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PTCOLIM

 

Three translations of the

Golden Verses of the Pythagoreans

The Pythagoreans bequeathed to humanity a complete rule of life which sets out, in 71 short verses, a truly philosophical and mystical path, leading straight to the Divine. 

Hierocles of Alexandria, a leading neoplatonic philosopher in that city during the 5th Century CE, wrote a very full commentary on the Verses which begins: “Philosophy is the purification and perfection of human nature; its purification, because it delivers it from the temerity and from the folly that proceed from matter, and because it disengages its affections from the mortal body; and its perfection, because it makes it recover its original felicity, by restoring it to the likeness of God.”

Three translations of the Verses are presented here in parallel:

 1. N Rowe, working from the French of Andre Dacier in 1707. This was published, with a shortened version of Hierocles’ commentary, by the Theosophical Publishing House in 1906. 

2. The Shrine of Wisdom editors do not say what text they work from. Their translation, with commentary, is published as The Golden Verses of the Pythagoreans, The Shrine of Wisdom, 1929.

3. Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie (1871-1940) included his translation in his book The Complete Pythagoras. This is available as a download:   http://arcaneadvisors.com/archives/Pythagoras/TheCompletePythagoras.pdf

Also strongly recommended is a more recent translation from the Greek by Professor Hermann S Schibli, Visiting Professor of Classics at the Universitat Passau, Germany. His book Hierocles of Alexandria includes the Golden Verses as well as Hierocles' commentary on the Verses and much else besides. Hierocles of Alexandria, OUP 2002, ISBN 0-19-924921-0.

 

Rowe 1707

 

1. In the first place honour the Immortal Gods, as they are established and ordained by the Law

2. Honour the Oath with all manner of Religion.

 

3. In the next place honour the Heroes who are full of goodness and of light.

 

4. Honour likewise the Terrestrial Demons by rendering them the worship lawfully due to them.

 

5. Honour likewise thy father and thy mother, and thy nearest relations.

 

6. Of all the rest of mankind, make him thy friend, who distinguishes himself by his virtue.

 

7, 8, 9. Always give ear to his mild exhortations, and take example from his virtuous and useful actions.

And avoid, as much as possible, to hate thy friend for a slight fault.

Now, power is a near neighbour to necessity.

 

9 & 10. Know that all these things are as I have told thee; but accustom thyself to surmount and vanquish these passions :-

First, gluttony, sloth, luxury and anger.

 

11 & 12. Never commit any shameful actions, neither with others, nor in private with thyself. And, above all things, respect thyself.

 

13,14, 15, 16. In the next place, observe justice in thy actions and in thy words.

And accustom not thyself to behave thyself in anything without rule and without reason.

But always make this reflection, that it is ordained by Destiny for all men to die.

And that the goods of fortune are uncertain, and that as they may be acquired, they may likewise be lost.

 

17, 18, 19, 20. Concerning all the calamities that men suffer by Divine Fortune, Support with patience thy lot, be it what it will, and never repine at it.

But endeavour what thou canst to remedy it,

And consider that Fate does not send the greatest portion of these misfortunes to good men.

 

21, 22, 23: There are among men several sorts of reasonings, good and bad. Admire them not too easily and reject them not neither, but if any falsehoods be advanced, give way with mildness, and arm thyself with patience.

 

24, 25, 26. Observe well, on every occasion, what I am going to tell thee: 

Let no man either by his words, or by his actions, ever seduce thee, Nor entice thee to say or to do what is not profitable for thee.

 

27, 28, 29. Consult and deliberate before thou act, that thou may’st not commit foolish actions. For it is the part of a miserable man to speak and act without reflection.

But do that which will not afflict thee afterwards, nor oblige thee to repentance.

 

 

30, 31. Never do anything which thou dost not understand; but learn all things thou oughtest to know, and by that means thou wilt lead a very pleasant life.

 

32, 33, 34. In no wise neglect the health of thy body; but give it drink and meat in due measure, and also the exercise of which it has need.

Now, by measure, I mean what will not incommode thee.

 

35, 36, 37, 38. Accustom thyself to a way of living that is neat and decent, without luxury.

Avoid all things that will occasion envy. And be not expensive out of season, like one who knows not what is decent and honourable.

But be neither covetous nor niggardly. A due measure is excellent in all things!

 

39. Do only the things that cannot hurt thee, and deliberate before thou do’st them.

 

40, 41, 42, 43, 44. Never suffer sleep to close thy eye-lids after thy going to bed,

till thou hast examined by thy Reason all thy actions of the day.

 

Wherein have I done amiss? What have I done? What have I omitted that I ought to have done?

If in this examination thou find that thou hast done amiss, reprimand thyself severely for it; and if thou hast done any good, rejoice.

