Gnostic Doctrine

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

The Pythagorean Symbols or Maxims

 The Pythagorean Symbols or Maxims


The Pythagorean Symbols or Maxims are gnomic sayings whose meaning is not obvious at first glance. The symbols are excellent examples of 'akousmata' ('things heard') representing for the most part Pythagoras's basic teachings on the conduct of life. As Neoplatonist philosopher Iamblichus observes, Pythagorean views were 'not composed in popular or vulgar diction, or in a manner usual to all other writers, so as to be immediately understood, but in a way not easily apprehended by their readers.'


1: Go not beyond the balance. (Transgress not Justice).

2: Sit not down on the bushel. (Do not loaf on your job).

3: Tear not to pieces the crown. (Do not be a joy-killer).

4: Eat not the heart. (Do not grieve over-much).

5: Do not poke the fire with a sword. (Do not further inflame the quarrelsome).

6:  Having arrived at the frontiers, turn not back. (Do not wish to live over your life).

7: Go not by the public way. (Go not the broad popular way, which leads to destruction).

8: Suffer not swallows around your house. (Associate not with those who chatter vainly).

9: Wear not the image of God on your ring. (Profane not the name of God).

10: Do not unload people, but load them up. (Encourage not idleness, but virtue).

11: Not easily shake hands with a man. (Make no ill-considered friendships).

12: Leave no the least mark of the pot on the ashes. (After reconciliation, forget the disagreement).

13: Sow mallows, but never eat them. (Use mildness to others, but not to yourself).

14: Wipe not out the place of the torch. (Let not all the lights of reason be extinguished).

15: Wear not a narrow ring. (Seek freedom, avoid slavery).

16: Feed not the animals that have crooked claws. (To your family admit no thief or traitor).

17: Abstain from beans. (Avoid farcineous food causing flatulence, avoid democratic voting).

18: Eat not fish whose tails are black. (Frequent not the company of men without reputation).

19: Never eat the gurnet. (Avoid revenge).

20: Eat not the womb of animals. (Avoid what leads to generation, to lowest affections).

21: Abstain from flesh of animals that die of themselves. (Avoid decayed food). 

22: Abstain from eating animals. (Have no conversation with unreasonable men).

23: Always put salt on the table. (Always use the principle of Justice to settle problems).

24: Never break the bread. (When giving charity, do not pare too close). 

25: Do not spill oil upon the seat. (Do not flatter princes, praise God only).

26: Put not meat in a foul vessel. (Do not give good precepts to a vicious soul). 

27: Feed the cock, but sacrifice him not for he is sacred to the sun and the moon. (Cherish people who warm you, sacrifice them not to resentment).

28: Break not the teeth. Do not revile bitterly. (Do not be sarcastic).

29. Keep far from you the vinegar-cruet. (Avoid malice and sarcasm).

30: Spit upon the parings of your nails, and on the clippings of your hair. (Abhor desires). 

31: Do not urinate against the sun. (Be modest).

32: Speak not in the face of the sun. (Make not public the thoughts of your heart).

33: Do not sleep at noon. (Do not continue in darkness). 

34: Stir up the bed as soon as you are risen, do not leave in it any print of the body. (When working, hanker not for luxurious ease).

35: Never sing without harp-accompaniment. (Make of life a whole).

36: Always keep your things packed up. (Always be prepared for all emergencies).

37: Quit not your post without your general’s order. (Do not suicide).

38: Cut not wood on the public road. (Never turn to private use what belongs to the public).

39: Roast not what is boiled. (Never take in ill part what is done in simplicity and ignorance).

40: Avoid the two-edged sword. (Have no conversation with slanderers).

41: Pick not up what is fallen from the table.(Always leave something for charity).

42: Abstain even from a cypress chest. (Avoid going to funerals). 

43: To the celestial gods sacrifice an odd number, but to the infernal, an even. (To God consecrate the indivisible soul, the body to hell).

44: Offer not to the gods the wine of an unpruned vine. (Agriculture is a great piece of piety).

45: Never sacrifice without meal. (Encourage agriculture, offer bloodless offerings).

46: Adore the gods, and sacrifice bare-foot. (Pray and sacrifice in humility of heart).

47: Turn round when you worship. (Adore the immensity of God, who fills the universe). 

48: Sit down when you worship. (Never worship in a hurry).

49: Pare not your nails during the sacrifices. (In the temple behave respectfully).

50: When it thunders, touch the ground. (Appease God by humility).

51: Do not primp by torch-light. (Look at things in the light of God). 

52: One, Two. (God and Nature; all things are known to God). 

53: Honor marks of dignity, the Throne, and the Ternary. (Worship magistrates, Kings, Heroes, Geniuses and God).

54: When the winds blow, adore echo. (During revolts, flee to deserts). 

55: Eat not in the chariot. (Eat not in the midst of hurried, important business). 

56: Put on your right shoe first, and wash your left foot first.(Prefer an active life, to one of ease and pleasure).

57: Eat not the brain. (Wear not out the brain, refresh yourself).

58. Plant not the palm-tee. (Do nothing but what is good and useful).

59: Make thy libations to the gods by the ear. (Beautify thy worship by music).

60: Never catch the cuttle-fish. (Undertake no dark affairs, intricate affairs, that will wound you).

61: Stop not at the threshold. (Be not wavering but choose your side).

62: Give way to a flock that goes by. (Oppose not the multitude).

63: Avoid the weasel. (Avoid tale-tellers).

64: Refuse the weapons a woman offers you. (Reject all suggestions revenge inspires).

65: Kill not the serpent that chances to fall within your walls. (Harm no enemy who becomes your guest or suppliant).

66: It is a crime to throw stones into fountains. (It is a crime to persecute good men)

67: Feed not yourself with your left hand. (Support yourself with honest toil, not robbery).

68: It is a horrible crime to wipe off the sweat with iron. (It is a criminal to deprive a man by force of what he earned by labor).

69: Stick not iron in the footsteps of a man. (Mangle not the memory of a man).

70: Sleep not on a grave. (Live not in idleness on the parents’ inherited estates).

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