Iron Age Greece

The Greek Philosopher Pythagoras, as described by Ovid and Diodorus Siculus

Pythagoras, born c. 575 BC, Samos, Aegean Sea: died c. 495 BC, Crotona, southern Italy.

Pythagoras could remember some of his past lives.

The ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras was born in c. 575 BC on the Greek island of Samos, but later in his life he chose to live in Crotona, a Greek colony in southern Italy. The Roman poet Ovid, writing in the first century BC, in his work Metamorphoses, explains of the doctrine of Pythagoras: 'Everything changes, but there is no such thing as death; for the spirit moves, entering whatever new form it pleases, going from the body of an animal into that of a human being, or again from a human body into that of another creature, but at no time is it ever extinguished. We too, who are part of creation, since we are not merely bodies, but winged souls as well, can find a home in the forms of wild beasts, and be lodged in the breasts of cattle.

The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, also writing in the first century BC, confirms that Pythagoras believed in reincarnation. And Pythagoras, he claims, could remember some of his past lives. Diodorus relates a time when Pythagoras was in Argos and saw a shield nailed to a wall, armour that had been captured, it was said, from Troy. 'It was my shield,' Pythagoras exclaimed, 'when I was Euphorbus!' And weeping, he described some writing that would be found on the inside of the shield. When it was prised from the wall, the inscription 'of Euphorbus' was discovered, as Pythagoras had said it would.

Whatever it was that caused such a strong bond of loyalty and friendship between those who followed Pythagoras and counted themselves Pythagoreans – Diodorus informs us – it was never made known. Pythagoreans did not write down anything of their rules and doctrines; it was a rule with them not to, as it was with the druids of Britain and Gaul. They did, however, go out of their way to cultivate their memories. Diodorus tell us that it was a habit of theirs not to rise from their beds until they had divulged to one another every little thing that had happened to them the previous day, in order to exercise the power of memory.

Pythagoreans were held in great esteem in the Greek world, Diodorus tells us, even up to his own day.

Ovid's description of Pythagoras recounted from: Innes, Mary M, 1955. The Metamorphoses of Ovid. Translated from Latin with an introduction. Penguin Books Limited. Ovid: Metamorphoses, Book XV [60–430], pp 336–45.

Diodorus Siculus's anecdote recounted from: Bibliotheca Historica, fragment of book 10, chapters 3–12.

See for yourself

Ovid – Wikipedia

Ovid's Metamorphoses – Wikipedia

Diodorus Siculus – Wikipedia

Pythagoras – Wikipedia

Pythagoreanism – Wikipedia

Ovid's Metamorphoses, a complete English translation – translated by Anthony S Kline

Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica, fragment of book 10, chapters 3–12 – English translation, Perseus Digital Library

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