THE PYTHAGOREAN SOURCEBOOK AND LIBRARY
FIGURE 11. COIN FROM CROTON
THE LIFE OF PYTHAGORAS
PRESERVED BY PHOTIUS
THE ANONYMOUS BIOGRAPHY here reproduced was preserved in the writings of Photius (c. 820-891 C.E.), a Byzantine patriarch and professor of philosophy at the Imperial Academy in Constantinople. Little can be said about its unidentified author except that he, in turn, may preserve some parts of Aristotle's lost treatise On the Pythagoreans.
This work discusses briefly the family of Pythagoras and touches upon some elements of Pythagorean metaphysics and traditional cosmology. This tractate is particularly interesting in that it discusses the ancient Pythagorean idea that man is a microcosm, reflecting all of the elements that make up the universe.
Guthrie was the first translator to render this text into English.
THE LIFE OF PYTHAGORAS
PLATO WAS THE PUPIL of Archytas, and thus the ninth in succession from Pythagoras; the tenth was Aristotle. Those of Pythagoras' disciples that were devoted to contemplation were called sebastici. the reverend, while those who were engaged in business were called politicians (politikoi). Those who cultivated the disciplines of geometry and astronomy were called students (mathematikoi). Those who associated personally with Pythagoras were called Pythagoreans (Pythagorikoi), while those who merely imitated his teachings were called Pythagoristians (Pythagoristai). All these generally abstained from the flesh of animals; at a certain time they tasted the flesh of sacrificial animals only.
2. Pythagoras is said to have lived 104 years; and Mnesarchus, one of his sons, died a young man. Telauges was another son, and Sara and Myia were his daughters. Theano, it is said, was not only his disciple, but practically his daughter.
3. The Pythagoreans preach a difference between the Monad, and the One; the Monad dwells in the intelligible realm, while the One dwells among numbers. Likewise, the Two exists among numerable things, while the Dyad is indeterminate.
4. The Monad expresses equality and measure, the Dyad expresses excess and defect. Mean and measure cannot admit of more or less, while excess and defect, which proceed to infinity, admit it; that is why the Dyad is called indeterminate. Since, because of the all- inclusion of the Monad and Dyad, all things refer to number, they call all things numbers; and the number is perfected in the decad. Ten is reached by adding in order the first four figures; that is why the Ten is called the Quaternary [or Tetraktys].
5. They affirm that man may improve in three ways: first, by conversation with the Gods, for to them none can approach unless he abstain from all evil, imitating the divinity, even unto assimilation; second, by well-doing, which is a characteristic of the divinity; third by dying, for if the slight soul-separation from the body resulting from discipline improves the soul so that she begins to divine, in dreams -- and if the deliria of illness produces visions -- then the soul must surely improve far more when entirely separated from the body by death.
6. The Pythagoreans abstained from eating animals on account of their foolish belief in transmigration, and also because flesh-food engages digestion too much, and is too fattening. Beans they also avoided, because they produce flatulency, over-satiety, and for other reasons.
7. The Pythagoreans considered the Monad as the origin (arche) of all things, just as a point is the beginning of a line, a line of a surface, and a surface of a solid, which constitutes a body. A point implies a preceding Monad, so that it is really the principle of bodies, and all of them arise from the Monad.
8. The Pythagoreans are said to have predicted many things, and Pythagoras' predictions always came true.
9. Plato is said to have learned his speculative and physical doctrines from the Italian Pythagoreans, his ethics from Socrates, and his logic from Zeno, Pannenides and the Eleatics. But all of these teachings descended from Pythagoras.
10. According to Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle, sight is the judge of the ten colors, white and black being the extremes of all others between: yellow, tawny, pale, red, blue, green, light blue, and grey. Hearing is the judge of the voice, sharp and flat. Smell is the judge of odors, good and bad, and putridity, humidity, liquidness and evaporation. Taste is the judge of tastes, sweet and bitter, and between them five: sharp, acid, fresh, salt and hot. Touch judges many things between the extremes of heaviness and lightness, such as heat and cold; and those between them, hardness and softness; and those between them, dryness and moistness, and those between them. While the four main senses are confined to their special senses in the head, touch is diffused throughout the head and the whole body, and is common to all the senses, but is specialized in the hands.
11. Pythagoras taught that in heaven there are twelve orders, the first and outermost being the fixed sphere where, according to Aristotle, dwelt the highest God, and the intelligible deities, and where Plato located his Ideas. Next are the seven planets: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, Sun and Moon. Then comes the sphere of Fire, that of Air, Water, and last, Earth. In the fixed sphere dwells the First Cause, and whatever is nearest thereto is the best organized, and most excellent; while that which is furthest therefrom is the worst. Constant order is preserved as low as the Moon, while all things sublunary are disorderly.
