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Pythagoras


Excerpts from the biographies on the Life of Pythagoras by Diogenes Laertius (ca 180); The Life of Pythagoras by Porphyry (ca233-306); Iamblischus of Syrian Chalci's Life of Pythagoras (ca280-333); and an Anonymous Biography on the Life of Pythagoras, Preserved by Photius (ca 820-891) in The Complete Pythagoras, translated by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie

Abstinence from Animal Food

Eudoxus, in the second book of his Description of the Earth, writes that Pythagoras used the greatest Purity, and was shocked at all bloodshed and killing; that he not only abstained from animal food, but never in any way approached butchers or hunters. (Eudoxus, Description of the Earth qtd in Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras, 7)

Authors state that a trainer of the name of Pythagoras certainly did train his athletes on [meat], but that it was not our philosopher; for that he even forbade men to kill animals at all, much less would he have allowed his disciples to eat them, as having a right to live in common with mankind. (Diogenes, Life of Pythagoras, XII "Diet and Sacrifices")

As we do sacrifice to the Phoebus whom
Pythagoras worships, never eating aught
Which has the breath of life.
(Innesimachus, Alcmaeon qtd in Diogenes, Life of Pythagoras, XX "Poetic Testimonies")

They eat nothing but herbs and vegetables,
and drink Pure water only.
(Austophon, Pythagorean qtd in Diogenes, Life of Pythagoras, XX "Poetic Testimonies")

You are not the only man who has abstained
From living food; for so have we
And who, I'd like to know, did ever taste
Food while alive, most sage Pythagoras?
(qtd in Diogenes, Life of Pythagoras, XXIII "Ridiculing Epigrams")

Pythagoras was, so wise a man, that he
Never ate meant himself, and called it sin.
(qtd in Diogenes, Life of Pythagoras, XXIII "Ridiculing Epigrams").

In addition, the best polity, popular concord, community of possessions among friends, worship of the Gods, piety to the dead, legislation, erudition, silence, abstinence from eating the flesh of animals, continence, temperance, sagacity, divinity, and in one word, whatever is anxiously desired by the scholarly, was brought to light by Pythagoras. It was, on account of all this, as we have already observed, that Pythagoras was so much admired. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, VI "The Pythagorean Community")

Specially, however, the most contemplative of the philosophers, who had arrived at the summit of philosophic attainments, were forbidden superfluous, food such as wine, or unjustifiable food such as was animated; and not to sacrifice animals to the Gods, nor by any means to injure animals, but to observe most solicitous justice towards them. He himself lived after this manner, abstaining from animal food, and adoring altars undefiled with blood. He was likewise careful to prevent others from destroying animals of a nature kindred to ours, and rather corrected and instructed savage animals, than injured them as punishment. Further, he ordered abstaining from animal food even to politicians; for as they desired to act justly to the highest degree, they must certainly not injure any kindred animals. How indeed could they persuade others to act justly, if they themselves were detected in an insatiable avidity in devouring animals allied to us. These are conjoined to us by a fraternal alliance through the communion of life, and the same elements, and the commingling of these. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XXIV "Dietary Suggestions")

Pythagoras also ordained abstinence from animal food, for many reasons, besides the chief one that it conduced to peaceableness. Those who are trained to abominate the slaughter of animals as iniquitous and unnatural will not think it much more unlawful to kill a man, or engage in war. For war promotes slaughter, and legalizes it, increasing it, and strengthening it. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XXX "Justice and Politics")

In the next place, justice is introduced by association with other people, while injustice is, produced by unsociability and neglect of other people. Wishing therefore to spread this sociability as far as possibility among men, he ordered his disciples to extend it to the most kindred animal races, considering these as their intimates and friends, which would forbid injuring, slaying, or eating any of them. He who recognizes the community of elements and life between men and animals will in much greater degree establish fellowship with those who share a kindred and rational soul. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XXX "Justice and Politics" )

Moreover, his intimates were ordered to abstain from all animal food, and any other that are hostile to the reasoning power by impeding its genuine energies. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XVI "Pythagorean Asceticism")

[Pythagoras] advised Abaris to stay with him, to aid him in correcting (the manners and morals) of those they might meet, and to share the common resources of himself and associates, whose reason led them to practice the precept that the possessions of friends are common. So Abaris stayed with him, and was compendiously taught physiology and theology; and instead of living by the entrails of beasts, he revealed to him the art of prognosticating by numbers conceiving this to be a method purer, more divine and more kindred to the celestial numbers of the Gods. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XIX "Abaris the Scythian")

