Pythagoras and the Delphic Mysteries, by Edouard Shuré, , at sacred-texts.com
AMONG the women who followed the master's teaching was a maiden of great beauty. Her father, an inhabitant of Croton, was named Brontinos. His daughter's name was Theano. Pythagoras was now sixty years of age, but mastery over passion and a pure life wholly consecrated to his mission, had kept him in perfect health and strength. The youth of the soul, that immortal flame the great initiate draws from his spiritual life and nourishes on the hidden forces of nature, shone forth in him, throwing into subjection all around. The Grecian mage was not at the decline, but rather at the height of his might. Theano was attracted to Pythagoras by the almost supernatural radiance emanating from his person. Grave and reserved, she had sought from the master an explanation of the mysteries she loved though without understanding them. When,
however, beneath the light of truth and the tender glow which gradually enveloped her, she felt her inmost soul expand like the mystic rose with its thousand petals, when she felt that this blossoming forth came from him and his wordsshe silently conceived for the master a boundless enthusiasm and a passionate love.
Pythagoras had made no effort to attract her. His love and affection were bestowed on all his disciples; he thought only of his school, of Greece and the future of the world. Like many great adepts, he had denied himself the pleasures of earthly love to devote himself to his work. The magic of his will, the spiritual possession of so many souls he had formed and who remained devoted to him as to a well-loved father, the mystic incense of all those unexpressed affections which came to him, and that exquisite fragrance of human sympathy which bound together the Pythagorean brethrenall this took the place of voluptuousness, of human happiness and love. One day, as he was alone, meditating on the future of his school in the crypt of Proserpine, he saw coming to him, with grave, resolute steps, this beautiful virgin to whom he had never spoken in private. She sank on her knees at his feet, and with downcast eyes begged the masterthe one
who could do everything!to set her free from an impossible, an unhappy love which was consuming her, body and soul. Pythagoras wished to know the name of the one she loved. After much hesitation, Theano confessed that it was himself, but that, ready for any sacrifice, she would submit to his will. Pythagoras made no reply. Encouraged by his silence, she raised her head with suppliant look. Her eyes seemed to contain the very essence of a life and soul offered as a sacrifice to the master.
The sage was greatly disturbed; he could overcome his senses and imagination, but the electric flash from that soul had pierced his own. In this virgin, matured by passion, her countenance transfigured by a sentiment of utter devotion, he had found his companion, and caught a faint glimpse of a more complete realization of his work. With troubled look, Pythagoras raised the maiden to her feet, and Theano saw from the master's eyes that their destinies were for ever united.
By his marriage with Theano, Pythagoras affixed the seal of realization to his work. The union and fusion of the two lives was complete. One day when the master's wife was asked what length of time elapsed before a woman could become
pure after intercourse with a man, she replied: "If it is with her husband, she is pure all the time; if with another man, she is never pure." Many women would smilingly remark that to give such a reply one must be the wife of Pythagoras, and love him as Theano did.
And they would be in the right, for it is not marriage which sanctifies love, it is love which justifies marriage. Theano entered so thoroughly into the thought and life of her husband, that after his death she became a centre for the Pythagorean order, and a Greek author quotes her opinion as that of an authority on the doctrine of Numbers. She bore Pythagoras two sons, Arimnestes and Telauges, and a daughter Damo. At a later date Telauges became the master of Empedocles, to whom he handed down the secrets of the doctrine.
The family of Pythagoras offered the order a real model to follow. His house was called the Temple of Ceres, and his court the Temple of the Muses. In domestic and religious festivals, the mother led the women's chorus, and Damo that of the maidens. In all respects Damo was worthy of her parents. Pythagoras entrusted to her certain writings expressly forbidding her to communicate them to any one outside the family. After
the dispersion of the Pythagoreans, Damo fell into great poverty. She was offered a large sum for the precious manuscript, but, faithful to her father's will, she always refused to part with it.
