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The Golden Verses of Pythagoras

Golden Verses of Pythagoras

Translated by Nayán Louise Redfield from Fabre d’Olivet

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Golden Verses Of The Pythagoreans

Translated by Nayán Louise Redfield, 1917

(from the French of Fabre d’Olivet, 1706)

 

Preparation

Render to the Immortal Gods the consecrated cult ;

Guard then thy faith (2) : Revere the memory

Of the Illustrious Heroes, of Spirits demi-Gods (3).

 

Purification

Be a good son, just brother, spouse tender and good father (4)

Choose for thy friend, the friend of virtue;

Yield to his gentle counsels, profit by his life,

 

And for a trifling grievance never leave him (5) ;

If thou canst at least: for a most rigid law

Binds Power to Necessity (6).

Still it is given thee to fight and overcome

Thy foolish passions; learn thou to subdue them (7).

Be sober, diligent, and chaste; avoid all wrath.

In public or in secret ne’er permit thou

Any evil; and above all else respect thyself (8).

 

Speak not nor act before thou hast reflected.

Be just (9). Remember that a power invincible

Ordains to die (10) ; that riches and the honours

Easily acquired, are easy thus to lose (n).

As to the evils which Destiny involves,

Judge them what they are: endure them all and strive,

As much as thou art able, to modify the traits :

The Gods, to the most cruel, have not exposed the Sage (12),

 

Even as Truth, does Error have its lovers :

With prudence the Philosopher approves or blames;

If Error triumph, he departs and waits (13).

Listen and in thine heart engrave my words ;

Keep closed thine eye and ear ‘gainst prejudice;

Of others the example fear; think always for thyself (14):

Consult, deliberate, and freely choose (15).

Let fools act aimlessly and without cause.

Thou shouldst, in the present, contemplate the future (16).

 

That which thou dost not know, pretend not that thou dost.

Instruct thyself: for time and patience favour all (17)*

Neglect not thy health (18) : dispense with moderation,

Food to the body and to the mind repose (19),

Too much attention or too little shun ; for envy

Thus, to either excess is alike attached (20).

Luxury and avarice have similar results.

One must choose in all things a mean just and good (21).

 

Perfection

Let not sleep e’er close thy tired eyes

Without thou ask thyself: What have I omitted and what done ? (22).

Abstain thou if ’tis evil; persevere if good (23).

Meditate upon my counsels; love them; follow them;

To the divine virtues will they know how to lead thee (24).

I swear it by the one who in our hearts engraved

The sacred Tetrad, symbol immense and pure,

Source of Nature and model of the Gods (25).

But before all, thy soul to its faithful duty,

Invoke these Gods with fervour, they whose aid,

Thy work begun, alone can terminate (26).

Instructed by them, naught shall then deceive thee:

 

Of diverse beings thou shalt sound the essence;

And thou shalt know the principle and end of All (27),

If Heaven wills it, thou shalt know that Nature,

Alike in everything, is the same in every place (28) ;

So that, as to thy true rights enlightened,

Thine heart shall no more feed on vain desires (29).

Thou shalt see that the evils which devour men

Are of their choice the fruit (30) ; that these unfortunates

Seek afar the goodness whose source within they bear (31).

For few know happiness; playthings of the passions,

Hither, thither tossed by adverse waves,

Upon a shoreless sea, they blinded roll,

Unable to resist or to the tempest yield (32).

 

God! Thou couldst save them by opening their eyes (33).

But no : ’tis for the humans of a race divine

To discern Error and to see the Truth (34).

Nature serves them (35). Thou who fathomed it,

wise and happy man, rest in its haven.

But observe my laws, abstaining from the things

Which thy soul must fear, distinguishing them well;

Letting intelligence o’er thy body reign (36) ;

So that, ascending into radiant Ether,

Midst the Immortals, thou shalt be thyself a God.

Translated by Florence M. Firth

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The Golden Verses Of Pythagoras

Translated by Florence M. Firth, 1904

 

