Pythagoras - Iamblichus's Life - Symbol system, origin and widespread use
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Iamblichus – Life of Pythagoras [translated by Thomas Taylor]
[Pythagoras] endeavoured to introduce the symbolic mode of teaching, in a way perfectly similar to the documents by which he had been instructed in Egypt……………
The mode of teaching through symbols, was considered by Pythagoras as most necessary. For this form of erudition was cultivated by nearly all the Greeks, as being most ancient. But it was transcendently honoured by the Egyptians, and adopted by them in the most diversified manner.
Conformably to this, therefore, it will be found, that great attention was paid to it by Pythagoras, if any one clearly unfolds the significations and arcane conceptions of the Pythagoric symbols, and thus develops the great rectitude and truth they contain, and liberates them from their enigmatic form. For they are adapted according to a simple and uniform doctrine, to the great geniuses of these philosophers, and deify in a manner which surpasses human conception.
For those who came from this school, and especially the most ancient Pythagorians, and also those young men who were the disciples of Pythagoras when he was an old man, viz. Philolaus and Eurytus, Charondas and Zaleucus, and Brysson, the elder Archytas also, and Aristrus, Lysis and Empedocles, Zanolxis and Epimenides, Milo and Leucippus, Alcmaeon, Hippasus and Thymaridas, and all of that age, consisting of a multitude of learned men, and who were above measure excellent,-all these adopted this mode of teaching, in their discourses with each other, and in their commentaries and annotations.
Their writings also, and all the books which they published, most of which have been preserved even to our time, were not composed by them in a popular and vulgar diction, and in a manner usual with all other writers, so as to be immediately understood, but in such a way as not to be easily apprehended by those that read them. For they adopted that taciturnity which was instituted by Pythagoras as a law, in concealing after an arcane mode, divine mysteries from the uninitiated, and obscuring their writings and conferences with each other. Hence he who selecting these symbols does not unfold their meaning, by an apposite exposition, will cause those who may happen to meet with them to consider them as ridiculous and inane, and as full of nugacity and garrulity.
When, however, they are unfolded in a way conformable to these symbols, and become obvious and clear even to the multitude, instead of being obscure and dark, then they will be found to be analogous to prophetic sayings, and to the oracles of the Pythian Apollo. They will then also exhibit an admirable meaning, and will produce a divine afflatus in those who unite intellect with erudition.
NOTES From this passage it is evident that lamblichus had many sources of information which are unknown to modern critics ; and this circumstance alone ought to check their pedagogical impertinence.