Pythagoras lived in Croton for thirty years. Within twenty years this extraordinary man had acquired such power that those who called him a demi-god were not looked upon as exaggerating. This power seemed to have something miraculous about it, no like influence had ever been exercised by a philosopher. It extended not merely to the school of Croton and its ramifications in other towns on the coast of Italy, but even to the politics of all these small states. Pythagoras was a reformer in the whole acceptation of the term. Croton, a colony of Achaïa, had an aristocratic constitution. The Council of the Thousand, drawn from the noblest families, carried on the legislative and kept watch over the executive power. Popular assemblies existed, though their power was restricted. Pythagoras, who wished the State to be all order and harmony, was no more enamoured of oligarchical compression than of the chaos of demagogy. Accepting the Doric constitution as it was, he simply tried to introduce a fresh mechanism into it. The idea was a bold one, for it consisted in the creation, over and above the
political power, of a scientific one with a deliberative and consultative voice in questions of vital interest, and becoming the key-stone, the supreme regulator of the State. Above the Council of the Thousand, he organized the Council of the Three Hundred, chosen by the former, but recruited from among the initiates alone. The number was sufficient for the task. Porphyrus relates that two thousand of the citizens of Croton gave up their wonted mode of living and united in order to live together with their wives and children after placing their possessions in one common stock. It was thus the wish of Pythagoras that at the head of the State there should be a scientific government, not so mysterious though quite as important as the Egyptian priesthood. What he realized for a short time remained the dream of all such initiates as dealt with politics, viz. the introduction of the principle of initiation and examination into the government of the State, and the reconciliation in this superior synthesis of the elective or democratic principle with a government constituted of a select number of intelligent and virtuous citizens. The result was that the Council of the Three Hundred formed a kind of political, scientific and religious order, of which Pythagoras himself was the recognized head. The members were
bound to him by a solemn and an awful oath of absolute secrecy, as was the case in the Mysteries. These societies or ἑταιρείαι spread from Croton, the seat of the original society, throughout almost the whole of the towns in Greater Greece, where they exercised a powerful political influence. The Pythagorean order also tended to become the head of the State throughout the whole of Southern Italy. Its ramifications extended to Tarentum, Heracleium, Metapontum, Rhegium, Himera, Catana, Agrigentum, Sybaris and, according to Aristoxenes, even among the Etruscans. As regards the influence of Pythagoras on the government of these rich and mighty cities, nothing loftier, nothing more liberal or pacific could be imagined. Wherever he appeared, order, justice and concord were restored. Once, when summoned into the presence of a tyrant of Sicily, he persuaded him, by his eloquence alone, to restore the wealth he had unjustly acquired and to abdicate a power he had usurped. Such towns as were subject to one another he made independent and free. So beneficent were his actions that when he went into a town the inhabitants would say: "He has not come to teach but rather to heal."
The sovereign influence of a great mind and
character, that magic of soul and intelligence, arouses jealousy and hatred which is only the more terrible and violent because it is itself the less capable of attack. His sway lasted a quarter of a century; the reaction came when the indefatigable adept had reached the age of ninety. It began in Sybaris, the rival of Croton, where a rising of the people took place and the aristocratic party was overthrown. Five hundred exiles asked the inhabitants of Croton to receive them, but the Sybarites demanded their extradition. Dreading the anger of a hostile town, the magistrates of Croton were on the point of complying with this demand when Pythagoras intervened. At his entreaty, they refused to hand over the unhappy suppliants to their implacable enemies, whereupon Sybaris declared war upon Croton. The Croton army, however, commanded by the famous athlete, Milon, a disciple of Pythagoras, completely defeated the Sybarites. The downfall of Sybaris followed; the town was taken and plundered, utterly destroyed and converted into a wilderness of ruins. It is impossible to admit that Pythagoras could have approved of so terrible a revenge, which was altogether opposed to his principles, as, indeed, to those of all initiates. Neither he nor Milon, however, could check the
unbridled passions of a conquering army, when once inflamed by long-standing jealousy and excited by an unjust attack.
