophers. Man, according to them, constitutes one of the three productive powers which compose the median trinity of the Universe; for they consider the Universe, or the great All, as the expression of a triple Trinity enveloped and dominated by the primordial Unity: which constitutes for them a decade instead of a Quaternary. This third power called Yin, that is to say, mankind, is subdivided into three principal classes, which by means of the intermediary classes admitted by Kong-Tse, produces the five classes spoken of by this sage.
The first class, the most numerous, comprises [he said] that multitude of men who act only by a sort of imitative instinct, doing today what they did yesterday, in order to recommence tomorrow what they have done today; and who, incapable of discerning in the distance the real and substantial advantages, the
interest of highest importance, extract easily a little profit, a base interest in the pettiest things, and have enough adroitness to procure them. These men have an understanding as the others but this understanding goes no further than the senses; they see and hear only through the eyes and the ears of their bodies. Such are the people.
The second class is composed [according to the same sage] of men instructed in the sciences, in letters and in the liberal arts. These men have an object in view in whatever they undertake, and know the different means by which the end can be accomplished; they have not penetrated into the essence of things, but they know them well enough to speak of them with ease and to give lessons to others; whether they speak or whether they act, they can give reason for what they say or what they do, comparing subjects among them and drawing just inferences concerning what is harmful or profitable: these are the artists, the literati, who are occupied with things wherein reasoning must enter. This class can have an influence on customs and even on the government.
The third class [continues Kong-Tse] comprises those who in their speech, in their actions, and in the whole of their conduct, never deviate from what is prescribed by right reason; who do good without any pretension whatsoever; but only because it is good; who never vary, and show themselves the same in adversity as in fortune. These men speak when it is necessary to speak, and are silent when it is necessary to be silent. They are not satisfied with drawing the sciences from the diverse channels destined to transmit them, but go back to the source. These are the philosophers.
Those who never digress from the fixed and immutable rule which they have traced out for themselves, who, with utmost exactness and a constancy always the same, fulfill to the very least, their obligations, who fight their passions, observe themselves unceasingly, and prevent vices from developing; those finally, who speak no word which is not measured and that may not be useful for instruction, and who fear neither trouble nor labour in order to make virtue prosper in themselves and in others, constitute the fourth class, which is that of virtuous men.
The fifth class, finally [adds Kong-Tse], which is the loftiest
and sublimest, comprises the extraordinary men, who unite in their persons the qualities of the spirit and heart, perfected by the blessed habit of fulfilling voluntarily and joyfully, what nature and morals impose jointly upon reasonable beings living in society. Imperturbable in their mode of life, like unto the sun and the moon, the heavens and the earth, they never cease their beneficent operations; they act by intelligence and as spirits see without being seen. This class, very few in number, can be called that of the Perfect ones, the Saints. a
I have transcribed what has just been read without changing a single word. If the reader has given to this extract the attention that it merits, he will have seen the doctrine of Pythagoras such as I have revealed and the important distinction between Instinct, Reason, and Intelligence such as I have established; he will have seen the dogma of the mysteries concerning the animistic inequality of men, of which I have spoken, and will have easily recognized, in the right reason which constitutes the third class according to the Chinese theosophist, the pure reason which has directed the German philosopher in the establishment of critical philosophy. This right reason, being quite near to human virtues, is still very far from Wisdom which alone leads to Truth. Nevertheless it can reach there, for nothing is impossible for the Will of man, even as I have quite forcibly stated b; but it would be necessary for that, to make acquisition of the divine virtues, and in the same manner that one is raised from instinct to understanding by purification, to pass from understanding to intelligence by perfection. Lysis offers the means: it is by knowledge of oneself that he promises to lead one to this desired end; he assures it, he invokes the name of Pythagoras himself:
218:a In Greek τὸ ἡγεμονικόν, that which dominates and rules, that which is intelligible.
218:b In Greek τὸ φυσικόν, that which pertains to generative nature, that which is physical, and sentient.
218:c In Greek τὸ λογικόν, that which pertains to reasonable nature, that which is logical, the thing which proves that another thing is. Voyez Platon, in Tim., et conférez avec Beausobre, Hist. du Manich., t. ii., p. 174.
218:d Plutar., de Facie in Orb. lun., p. 943.
220:a The first kind of virtue is called ἀνθωπίνη, human, and the second ἡρωικὴ καὶ δία, heroic and divine. Attention should be given to these epithets which are related to the three principal faculties of man. Aristot., ad Nicom., I. vii., c. 1; Plato, in Theætet.; Gallien, in Cognit et Curai. morb. anim., l. i., c. 3, et 6; Theod. Marcil, in Aur. Carmin.
220:b In Somn. Scip., c. 8.
220:c Aristot., de Cælo et Mundo, l. i.; Philo, de Mund. opific.
220:d Pausan., in Corinth., p. 72; Tzetz., in Schol.
220:e Suidas, in Εποπ; Harpocr., ibid.
220:f Clem. Alex., l. v., p. 582.
220:g Psellus, Ad Oracul. Zoroastr.
221:a Meurs. Eleus., c. 12; Dion. Chrysost., Orat. xii.
221:b Sophocl. apud Plutar., De Audiend. Poet. Schol.; Aristoph., De Pace.
221:c Porphyr., Vitâ Pythag., p. 5.
222:a γνῶσις, savant.
222:b Epiph., l. i.; Plucquet, Dictionn. des Hérésies, t. ii., p. 72.
223:a Diod. Sicul., l. i.; Herodot., l. ii.
223:b Aristot., Polit., l. ii.; Strab., l. viii.
223:c Voyez DANIEL, et conférez avec Court de Gébelin, Monde primitif, t. viii., p. 9.
223:d Zend-Avesta, 14e hâ, p. 127.
223:e Pomp. Mela, iii., c. 2; César, l. vi., c. 14; Pelloutier, Hist. des Celtes, l. iv., ch. 1, § 27 et 30.
223:f The first Shastra is entitled Djatimala. I am ignorant of the title of the other, that I cite from Henry Lord: Discovery of the Banian Religion, in Church, Collect., vol. vi.
224:a Asiat. Research., tom. vi., p. 254.
224:b Mémoir. concern. les Chin., t. ii., p. 174 et suiv.
226:a Vie de Kong-Tzée, p. 237 et suiv.
226:b Voyez le 12e Examen.