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The Golden Verses of Pythagoras, by Fabre d'Olivet, [1917], at

5. Choose for thy friend, the friend of virtue;
Yield to his gentle counsels, profit by his life,
And for a trifling grievance never leave him;

After the duties which have their source directly in Nature, Pythagoras commends to his disciples those which proceed from the social state; friendship follows immediately filial piety, paternal and fraternal love; but this philosopher makes a distinction full of meaning: he ordains to honour one’s relations; he says to choose one’s friends. This is why:

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it is Nature that presides at our birth, that gives us a father, a mother, brothers, sisters, relations of kinship, a position upon the earth, and a place in society; all this depends not upon us: all this, according to the vulgar, is the work of hazard; but according to the Pythagorean philosopher these are the consequences of an anterior order, severe and irresistible, called Fortune or Necessity. Pythagoras opposed to this restrained nature, a free Nature, which, acting upon forced things as upon brute matter, modifies them and draws as it wills, good or bad results. This second nature was called Power or Will: it is this which rules the life of man, and which directs his conduct according to the elements furnished him by the first. Necessity and Power are, according to Pythagoras, the two opposed motives of the sublunary world where man is relegated. These two motives draw their force from a superior cause that the ancients named Nemesis, the fundamental decree, a that we name Providence. Thus then, Pythagoras recognized, relative to man, things constrained and things free, according as they depend upon Necessity or the Will: he ranked filial piety in the first and friendship in the second. Man not being free to give himself parents of his choice, must honour them such as they are, and fulfil in regard to them all the duties of nature, whatever wrong they might do towards him; but as nothing constrains him from giving his friendship, he need give it only to the one who shows himself worthy of it by his attachment to virtue.

Let us observe an important point. In China where filial piety is regarded as the root of all virtues and the first source of instruction, b the exercise of the duties which it imposes admits of no exception. As the legislator teaches

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there that the greatest crime is to lack in filial piety, he infers that he who has been a good son will be a good father and that thus nothing will break the social tie a; for he first establishes this virtue which embraces all, from the emperor to the lowliest of his subjects, and that it is for the peoples what the regularity of the celestial movements is for the ethereal space: but in Italy and in Greece where Pythagoras established his dogmas, it would have been dangerous for him to give the same extension, since this virtue not being that of the State, would necessarily involve abuses in the paternal authority, already excessive among certain peoples. That is the reason the disciples of this philosopher, in distinguishing between forced and voluntary actions, judged wisely that it would be necessary to apply here the distinction: therefore they urged to honour one’s father and mother and to obey them in all that concerns the body and mundane things, but without abandoning one’s soul to them b; for the divine law declares free what has not been received from them and delivers it from their power. Pythagoras furthermore had favoured this opinion by saying, that after having chosen a friend from among the men most commended for their virtues, it was necessary to learn by his actions and to be guided by his discourse: which testified to the lofty idea that he had of friendship. "Friends," he said, "are like companions of travel who reciprocally assist each other to persevere in the path of the noblest life. c" It is to him that we owe that beautiful expression, so often quoted, so little felt by the generality of men, and which a victorious king, Alexander the Great, felt so keenly and expressed so felicitously by the following: "My friend is another myself. d" It is also from him that Aristotle had borrowed that beautiful definition: "The real friend is one soul that lives in two

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bodies." a The founder of the Lyceum, in giving such a definition of friendship, spoke rather by theory than by practice, he who reasoning one day upon friendship, cried ingenuously: "Oh, my friends! there are no friends." b

Yet Pythagoras did not conceive friendship as a simple individual affection, but as an universal benevolence which should be extended to all men in general, and to all good people. c At that time he gave to this virtue the name of philanthropy. It is the virtue which, under the name of charity, serves as foundation for the Christian religion. Jesus offers it to his disciples immediately after divine love, and as equal to piety. d Zoroaster places it after sincerity e; he wished that man might be pure in thought, speech, and action; that he might speak the truth, and that he might do good to all men. Kong-Tse as well as Pythagoras commended it after filial piety. f "All morals," he said, "can be reduced to the observation of three fundamental laws, of the relations between sovereigns and subjects, between parents and children, between husbands and wives; and to the strict practice of the five capital virtues, of which the first is humanity, that is to say, that universal charity, that expansion of the soul which binds man to man without distinction."


143:a Nemesis, in Greek Νέμεσις, is derived from the Phœnician words ‏נאמ‎ (nam or næm), expressing every judgment, every order, every decree announced by word of mouth; and ‏אשיש‎ (æshish), all that serves for principle, as foundation. This last word has root ‏אש‎ (as, os, or æs).

143:b Hiao-King, ou Livre de la Piété filiale.

144:a Kong-Tzée, dans le Hiao-King qui contient sa doctrine.

144:b Hiérocl., Comment. Aurea. carmin., v. 5.

144:c Hiéroclès, ibid., v. 7.

144:d Porphyr., in Vitâ Pythag., p. 37.

145:a Dacier, Vie de Pythag.

145:b Diog. Laërt., l. v., § 21.

145:c Hiérocl., Aurea. carm., v. 8.

145:d Evang. de S. Math., ch. 22.

145:e Zend-Avesta, 30e , p. 164; ibid., 34e , p. 174; ibid., 72e , p. 258.

145:f Vie de Confucius, p. 139.

Next: If Thou Canst at Least: For A Most Rigid Law Binds Power To Necessity