Revenge, whether in individuals or in nations, always brings about a recoil of the passions let loose. The Nemesis of this vengeance was a terrible one; its consequences fell on Pythagoras and the whole of his order. After taking Sybaris, the people demanded a division of the land. Not content with obtaining this, the democratic party proposed a change of constitution, depriving the Council of the Thousand of its privileges, and suppressing the Council of the Three Hundred; they were no longer willing to admit any other authority than universal suffrage. Naturally the Pythagoreans, members of the Council of the Thousand, were opposed to a reform which was contrary to their principles and was undermining the patient work of their master. They had already become the object of that dull hatred which mystery and superiority ever arouse in the masses. Their political attitude excited the anger of the demagogy, and personal hatred against the master proved the spark which kindled the fire.
A certain Cylon had, some time before this, offered himself as a candidate for the School. Pythagoras, who was very strict in accepting
disciples, refused him because of his violent and headstrong disposition. This rejected candidate became a bitter enemy. When public opinion began to turn against Pythagoras he organized a club, a large popular society in opposition to that of the Pythagoreans. He succeeded in attracting to himself the principal leaders of the people, and at the meetings hatched a revolution which was to begin by the expulsion of the Pythagoreans. Cylon rises to his feet in front of a sea of upturned excited faces and reads extracts stolen from the secret book of Pythagoras, entitled: The Sacred Word (hiéros logos). These extracts are then travestied and wrongly interpreted. A few of the speakers make an attempt to defend the brothers of silence, who respect even dumb animals. Such are greeted with outbursts of laughter. Cylon ascends the tribune again and again. He demonstrates that the religious catechism of the Pythagoreans is a crime against liberty. "And that is a slight charge," he adds. "Is this master, this would-be demi-god, whose least word is blindly obeyed, and who has merely a command to give, to have all his brethren exclaiming: 'The master has said it!'any other than the tyrant of Croton, and the worst of all tyrants, an occult one? What else than scorn and disdain for the people is this
indissoluble friendship which unites all the members of the Pythagorean ἑταιρείαι composed of? They are never tired of repeating the words of Homer when he says that the prince should be the shepherd of his people. In their eyes the people are evidently nothing better than a worthless flock. The very existence of the order, I say, is a permanent conspiracy against the rights of the people. Until it is destroyed liberty will be a vain word in Croton!" One of the members of the meeting, animated by a feeling of loyalty, exclaimed: "Let Pythagoras and his followers be given an opportunity, at any rate, to justify their conduct in our presence before we condemn them." Cylon replied haughtily: "Have not these Pythagoreans deprived you of the right to judge and decide upon public matters? What right have they to ask you to listen to them now? They did not consult you when they deprived you of the right to exercise justice, now it is your turn to strike without listening to them!" Such vehement opinions were greeted with rounds of applause, and popular frenzy and passion rose higher than ever.
One evening, when forty of the principal members of the order had met at the abode of Milon, the tribune collected his followers and the
house was surrounded. The Pythagoreans, who had the master with them, barricaded the doors. The enraged crowd set fire to the building, which speedily became enveloped in flames. Thirty-eight Pythagoreans, the very first of the master's disciples and constituting the flower of the order, along with Pythagoras himself, perished either in the flames or at the hands of the people. Archippus and Lysis alone escaped massacre. 1
Thus died this mighty sage, this divine man whose effort it had been to instil his own wisdom into human rule and government. The murder of the Pythagoreans was the signal for a democratic revolution in Croton and about the Gulf of Tarentum. The towns of Italy expelled from their walls
the unfortunate disciples of the master. The order was dispersed; fragments of it, however, spread throughout Sicily and Greece, propagating everywhere the master's words and teachings. Lysis became the teacher of Epaminondas. After fresh revolutions, the Pythagoreans were permitted to return to Italy on condition they no longer formed a political body. They were still united in a touching fraternity, and looked upon themselves as one family. One of them who had fallen upon sickness and poverty was kindly taken in by an inn-keeper. Before dying he traced a few mysterious signs on the door of the inn and said to the host: "Do not be uneasy, one of my brothers will pay my debt." A year afterwards, as a stranger was passing by this inn he saw the signs and said to the host: "I am a Pythagorean; one of my brothers died here; tell me what I owe you on his account." The order existed for two hundred and fifty years; the ideas and traditions of the master have come down to the present times.