They lunched on bread and honey, or on the honeycomb, avoiding wine. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XXI "Daily Program"

They did not hunt, nor undertake any similar exercise. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XXI "Daily Program")

Temperance is our next topic, cultivated as it was by Pythagoras, and taught to his associates.…A similar precept is the abstaining from animal food, and also from such likely to produce intemperance, and lulling the vigilance and genuine energies of the reasoning powers. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XXXI "Temperance and Self-Control")

[His disciples] un-selfishly abstained from animal food. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XXXII "Fortitude")


Abstinence from Animal Food: Health

He prohibited the eating of animals because he wished to train and accustom them to simplicity of life; so that all theirfood should be easily procurable, as it would be, if they ate only such things required no fire to cook them and if they drank plain water; for from this diet they would derive heathof body and acuteness of intellect. (Diogenes, Life of Pythagoras, XII "Diet and Sacrifices")

Men should avoid eating too much flesh…and his disciples were forbiden to eat beans, becausethey greatly partook of animal properties; (that their stomachs would be kept in much better order by avoiding them), and that such abstinence would make the visions that appear in one's sleep gentle and free from agitation. (Diogenes, Life of Pythagoras, XIX "Various Teachings" )

The Pythagoreans abstained from eating animals, on their foolish belief in transmigration; also because this flesh-food engages digestion too much, and is too fattening. (Photius, Anonymous Biography of Pythagoras, Preserved by Photius, 6)

Pythagoras had benefited by the instruction of Thales in many respects, but his greatest lesson had been to learn the value of saving time, which led him to abstain entirely from wine and animal food, avoiding greediness, confining himself to nutriments of easy preparation and digestion. As a result, his sleep was short, his soul pure and vigilant, and the general health of his body was invariable. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, III "Journey to Egypt" )

Indeed, the variety of food eaten is beyond description. The kinds of fruits and roots which the human race eats is nothing less than infinite. The kinds of flesh eaten are innumerable; there is no terrestrial, aerial, or aquatic animal which has not been partaken of. Besides, in the preparation of these, the contrivances used are innumerable and they are seasoned with manifold mixtures of juices. Hence, according to the motions of the human soul, it is no more than natural that the human race should be so various as to be actually insane; for each kind of food that is introduced into the human body becomes the cause of a certain peculiar disposition. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XXXI "Temperance and Self-Control")

Diogenes suggests that "Aritoxenus affirms that he permitted the eating of all other animals, and abstained only from oxen used in agriculture, and from rams" (Diogenes, XVIII), a passage in Porphyry's bibliography states that "only rarely did he eat the flesh of his victims" (Porphyry, 36) and Iamblichus tells us that the "eating of flesh of certain animals was however permitted to life was not entirely purified, philosophic and sacred" (Iamblichus, XXIV ). But these passages are the exception to the overwhelming evidence that support the Pythagorean principle of vegetarianism. His respect and reverence for all living being is further confirmed by the continuing passages.

Justice-Kinship to Animals

He taught that the soul was immortal and that after death it transmigrated into other animated bodies. After certain specified periods, the same events occur again; that nothing was entirely new; that all animated beings were kin, and should be considered as belonging to one great family. (Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras, 19)

Authors state that a trainer of the name of Pythagoras certainly did train his athletes on [meat], but that it was not our philosopher; for that he even forbade men to kill animals at all, much less would he have allowed his disciples to eat them, as having a right to live in common with mankind. (Diogenes, Life of Pythagoras, XII "Ages of Life")

Moreover Pythagoras is generally acknowledged to have been the inventor and legislator of friendship, under its many various forms, such as universal amity of all towards all, of God towards men through their pity and scientific theories, or the mutual interrelation of teachings, or universally of the soul towards the body and of the rational to the rational part, through philosophy and its underlying theories; or whether it be that of men towards each other, or citizens indeed through sound legislation, but of strangers through a correct physiology; or of the husband to the wife or brothers and kindred, through unperverted communion; or whether, in short, it be of all things towards all, and still farther, of certain irrational animals through justice, and a physical connexion and association; or whether it be the pacification and conciliation of the body which of itself is mortal, and of its latent conflicting powers, through health and a temperate diet conformable to this, in imitation of the salubrious condition of the mundane elements. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XVI "Pythagorean Asceticism")

