34. The Family of Pythagoras  -- The School and its Destiny

Among the women who followed the teaching of the master was a young girl of great beauty. Her father, a Croton, was named Brontinos; her own name was Theano. At that time Pythagoras was nearly sixty, but great self-mastery of passions and a pure life entirely dedicated to his mission had preserved his manly strength. Youthfulness of soul, that immortal flame which the great initiate draws from his spiritual life and which he nourishes with the hidden forces of nature, shone in him. The Greek Magus was not in his decline, but at the summit of his power. Theano was attracted to Pythagoras by the almost supernatural radiance which emanated from his being. Serious and reserved, she had sought from the master an explanation concerning those Mysteries which she loved without understanding them. But when in the light of truth, in the gentle warmth which slowly enveloped her, she felt her soul open within her like a mystical rose of a thousand petals, when she felt that this unfolding came from him and from his speech, she was drawn to the master with a boundless rapture and a passionate love.

Pythagoras had not sought to attract her. His affection belonged to all his disciples. He was dreaming only of his school, of Greece, of the future of the world. Like many great adepts, he had given up the love of woman in order to devote himself fully to his work. The magic of his will, the spiritual possession of so many souls which he had guided and who remained attached to him as to an adored father, the mystical incense of all these unexpressed loves and that exquisite perfume of human sympathy which united the Pythagorean brothers, -- for him, all of this took the place of pleasure, happiness and love. But one day when he was alone, meditating on the future of his school in the crypt of Proserpine, he saw coming to him that beautiful and serious virgin to whom he had never spoken in private. She knelt before him, and without lifting her head, she begged the master to free her from an impossible and unhappy love which was consuming her body and devouring her soul. Pythagoras asked the name of the one whom she loved. After long hesitation, Theano confessed that it was he himself, but at the same time she said that she would submit to his will. Pythagoras said nothing. Encouraged by his silence, she lifted her head and looked toward him pleadingly, offering him the essence of her life and the perfume of her soul.

The sage was disturbed; he knew how to conquer his senses, he had subdued his imagination, but the light of this soul had penetrated him. In this virgin, matured by passion, transfigured by absolute devotion, he had found his life-companion and had glimpsed a more complete fulfillment of his work. Pythagoras raised the young girl to her feet and drew her to him.

In the master's eyes Theano could read that their destinies were joined forever.

By his marriage to Theano, Pythagoras placed the seal of fulfillment upon his work. The union, the fusion of two lives was complete. One day when the wife of the master was asked how much time is necessary for a woman to become pure after having had relationship with a man, she answered, "If it is with her husband, she is pure immediately; if it is with another, she never is pure."

It is not marriage which sanctifies love; it is love which justifies marriage. Theano entered so completely into the thought of her husband that after his death she served as the center of the Pythagorean Order, and a Greek author quotes as an authority her opinion on the doctrine of numbers. She gave Pythagoras two sons, Arimnestus and Telaugus, and one daughter, Damo. Telaugus later became the tutor of Empedodes and transmitted to him the secrets of the teaching.

Pythagoras' was a model family. His house was called the temple of Ceres, and his court, the temple of the Muses. In the family and religious festivals the mother led the chorus of women, and Damo, the chorus of young girls. Damo was worthy of her father and mother in every way. Pythagoras had entrusted certain writings to her with the express prohibition against communicating them to anyone outside the family. After the dispersal of the Pythagoreans, Damo fell into extreme poverty. She was offered a large sum for the valuable manuscript, but faithful to the wish of her father, she always refused to surrender, it.

