The Age of Fable eBook

Thomas Bulfinch
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 980 pages of information about The Age of Fable.

There is an allusion to Camilla in those well-known lines of Pope, in which, illustrating the rule that “the sound should be an echo to the sense,” he says: 

   “When Ajax strives some rock’s vast weight to throw,
    The line too labors and the words move slow. 
    Not so when swift Camilla scours the plain,
    Flies o’er th’ unbending corn or skims along the main.”

    —­Essay on Criticism.

CHAPTER XXXIV

PYTHAGORAS—­EGYPTIAN DEITIES—­ORACLES

PYTHAGORAS

The teachings of Anchises to Aeneas, respecting the nature of the human soul, were in conformity with the doctrines of the Pythagoreans.  Pythagoras (born five hundred and forty years B.C.) was a native of the island of Samos, but passed the chief portion of his life at Crotona in Italy.  He is therefore sometimes called “the Samian,” and sometimes “the philosopher of Crotona.”  When young he travelled extensively, and it is said visited Egypt, where he was instructed by the priests in all their learning, and afterwards journeyed to the East, and visited the Persian and Chaldean Magi, and the Brahmins of India.

At Crotona, where he finally established himself, his extraordinary qualities collected round him a great number of disciples.  The inhabitants were notorious for luxury and licentiousness, but the good effects of his influence were soon visible.  Sobriety and temperance succeeded.  Six hundred of the inhabitants became his disciples and enrolled themselves in a society to aid each other in the pursuit of wisdom, uniting their property in one common stock for the benefit of the whole.  They were required to practise the greatest purity and simplicity of manners.  The first lesson they learned was silence; for a time they were required to be only hearers.  “He [Pythagoras] said so” (Ipse dixit), was to be held by them as sufficient, without any proof.  It was only the advanced pupils, after years of patient submission, who were allowed to ask questions and to state objections.

Pythagoras considered numbers as the essence and principle of all things, and attributed to them a real and distinct existence; so that, in his view, they were the elements out of which the universe was constructed.  How he conceived this process has never been satisfactorily explained.  He traced the various forms and phenomena of the world to numbers as their basis and essence.  The “Monad” or unit he regarded as the source of all numbers.  The number Two was imperfect, and the cause of increase and division.  Three was called the number of the whole because it had a beginning, middle, and end.  Four, representing the square, is in the highest degree perfect; and Ten, as it contains the sum of the four prime numbers, comprehends all musical and arithmetical proportions, and denotes the system of the world.

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The Age of Fable from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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