The most contemplative of the philosophers, who had arrived at the summit of philosophic attainments, were forbidden superfluous, food such as wine, or unjustifiable food such as was animated; and not to sacrifice animals to the Gods, nor by any means to injure animals, but to observe most solicitous justice towards them. He himself lived after this manner, abstaining from animal food, and adoring altars undefiled with blood. He was likewise careful to prevent others from destroying animals of a nature kindred to ours, and rather corrected and instructed savage animals, than injured them as punishment. Further, he ordered abstaining from animal food even to politicians; for as they desired to act justly to the highest degree, they must certainly not injure any kindred animals. How indeed could they persuade others to act justly, if they themselves were detected in an insatiable avidity in devouring animals allied to us. These are conjoined to us by a fraternal alliance through the communion of life, and the same elements, and the commingling of these. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XXIV "Dietary Suggestions)

For the Pythagoreans rightly taught that (the natural) man is an animal. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XXX "Justice and Politics")

In the next place, justice is introduced by association with other people, while injustice is, produced by unsociability and neglect of other people. Wishing therefore to spread this sociability as far as possibility among men, he ordered his disciplesto extend it to the most kindred animal races, considering these as their intimates and friends, which would forbid injuring, slaying, or eating any of them. He who recognizes the community of elements and life between men and animals will in much greater degree establish fellowship with those who share a kindred and rational soul. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XXX "Justice and Politics")

Friendship of all things towards all was most clearly enforced by Pythagoras…In short, he taught the friendship of all for all, and still further, of certain animals, through justice, and common physical experiences. Pythagoras is recognized as the inventor and summarizer of them in a single name, that of friendship. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XXXIII)


Reverence for Animals

The eldest would announce precepts, such as the following: That a mild and fruitful plants should neither be injured nor corrupted, nor any harmless animal. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XXI "Daily Program")

Another of his rules was…not to destroy or injure a cultivated tree, nor any animal which does not injure man. (Diogenes, Life of Pythagoras, XIX "Various Teachings")

While at the Olympic games he was discoursing with his friends about auguries, omens and divine signs, and how men of true piety do receive messages from Gods. Flying over his head was an eagle, who stopped, and came down to Pythagoras. After stroking her awhile he releasedher. (Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras, 25)

Once happening to be talking to his intimates about birds, symbols and prodigies, and observed that all these are messengers of the Gods, sent by them to men truly dear to them, when he brought down an eagle flying over Olympia, which he gently stroked and dismissed. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XIII "He Shared Orpheus' Control Over Animals" )

Meeting with some fishermen who were drawing in their nets heavily laden with fish from the deep, he predicted the exact number of fish they had caught. The fisherman said that if his estimate was accurate they would do whatever he commanded. They counted them accurately, and found the number correct. He then bade them return the fish alive into the sea; and, what is more wonderful, not one of them died, although they had been out of the water a considerable time. He paid them and left. (Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras, 25 )

One day, during a trip from Sybaris to Crotona, by the sea-shore, he happened to meet some fishermen engaged in drawing up from the deep their heavily-laden fish-nets. He told them he knew the exact number of the fish they had caught. The surprised fishermen declared that if he was right they would do anything he said. He then ordered them, after counting the fish accurately, to return them alive to the sea, and what is more wonderful, while he stood on the shore, not one of them died, though they had remained out of their natural element quite a little while. Pythagoras then paid the fisher-men the price of their fish, and departed for Crotona. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, VIII "Intuition, Reverence, Temperance, and Studiousness")

They say that once, as passing by he saw "A dog severely beaten, he did pity him; "And spoke as follows to the man who beat him: "'Stop now and beat him not; since in his body' "Abides the soul of a dear friend of mine, "Whose voice I recognized as he was crying." (Xenophanes qtd in Diogenes, Life of Pythagoras, XX "Poetic Testimonies" )

The Pythagoreans…insisted that none but an indolent or inconsiderate person would attempt to produce an animal, and introduce it to existence, without most diligently providing for it a pleasing and even elegant ingress into his world. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XXXI "Temperance and Self Control" )


Sacrifice

He used to forbid [his disciples] to offer victims to the Gods, ordering them to worship only at those altars which were unstained by blood. (Diogenes, Life of Pythagoras, XIX "Various Teachings" )