Pythagoras lived in Croton for thirty years. At the end of twenty years this extraordinary man had acquired such power that those who called him a demigod did not exaggerate. His influence was something tremendous; never has any philosopher exercised anything equal to it. It extended not only to the school at Croton and to its branches in the other cities of the Italian coast, but also to the political life of all those little states. Pythagoras was a reformer in every sense of the word. Croton, an Achaean colony, had an aristocratic constitution. The Council of One Thousand, composed of representatives of great families, exercised the legislative and supervised the executive power. Popular assemblies existed, but their activities were restricted. Pythagoras wanted the state to be an order and a harmony and liked oligarchic restraint no better than the chaos of demagoguery. Accepting the Dorian constitution as it was, he simply tried to introduce a new method of activity into it. His courageous plan was to establish over and above the political authority a scientific power having a deliberative and consultative voice in vital questions. This scientific power was to be the keystone, the supreme regulator of the state. Over the Council of One Thousand he organized The Council of Three Hundred, chosen by the first, but recruited from among the initiates alone. Their number was sufficient for this. Porphyrus relates that two thousand citizens of Croton gave up their customary life and assembled themselves together to live a communal life along with their wives and children, after having given over their property to the community. In control of the state Pythagoras therefore wanted a scientific government, less secret, but as highly placed as the Egyptian priesthood. What he effected for a moment remained the dream of all the initiates who participated in political life. He introduced the principle of initiation and examination into the government of the state and reconciled in this higher synthesis the elective or democratic principle with a government formed on the basis of intelligence and virtue. Hence the Council of Three Hundred formed a kind of political, scientific and religious order, whose recognized leader was Pythagoras. By a solemn and awesome vow they pledged him secrecy as absolute as that of the Mysteries. These societies or Hetaries spread out from Croton, where the parent society was formed, into almost all the cities of Greater Greece, where they exercised a great political influence. The Pythagorean Order had as its goal to become the head of the state in all of southern Italy. Branches existed in Tarente, Heraclea, Metapontus, Regium, Himere, Catane, Agrigente, Sybaris and, according to Aristoxenus, even among the Etruscans. As for the influence of Pythagoras on the government of these great, rich cities, one cannot imagine one higher, more liberal, or more peaceful. Everywhere he appeared he reestablished order, justice and concord. Summoned before a tyrant of Sicily, by his eloquence alone he persuaded the latter to give up ill-acquired riches and restore rights he had stolen. Cities that were in bondage to one another, he set free. So beneficent were Pythagoras' deeds that everywhere he went people said, "He has not come to teach, but to heal!"

The sovereign influence of a great spirit, a great character, that magic of the soul and of the intellect, stirs up terrible jealousies and violent hatreds, just because it is invulnerable. Pythagoras' power lasted for a quarter of a century. The indefatigable adept had attained the age of ninety when reaction came. The spark came from Sybaris, the rival of Croton. An uprising took place there, and the aristocratic party was defeated. Five hundred exiles asked the Crotons for asylum, but the Sybarites demanded their extradition. Fearing the anger of an enemy city, the magistrates of Croton were about to give way to their demand when Pythagoras intervened. Upon his entreaties, the Crotons refused to surrender the unfortunate fugitives to their implacable adversaries. At this refusal, Sybaris declared war on Croton, but the army of the Crotons, lead by the famous athlete Milon, a disciple of Pythagoras, completely defeated the Sybarites. The fall of Sybaris followed. The city was conquered, sacked, utterly destroyed, and was turned into a wilderness. It is impossible to claim that Pythagoras approved such reprisals, for they were contrary to his principles and those of all initiates. But neither he nor Milon could bridle the uncontrolled passions of a victorious army, aroused by ancient jealousies and stimulated by an infamous attack.

All vengeance, whether of individuals or of peoples, brings in return a recoil of the passions thus unleashed. The nemesis of the latter was fearful; the consequences fell upon Pythagoras and on his entire Order. After the sack of Sybaris, the people demanded the division of lands. Not satisfied with this, the democratic party proposed a change in the constitution which removed the privileges of the Council of One Thousand and suppressed the Council of Three Hundred, allowing only a single authority and demanding universal suffrage. Naturally the Pythagoreans who were part of the Council of One Thousand were opposed to a reform contrary to their principles, and one which attacked the patient work of the master at its roots. Already the Pythagoreans were the object of that blind hatred which mystery and superiority always stimulate in the mob. Their political attitude brought the fury of demagoguery upon them, and a personal hatred against the master caused the final explosion.

A certain Cylon had once presented himself for admission into the school. Pythagoras, who was very strict in admitting disciples, rejected him because of his violent, imperious nature. This rejected candidate became a bitter opponent. When public opinion began to turn against Pythagoras, he organized a large body of people in opposition to the Order of the Pythagoreans. Cylon succeeded in gathering around him the principal leaders of the people, and began to plot a revolution which was to begin with the expulsion of the Pythagoreans.