1. First worship the Immortal Gods, as they are established and ordained by the Law.
2. Reverence the Oath, and next the Heroes, full of goodness and light.
3. Honour likewise the Terrestrial Dæmons by rendering them the worship lawfully due to them.
4. Honour likewise thy parents, and those most nearly related to thee.
5. Of all the rest of mankind, make him thy friend who distinguishes himself by his virtue.
6. Always give ear to his mild exhortations, and take example from his virtuous and useful actions.
7. Avoid as much as possible hating thy friend for a slight fault.
8. [And understand that] power is a near neighbour to necessity.
9. Know that all these things are as I have told thee; and accustom thyself to overcome and vanquish these passions:–
10. First gluttony, sloth, sensuality, and anger.
11. Do nothing evil, neither in the presence of others, nor privately;
12. But above all things respect thyself.
13. In the next place, observe justice in thy actions and in thy words.
14. And accustom not thyself to behave thyself in any thing without rule, and without reason.
15. But always make this reflection, that it is ordained by destiny that all men shall die.
16. And that the goods of fortune are uncertain; and that as they may be acquired, so may they likewise be lost.
17. Concerning all the calamities that men suffer by divine fortune,
18. Support with patience thy lot, be it what it may, and never repine at it.
19. But endeavour what thou canst to remedy it.
20. And consider that fate does not send the greatest portion of these misfortunes to good men.
21. There are among men many sorts of reasonings, good and bad;
22. Admire them not too easily, nor reject them.
23. But if falsehoods be advanced, hear them with mildness, and arm thyself with patience.
24. Observe well, on every occasion, what I am going to tell thee:–
25. Let no man either by his words, or by his deeds, ever seduce thee.
26. Nor entice thee to say or to do what is not profitable for thyself.
27. Consult and deliberate before thou act, that thou mayest not commit foolish actions.
28. For it is the part of a miserable man to speak and to act without reflection.
29. But do that which will not afflict thee afterwards, nor oblige thee to repentance.
30. Never do anything which thou dost not understand.
31. But learn all thou ought’st to know, and by that means thou wilt lead a very pleasant life.
32. in no wise neglect the health of thy body;
33. But give it drink and meat in due measure, and also the exercise of which it has need.
34. Now by measure I mean what will not incommode thee.
35. Accustom thyself to a way of living that is neat and decent without luxury.
36. Avoid all things that will occasion envy.
37. And be not prodigal out of season, like one who knows not what is decent and honourable.
38. Neither be covetous nor niggardly; a due measure is excellent in these things.
39. Do only the things that cannot hurt thee, and deliberate before thou dost them.
40. Never suffer sleep to close thy eyelids, after thy going to bed,
41. Till thou hast examined by thy reason all thy actions of the day.
42. Wherein have I done amiss? What have I done? What have I omitted that I ought to have done?
43. If in this examination thou find that thou hast done amiss, reprimand thyself severely for it;
44. And if thou hast done any good, rejoice.
45. Practise thoroughly all these things; meditate on them well; thou oughtest to love them with all thy heart.
46. ‘Tis they that will put thee in the way of divine virtue.
47. I swear it by him who has transmitted into our souls the Sacred Quaternion, the source of nature, whose cause is eternal.
48. But never begin to set thy hand to any work, till thou hast first prayed the gods to accomplish what thou art going to begin.
49. When thou hast made this habit familiar to thee,
50. Thou wilt know the constitution of the Immortal Gods and of men.
51. Even how far the different beings extend, and what contains and binds them together.
52. Thou shalt likewise know that according to Law, the nature of this universe is in all things alike,
53. So that thou shalt not hope what thou ought’st not to hope; and nothing in this world shall be hid from thee.
54. Thou wilt likewise know, that men draw upon themselves their own misfortunes voluntarily, and of their own free choice.
55. Unhappy that they are! They neither see nor understand that their good is near them.
56. Few know how to deliver themselves out of their misfortunes.
57. Such is the fate that blinds mankind, and takes away his senses.
58. Like huge cylinders they roll to and fro, and always oppressed with ills innumerable.
59. For fatal strife, innate, pursues them everywhere, tossing them up and down; nor do they perceive it.
60. Instead of provoking and stirring it up, they ought, by yielding, to avoid it.
61. Oh! Jupiter, our Father! if Thou would’st deliver men from all the evils that oppress them,
62. Show them of what dæmon they make use.
63. But take courage; the race of man is divine.
64. Sacred nature reveals to them the most hidden mysteries.
65. If she impart to thee her secrets, thou wilt easily perform all the things which I have ordained thee.
66. And by the healing of thy soul, thou wilt deliver it from all evils, from all afflictions.
67. But abstain thou from the meats, which we have forbidden in the purifications and in the deliverance of the soul;
68. Make a just distinction of them, and examine all things well.
69. Leaving thyself always to be guided and directed by the understanding that comes from above, and that ought to hold the reins.
70. And when, after having divested thyself of thy mortal body, thou arrivest at the most pure Æther,
71. Thou shalt be a God, immortal, incorruptible, and Death shall have no more dominion over thee.

