PYTHAGORAS TEACHES HIS PHILOSOPHYHere lived a man, by birth a Samian.
He had fled from Samos and the ruling class,
a voluntary exile, for his hate
against all tyranny. He had the gift
of holding mental converse with the gods,
who live far distant in the highth of heaven;
and all that Nature has denied to man
and human vision, he reviewed with eyes
of his enlightened soul. And, when he had
examined all things in his careful mind
with watchful study, he released his thoughts
to knowledge of the public.
He would speak
to crowds of people, silent and amazed,
while he revealed to them the origin
of this vast universe, the cause of things,
what is nature, what a god, whence came the snow,
the cause of lightning—was it Jupiter
or did the winds, that thundered when the cloud
was rent asunder, cause the lightning flash?
What shook the earth, what laws controlled the stars
as they were moved—and every hidden thing
he was the first man to forbid the use
of any animal's flesh as human food,
he was the first to speak with learned lips,
though not believed in this, exhorting them.—
“No, mortals,” he would say, “Do not permit
pollution of your bodies with such food,
for there are grain and good fruits which bear down
the branches by their weight, and ripened grapes
upon the vines, and herbs—those sweet by nature
and those which will grow tender and mellow with
a fire, and flowing milk is not denied,
nor honey, redolent of blossoming thyme.
“The lavish Earth yields rich and healthful food
affording dainties without slaughter, death,
and bloodshed. Dull beasts delight to satisfy
their hunger with torn flesh; and yet not all:
horses and sheep and cattle live on grass.
But all the savage animals—the fierce
Armenian tigers and ferocious lions,
and bears, together with the roving wolves—
delight in viands reeking with warm blood.
“Oh, ponder a moment such a monstrous crime—
vitals in vitals gorged, one greedy body
fattening with plunder of another's flesh,
a living being fed on another's life!
In that abundance, which our Earth, the best
of mothers, will afford have you no joy,
unless your savage teeth can gnaw
the piteous flesh of some flayed animal
to reenact the Cyclopean crime?
And can you not appease the hungry void—
the perverted craving of a stomach's greed,
unless you first destroy another life?
“That age of old time which is given the name
of ‘Golden,’ was so blest in fruit of trees,
and in the good herbs which the earth produced
that it never would pollute the mouth with blood.
The birds then safely moved their wings in air,
the timid hares would wander in the fields
with no fear, and their own credulity
had not suspended fishes from the hook.
All life was safe from treacherous wiles,
fearing no injury, a peaceful world.
“After that time some one of ill advice
(it does not matter who it might have been)
envied the ways of lions and gulped into
his greedy paunch stuff from a carcass vile.
He opened the foul paths of wickedness.
It may be that in killing beasts of prey
our steel was for the first time warmed with blood.
And that could be defended, for I hold
that predatory creatures which attempt
destruction of mankind, are put to death
without evasion of the sacred laws:
but, though with justice they are put to death,
that cannot be a cause for eating them.
“This wickedness went further; and the sow
was thought to have deserved death as the first
of victims, for with her long turned-up snout
she spoiled the good hope of a harvest year.
The ravenous goat, that gnawed a sprouting vine,
was led for slaughter to the altar fires
of angry Bacchus. It was their own fault
that surely caused the ruin of those two.
“But why have sheep deserved sad destiny,
harmless and useful for the good of man
with nectar in full udders? Their soft wool
affords the warmest coverings for our use,
their life and not their death would help us more.
Why have the oxen of the field deserved
a sad end—innocent, without deceit,
and harmless, without guile, born to endure
hard labor? Without gratitude is he,
unworthy of the gift of harvest fields,
who, after he relieved his worker from
weight of the curving plow could butcher him,
could sever with an axe that toil worn neck,
by which so often with hard work the ground
had been turned up, so many harvests reared.
For some, even crimes like these are not enough,
they have imputed to the gods themselves
abomination—they believe a god
in heaven above, rejoices at the death
of a laborious ox.
“A victim free
of blemish and most beautiful in form
(perfection brings destruction) is adorned
with garlands and with gilded horns before
the altar. In his ignorance he hears
one praying, and he sees the very grain
he labored to produce, fixed on his head
between the horns, and felled, he stains with blood
the knife which just before he may have seen
reflected in clear water. Instantly
they snatch out entrails from his throbbing form,
and seek in them intentions of the gods.
Then, in your lust for a forbidden food
you will presume to batten on his flesh,
O race of mortals! Do not eat such food!
Give your attention to my serious words;
and, when you next present the slaughtered flesh
of oxen to your palates, know and feel
that you gnaw your fellow tillers of the soil.
“And, since a god impels me to speak out,
I will obey the god who urges me,
and will disclose to you the heavens above,
and I will even reveal the oracles
of the Divine Will. I will sing to you
of things most wonderful, which never were
investigated by the intellects
of ancient times and things which have been long
concealed from man. In fancy I delight
to float among the stars or take my stand
on mighty Atlas' shoulders, and to look
afar down on men wandering here and there—
afraid in life yet dreading unknown death,
and in these words exhort them and reveal
the sequence of events ordained by fate!