Evil, therefore, must necessarily exist in the neighborhood of the Earth, which has been arranged as the lowest, as a basis for the world, and as a receptacle for the lowest things. All superlunary things are governed in firm order, and Providentially by the decree of God, which they follow; while beneath the moon operate four causes: God, Fate, our election, and Fortune. For instance, to go aboard a ship, or not, is in our power; but the storms and tempests that may arise out of a calm, are the result of Fortune; and the preservation of the ship, sailing through the waters, is in the hands of Providence, of God. There are many different modes of Fate. There is a distinction to be made between Fate, which is determined, orderly and consequent, while Fortune is spontaneous and casual. For example, it is one mode of Fate that guides the growth of a boy through all the sequential ages to manhood.
12. Aristotle, who was a diligent investigator, agreed with the Pythagoreans that the Zodiac runs obliquely, on account of the generations of those earthly things which become complements to the universe. For if these moved evenly, there would be no change of seasons, of any kind. Now the passage of the sun and the other planets from one sign to another effect the four seasons of the year, which determine the growth of plants, and the generation of animals.
13. Others thought that the sun's size exceeded that of the earth by no more than thirty times; but Pythagoras, as I think correctly, taught it was more than a hundred times as great.
14.Pythagoras called the revolution of Saturn the great year, inasmuch as the other planets run their course in a shorter time; Saturn, thirty years, Jupiter, twelve, Mars, two; the Sun in one; Mercury and Venus the same as the Sun. The moon, being nearest to the Earth, has the smallest cycle, that of a month.
15. It was Pythagoras who first called heaven kosmos, because it is perfect, and "adorned" with infinite beauty and living beings.
With Pythagoras agreed Plato and Aristotle that the soul is immortal, although some who did not understand Aristotle claimed he thought the soul was mortal.
Pythagoras said that man was a microcosm, which means a compendium of the universe; not because, like other animals, even the least, he is constituted by the four elements, but because he contains all the powers of the cosmos. For the universe contains Gods, the four elements, animals and plants. All of these powers are contained in man. He has reason, which is a divine power; he has the nature of the elements, and the powers of moving, growing, and reproduction. However, in each of these he is inferior to the others. For example, an athlete who practices five kinds of sports, diverting his powers into five channels, is inferior to the athlete who practices a single sport well; so man, having all of the powers, is inferior in each. We have less reasoning powers than the Gods, and less of each of the elements than the elements themselves. Our anger and desire are inferior to those passions in the irrational animals, while our powers of nutrition and growth are inferior to those in plants. Constituted therefore of different powers, we have a difficult life to lead.
16. While all other things are ruled by one nature only, we are drawn by different powers; as for instance, when by God we are drawn to better things, or when we are drawn to evil courses by the prevailing of the lower powers. He who, like a vigilant and expert charioteer,  within himself cultivates the divine element, will be able to utilize the other powers by a mingling of the elements, by anger, desire and habit, just as far as may be necessary. Though it seems easy to know yourself, this is the most difficult of all things. This is said to derive from the Pythian Apollo, though it is also attributed to Chilo, one of the Seven Sages. Its message is, in any event, to discover our own power, which amounts to learning the nature of the whole extant world which, as God advises us, is impossible without philosophy.
17. There are eight organs of knowledge: sense, imagination, art, opinion, deliberation, science, wisdom and mind. Art, prudence, science and mind we share with the Gods; sense and imagination, with the irrational animals; while opinion alone is our characteristic. Sense is a fallacious knowledge derived through the body; imagination is a notion in the soul; art is a habit of cooperating with reason. The words "with reason" are here added, for even a spider operates, but it lacks reason. Deliberation is a habit selective of the rightness of planning deeds; science is a habit of those things which remain ever the same, with Sameness; wisdom is a knowledge of the first causes; while Mind is the principle and fountain of all good things.
18. Docility is divided into three parts: shrewdness, memory and acuteness. Memory guards the things which have been learned; acuteness is quickness of understanding, and shrewdness is the ability of deducing the unlearned from what one has learned to investigate.
19. Heaven may be interpreted in three ways: first, as the outermost sphere; second, the space from the fixed sphere to the moon; third, the whole world, heaven and earth. 
20. The extreme elements, the best and worst, operate constantly. There is no intermission in activity with God, and things near him in Mind and Reason; and plants are continuously nourished by day and night. But man is not always active, nor are irrational animals, which rest and sleep most of the time.
21. The Greeks always surpassed the Barbarians in manners and habits, on account of the mild climate in which" they live. The Scythians are troubled by cold, and the Aethiopians by heat, which determines a violent interior heat and moisture, resulting in violence and audacity. Analogously, those who live near the middle zone and the mountains participate in the mildness of the country they inhabit.  That is why, as Plato says, the Greeks, and especially the Athenians, improved the disciplines that they had derived from the Barbarians. 
22. [From them had come] stratagems, painting, mechanics, polemics, oratory, and physical culture. But the sciences of these were developed by the Athenians, owing to the favorable natural conditions of light, and purity of air, which had the double effect of not only drying out the earth, as it is in Attica, but also making subtle the minds of men. So a rarified atmosphere is unfavorable to the fertility of the earth, but is favorable to mental development.
1. Cf. Plato, Phaedrus, for the myth of the charioteer.
2. From Aristotle, On the Heavens, 1. 9. 278b.
3. Cf. Aristotle, Politics, VII. 7. 1327b.
4. Plato, Epinomis, 987d.