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Pythagoreanism: An Early Italic Philosophy

Pythagoreanism: An Early Italic Philosophy

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Published by Pino Blasone
Besides the accounts or the legends of later Greek and Latin authors, what remains of Pythagoreanism as an Italic philosophy are a few fragments and some pseudonymous texts. In such conditions, the critical work plays a necessary role, but the interpretation is important as well. Probably, this is congenial with a pseudepigraphal production like that, originally understood not so much as a forgery, as rather like an “open source” wisdom.
Besides the accounts or the legends of later Greek and Latin authors, what remains of Pythagoreanism as an Italic philosophy are a few fragments and some pseudonymous texts. In such conditions, the critical work plays a necessary role, but the interpretation is important as well. Probably, this is congenial with a pseudepigraphal production like that, originally understood not so much as a forgery, as rather like an “open source” wisdom.

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Published by: Pino Blasone on Sep 08, 2010
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04/03/2013

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Pino Blasone
Pythagoreanism An Early Italic Philosophy
1 – Modern Lucanian “Jug with theSecret”, moulded after ancient models bythe potter Michele Di Lena at Grottole,Basilicata, Italy
Wisdom and Lore
Aristotle the philosopher wrote
 
specifically on Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans.Unfortunately,
 
a few relevant fragments remain. In other works though, as respectively
 
On
1
 
 Heaven
 
and
 Metaphysics
, not only he treats them quite extensively. Also he defines them as“those in Italy, [who are] called Pythagoreans
(οἱ περτὴν Ἰταλίαν, καλούμενοι δὲΠυθαγόρειοι, 293a) or even, more simply, as “the Italics” (οἱ δ’ Ἰταλικοὶ, 988a). So strong itwas, in the Hellenic culture at those times, the identification of the Pythagorean school of thought with an “Italic” location, although that does not mean “Italian” in a modern sense.For the ancient Greeks as Aristotle
 Italía
 
was part of today
s
 
southern Italy, with specialreference to the Greek colonies on its coasts, Sicily excluded. Later it came to denote alarger area, the
 Megálē Hellás
– 
in Latin,
 Magna Graecia
– 
, and finally the whole peninsulato as north as the Alps, such as described in Polybius
 Histories
 
(II 14; 2
nd
 
century B.C.).However, an early idea of Italy was born about and, likely, in southern Italy itself:
 perì tēs Italías
 
and
 perì n Italían
, according to the title of a now lost historical writing byAntiochus of Syracuse
 
(around 420 B.C.), and to the above expression used by Aristotle.In the Greek doxographists collected by the German philologist Herman A.
 
Diels, wemay meet with this annotation referred to the Pythagoreans and ascribed to the Aristotelianthinker and doxographer Aëtius, lived in the 1
st
 
or 2
nd
 
century B.C.: “Their sect is calledItalic since Pythagoras emigrated from his fatherland Samos, as dissenting from the tyrannyof Polycrates, and taught in Italy
(
 Aëtii De Placitis reliquiae
, I 3;
 Dox. Gr 
. 280; Berlin,1879). Almost the same information is found in the
 Philosophoumena
 
compiled in the firsthalf of the 3
rd
 
century A.D. by Hppolytus of Rome (
 Phil 
. II;
 Dox.
555), with the differencethat there the Pythagoreanism is regarded not so much as a sect, but rather as an originalItalic philosophy, despite the Christian autho
s declared adversity to philosophers.Philosophical brotherhood or scientific school, sometimes mysterical community and even political faction, in southern Italy the Pythagoreanism flourished from the age of Pythagorasto that of Aristoxenus
 
of Tarentum
 
at least, that is from the late 6
th
 
to the 4
th
 
century B.C.In his
 De senectute
, the Roman Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote of 
 Pythagoram Pythagoreosque, incolas paene nostros, qui essent Italici philosophi quondam nominati
(“Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans, our nearly fellow countrymen, once called Italic philosophers”: XXI 78; 44 B.C.). Yet like for other Greek authors, still in the first half of the3
rd
century A.D., in
 Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers
by Diogenes Laërtius,“Italic philosophy” is a synonym of Pythagorean philosophy, at most including the Eleatic
2
 
school which was derived from – albeit somehow in contrast with – a Pythagoreanworldview. Moreover Laërtius distinguishes that Italic philosophy from an “Ionian” one, in practice comprehensive of the rest of Greek thought, probably for – unlike the latter – theformer had been largely transmitted in a Doric dialect, or because actually the other mainsource of Hellenic classical philosophy had sprung in the Ionian colonies of Asia Minor.Just like the learned dwellers of these colonies had been in touch with an astrologicalculture of the Near East, or with a “magic” one of the Middle East, a familiarity with thewisdom of the southern Mediterranean Egypt was attributed to Pythagoras, from his youngage at least. Yet in the Greek traditional imagery there was also the mythic perception of awilder and quite barbaric north, particularly and extensively the Thrace, as the original landof a Dionysian worship and Orphic lore. We can dare affirm, wisdom and lore together, thecharm of far older civilizations and a wondering sense of nature, formed a sort of pictorialcomposite landscape with incipient ruins. Not merely that was the background for adevelopment of Pythagoreanism, but of the whole Pre-Socratic philosophy. Was there, insouthern Italy, something similar to Thrace in the imaginary baggage of the Greek settlers?Although a few clues we may detect about date from much later, they sound someuseful for a phenomenological approach, needing to be supported by philological references.In his above mentioned biographical history, in the Life of Archytas, Diogenes Laërtiusreports an alleged letter from the Pythagorean Archytas to Plato, with related reply:“Archytas wishes Plato good health. We [...] went up to Lucania, where we found the true progeny of Ocellus. [From them] we did get the works
On Law
,
On Kingship
,
On Piety
, and
On the Origin of the Universe
, all of which we have sent on to you; but the rest are, at present, nowhere to be found; if they should turn up, you shall have them. This isArchytas’ letter; and Plato’s answer is as follows: Plato to Archytas greeting. I wasoverjoyed to get the memoirs which you sent, and I am very greatly pleased with the writer of them; he seems to be a right worthy descendant of his distant forbears. They came, so it issaid, from Myra, and were among those who emigrated from Troy in Laomedon’s time,really good men, as the traditional story shows” (VIII 79-81; trans. Robert D. Hicks, 1925).Lucania was and is a mostly mountainous district, lying north of the Gulf of Taranto.This country was inhabited by Lucanians, a people differing from the town dwellers on thecoast. Not a few of those “good men” though, so praised and mythologized in Plato’s letter,
3

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