Translated by Nicholas Rowe

PDF Version

The Golden Verses Of Pythagoras

Translated by Nicholas Rowe, 1707

Introduction

I Hope the Reader will forgive the Liberty I have taken in Translating these Verses somewhat at large, without which it would have been almost impossible to have given any kind of Turn in English Poetry to so dry a Subject. The Sense of the Author is, I hope, no where mistaken; and if there seems in some Places to be some Additions in the English Verses to the Greek Text, they are only such as may e justify’d from Hierocles’s Commentary, and deliver’d by him as the larger and explain’s Sense of the Author’s short Precept. I have in some few Places ventur’d to differ from the Learned Mr. Dacier’s French Interpretation, as those that shall give themselves the trouble of a strict Comparison will find. How far I am in the right, is left to the Reader to determine.

The Verses

First to the Gods thy humble Homage pay;

The greatest this, and first of Laws, obey:

Perform thy Vows, observe thy plighted Troth,

And let Religion bind thee to thy Oath.

The Heroes next demand thy just regard,

Renown’d on Earth, and the Stars preferr’d,

To Light and endless Life, their Virtues sure Reward.

Due Rights perform and Honours to the Dead,

To ev’ry Wise, to ev’ry Pious Shade.

With lowly Duty to thy Parents bow,

And Grace and Favour to thy Kindred show:

For what concerns the rest of Humane kind.

Choose out the Man to Virtue best inclin’d,

Him to thy Arms receive, him to thy Bosom bind.

Possest of such a Friend, preserve him still;

Nor thwart his Counsels with thy stubborn Will

Pliant to all his Admonitions prove,

And yield to all his Offices of Love:

Him from thy Heart, so true, so justly dear,

Let no rash Word nor light Offences tear.

Bear all thou canst, still with his Failings strive,

And to the utmost still, and still forgive;

For strong Necessity alone explores

The secret Vigour of our latent Pow’rs,

Rouses and urges on the lazy Heart,

Force, to its self unknown before, t’exert.

By use thy stronger Appetites asswage,

Thy Gluttony, thy Sloth, thy Lust, thy Rage

From each dishonest Act of Shame forbear;

Of others, and thy self, alike beware.

Let Rev’rence of thy self thy Thoughts control,

And guard the sacred Temple of thy Soul.

Let Justice o’er thy Word and Deed preside,

And Reason ev’n thy meanest Actions guide:

For know that Death is Man’s appointed Doom,

Know that the Day of great Account will come,

When thy past Life shall strictly be survey’d,

Each Word, each Deed be in the Balance laid,

And all the Good and all the Ill most justly be repaid.

For Wealth, the perishing, uncertain Good,

Ebbing and flowing like the sickle Flood,

That knows no sure, no fix’d abiding Place,

But wandring loves from Hand to Hand to pass;

Revolve the Getter’s Joy and Loser’s Pain,

And think if it be worth thy while to gain.

Of all those Sorrows that attend Mankind,

With Patience bear the Lot to thee assign’d;

Nor think it Chance, nor murmur at the Load;

For know what Man calls Fortune is from God.

In what thou may’st from Wisdom seek Relief,

And let her healing Hand asswage the Grief;

Yet still whate’er the Righteous Doom ordains,

What Cause soever multiplies thy Pains,

Let not those Pains as Ills be understood;

For God delights not to afflict the Good.

 

The Reas’ning Art to various Ends apply’d,

Is oft a sure, but oft an erring Guide.

Thy Judgment therefore sound and cool preserve,

Nor lightly from thy Resolution swerve;

The dazling Pomp of Words does oft deceive,

And sweet Persuasion wins the Easy to believe.

 

When Fools and Liars labour to persuade,

Be dumb, and let the Bablers vainly plead.

 

This above all, this Precept chiefly learn,

This nearly does, and first, thy self concern▪

Let not Example, let no soothing Tongue,

Prevail upon thee with a Siren‘s Song.

To do thy Soul’s Immortal Essence wrong,

Of Good and Ill by Words or Deeds exprest,

Choose for thy self, and always choose the best.

 

Let wary Thought each Enterprize forerun,

And ponder on thy Task before begun,

Lest Folly shou’d the wretched Work deface,

And mock thy fruitless Labours with Disgrace.

Fools huddle on and always are in haste,

Act without Thought, and thoughtless Words they waste.

But, thou, in all thou dost, with early Cares

Strive to prevent at first a Fate like theirs;

That Sorrow on the End may never wait,

Nor sharp Repentance make thee Wise too late.

 

Beware thy meddling Hand in ought to try,

That does beyond thy reach of Knowledge lie;

But seek to know, and bend thy serious Thought

To search the profitable Knowledge out.

