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Iamblichus' Life of Pythagoras

Thomas Taylor


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Tags: Ancient Civilisations » Biographies » Classics » Philosophy

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This is Thomas Taylor's translation of Iamblichus’ Life Of Pythagoras, Or Pythagoric Life. Subtitled: 'Accompanied by Fragments of the Ethical Writings of Certain Pythagoreans in the Doric Dialect; and a Collection of Pythagoric Sentences from Stobaeus And Others, which are Omitted by Gale in his Opuscula Mythologica, and have not been noticed by any editor.

Iamblichus was a Syrian Neoplatonist philosopher who lived around the third century AD. Here he gives a biographical account of the Greek mathematician and philosopher, Pythagoras.

This book has 159 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1818. Full chapter list

Production notes: This edition of Iamblichus' Life of Pythagoras was published by Global Grey ebooks on the 6th July 2021. The artwork used for the cover is 'The School of Athens' by Raphael.

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Excerpt from 'Iamblichus' Life of Pythagoras'

When it is considered that Pythagoras was the father of philosophy, authentic memoirs of his life cannot fail to be uncommonly interesting to every lover of wisdom, and particularly to those who reverence the doctrines of Plato, the most genuine and the best of all his disciples. And that the following memoirs of Pythagoras by Iamblichus are authentic, is acknowledged by all the critics, as they are for the most part obviously derived from sources of very high antiquity; and where the sources are unknown, there is every reason to believe, from the great worth and respectability of the biographer, that the information is perfectly accurate and true.

Of the biographer, indeed, Iamblichus, it is well known to every tyro in Platonism that he was dignified by all the Platonists that succeeded him with the epithet of divine; and after the encomium passed on him by the acute Emperor Julian, “that he was posterior indeed in time, but not in genius, to Plato,” all further praise of him would be as unnecessary, as the defamation of him by certain modern critics is contemptible and idle. For these homonculi looking solely to his deficiency in point of style, and not to the magnitude of his intellect, perceive only his little blemishes, but have not even a glimpse of his surpassing excellence. They minutely notice the motes that are scattered in the sunbeams of his genius, but they feel not its invigorating warmth, they see not its dazzling radiance.

Of this very extraordinary man there is a life extant by Eunapius, the substance of which I have given in my History of the Restoration of the Platonic Theology, and to which I refer the English reader. At present I shall only select from that work the following biographical particulars respecting our Iamblichus: He was descended of a family equally illustrious, fortunate, and rich. His country was Chalcis, a city of Syria, which was called Cœle. He associated with Anatolius who was the second to Porphyry, but he far excelled him in his attainments, and ascended to the very summit of philosophy. But after he had been for some time connected with Anatolius, and most probably found him insufficient to satisfy the vast desires of his soul, he applied himself to Porphyry, to whom (says Eunapius) he was in nothing inferior, except in the structure and power of composition. For his writings were not so elegant and graceful as those of Porphyry: they were neither agreeable, nor perspicuous; nor free from impurity of diction. And though they were not entirely involved in obscurity, and perfectly faulty; yet as Plato formerly said of Xenocrates, he did not sacrifice to the Mercurial Graces. Hence he is far from detaining the reader with delight, who merely regards his diction; but will rather avert and dull his attention, and frustrate his expectation. However, though the surface of his conceptions is not covered with the flowers of elocution, yet the depth of them is admirable, and his genius is truly sublime. And admitting his style to abound in general with those defects, which have been noticed by the critics, yet it appears to me that the decision of the anonymous Greek writer respecting his Answer to the Epistle of Porphyry, is more or less applicable to all his other works. For he says, ‘that his diction in that Answer is concise and definite, and that his conceptions are full of efficacy, are elegant, and divine.’

