Stoicism and Pythagoreanism: The Allegory of the Festival

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Stoicism and Pythagoreanism: The Allegory of the Festival

Donald Robertson



Quote:[Pythagoras said] that human life seemed to him comparable with the festival to which people flocked form all over Greece in order to see those magnificent [Olympic] Games. This is an occasion for which some people have gone into physical training in the hope of winning the splendid distinction of a crown, while others are attracted by the prospect of buying or selling for profit, whereas a further category again – and these represent an especially good class of people – are interested in winning neither applause nor profit, but come merely for the sake of the spectacle, to get a thorough look at what is going on and how it is done. And we too, said Pythagoras, as we enter this life from some other kind of existence [as he believed in reincarnation], behave like people who have moved out of town to join the crowds at this sort of show. Some of us are enslaved to glory, others to money. But there are also a few people who devote themselves wholly to the study of the universe, believing everything else to be trivial in comparison. These call themselves students of wisdom, in other words philosophers [“lovers of wisdom”]; and just as a festival attracts individuals of the finest type who just watch the proceedings without a thought of getting anything for themselves, so too, in life generally, the contemplation and study of nature are far superior to the whole range of other human activities. (Cicero, Tuscalan Disputations, 5.9)

Quote:[Pythagoras] used to compare life to a festival [panêguris]. And as some people came to a festival to contend for the prizes, and others for the purposes of selling their wares, and the best as spectators; so also in life, the men of slavish dispositions, said he, are born to the pursuit of fame and material gain, but philosophers are seekers after truth. (Diogenes Laertius, Lives, 8.6)


Quote:[Pythagoras] likened the entrance of men into the present life to the progression of a crowd to some public spectacle. There assemble men of all descriptions and views. One hastens to sell his wares for money and gain; another exhibits his bodily strength for renown; but the most liberal assemble to observe the landscape, the beautiful works of art, the specimens of valour, and the customary literary productions. So also in the present life men of manifold pursuits are assembles. Some are influenced by the desire of riches and luxury; others, by the love of power and dominion, or by insane ambition for glory. But the purest and most genuine character is that of the man who devotes himself to the contemplation of the most beautiful things, and he may properly be called a “philosopher”. (Iamblichus, The Life of Pythagoras, 12)
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell



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