He preformed his adorations at the bloodless altar of Father Apollo. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, VII "Italian Political Achievements")

[Women] should not worship divinities with blood and dead bodies. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XI "Advice to Women" )

The most contemplative of the philosophers, who had arrived at the summit of philosophic attainments, were forbidden …to sacrifice animals to the Gods, nor by any means to injure animals, but to observe most solicitous justice towards them. He himself lived after this manner, abstaining from animal food, and adoring altars undefiled with blood. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XXIV "Dietary Suggestions")

Moreover, he sacrificed to the Gods with millet, cakes, honeycombs, and fumigations. But he did not sacrifice animals, nor did any of the contemplative philosophers. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XXVIII "Divinity of Pythagoras")

He used to practise divination, as far as auguries and auspices; but not by means of burnt offerings, except only the burning of frankincense. All the sacrifices which he offered consisted of inanimate things. (Diogenes, Life of Pythagoras, XVIII "Personal Habits" )

The only altar at which he worshipped was that of Apollo, the Father…because wheat and barley, and cheesecakes are the only offerings laid upon it, as it is not dressed by fire; and no victim it ever slain there. (Aristotle, Constitution of the Delians)

Although Diogenes states that "Apollodorus the logician recounts of [Pythagoras] that he sacrificed hecatomb" (Diogenes, XI), Iamblichus contends that "they were prohibited from sacrificing oxen" (Iamblichus, XXVIII) and Porphyry also relates the story about the sacrifice but adds—"The more accurate say this was an ox made of flour" (Porphyry, 25).

As well, a few lines throughout the bibliographies suggest that "he did sacrifice animals" (Diogenes, XVIII), "perhaps cocks and pigs" (Porphyry, 36 ), "ordered his disciples…to sacrifice animals," however this seems unlikely given the majority of passages from the bibliographies that suggest the contrary.


Training of Athletes

Authors state that a trainer of the name of Pythagoras certainly did train his athletes on [meat], but that it was not our philosopher; for that he even forbade men to kill animals at all, much less would he have allowed his disciples to eat them, as having a right to live in common with mankind. (Diogenes, Life of Pythagoras, XII "Diet and Sacrifices")

Iamblichus also refutes the statements that Pythagoras "was the first man who trained athletes on meat" (Diogenes, XII) or that "by the his advice, fed daily on flesh" (Porphyry, XV), suggesting it was "a namesake of his" (Iamblichus, V) who advocated this type of diet and relates the story this way.

On his return to Samos…he happened to observe the unusually skillful and masterful ball-playing of a youth who was greatly devoted to physical culture, but impecunious and in difficult circumstances…Pythagoras…made him the proposition to furnish him the means to continue his physical training, on the condition that he would study with him. Moved by hopes of financial support, the youth took up the proposition without delay.…But when the sage observed that the youth had become so captivated by the logic, ingeniousness and style of those demonstrations to which he had been led in an orderly way, that he would no longer neglect their pursuit merely because of the sufferings of poverty, Pythagoras pretended poverty…The youth, however, loath to discontinue his studies, replied, "In the future, it is I who will provide for you, and repay your kindness…From this time on he was so captivated by these disciplines, that, of all the Samians, he alone elected to leave home to follow Pythagoras…Being a namesake of [Pythagoras], though differing in patronymie, being the son of Eratocles. It is probably to him that should be ascribed three books on Athletics, in which he recommends a diet of flesh, instead of dry figs, which of course would hardly have been written by the Mnesarchian Pythagoras. (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, V "Travels in Greece; Settlement at Crotona" )


8 | Ovid, Metamorphoses, translated by Sir Samuel Garth, John Dryden et al., (1717); Metamorphoses, translated by A.S. Kline (Online Edition: Poetry in Translation, 2002). See also the first English translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses by Arthur Godling, 1567 and George Sandy's illustrated translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses (1626; 1632) .

