"Orphism is said to have taught that the soul and body are
united by an unequal compact; the soul is divine, immortal and
aspires to freedom, while the body holds it imprisoned. Death
dissolves this compact, but only to re-imprison the liberated soul
after a short time; for the wheel of birth revolves relentlessly.
Thus the soul continues its journey, alternating between a separate
unrestrained existence and fresh reincarnation, as the companion of
many bodies of men and animals."
"The earliest Greek we can connect to Orphism is the sixth century thinker, Pherecydes. But it was Pherecydes' pupil, the great mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras, who was the first famous exponent and who was the individual most responsible for spreading Orphism throughout Greece."
"Pythagoras was born on Samos about 570 B.C., a century before the golden age of classical Greece. His father is thought to have been a gem-engraver, and it is likely that the son would have been trained in that same craft..."
"During a short journey to Egypt, when being a young man of 22, Thales (the reknown Greek philosopher) suggested him to study in Egypt to enlarge his knowledge. On his return to Greece, he prepared himself to travel to Tyre in Lebanon, apparently because of a commercial connection of his father. There, he was initiated for the first time into the 'Ancient Mysteries' of the Phoenicians and studied for about 3 years in the temples of Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos. From there, he navigated to Egypt, the source of the 'Ancient Mysteries'. On the road, he lingered for a while in the gulf of Haifa at a temple on Mount Carmel, Israel (after the destruction of the First Jewish Temple of Jerusalem). In Egypt, he was initiated and studied for about 22 years. Apparently, he studied for another 13 years in Babylon as well, while he was captured on his way back from Egypt to Greece."
"As he grew older...revulsion apparently set in, possibly at the excesses of the pirate king [Polycrates], and around 530 B.C. he emigrated to Croton, a leading Greek colony in southern Italy."
Pythagoras "founded there the famous Pythagorean school of philosophy, mathematics, and natural sciences. People from different classes came to his school to hear his lectures. Among them, women, even though the law in those days forbade them to participate in public meetings. He gathered the more talented disciples and established a brotherhood preaching the simple life, modesty, austerity, patience, and self-control. They consumed vegetarian dried and condensed food and unleavened bread (as matzos, used by the Biblical Jewish priestly class and used today in Passover)....It is also mentioned that they did not cut their hair, beard, and nails."
"...The school continued to subsist till the revolution of the democratic party at southern Italy. Their members were against the aristocratic tendency of the school and destroyed their buildings. Pythagoras himself, apparently escaped and later was murdered by his opposers."
"Pythagoras...as we know, never allowed his neophytes to see him during the years of probation, but instructed them from behind a curtain in his cave."
This was the method of communication employed by HebrewPatars (dream interpreters).
The Pythagorians "practiced mathematics, vegetarianism, and a firm illiteracy - to write things down was a source of error. Among these teachings...was the doctrine of the transmigration of souls. After death, a man's soul enters the body of a newborn infant or animal and so lives another life."
The soul "wanders from the home of the blessed, being born into all kinds of mortal forms, passing from one laborious path of life to another. I am also one of these, an exile and a wanderer from the Gods."
"Ere now, I too have been a boy, a girl, a bush, a bird, and a scaly fish in the sea."
"Pythagoras was also one of the earliest Greek thinkers, following up hints from Anaximenes and Heraclitus, to attach (ethical) significance to the human soul, thus heralding the shift, accelerated by Socrates, of the center of philosophical studies from the universe to human beings: in whom Pythagoras was the soul as a harmonizing principle. But he also - and here Indian influences, transmitted though Persia, can be detected - saw it as a fallen, polluted divinity incarcerated within the body, as in a tomb, and destined to a cycle of reincarnations (methempsychosis) from which it can obtain release through ritual purgation, accompanied by ascetic abstinence associated with the worship of Apollo 'the purifier'. (Indeed, Pythagoras was also said to have adopted the idea, current in Scythia and Thrace under the title of Orphism, of a process of bilocation, according to which the soul could be temporarily detached from the body.) This redemptive purification would enable the soul to achieve harmony with the order and proportion of the universe. And human beings, he maintained, could reach this goal by pure thought."
"Apart from his famous geometric theorem, Pythagoras is
also credited with the discovery of the numerical ratios which
determine the concordant scale."
"Numbers were considered somehow to have substance. Through them a divine order was imposed on the world, invisible to the eye but discernible by the mind."
"Their cosmology built the world out of number, one for a point, two for a line, three for a surface, four for a solid. One was the basis, and generated the series of even and odd numbers, and with them the whole universe. Moral qualities were numbers: 4 (2x2 and 2+2) was justice, equal shares all round. A special number was 10, built up of 1+2+3+4, and containing the point, line, plane, and solid; it was known as the tetractys and the oath not to reveal the mysteries of the society was 'by Him who reveals Himself to our minds in the Tetractys, which contains the source and roots of everlasting nature'. Pythagoras had discovered the mathematical basis of music, and (for instance) the fact that an octave can be expressed by the relation 1:2 (a string stopped at half its length will sound the octave above the full length.) So music was involved in all life; and even the planets circling in their courses sounded the music of the spheres. To such a mystical cosmology the discovery of an incommensurable such as the square root of 2 was a major scandal, a skeleton in the cupboard; and one Hippasus was excommunicated for revealing the secret."
"The Pythagorean brotherhood was one of the world's earliest unpriestly cooperative scientific societies, if not the first, and that its members invented the 'Multiplication Table' and raised important scientific problems which were solved only 1500 years later. On the tombs of some of them, one could find carved geometric tools as quadrant, square, cubit, and level."
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Last modified: Sun Dec 27, 1998 / Jeremiah Genest