The Golden Verses

Some of Pythagoras's writings come down to us today, through several translations and two thousand years. Below are the Golden Verses, which were the core of the way of life he preached at Croton.

First honor the Immortal Gods, as the law demands; then reverence thy oath, and then the illustrious heroes; then venerate the divinities under the earth, due rites performing; then honor your parents, and all of your kindred.

Among others make the most virtuous thy friend! Love to make use of his soft speeches, and learn from his deeds that are useful; but alienate not the beloved comrade for trifling offences; bear all you can, what you can, for power is bound to necessity.

Take this well to heart; you must gain control of your habits; first over stomach, then sleep, and then luxury, and anger.

What brings you shame, do not unto others, nor by yourself.

The highest of duties is honor to self.

Let justice be practiced in words as in deeds; then make the habit, never inconsiderately to act; neither forget that death is appointed to all; that possessions here gladly gathered, here must be left; whatever sorrow the fate of the Gods may here send us bear, whatever may strike you, with patience unmurmuring; to relieve it, so far as you can, is permitted, but reflect that not much misfortune has Fate given to the good.

The speech of the people is various, now good, now evil; so let them not frighten you, nor keep you from your purpose. If false calumnies come to your ears, support it in patience; yet that which I now am declaring, fulfill it faithfully: let no one with speech or with deeds ever deceive you to do or to say what is not the best.

Think, before you act, that nothing stupid results.

To act inconsiderately is part of a fool; yet whatever later will not bring you repentance, that you should carry through.

Do nothing beyond what you know, yet learn what you may need; thus shall your life grow happy.

Do not neglect the health of the body; keep measure in eating and drinking, and every exercise of the body. By measure, I mean what later will not induce pain.

Follow clean habits of life, but not the luxurious; avoid all things which will arouse envy.

At the wrong time, never be a prodigal, as if you did not know what was proper, nor show yourself stingy, for a due measure is ever the best.

Do only those things which will not harm thee, and deliberate before you act.

Never let slumber approach thy wearied eyelids, ere thrice you review what this day you did: Wherein have I sinned? What did I? What duty is neglected? All, from the first to the last, review, and if you have erred grieve in your spirit, rejoicing for all that was good. With zeal and with industry, this, then, repeat; and learn to repeat it with joy. Thus wilt thou tread on the paths of heavenly virtue. Surely, I swear it by him who into our souls has transmitted the Sacred Quaternary [the Tetraktys], the spring of eternal Nature.

Never start on your task until you have implored the blessings of the Gods.

If this you hold fast, soon will you recognize of Gods and mortal men the true nature of existence, how everything passes and returns. Then will you see what is true, how Nature in all is most equal, so that you hope not for what has no hope, nor that anything should escape you.

Men shall you find whose sorrows they themselves have created, wretches who see not the Good that is too near, nothing they hear; few know how to help themselves in misfortune. That is the Fate that blinds humanity; in circles, hither and yon they run in endless sorrows; for they are followed by a grim companion, disunion with themselves; unnoticed, never rouse him, and fly from before him!

Father Zeus, O free them all from sufferings so great, or show unto each the Genius, who is their guide! Yet, do not fear, for the mortals are divine by race, to whom holy Nature everything will reveal and demonstrate; whereof if you have received, so keep what I teach you; healing your soul, you shall remain insured from manifold evil.

Avoid foods forbidden; reflect that this contributes to the cleanliness and redemption of your soul. Consider all things well: let reason, the gift divine, be thy highest guide; then should you be separated from the body, and soar in the aether, you will be imperishable, a divinity, a mortal no more.

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