Ovid, Metamorphoses

The Pythagorean Philosophy

Of these, and things beyond the common reach,
He spoke, and charm'd his audience with his speech.
He first the taste of flesh from tables drove,
And argu'd well, if arguments cou'd move:
O mortals, from your fellows' blood abstain,
Nor taint your bodies with a food profane:
While corn, and pulse by Nature are bestow'd,
And planted orchards bend their willing load;
While labour'd gardens wholesom herbs produce,
And teeming vines afford their gen'rous juice;
Nor tardier fruits of cruder kind are lost,
But tam'd with fire, or mellow'd by the frost;
While kine to pails distended udders bring,
And bees their hony redolent of Spring;
While Earth not only can your needs supply,
But, lavish of her store, provides for luxury;
A guiltless feast administers with ease,
And without blood is prodigal to please.
Wild beasts their maws with their slain brethren fill;
And yet not all, for some refuse to kill;
Sheep, goats, and oxen, and the nobler steed,
On browz, and corn, and flow'ry meadows, feed.
Bears, tygers, wolves, the lyon's angry brood,
Whom Heav'n endu'd with principles of blood,
He wisely sundred from the rest, to yell
In forests, and in lonely caves to dwell;
Where stronger beasts oppress the weak by might.
And all in prey, and purple feasts delight.
O impious use! to Nature's laws oppos'd,
Where bowels are in other bowels clos'd:
Where fatten'd by their fellow's fat, they thrive;
Maintain'd by murder, and by death they live.
'Tis then for nought, that Mother Earth provides
The stores of all she shows, and all she hides,
If men with fleshy morsels must be fed,
And chaw with bloody teeth the breathing bread:
What else is this, but to devour our guests,
And barb'rously renew Cyclopean feasts!
We, by destroying life, our life sustain;
And gorge th' ungodly maw with meats obscene.
Not so the Golden Age, who fed on fruit,
Nor durst with bloody meals their mouths pollute.
Then birds in airy space might safely move,
And tim'rous hares on heaths securely rove:
Nor needed fish the guileful hooks to fear,
For all was peaceful; and that peace sincere.
Whoever was the wretch (and curs'd be he)
That envy'd first our food's simplicity,
Th' essay of bloody feasts on brutes began,
And after forg'd the sword to murder Man.
Had he the sharpen'd steel alone employ'd
On beasts of prey; that other beasts destroy'd,
Or Man invaded with their fangs and paws,
This had been justify'd by Nature's laws,
And self-defence: but who did feasts begin
Of flesh, he stretch'd necessity to sin.
To kill man-killers, Man has lawful pow'r,
But not th' extended licence, to devour.
Ill habits gather by unseen degrees,
As brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas.
The sow, with her broad snout, for rooting up
Th' intrusted seed, was judg'd to spoil the crop,
And intercept the sweating farmer's hope:
The covetous churl, of unforgiving kind,
Th' offender to the bloody priest resign'd:
Her hunger was no plea: for that she dy'd.
The goat came next in order to be try'd:
The goat had cropt the tendrils of the vine:
In vengeance laity, and clergy join,
Where one had lost his profit, one his wine.
Here was, at least, some shadow of offence;
The sheep was sacrific'd on no pretence,
But meek, and unresisting innocence.
A patient, useful creature, born to bear
The warm, and wooly fleece, that cloath'd her murderer;
And daily to give down the milk she bred,
A tribute for the grass on which she fed.
Living, both food and rayment she supplies,
And is of least advantage, when she dies.
How did the toyling ox his death deserve,
A downright simple drudge, and born to serve?
O tyrant! with what justice canst thou hope
The promise of the year, a plenteous crop;
When thou destroy'st thy lab'ring steer, who till'd,
And plough'd with pains, thy else ungrateful field?
From his yet reeking neck, to draw the yoke,
That neck, with which the surly clods he broke;
And to the hatchet yield thy husbandman,
Who finish'd Autumn, and the Spring began!
Nor this alone! but Heav'n it self to bribe,
We to the Gods our impious acts ascribe:
First recompence with death their creatures' toil;
Then call the bless'd above to share the spoil:
The fairest victim must the Pow'rs appease
(So fatal 'tis sometimes too much to please!),
A purple fillet his broad brows adorns,
With flow'ry garlands crown'd, and gilded horns:
He hears the murd'rous pray'r the priest prefers,
But understands not, 'tis his doom he hears:
Beholds the meal betwixt his temples cast
(The fruit and product of his labours past);
And in the water views perhaps the knife
Uplifted, to deprive him of his life;
Then broken up alive, his entrails sees
Torn out, for priests t' inspect the Gods' decrees.
From whence, o mortal men, this gust of blood
Have you deriv'd, and interdicted food?
Be taught by me this dire delight to shun,
Warn'd by my precepts, by my practice won:
And when you eat the well-deserving beast,
Think, on the lab'rour of your field you feast!
(Ovid [Dryden], Metamorphoses [8], Book 15 , Lines 60-142, "The Pythagorean Philosophy")