Before a surging mob, Cylon climbs to the rostrum and reads extracts stolen from the secret book of Pythagoras, titled The Holy Word, Hieros Logos. The teachings are distorted, dishonored. A few orators try to defend the brothers of silence who respect even animals, but the speakers are received with bursts of laughter. Cylon mounts and remounts the tribunal. He claims that the religious catechism of the Pythagoreans attacks freedom. "And that is saying little," adds the tribune. "Who is this teacher, this so-called demigod, who is blindly obeyed and who has only one word for the brothers, 'the master said so!'? What creates this indissoluble friendship uniting all the members of the Pythagorean hetaries, if not disdain and scorn for the people? Always they have the words of Homer on their lips, that the prince must be the shepherd of his people. For them, therefore, the people are but a stupid mob! Yes, the very existence of the Order is a permanent conspiracy against popular rights! As long as he is not destroyed, there will be no freedom in Croton!"

One of the members of the popular assembly, moved by feelings of loyalty, cried out, "At least let Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans come and justify themselves on our rostrum before condemning them!" But Cylon answered haughtily, "Haven't these Pythagoreans robbed you of the right to judge and decide on public affairs? What right have they to be heard here today? Did they ask you before they stripped you of the right to exercise justice? Well then, now it's your turn! Strike without hearing!" A thunder of applause greeted these words, and the mob became more and more excited.

One evening when the forty leading members of the Order were assembled at Milon's home, the tribune led an attack upon them. The house was surrounded. The Pythagoreans, together with the master, barricaded the doors. The furious crowd set fire to the house, and soon the building was a mass of flames. Thirty-eight Pythagoreans, the chief disciples of the master, the flower of the Order, along with Pythagoras himself, perished. Some were destroyed by the fire, others were put to death by the people.63 Only Archippus and Lysis escaped destruction.

Thus died that great sage, that divine man who had tried to introduce wisdom into the government of men. The murder of Pythagoras was the signal for a general uprising in Croton and all along the Gulf of Tarento. The cities of Italy drove out the unfortunate disciples of the master. The Order was dispersed but its remnants spread into Sicily and Greece, everywhere sowing the word of the master. For example, Lysis became Epaminondas' teacher.

After new revolutions the Pythagoreans were able to return to Italy on the condition that they would no longer form a political body. The spirit of brotherhood did not cease to unite them; they considered themselves members of one and the same family. One of them, poor and sick, was received by an innkeeper. Before dying, the disciple traced a few mysterious signs on the door of the house, saying to his host, "Rest assured, one of my brothers will pay my debt." A year later, a stranger passing this same inn saw the signs and said to the host, "I am a Pythagorean; one of my brothers died here; tell me what I owe you for him." The Order itself survived for two hundred and fifty years. As for the ideas and traditions of the master, these live even today.

The regenerating influence of Pythagoras on Greece was tremendous. It was exerted mysteriously but surely through the temple where he had worked. We have seen how at Delphi it gave a new power to divinatory science, strengthened the authority of the priests and formed a model Pythoness with its art. Thanks to this inner reform which awakened enthusiasm in the very heart of the sanctuaries and in the soul of the initiates, Delphi became more than ever the moral center of Greece. This was clearly evident during the Median wars. Thirty years had hardly elapsed since Pythagoras' death when the Asiatic cyclone, foretold by the sage of Samos, burst upon the coast of Greece.

In this epic struggle of Europe against barbaric Asia, Greece, representative of freedom and civilization, has behind her the science and genius of Apollo. It is he whose patriotic and religious inspiration stills the growing rivalry between Sparta and Athens. It is he who inspires the Miltiades and Themistocles. At Marathon the enthusiasm is such that the Athenians think they see two shining warriors fighting in their ranks. Some recognize Theseus and Echetos, others Castor and Pollux.

When the invasion of Xerxes, ten times more formidable than that of Darius, overflows Thermopylae and submerges Hellas, from her tripod Pythia indicates salvation to the ambassadors from Athens and helps Themistocles conquer the ships of Salaminus. The pages of Herodotus tremble with her gasping prophecy: "Abandon the houses and high hills if the city is built in a circle . . . the fire and the fearful . . . Mars, mounted on a Syrian chariot, will destroy your towers . . . the temples topple, from their walls drips a cold sweat, from their tops flows black blood. . . . Leave my sanctuary! Let a wooden wall be for you an impregnable rampart. . . . Flee! Turn your back on the numberless horsemen! O divine Salaminus! How disastrous you will be for the sons of women!"64

