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Pythagoras, as being foretold by Apollo Pythius, for so, says he, the name signifies : and adds, that there can be no doubt but that the soul of the child was one of Apollo's companions in heaven, and came down by commission from him. When this and many other fables are cast out of the account, it is most probable that Pythagoras was born at Samos in the 3d year of Olymp. xlviii. 586 years before Christ, being the son of Mnesarchus, an engraver of seals, which Mnesarchus was descended from Hippasus of Phlius, and his mother Pythais from Ancæus, one of the planters of Samos.
Nature bestowed upon Pythagoras a form and person more than ordinarily comely; he gave early indications of a mind capable of great exertions, and ambitious of excelling in knowledge: the Greeks had now begun to open schools for the public instruction of youth; the rudiments of science were taught in these seminaries to a degree sufficient for the common purposes of liberal education, but the last finishing for such as aspired to be adepts in the superior learning of the times was only to be obtained amongst the Egyptian and Chaldean sages ; to them was the great resort of literary travellcrs ; from their source, Greece had derived her systems of theology and natural philosophy. The Egyptians were in possession of many ancient traditions of Mosaical origin, though disguised by emblems and hieroglyphics, which Greece in adopting was never able to develope, and of which it is probable the Egyptians themselves had lost the clue: the Greeks, ever since the time of Cecrops, had been progres. sively erecting a fabulous and idolatrous system of theology upon this foundation. The Egyptians in very early time under certain types and symbols had shadowed out the attributes of the deity, the great events of the deluge and re-peopling of the earth, and these being received by the Greeks in a literal sense, generated in the end a multitudinous race of deities with a thousand chimerical rites and ceremonies, which altogether formed so puzzling a compound of absurdity, that no two thinking hea. thens agreed in the same creed: still they went on accumulating error upon error ; cvery philosopher who returned from Egypt, imported some addition to the stock, till Olympus was crowded with divi. nities. If the heathens had ever defined their reli. gion, and established it upon system, they would have destroyed it; but whilst every man might think for himself, and every man who thought at all, got rid of his difficulties by supposing there was some mystery in the case, which he either did not trouble himself to interpret, or interpreted as he saw fit, the imposing fabric stood, and, magnified through the mists of error, appeared to have a dignity and substance, which upon examination and scrutiny would have vanished.
The parents of Pythagoras put him first under the tuition of Pherecydes of Syrus : Pherecydes did not die till Olymp. Lxvi. so that Diogenes Laer. tius must be flagrantly mistaken in saying that Py. thagoras studied under this philosopher till his death: he was very young when he went into Syria for this purpose, for he returned to Samos to his parents, and after studying some time under Her. modamas there, set out upon his travels into Egypt at the age of eighteen. At this early age, he had acquired all the erudition the philosophers of Greece could give him ; he had already visited many cities of Syria, and performed his initiations : it is said he had consulted Thales in person, and been advised by that sage to prosecute his studies amongst the learned Egyptians : but this is doubtful; it is altogether im. probable that he should depart from Samos at the age of eighteen vpon the patriotic motive ascribed to him by Laertius, of avoiding the growing tyranny of his countryman Polycrates; especially when the same biographer informs us, that he took letters of recommendation from Polycrates to king Amasis, desiring him to give order for Pythagoras's being instructed by the Egyptian priests.
With this letter Pythagoras repaired to Amasis, and obtained an order to the priests, agreeable to the request of Polycrates; with this, he went first to the priests of Heliopolis; they declined the exc. cution of it by referring him to their brethren at Memphis, as being their seniors in the sacerdotal rank ; these again evaded the order, and dispatched him to the Diospolites ; he found these sages as little disposed to compliance as the priests of Heliopolis or Memphis ; however, as the king's command was urgent, they did not think fit absolutely to disobey it, but took a method, which they thought would answer the same purpose, and began by deterring and alarming the inquisitive youth by their prepa. ratory austerities; but they had no common spirit to deal with : Pythagoras had a constitution that could endure hardships, and an ambition that no. thing could daunt; he submitted to the ceremony of circumcision, and was initiated into their sacred rites, unintimidated by all the horrors with which they contrived to set them forth. They began then to regard him with more benignity and respect, and when they found him learning their language with surprising rapidity, and conforming to their dis. cipline with the most rigid exactness, they looked upon him with surprise and admiration; they now resolved to hold nothing back from talents so extra. ordinary and temper so conformable; he learnt thcir thrce sorts of letters: they admitted him to their sacrifices, and disclosed the most secret rites of their religion, mysteries never before imparted to any foreigner. He resided in Egypt a long time, during which he read the books of the ancient priests, and in them he discovered the sources of the Grecian theology, and how erroneous the system was, which they had derived from these sources : he is supposed henceforth to have held the gods of the heathen in contempt, and to have entertained suitable ideas of The One Supreme Being. · Having perfected himself in the geometry and astronomy of the Egyptians, and acquired the observations of infinite ages, (as Valerius Maximus expresses it) he determined upon exploring new and more distant scenes in search of knowledge, and from Egypt went to Babylon ; his recommendations from Egypt secured him a reception by the Chaldees and Magi; here he was a disciple of Nazaratus the Assyrian, and we are told by Porphyry, that he was purified by Zabratus from all defilements of his former life ; by what particular modes of discipline this purification was effected Porphyry does not explain. From Babylon he pushed his travels into Persia, and was instructed by the Magi in their re, ligion and way of living ; from them he received those rules of diet which he afterwards prescribed to his disciples, with various opinions of things clean and unclean, which were amongst his maxims : these conform to the present practice of the Brahmins, which may well be supposed to have been inviolably preserved through that separated and sacred Cast from times of high antiquity; for what invention can be devised to secure the longevity of any system better than that upon which the sacer. dotal order of Brahmins is established ? By tho Persian Magi he was instructed in many particulars of Jewish knowledge, chiefly their interpretations of dreams. We have Cicero's authority for this part of his travels (de fin. lib. v.) and Valerius Maximus says the Persian Magi taught him a most complete system of ethics ; that they likewise in. structed him in the motions and courses of the heavenly bodies, their properties and effects, and the intluence every star respectively is supposed to have. · In the course of these travels he passed more than twenty years; he then turned his face homewards, taking the isle of Crete in his way : here and at Lacedemon he perused their famous codes of laws, and having now completed the great tour of science, and stored his mind with all the hidden treasures of oriental knowledge, he presented himself, for the first time, to the admiring eyes of Greece, assem. bled at the Olympic Games. · A spectacle no doubt it was for universal admi, ration and respect; au understanding so enriched and full in its meridian vigour, was an object that the wisest of his contemporaries might look up to with veneration little short of idolatry. Pythagoras in this attitude, surrounded by the Grecian sages on the field of the Olympic Games, whilst every eye was 6ixed with rapture and delight upon one of the most perfect forms in nature, began to pour forth the wonders of his doctrine : astonishment seized the hearers, and almost doubting if it was a mortal that had been discoursing, they with one voice an. plauded his wisdom, and demanded by what title he would in future be addressed: Pythagoras an. swered, that their seven sages had taken the name of wise men, or sophists ; for his part he left them in possession of a distinction they so well merited ; he wished to be no otherwise remembered or de, scribed than as a Lover of Il'isdom ; his pretensions did not go to the possession of it: and if they would call him a Philosopher he should be contentede