Pythagoras's Teachings: Vegetarianism

Pythagoras…was the first to denounce the serving of animal flesh at table; the first voice, wise but not believed in, to say, for example, in words like these:

Human beings, stop desecrating your bodies with impious foodstuffs. There are crops; there are apples weighing down the branches; and ripening grapes on the vines; there are flavoursome herbs; and those that can be rendered mild and gentle over the flames; and you do not lack flowing milk; or honey fragrant from the flowering thyme. The earth, prodigal of its wealth, supplies you with gentle sustenance, and offers you food without killing or shedding blood.

…Oh, how wrong it is for flesh to be made from flesh; for a greedy body to fatten, by swallowing another body; for one creature to live by the death of another creature! So amongst such riches, that earth, the greatest of mothers, yields, you are not happy unless you tear, with cruel teeth, at pitiful wounds, recalling Cyclops's practice, and you cannot satisfy your voracious appetite, and your restless hunger, unless you destroy other life!

But that former age, that we call golden, was happy with the fruit from the trees, and the herbs the earth produced, and did not defile its lips with blood. Then birds winged their way through the air in safety, and hares wandered, unafraid, among the fields, and its own gullibility did not hook the fish: all was free from trickery, and fearless of any guile, and filled with peace. But once someone, whoever he was, the author of something unfitting, envied the lion's prey, and stuffed his greedy belly with fleshy food, he paved the way for crime. It may be that, from the first, weapons were warm and bloodstained from the killing of wild beasts, but that would have been enough: I admit that creatures that seek our destruction may be killed without it being a sin, but while they may be killed, they still should not be eaten.

From that, the wickedness spread further, and it is thought that the pig was first considered to merit slaughter because it rooted up the seeds with its broad snout, and destroyed all hope of harvest. The goat was led to death, at the avenging altar, for browsing the vines of Bacchus. These two suffered for their crimes! What did you sheep do, tranquil flocks, born to serve man, who bring us sweet milk in full udders, who give us your wool to make soft clothing, who give us more by your life than you grant us by dying? What have the oxen done, without guile or deceit, harmless, simple, born to endure labour?

He is truly thankless, and not worthy of the gift of corn, who could, in a moment, remove the weight of the curved plough, and kill his labourer, striking that work-worn neck with his axe, that has helped turn the hard earth as many times as the earth yielded harvest. It is not enough to have committed such wickedness: they involve the gods in crime, and believe that the gods above delight in the slaughter of suffering oxen! A victim of outstanding beauty, and without blemish (since to be pleasing is harmful), distinguished by sacrificial ribbons and gold, is positioned in front of the altar, and listens, unknowingly, to the prayers, and sees the corn it has laboured to produce, scattered between its horns, and, struck down, stains with blood those knives that it has already caught sight of, perhaps, reflected in the clear water.

Immediately they inspect the lungs, ripped from the still-living chest, and from them find out the will of the gods. On this (so great is man's hunger for forbidden food) you feed, O human race! Do not, I beg you, and concentrate your minds on my admonitions! When you place the flesh of slaughtered cattle in your mouths, know and feel, that you are devouring your fellow-creature.' (Ovid [Kline], Metamorphoses [8], Book 15, "Pythagoras's Teachings: Vegetarianism")


Additional Ancient References to Pythagoras
and his Dictates Against the Eating of Flesh and Sacrifice

But since I have begun to tell you with how much more earnestness I applied myself to philosophy, when a young man, than now when I am old, I shall not be ashamed to confess to you, what affection for Pythagoras Sotion inspired me with. He taught me, why Pythagoras abstained from animal food, and why after him Sextius their reasons were different, but, both, very great. Sextius thought, that there was food enough for man in the world without shedding blood; and that the taking pleasure in butchering helpless animals, only inspired men with cruelty: he added hereunto, that luxury was not to be encouraged, and supposed of meats, and particularly such as are foreign to our constitutions are by no means a preservative of health, but the contrary. Whereas Pythagoras held that there was a sort of relationship among all animals, and a certain intercourse, whereby they passed out of one form into another. No soul either of man or beast (if you believe him) perisheth; nor indeed ceaseth any longer than while it is transmigrating into another body. And that after many revolutions and changes from one sort of body to another, it returns again to man. In the mean while this opinion had no small effect, in making men dread wickedness, and especially parricide: since it is possible they might unknowingly light upon the soul of a parent, and with knife and teeth violate the body wherein was lodged some kindred spirit. (Seneca [c4 BCE-65], Epistles, "Epistle CVIII, The Right Use of Reading or Hearing the Philosphers")

