Volume 3: 1771 Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica!


Pythagoreans, a sect of ancient philosophers, so called from their being the followers of Pythagoras of Samos, who lived in the reign of Tarquin the last king of the Romans, in the year of Rome 220; or, according to Livy, in the reign of Servius Tullius, in the year of the world 3472.

His maxims of morality were admirable; for he was for having the study of philosophy solely tend to elevate man to a resemblance of the Deity. He believed that God is a soul diffused through all nature, and that from him human souls are derived; that they are immortal; and that men need only take pains to purge themselves of their vices, in order to be united to the Deity. He made unity the principle of all things; and believed, that between God and man there are various orders of spiritual beings, who are the ministers of the Supreme Being. He condemned all images of the Deity, and would have him worshipped with as few ceremonies as possible. His disciples brought all their goods into a common stock, contemned the pleasures of sense, abstained from swearing, eat nothing that had life, and believed in the doctrine of a metempsychosis. See METEMPSYCHOSIS.

Pythagoras made his scholars undergo a severe noviciate of silence for at least two years; and it is said, that where he discerned too great an itch for talking, he extended it to five. His disciples were therefore divided into two classes: of which the first were simple hearers; and the last such as were allowed to propose their difficulties, and learn the reasons of all that was taught there. The Pythagoreans, it is said, on their rising from bed, roused the mind with the sound of the lyre, in order to make them more fit for the actions of the day; and at night resumed the lyre, in order to prepare themselves for sleep, by calming all their tumultuous thoughts. The figurative manner in which he gave his instructions, was borrowed from the Hebrews, Egyptians, and other orientals. Some think he derived his philosophy from the books of Moses, and that he conversed with Ezekiel and Daniel at Babylon; but this is mere conjecture.

Some authors say, that he left nothing in writing; but Laƫrtius and others attribute several treatises to him. His golden verses, attributed by some to one of his disciples, are allowed to be an exact copy of the sentiments of that divine philosopher, from whose school proceeded the greatest philosophers and legislators.

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