The regenerating influence of Pythagoras over Greece was immense. This influence was exercised in mysterious though certain fashion, by means of the temples he had visited. At Delphi we have seen that he gave new might to the science of divination, strengthened the priestly influence, and by
his art formed a model Pythoness. Thanks to this inner reform, which aroused enthusiasm in the very heart of the sanctuaries and in the soul of the initiates, Delphi became more than ever the moral centre of Greece. This was especially evident during the Median wars. Scarcely had thirty years elapsed since the death of Pythagoras when the Asiatic cyclone, predicted by the Samian sage, burst out upon the coasts of Hellas. In this epic struggle of Europe against a barbaric Asia, Greece, representing liberty and civilization, has behind her the science and genius of Apollo. He it is whose patriotic and religious inspiration stirs up and silences the springing rivalry between Sparta and Athens. It is he, too, who is the inspirer of men like Miltiades and Themistocles. At Marathon, enthusiasm is so great that the Athenians believe they see two warriors, clad in light, fighting in their ranks. Some recognize in them Theseus and Echetos; others, Castor and Pollux. When the invasion of Xerxes, tenfold more formidable than that of Darius, breaks over Thermopylæ and submerges Hellas, it is the Pythoness who, on her tripod, points out the way of safety to the envoys from Athens, and helps Themistocles to gain the victory at Salamis. The pages of Herodotus thrill with her broken phrases: "Abandon the homesteads
and lofty hills if the city is built in a circle . . . fire and dreadful Mars mounted on a Syrian chariot will bring your towers to ruins . . . temples are tottering in their fall, their walls are dripping with cold sweat, whilst black blood is falling from their pinnacles . . . depart from my sanctuary. Let a wooden wall be your impregnable bulwark. Flee! turn your backs on numberless enemies on foot and on horseback! O divine Salamis! How deadly wilt thou be to those born of woman!" 1 In the account given by Eschylus the battle begins with a cry resembling the pæan, Apollo's hymn: "Soon the day, led on white coursers, spreads throughout the world its resplendent light. Immediately a mighty shout, resembling a sacred chant, rises from the ranks of the Greeks and the echoes of the island respond in a thousand loud-sounding voices." What wonder that, intoxicated with the wine of victory, the Greeks at the battle of Mycale, in the presence of stricken Asia, chose as a rallying cry: "Hebe, Eternal Youth!" Yes, it is the breath
of Apollo that moves through these wonderful Median wars. Religious enthusiasm, which works miracles, carries off both living and dead, throws a dazzling light on victory, and gives a golden glory to the tomb. All the temples were plundered and destroyed, that of Delphi alone remained intact. The Persian hosts advanced to spoil the holy town. A quiver of dread came over all. The solar god, however, said through the voice of the pontiff: "I will defend myself!" Orders were given from the temple that the city be deserted, the inhabitants take refuge in the grottoes of Parnassus, and the priests alone keep sacred guard on the threshold of the sanctuary. The Persian army enters the town, all still as death; the statues alone look down as the hosts march along. A black cloud gathers at the foot of the gorge, the thunders roll and the lightning flashes on the invaders. Two enormous rocks roll down from the summit of Parnassus, crushing to death great numbers of Persians. 1 At the same time noises and shouts
issue from the Temple of Minerva, flames leap from the ground beneath the very feet of the invaders. A Before such wonders the barbarians fall back in terror and the dismayed army takes to flight. The god has undertaken his own defence.