In Aeschylus' account the battle begins with a cry which resembles a hymn of praise to Apollo: "Soon the day on white chargers, spread its shining light over the world. At that moment an immense clamor, modulated like a solemn chant, arises from the ranks of the Greeks. The echoes of the island respond with a thousand deafening voices." Need one be surprised that, drunk with the wine of victory at the battle of Mycale, the Greeks, facing conquered Asia, chose as their rallying cry, "Hebe, eternal youth?" Indeed, the breath of Apollo broods over these amazing Median wars. It is a religious enthusiasm which works miracles, carries away the living and the dead, lights up trophies and decorates the tomb. All the temples have been burned, but that of Delphi has remained standing. The Persian army has arrived to destroy the sacred city. Everybody trembles. But the solar god says through the voice of the pontiff, "I shall defend myself!"

By order of the temple, the city is emptied; the inhabitants take refuge in the grottos of Parnassus; only the priests remain on the steps of the sanctuary, with the sacred guard. The Persian army enters the city, now silent as a tomb; only the statues watch the invaders pass. A black cloud gathers at the mouth of the gorge; thunder rolls and lightning falls upon the Persians. Two enormous rocks fall from the summit of Parnassus. Tumbling down, they crush many of the invaders.65 At the same time cries come from the temple of Minerva and flames arise from the earth beneath the tread of the enemy. At these wonders, the frightened barbarians draw back; their army flees. Indeed, the god has defended himself!

Would these marvels really have happened, would these victories -- so famous in human history -- really have taken place if thirty years earlier Pythagoras had not appeared in the Delphic sanctuary to light the sacred fire once again? It is doubtful.

Something more should be said about the teacher's influence upon philosophy. Before him there had been moral philosophers on the one hand, moralists on the other. Pythagoras united morality, science and religion in his vast synthesis. This synthesis is nothing other than the esoteric doctrine, whose full light we have tried to discover in the depths of Pythagorean initiation. The philosopher of Croton was not the inventor, but was the enlightened organizer of these primordial truths in the scientific order of things. Therefore his system has been chosen as the most favorable background for a complete outline of the doctrine of the Mysteries.

Those readers who have followed the master with us will have understood that at the heart of this doctrine shines the sun of the one Truth. Its scattered rays are found in philosophies and religions, but their center is here. What is needed to reach this Truth? Observation and reason are not enough. Above all, one must have intuition.

Pythagoras was an adept, an initiate of the first rank. He possessed a direct view of the spirit, the key of secret sciences and the way to the spiritual world. Therefore he drew from the original source of Truth. To these transcendent faculties of the intellectual and spiritualized soul he linked detailed observation of physical nature and the masterly classification of ideas through his keen reason. As a result, none was better equipped to build the edifice of the science of the cosmos.


Notes for this chapter:

63. This is the version of Diogenes of Laërte on Pythagoras' death. According to Dicearcus, quoted by Porphyrus, the master probably escaped destruction, along with Archippus and Lysis. But he doubtless wandered from city to city until reaching Metapontus, where he let himself die of hunger in the Temple of the Muses. The inhabitants of Metapontus claim, on the other hand, that the sage, welcomed by them, died peacefully in their city. They showed his house, his seat and tomb to Cicero. It should be noted that a long time after the master's death, the cities which had persecuted Pythagoras at the time of the change, claim the honor of having sheltered and saved him. The cities around the Gulf of Tarentum fought over the philosopher's ashes with the same ferocity that the cities of Iona struggled over the honor of having given birth to Homer.

64. In the language of the temples, the term "son of woman" designated the lower stage of initiation, woman meaning here, nature. Above these were "sons of men" or initiates of Spirit and Soul; "the sons of the gods" or initiates of cosmogonic science, and "Sons of God" or initiates of the supreme science. Pythia calls the Persians "sons of women," designating them thus from the nature of their religion. Taken literally, her words would not have any meaning.

65. "These are still to be seen in Minerva's garden," said Herodotus, VIII, 39. The Gallic invasion which took place two hundred years later was repelled in a similar manner. There again a storm gathers, lightning falls on the Gauls at intervals, the earth trembles under their feet, they see supernatural appearances, and the Temple of Apollo is saved. These facts seem to prove that the priests of Delphi possessed the science of cosmic fire, and knew how to manipulate electricity through secret powers like the Chaldean magi. (See Amedee Thierry, Histoire des Gaulois, I, 246).


PLATO: The Mysteries of Eleusis

The Great Initiates