Iamblichus shared in an eminent degree the favor of divinity, on account of his cultivation of justice; and obtained a numerous multitude of associates and disciples, who came from all parts of the world, for the purpose of participating the streams of wisdom, which so plentifully flowed from the sacred fountain of his wonderful mind. Among these was Sopater the Syrian, who was most skilful both in speaking and writing; Eustathius the Cappadocian; and of the Greeks, Theodorus and Euphrasius. All these were excellent for their virtues and attainments, as well as many other of his disciples, who were not much inferior to the former in eloquence; so that it seems wonderful how Iamblichus could attend to all of them, with such gentleness of manners and benignity of disposition as he continually displayed.

He performed some few particulars relative to the veneration of divinity by himself, without his associates and disciples; but was inseparable from his familiars in most of his operations. He imitated in his diet the frugal simplicity of the most ancient times; and during his repast, exhilarated those who were present by his behaviour, and filled them as with nectar by the sweetness of his discourse.

A celebrated philosopher named Alypius, who was deeply skilled in dialectic, was contemporary with Iamblichus, but was of such a diminutive stature, that he exhibited the appearance of a pigmy. However, his great abilities amply compensated for this trifling defect. For his body might be said to be consumed into soul; just as the great Plato says, that divine bodies, unlike those that are mortal, are situated in souls. Thus also it might be asserted of Alypius, that he had migrated into soul, and that he was contained and governed by a nature superior to man. This Alypius had many followers, but his mode of philosophizing was confined to private conference and disputation, without committing any of his dogmas to writing. Hence his disciples gladly applied themselves to Iamblichus, desirous to draw abundantly from the exuberant streams of his inexhaustible mind. The fame therefore of each continually increasing, they once accidentally met like two refulgent stars, and were surrounded by so great a crowd of auditors, that it resembled some mighty musæum. While Iamblichus on this occasion waited rather to be interrogated, than to propose a question himself, Alypius, contrary to the expectation of every one, relinquishing philosophical discussions, and seeing himself surrounded with a theatre of men, turned to Iamblichus, and said to him: “Tell me, O philosopher, is either the rich man unjust, or the heir of the unjust man? For in this case there is no medium.” But Iamblichus hating the acuteness of the question, replied: “O most wonderful of all men, this manner of considering, whether some one excels in externals, is foreign from our method of philosophizing; since we inquire whether a man abounds in the virtue which it is proper for him to possess, and which is adapted to a philosopher.” After he had said this he departed, and at the same time all the surrounding multitude was immediately dispersed. But Iamblichus, when he was alone, admired the acuteness of the question, and often privately resorted to Alypius, whom he very much applauded for his acumen and sagacity; so that after his decease, he wrote his life. This Alypius was an Alexandrian by birth, and died in his own country, worn out with age: and after him Iamblichus, leaving behind him many roots and fountains of philosophy; which through the cultivation of succeeding Platonists, produced a fair variety of vigorous branches, and copious streams.

For an account of the theological writings of Iamblichus, I refer the reader to my above-mentioned History of the Restoration of the Platonic Theology; and for accurate critical information concerning all his works, to the Bibliotheca Græca of Fabricius.

Chapter List for 'Iamblichus' Life of Pythagoras'

Introduction
The Life, etc - 36 Chapters
From Hippodamus, The Thurian, In His Treatise On Felicity
From Euryphamus, In His Treatise Concerning Human Life
From Hipparchus, In His Treatise On Tranquillity
From Archytas, In His Treatise Concerning The Good And Happy Man
From Theages, In His Treatise On The Virtues
From Metopus, In His Treatise Concerning Virtue
From Clinias
From Theages, In His Treatise On The Virtues
From The Treatise Of Archytas On Ethical Erudition
From Archytas, In His Treatise On The Good And Happy Man
From Crito, In His Treatise On Prudence And Prosperity
From Archytas, In His Treatise On The Good And Happy Man
From Archytas, In His Treatise On Disciplines
From Polus, In His Treatise On Justice
Pythagoric Ethical Sentences From Stobæus
Select Sentences Of Sextus The Pythagorean
Pythagoric Sentences, From The Protreptics Of Iamblichus
Additional Notes

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