Iamblichus: The Pythagorean Life

Iamblichus, translated by Gillian Clark

“Why should Iamblichus, a Platonist philosopher of the fourth century AD, write about Pythagoras, a pre-Platonic philosopher or sage or religious genius of the sixth century B.C.? It was neither an easy nor an obvious task. Nobody was sure what exactly Pythagoras had taught, let alone what (if anything) he had written.”

Heaven in its entirety, he said, and the stars in their courses, is a fine sight if one can see its order. But it is so by participation in the primary and intelligible. And what is primary is number and rational order permeating all there is: all things are ranged in their proper and harmonious order in accordance with these. Wisdom is real knowledge, not requiring effort, concerned with those beautiful things which are primary, divine, pure, unchanging: other things may be called beautiful if they participate in these.

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He no longer used musical instruments or songs to create order in himself through some unutterable, almost inconceivable likeness to the gods, his hearing and his mind were intent upon the celestial harmonies of the cosmos. It seemed as if he alone could hear and understand the universal harmony and music of the spheres and of the stars which move within them, uttering a song more complete and satisfjring than any human melody.

Published as Iamblichus: On the Pythagorean Life, translated with notes and introduction by Gillian Clark. Liverpool University Press, 1989. Excerpt republished with thanks.