But you demand of mee, for what cause Pythagoras absteined from eating flesh ? (Plutarch, [46-120], Morals, "Of Eating Flesh")

"It is good, then, neither to eat flesh nor to drink wine," as both he and the Pythagoreans acknowledge. nor to drink wine," as…the Pythagoreans acknowledge. (Clement of Alexandria[d. 215] The Instructor, "On Eating")

Now the very ancient altar in Delos they celebrated as holy; which alone, being undefiled by slaughter and death, they say Pythagoras approached. And will they not believe us when we say that the righteous soul is the truly sacred altar, and that incense arising from it is holy prayer? But I believe sacrifices were invented by men to be a pretext for eating flesh. (Clement of Alexandria [d. ca215], The Stromata, or Miscellanies, "Prayers and Praise").

Pythagoras and Empedocles and the whole crowd of the Italian philosophers declare that we have a certain community of interest not only with one another and with the gods but also with the irrational animals. For there is one spirit which pervades all the universe like a soul, and which also makes us one with those animals. Hence, if we kill them and eat their flesh we shall be doing wrong and committing a sacrilege, because we are destroying our kin. And it was for this reason that these philosophers recommended abstinence from animal food, and declared those men were impious who stain the altar of the Blessed with the warm blood of victims. (Sextus Empiricus [2nd or 3rd c. CE], Against the Physicists, Book 1)

[8] Ovid, Metamorphoses, translated by Sir Samuel Garth, John Dryden et al., (1717); Metamorphoses, translated by A.S. Kline (Online Edition: Poetry in Translation, 2002). See also the first English translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses by Arthur Godling, 1567 and George Sandy's illustrated translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses (1626; 1632).

[ca 46-120] Plutarch, "Of Eating Flesh" in The Philosopie, Commonlie Called, the Morals [Written in Greek by Plutarch, ca 46-120], trans. by Philemon Holland [1st English ed.] (London, 1603); Online at Animal Rights History, 2003.

[ca 180] Life of Pythagoras by Diogenes Laertius in The Life of Pythagoras, Vol 1 of The Complete Pythagoras, translated by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie (1920; Online at CompletePythagoras.net).

[2nd or 3rd c.] Sextus Empiricus, Against the Physicists, Book 1 in Sextus Empiricus, Selections from the Major Writings of Scepticism, Man and God, edited by Philip P. Hallie, translated by Sanford G. Etheridge (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1985); Preview Online at Google Books.

[d. ca215] Clement of Alexandria, "Prayers and Praise from a Pure Mind, Ceaselessly Offered, Far Better than Sacrifices," inThe Instructor [Paedagogus.] and The Stromata, or Miscellanies in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria Vol. 2 in Ante-Nicene Fathers Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325 edited by A. Roberts and J. Donaldson in 10 vols. (Print Basis: 1885-96 American reprint of the 1866-72 Edinburgh edition; Online at Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2004).

[ca 233-306] Life of Pythagoras by Porphyry in The Life of Pythagoras, Vol 1 of The Complete Pythagoras, translated by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie (1920); Online at CompletePythagoras.net.

[ca 280-333] Iamblichus of Syrian Chalcis's Life of Pythagoras in The Life of Pythagoras, Vol 1 of The Complete Pythagoras, translated by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie (1920); Online at CompletePythagoras.net.

[ca 820-891] Anonymous Biography of Pythagoras, Preserved by Photius in The Life of Pythagoras, Vol 1 of The Complete Pythagoras, translated by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie (1920); Online at CompletePythagoras.net.

[1883] Howard Williams, "Pythagoras" in The Ethics of Diet [First Edition: London & Manchester, 1883] 2nd ed. (London & Manchester, 1896); Online at Animal Rights History, 2006.

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