 

45, 46, 47, 48. Practise thoroughly all these things; meditate on them well; thou oughtest to love them with all thy heart. It is they that will put thee in the way of Divine Virtue.

 I swear it by him who has transmitted into our soul the Sacred Quaternion, the Source of Nature, whose course is eternal.

48, 49. But never begin to set thy hand to the work, Till thou hast prayed the Gods to accomplish what thou art going to begin.

49, 50, 51. When thou hast made this habit familiar to thee,

thou wilt know the constitution of the Immortal Gods and of men; even how far the different Beings extend, and what contains and binds them together.

52, 53. Thou shalt likewise know, according to Justice, that the nature of this Universe is in all things alike.

 

So that thou shalt not hope what thou ought’st not to hope; and nothing in this world shall be hid from thee.

 

54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60.

Thou wilt likewise know that men draw upon themselves their own misfortunes, voluntarily and of their own free choice.

Wretches that they are! They neither see nor understand that their good is near them. There are very few of them who know how to deliver themselves out of their misfortunes.

Such is the Fate that blinds mankind and takes away his senses. Like huge cylinders they roll to and fro, always oppressed with ills without number;

For fatal contention, that is innate in them, and that pursues them everywhere, tosses them up and down, nor do they perceive it.

Instead of provoking and stirring it up, they ought by yielding to avoid it.

 

61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66.

Great Jupiter, Father of men, you would deliver them from all the evils that oppress them, if you would show them what is the Demon of whom they make use.

But take courage, the race of man is divine. Sacred nature reveals to them the most hidden mysteries.

If she impart to thee her secrets, thou wilt easily perform all the things which I have ordained thee. And healing thy soul, will deliver it from all these evils, from all these afflictions.

 

67, 68, 69. But abstain thou from the meats which we have forbidden in the Purifications, and in the Deliverance of the

Soul; make a just distinction of them,

and examine all things well, leaving thyself always to be guided and directed by the understanding that comes from above, and that ought to hold the reins.

 

70, 71. And when after having divested thyself of thy mortal body, thou arrivest at the most pure Ether, thou shalt be a God, immortal, incorruptible, and death shall have no more dominion over thee.

 

Shrine of Wisdom 1929

 

Pay honour first to the Immortal Gods, as Order hath established Their Choirs.

Reverence the Oath.

 


The Heroes great and good revere thou next

 

and earth’s good geniuses, paying to them such honours as are due.

 


Honour thy parents and thy nearest kin;


 

Of others make the virtuous thy friend:

 

 

Yield to his gentle words, his timely acts; nor for a petty fault take back thy love.

 


Bear what thou canst: pow’r cometh at man’s need.

 

Know this for truth, and learn to conquer these:


Thy belly first; sloth, luxury and rage.

 

Do nothing base with others or alone, and, above all things, thine own self respect.

 


Next practise justice in thy word and deed and learn to act unreasonably in naught; but know that all must die. 

 

 

 

Wealth comes and goes.


 

Of ills the Goddess Fortune gives to man
 Bear meekly thou thy lot, nor grieve at it; but cure it as thou canst. 

 

Remember this:

Fate gives the least of evil to the good.

 


Many the reasonings that on men’s ears fall; good and bad.

Admire not all of such nor shun them neither. If one speaketh false, be calm.

 

And practise ever this that now I say. 


Let no man’s word or deed seduce thee to do or say aught not to thy best good.

 


First think, then act; lest foolish be thy deed. Unhappy he who thoughtless acts and speaks:

 

But that which after vexes not do thou.

 

 

Do naught thou dost not understand; but learn that which is right, and sweet will be thy life.

 


Nor shouldest thou thy body’s health neglect, but give it food and drink and exercise in measure;

 

that is, to cause it no distress.

 

Decent, without vain show, thy way of life: 


Look well to this, that none thou envious make by unmeet expense, like one who lacks good taste.


Nor niggard be: in all the mean is best.

 


Do that which cannot harm thee. Think, then act.

 

When first thou dost from soothing sleep uprise, hasten about thy day’s intended work; nor suffer sleep to fall on thy soft lids till thrice thou has each act of the day recalled: 

How have I sinned? What done? What duty missed? 

 


Go through them first to last; and, if they seem evil, reproach thyself; if good, rejoice.

 

Toil at and practise this; this must thou love; This to the Path of Heavenly Virtue leads.


By Him Who gave the Tectractys to our soul, Fount of Eternal Nature, this I swear.


Begin thy work, having first prayed the Gods to accomplish it.

 

Thou, having mastered this, that essence of Gods and mortal men shalt know, which all things permeates, which all obey.


And thou shalt know that Law hath stablished the inner nature of all things alike;

 

So shalt thou hope not for what may not be, nor aught, that may, escape thee.