So Joys on Joys for ever shall increase,

Wisdom shall crown thy Labours, and shall bless

Thy Life with Pleasure, and thy End with Peace.

 

Nor let the Body want its Part, but share

A just Proportion of thy tender Care:

For Health and Welfare prudently provide,

And let its lawful Wants be all supply’d.

Let sober Draughts refresh, and wholsom Fare

Decaying Nature’s wasted Force repair;

And sprightly Exercise the duller Spirits chear.

In all Things still which to this Care belong,

Observe this Rule, to guard thy Soul from Wrong.

 

By virtuous Use thy Life and Manners frame,

Manly and simply pure, and free from Blame.

 

Provoke not Envy’s deadly Rage, but fly

The glancing Curse of her malicious Eye.

 

Seek not in needless Luxury to waste

Thy Wealth and Substance, with a Spendthrift’s Haste;

Yet flying these, be watchful, lest thy Mind,

Prone to Extremes, an equal Danger find,

And be to sordid Avarice inclin’d.

Distant alike from each, to neither lean,

But ever keep the happy GOLDEN MEAN.

 

Be careful still to guard thy Soul from Wrong,

And let thy Thought prevent thy Hand and Tongue.

 

Let not the stealing God of Sleep surprise,

Nor creep in Slumbers on thy weary Eyes,

Ere ev’ry Action of the former Day

Strictly thou dost and righteously survey.

With Rev’rence at thy own Tribunal stand,

And answer justly to thy own Demand.

Where have I been? In what have I transgress’d?

What Good or Ill has this Day’s Life express’d?

Where have I fail’d in what I ought to do?

In what to God, to Man, or to my self I owe?

Inquire severe what-e’er from first to last,

From Morning’s Dawn ’till Ev’ning’s Gloom, has past.

If Evil were thy Deeds, repenting mourn,

And let thy Soul with strong Remorse be torn.

If Good, the Good with Peace of Mind repay,

And to thy secret Self with Pleasure say,

Rejoice, my Heart, for all went well to-day.

 

These Thoughts and chiefly these thy Mind should move;

Employ thy Study, and engage thy Love.

These are the Rules which will to Virtue lead,

And teach thy Feet her heav’nly Paths to tread.

This by his Name I swear, whose sacred Lore

First to Mankind explain’d the Mystick FOUR,

Source of Eternal Nature and Almighty Pow’r.

 

In all thou dost first let thy Prayers ascend,

And to the Gods thy Labours first commend,

From them implore Success, and hope a prosp’rous End.

So shall thy abler Mind be taught to soar,

And Wisdom in her secret Ways explore;

To range through Heav’n above and Earth below,

Immortal Gods and mortal Men to know.

So shalt thou learn what Pow’r does all control,

What bounds the Parts, and what unites the Whole:

And rightly judge, in all this wondrous Frame,

How universal Nature is the same;

So shalt thou ne’er thy vain Affections place

On Hopes of what shall never come to pass,

 

Man, wretched Man, thou shalt be taught to know,

Who bears within himself the inborn Cause of Woe.

Unhappy Race! that never yet could tell,

How near their Good and Happiness they dwell.

Depriv’d of Sense, they neither hear nor see;

Fetter’d in Vice they seek not to be free,

But stupid, to their own sad Fate agree:

Like pond’rous Rolling-stones, oppress’d with Ill,

The Weight that loads ‘em makes ‘em roll on still,

Bereft of Choice and Freedom of the Will.

For native Strife in ev’ry Bosom reigns,

And secretly an impious War maintains:

Provoke not THIS, but let the Combat cease,

And ev’ry yielding Passion sue for Peace.

 

Wouldst thou, great Jave, thou Father of Mankind,

Reveal the Demon for that Task assign’d,

The wretched Race an End of Woes would find▪

 

And yet be bold, O Man, Divine thou art,

And of the Gods Celestial Essence Part.

Nor sacred Nature is from thee conceal’d,

But to thy Race her mystick Rules reveal’d.

These if to know thou happily attain,

Soon shalt thou perfect be in all that I ordain.

Thy wounded Soul to Health thou shalt restore,

And free from ev’ry Pain she felt before.

 

Abstain, I warn, from Meats unclean and foul,

So keep thy Body pure, so free thy Soul;

So rightly judge; thy Reason, so, maintain;

Reason which Heav’n did for thy Guide ordain,

Let that best Reason ever hold the Rein.

 

Then if this mortal Body thou forsake,

And thy glad Flight to the pure Aether take,

Among the Gods exalted shalt thou shine,

Immortal, Incorruptible, Divine:

The Tyrant Death securely shalt thou brave,

And scorn the dark Dominion of the Grave.

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