Distrusting Pythagoreans

Aristophon, fr.9 (The Pythagorean, from Athenaeus, 4.161f)

“Dear Gods! Do we believe that the ancient Pythagoreans,
–the real Pythagoreans, I mean–were willingly filthy,
that they happily wore rough robes?
I don’t think that any of this is true.
Instead, because they had nothing, by necessity
they discovered a noble pretext for their poverty
and established rules suitable for poor men.
But if you offer them fish or meat
And they don’t nearly eat their fingers too,
I’ll let you hang me ten times.”

πρὸς τῶν θεῶν, οἰόμεθα τοὺς πάλαι ποτὲ
τοὺς Πυθαγοριστὰς γινομένους ὄντως ῥυπᾶν
ἑκόντας ἢ φορεῖν τρίβωνας ἡδέως;
οὐκ ἔστι τούτων οὐδέν, ὡς ἐμοὶ δοκεῖ·
ἀλλ’ ἐξ ἀνάγκης, οὐκ ἔχοντες οὐδὲ ἕν,
τῆς εὐτελείας πρόφασιν εὑρόντες καλὴν
ὅρους ἔπηξαν τοῖς πένησι χρησίμους.
ἐπεὶ παράθες αὐτοῖσιν ἰχθῦς ἢ κρέας,
κἂν μὴ κατεσθίωσι καὶ τοὺς δακτύλους,
ἐθέλω κρέμασθαι δεκάκις.

Aristophon the Comic poet (late 4th BCE), not to be confused with the earlierAttic orator from Azenia or the painter from Thasos.

 

Diogenes Laertius, 8.21 (Lives of the Sophists)

“Hieronymos says that when Pythagoras went down into Hades he saw the ghost of Hesiod bound to a bronze pillar, squeaking, and that Homer’s ghost was hanging from a tree surrounded by snakes. They were being punished for the things they said about the gods. And in addition he saw men who were not willing to have sex with their own wives. This is the reason, that Pythagoras was honored by the inhabitants of Croton. Aristippos of Cyrene in his work Peri Physiologoi says that Pythagoras was given his name because he spoke the truth publically [agoreuô] no less than the Pythian oracle.”

φησὶ δ’ ῾Ιερώνυμος (Hiller xxii) κατελθόντα αὐτὸν εἰς ᾅδου τὴν μὲν ῾Ησιόδου ψυχὴν ἰδεῖν πρὸς κίονι χαλκῷ δεδεμένην καὶ τρίζουσαν, τὴν δ’ ῾Ομήρου κρεμαμένην ἀπὸ δένδρου καὶ ὄφεις περὶ αὐτὴν ἀνθ’ ὧν εἶπον περὶ θεῶν, κολαζομένους δὲ καὶ τοὺς μὴ θέλοντας συνεῖναι ταῖς ἑαυτῶν γυναιξί· καὶ δὴ καὶ διὰ τοῦτο τιμηθῆναι  ὑπὸ τῶν ἐν Κρότωνι. φησὶ δ’ ᾿Αρίστιππος ὁ Κυρηναῖος ἐν τῷ Περὶ φυσιολόγων Πυθαγόραν αὐτὸν ὀνομασθῆναι ὅτι τὴν ἀλήθειαν ἠγόρευεν οὐχ ἧττον τοῦ Πυθίου.

 

Scholia to Sophocles’ Elektra

“Pythagoras confined himself in an underground hole and told his mother to tell people that he had died. When he reappeared, he told a lot of marvelous tales about resurrection and the things which happen in the underworld, and, to the living he related a full account of all the companions he happened to meet in the underworld; from this arose the belief that he was Aithalides son of Hermes before the Trojan War, then Euphorbus, then Hermotimus, then Pyrrhus the Delian, and then finally Pythagoras. Sophocles seems to be hinting at this story. Some assert, though unpersuasively, that the lines are aimed at Odysseus. But this is unconvincing, because Odysseus never did anything of the sort.”

ἤδη γὰρ εἶδον πολλάκις Πυθαγόρας καθείρξας ἑαυτὸν ἐν ὑπογείῳ λογοποιεῖν ἐκέλευσε τὴν μητέρα ὡς ἄρα τεθνηκὼς εἴη καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἐπιφανεὶς περὶ παλιγγενεσίας καὶ τῶν καθ’ ῞Αιδου τινὰ ἐτερατεύετο διηγούμενος πρὸς τοὺς ζῶντας περὶ τῶν οἰκείων οἷς ἐν ῞Αιδου συντετυχηκέναι ἔλεγεν ἐξ ὧν τοιαύτην ἑαυτῷ δόξαν περιέθηκεν ὡς πρὸ μὲν τῶν Τρωικῶν Αἰθαλίδης ὢν ὁ ῾Ερμοῦ, εἶτα Εὔφορβος, εἶτα ῾Ερμότιμος, εἶτα Πύρρος ὁ Δήλιος, εἶτα ἐπὶ πᾶσι Πυθαγόρας· εἰς τοῦτο  οὖν ἔοικεν ἀποτείνεσθαι ὁ Σοφοκλῆς· ἔνιοι δὲ οἴονται ἀπιθάνως εἰς ᾿Οδυσσέα ἀποτείνεσθαι· οὐ γὰρ πέπρακταί τι τοιοῦτον ᾿Οδυσσεῖ·

2 thoughts on “Distrusting Pythagoreans

  1. The scholiast (Scholia to Sophocles’ Elektra) says that “Sophocles seems to be hinting at this story”, which implies it dates back to before Sophocles, and must have been reasonably well known, if people were arguing about whether it applied to Pythagoras or Odysseus. I have two questions. First, how far back can the story be traced? And second, when was the scholiast who says these things writing?

    Thanks for this snippet, fascinating as always.

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