Sunday, December 16, 2012

Golden Verses for the Holidays

Pythagorean's Hymn to the Rising Sun
Fyodor Bronnikov - 1869

At this time of year, many of us take time to reflect on the past, our actions and experiences. We watch A Christmas Carol and read about Ebeneezer Scrooge and contemplate what it means to lead a good life, a charitable life, a life that will make a measure of difference to those around us.

This is not a new way of thinking, nor a strictly Christian mindset. Charles Dickens told a fantastic, inspirational tale but the morals in it are not necessarily products of his age. 

Recently, I have been doing a bit of research on Pythagoras and came across the Golden Verses. These are a series of seventy-one rules for living that were popular from antiquity and into the middle ages. It is presumed that these verses were what dictated the way of life for Pythagoras and his followers, known as Pythagoreans.

Most people today think of mathematics when they hear the name of Pythagoras, the Pythagorean Theorum having haunted many a youth in their school days, especially those not inclined to enjoy arithmetic. Myself included.

What many may not know is that Pythagoras was also a philosopher and mystic who influenced later philosophers, including Socrates and Plato.

Pythagoras of Samos
Pythagoras was from the island of Samos which he left in c.531 B.C. to settle in Croton, southern Italy (then, Magna Graecia). In Croton, he established a religious community. They believed in reincarnation and refused to offer sacrifices to the Gods, though they believed in and worshiped the Gods.

Pythagoras died in Metapontum (in modern Apulia, Italy) in c.497 B.C.  and from then, the Pythagoreans spread throughout the Greek world to spread his teachings, the Golden Verses among them.
The list of Golden Verses is quite long so I won’t list them all here. To read the entire list check out this Wikipedia link.

As I said, this time of year is a time when we reflect on our actions and experiences. It has been a sacred time of year for many cultures and religions for millennia. So, in the spirit of Christmas, Yule Tide, Saturnalia and other sacred feasts around the Winter Solstice, here are a few of Pythagoras’ Golden Verses that stand out to me.

1 – First worship the Immortal Gods, as they are established and ordained by the Law.
5 – Of all the rest of mankind, make him your friend who distinguishes himself by his virtues.
7 – Avoid as much as possible hating your friends for a slight fault.
11 – Do nothing evil, neither in the presence of others, nor privately;
12 – But above all things respect yourself.
13 – In the next place, observe justice in your actions and in your words.
18 – Support your lot with patience, it is what it may be, and never complain at it.
19 – But endeavour what you can to remedy it.
20 – And consider that fate does not send the greatest portion of these misfortunes to good men.
27 – Consult and deliberate before you act, that you may not commit foolish actions.
32 – In no way neglect the health of your body;
33 – But give it drink and meat in due measure, and also the exercise of which it needs.
35 – Accustom yourself to a way of living that is neat and decent without luxury.
40 – Never allow sleep to close your eyelids, after you went to bed,
41 – Until you have examined all your actions of the day by your reason.
42 – In what have I done wrong? What have I done? What have I omitted that I ought to have done?
43 – If in this examination you find that you have done wrong, reprove yourself severely for it;
44 – And if you have done any good, rejoice.
66 – And by the healing of your soul, you will deliver it from all evils, from all afflictions.
69 – Leave yourself always to be guided and directed by the understanding that comes from above, and that ought to hold the reins.

There you have it. A bit of wisdom whispered to us across the ages. Whatever we glean from Pythagoras’ words, we can be sure that a life lived with kindness, charity and honesty is indeed a good life and something to be grateful for.

Happy Holidays!
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