Rating: 2 out of 5.

An unusual two star rating might be another example of the importance of managing readers’ expectations, because this text was definitely not what I was expecting, and my appreciation of it was consequently diminished. That being said, even if I had known what I was getting into, I’m not certain that I would have found very much to appreciate about Pyhtagoras’ and his fellow cultists’ “golden” verses, sentences, sentimets, statements, and so forth.

As I suspect most people would these days, when I saw the name “Pythagoras” on the cover my thoughts went immediately to mathematics, especially his eponymous theorem regarding triangles. With that in mind, I was expecting a sort of mathematical treatise, or at least some kind of scholarly work regarding what we would today call science and which was then simply lumped under the very broad term of “philosophy.” What I got instead was the eight hundred commandments of the Pythagorean religion.

Yes, so it turns out that Pythagoras founded a relicious sect, and that the verses in the first section of this book, attributed to him, are intended as prescriptions for a moral, divine life. I do question some of the translational choices, which seem to refer to the single Abrahamic deity and especially the Christian concept of Trinity – quite out of place in a set of verses written around 400 BC. While not what I was expecting, these first verses did have some interesting insights, albeit ones that are not particularly revolutionary. It was the subsequent portions of the book where things got strange.

Many cultists members of Pythagoras’s religious sect also contributed to what amounts to a book of Pythagorean doctrine. Their contributions vary from brief statements to long paragraphs exhorting the reader to a more divine life. Some of these are quite specific – thou shalt not eat this specific species of fish specific – but don’t tell that to the translators of this edition, because they felt the need to include lengthy commentary for most of these commandments, and something as literal and obvious as “thou shalt not eat this particular specifies of fish” was transformed in their brains into a deep moral statement that had nothing at all to do with fish, despite evidence that suggests that the Pythagorean sect did maintain a strict diet and avoided certain types of food diligently.

I only knew of this book’s existence from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, and I’m glad that I was able to find a PDF copy free on the internet, since I feel no need to read this piece again. You know, if you’ve been reading this site for any length of time, that I read some strange material, and can usually find some insight from it, but I’m really not sure what I can offer here. As far as works of Greek philosophy go, there are reasons that many of them have lasted into the modern day, and there are also reasons why some of them have been all but forgotten. Like this one.

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