Would these wonders have happened, would these victories humanity looks upon as its own have taken place, had not Pythagoras, thirty years earlier, appeared in the Delphic sanctuary to kindle there the sacred fire? This may, indeed, be questioned.
One word more regarding the master's influence on philosophy. Before his time, there had been natural philosophers on the one hand, and moral philosophers on the other; Pythagoras included in a vast synthesis, morality, science and religion. This synthesis is nothing else than the esoteric doctrine, whose full glory I have endeavoured to reveal in the very basis of Pythagorean initiation. The philosopher of Croton was not the inventor but the light-bearing arranger of these fundamental truths, in the scientific order of things. Consequently I have chosen his system as offering the most favourable framework to a complete account
of the doctrine of the Mysteries as well as of true theosophy.
Those who have followed the master up to this point will have seen that at the basis of the doctrine there shines the sun of the one Truth. Scattered rays may be discovered in philosophies and religions, but here is their centre. What must be done to attain thereto? Observation and reasoning are not sufficient. In addition to and above all else is intuition. Pythagoras was an adept and an initiate of the highest order. His was the direct vision of the spirit, his the key to the occult sciences and the spiritual world. It was from the primal fount of Truth that he drew his supplies. And as he joined to these transcendent faculties of an intellectual and spiritualized soul, a careful and minute observation of physical nature and a masterly classification of ideas by the aid of his lofty reason, no one could have been better equipped than himself to build up the edifice of the knowledge of the Kosmos.
In truth this edifice was never destroyed. Plato, who took from Pythagoras the whole of his metaphysics, had a complete idea thereof, though he unfolded it with less clearness and precision. The Alexandrine school occupied the upper storeys of the edifice, whilst modern science has taken the
ground-floor and strengthened its foundations. Numerous philosophical schools and mystical or religious sects have inhabited its many chambers. No philosophy, however, has yet embraced the whole of it. It is this whole I have endeavoured to reveal here in all its harmony and unity.
Richard Clay & Sons, Limited, London and Bungay.
173:1 This is the version of Diogenes of Laërte regarding the death of Pythagorasaccording to Dicearchus, quoted by Porphyry, the master escaped massacre, along with Archippus and Lysis. He wandered from town to town until he reached Metapontum, where he died of hunger in the Temple of the Muses. The inhabitants of Metapontum, on the other hand, affirmed that the sage they had taken in, died peacefully in their city. They pointed out to Cicero his house, seat and tomb. It is noteworthy that, long after the master's death, those cities which had persecuted Pythagoras most, at the time of the democratic change of opinion, claimed for themselves the honour of having offered him refuge and protection. The towns around the Gulf of Tarentum claimed that they each contained the ashes of the philosopher with as much desperation as the towns of Ionia disputed among one another the honour of having given birth to Homer.See this question discussed in M. Chaignet's conscientious work: Pythagore et la philosophie pythagoricienne.
176:1 In temple language the term son of woman indicated the lower degree of initiation, woman here signifying nature. Above these were the sons of man or initiates of the Spirit and the Soul, the sons of the Gods or initiates of the cosmogonic sciences, and the sons of God or initiates in the supreme science. The Pythoness calls the Persians sons of woman, giving them this name from the character of their religion. Interpreted literally, her words would be devoid of meaning.
177:1 "These may still be seen in the enclosure of Minerva," said Herodotus, VIII. 39. The invasion of the Gauls, which took place two centuries later, was repelled in like manner. Here, too, a storm gathers, thunderbolts fall time after time on the Gauls; the earth quakes beneath their feet, they see supernatural visions; and the temple of Apollo is saved. These facts seem to prove that the priests of Delphi were acquainted with the science of cosmic fire and knew how to handle electricity by occult power as did p. 178 the Chaldæan magi.See Amédée Thierry, Histoire des Gaulois, I. 246.