Bibliotherapy

From the Pythagorean Tradition: Theages – On The Virtues

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Frontispiece from volume 5 (of 6) of Sylvain Marechal’s ‘ Voyages de Pythagore’

Paris, 1798, Engraving by Louis-Michel Halbou, from our Via-HYGEIA library.

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With today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, we continue our (Neo)Pythagorean cycle with a text by Theages, from the English translation of Thomas Taylor, ‘Fragments of Ethical Writings of certain Pythagoreans in the Doric Dialect’. (1818). Inserted in ‘The Golden Chain’, an Anthology of Pythagorean and Platonic Philosophy. Selected and edited by Professor Algis Uzdavinis. World Wisdom 2004. Page 59 to 61.

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The principles of all virtues are three: Knowledge, power and deliberate choice. Knowledge in deed is that by which we contemplate and form a judgement of things; power is a certain strength of nature from which we derive our subsistence, and which gives stability to our actions; and deliberate choice is, as it were, the hand of the soul by which we are impelled to, and lay hold on, the objects of our choices.

The soul is divided into reasoning power, anger and desire. Reasoning power rules knowledge, anger deals with impulse, and desire bravely rules the soul’s affections. When these three parts unite into one action, exhibiting a composite energy, then concord and virtue result in the soul. When sedition divides them, then discord and vice appear.

When the reasoning power prevails over the irrational part of the soul, then endurance and continence are produced; endurance indeed in the retention of pains, but continence in the absence pleasures. But when the irrational parts of the soul prevail over the reasoning part of the soul, then are produce effeminacy in flying from pain, and incontinence in being vanquished by the pleasures. When however the better part of the soul prevails, the less excellent part is governed; the former leads, and the latter follows, and both consent and agree, and then in the whole soul is generated virtue and all the goods. Again, when the appetitive part of the soul follows the reasoning, then is produced temperance; when this is the case with the irascible, courage appears; and when it take place in all parts of the soul, then the result is justice. Justice is that

Which separates all the vices and all the virtues of the soul from each other. Justice is an established order and organization of the parts of the soul, and the perfect and supreme virtue; in this very good is contained, while the other goods of the soul cannot subsist without it. Hence Justice possesses great influence both among gods and men. It contain the bonds by which the whole and the Universe are held together, and also that by which the gods and men are connected. (cf. Plato, Georgias 507e). Among the celestials it is called Themis, and among the terrestrials Dike, while among men it is called the Law. These are but symbols indicative that Justice is the supreme virtue. Virtue, therefore, when it consists in contemplating and judging, it is called wisdom; when in sustaining dreadful things, it is called courage; when in restraining pleasure, it is called temperance; and when in abstaining from injuring our neighbors, justice.

Obedience to virtue is according to reason, and transgression thereof contrary to it. Propriety is that which ought to be. This requires neither addition nor detraction being what it should be. The improper is of two kinds: Excess and defect. The excess is over-scrupulousness, and its deficiency, laxity. Virtue however is a habit of propriety. Hence it is both a climax and a medium of which are proper things. They are media because they fall between excess and deficiency; they are climax because they endure neither increase nor decrease, being what they ought to be.’

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Thomas Taylor, by Sir Thomas Lawrence.

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