 

 

Thou shalt know self-chosen are the woes that fall on men – how wretched, for they see not good so near, nor hearken to its voice – few only know the Pathway of Deliverance from ill.

 

 

Such fate doth blind mankind, who, up and down, with countless woes are carried by its wheel. 


For bitter inborn strife companions them and does them secret harm.

 

Provoke it not, O men, but yield, and yielding, find escape.

 

 

O Father Zeus, ΄twould free from countless ills didst Thou but show what Genius works in each! 


But courage! Men are children of the Gods, and Sacred Nature all things hid reveals.

And if the Mysteries have part in thee, thou shalt prevail in all I bade thee do, and, thoroughly cured, shalt save thy soul from toil.

 


Eat not the foods proscribed, but use discretion in lustral rites and the freeing of thy soul:

 

Ponder all things, and stablish high thy mind, that best of charioteers.

 

 

And if at length, leaving behind thy body, thou dost come to the free Upper Air, then shalt thou be deathless, divine, a mortal man no more.

Kenneth S Guthrie 1921

 

First honour the immortal Gods, as the law demands.


Then reverence thy oath,

 


and then the illustrious heroes

 

 

Then venerate the divinities under the earth, due rites performing,

 

Then honour your parents, and all of your kindred;

 

Among others make the most virtuous your friend;

 

 

Love to make use of soft speeches, but deeds that are useful; Alienate not the beloved comrade for trifling offences, Bear all you can, what you can, and you should [are near to each other]

 

 


Take all this to heart: you must gain control of your habits;: 

First over stomach, then sleep and then luxury, and anger

 


What brings you shame, do not unto others nor by yourself; highest of duties is honour of self.

 

Let Justice be practised in words as in deeds; Then make the habit, never inconsiderately to act; Neither forget that death is appointed to all;

 

 


That possessions gladly here gathered, there must be left;

 

Whatever sorrow the fate of the gods may here send us,

Bear whatever may strike you, with patience unmurmuring. To relieve it, as far as you can, is permitted;

 

but reflect: Not much evil has Fate given to the good.

 

The speech of people is various, now good, now evil;

So let them not frighten you, nor keep you from your purpose. If false calumnies come near your ear, support it in patience;

Yet that which I am now declaring, fulfil it full faithfully:


Let no one with speech or with deeds e'er deceive you; To do or to say what is not the best,

 

Think, ere you act, that nothing stupid result; To act inconsiderately is part of a fool;

 

Yet whatever later will not bring you repentance, that you should carry through,

 

Do nothing beyond what you know; yet learn what you may need; thus shall your life grow happy.

 


Neither grow anxious about the health of the body; Keep measure in eating and drinking, and every exercise of the body;

By measure, I mean what later will not induce pain;

 

Follow clean habits of life, but not the luxurious;


Avoid what envy arouses.
At the wrong time, never be prodigal, as if you did not know what was proper;


Nor show yourself stingy; that which is medium is ever the best.


 

 

 

Never let slumber approach thy wearied eyelids ere thrice you reviewed what this day you did: 

 

Wherein have I sinned? What did I? What duty is neglected?

 

All from the first to the last review; and, if you have erred, grieve in your spirit, rejoicing for all that was good.

 

With zeal and industry, this, then repeat; and learn to repeat it with joy. Thus wilt thou tread on the paths of heavenly virtue.

Surely, I swear it by him who into our souls placed the Four (elements), [yes, by him who imparted to our soul the tetraktys,] him who is spring of Nature eternal--

Now start your task! After you have implored the blessing of the Gods

If this you hold fast, soon will you recognize of Gods and of mortal men the peculiar existence, how everything passes and returns.

 

Then will you see what is true, that Nature in all is most equal,

 

 

 

So that you hope not for what has no hope, nor that aught should escape you

.

Men shall you find whose sorrows themselves have created, wretches, who see not the God who is so near, near; Nothing they hear; few know how to help themselves in misfortune.

 

That is the fate, that blinds humanity, in circling circles, Hither and yon, they run, in endless sorrows;

 

For they are followed by a grim companion, disunion within themselves, unnoticed;

 


ne'er rouse him, and fly from before him!

 

Father Zeus, O free them all from sufferings so great, or show unto each the Genius, who is their Guide!

 

Yet, do not fear, for the mortals are divine by […..] To whom holy Nature everything will reveal and demonstrate;

Whereof if you have received, so keep what I teach you; for I will heal you, and you shall remain insured from manifold evil.

 


Avoid foods forbidden, reflect, that this contributes to cleanliness and redemption of your soul;

 

This all, Oh consider; Let reason, the gift divine, be thy highest guide;.

 

 

Then should you be separated from the body, and soar into the spiritual ether, then will you be imperishable, a divinity, no longer a human!

 

 

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