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Observations placeholder

Pythagoras - Iamblichus's Life - The Mysteries



Type of Spiritual Experience


This rather long observation describes a number of very important aspects about Pythagoras:

 - First, he was extensively initiated into a number of the Mysteries, which tends to explain why he had such a thorough knowledge of the symbol system and arithmetic, geometry etc.  There are numerous people who say that his theorems weren't 'new', but it appears he combined what he had been taught with true inspiration and wisdom via spiritual experience - as the observation says.

- The long haired Simian may be both literal and symbolic.

 - He didn't start his own school until he was over 56 years old.

 - There is an indication here and in the rest of the text that Pythagoras was schooled in the Mysteries of - Babylon, Phoenecia, Eleusinian, Egypt [the longest period], & Byblos and Tyre. 

A description of the experience

Iamblichus – Life of Pythagoras [translated by Thomas Taylor]

Pythagoras dwelt at Samos like some beneficent daemon. Hence, while he was yet a youth, his great renown having reached Thales at Miletus, and Bias at Priene, men illustrious for their wisdom it also extended to the neighbouring cities. To all which we may add, that the youth was everywhere celebrated as the long-haired Simian, and was reverenced by the multitude as one under the influence of divine inspiration.

But after he had attained the eighteenth year of his age, about the period when the tyranny of Policrates first made its appearance, foreseeing that under such a government he might receive some impediment in his studies, which engrossed the whole of his attention, he departed privately by night with one Hermodamas (whose surname was Creophilus, and who was the grandson of him who had formerly been the host, friend, and preceptor in all things of Homer the poet,) to Pherecydes, to Anaximander the natural philosopher, and to Thales at Miletus. He likewise alternately associated with each of these philosophers, in such a manner, that they all loved him, admired his natural endowments, and made him a partaker of their doctrines.

Indeed, after Thales had gladly admitted him to his intimate confidence, he admired the great difference between him and other young men, whom Pythagoras left far behind in every accomplishment. And besides this, Thales increased the reputation Pythagoras had already acquired, by communicating to him such disciplines as he was able to impart: and, apologizing for his old age, and the imbecility of his body, he exhorted him to sail into Egypt, and associate with the Memphian and Diospolitan priests. For he confessed that his own reputation for wisdom was derived from the instructions of these priests; but that he was neither naturally, nor by exercise, endued with those excellent prerogatives, which were so visibly displayed in the person of Pythagoras. Thales, therefore, gladly announced to him, from all these circumstances, that he would become the wisest and most divine of all men, if he associated with these Egyptian priests…………….

He was likewise initiated in all the Mysteries of Byblus and Tyre, and in the sacred operations which are performed in many parts of Syria; not engaging in a thing of this kind for the sake of superstition, as someone may be led to suppose, but much rather from a love and desire of contemplation, and from an anxiety that nothing might escape his observation which deserved to be learnt in the arcana or mysteries of the Gods. Having been previously instructed therefore in the mysteries of the Phoenicians, which were derived like a colony and a progeny from the sacred rites in Egypt, and hoping from this circumstance that he should be a partaker of more beautiful, divine and genuine monuments of erudition in Egypt. ……………….

He spent therefore two and twenty years in Egypt, in the adyta of temples, astronomising and geometrizing, and was initiated not in a superficial or casual manner, in all the mysteries of the Gods, till at length being taken captive-by the soldiers of Cambyses, he-was brought to Babylon.  Here he gladly associated with the Magi, was instructed by them in their venerable knowledge, and learnt from them the most perfect worship of the Gods.

Through their assistance likewise, he arrived at the summit of arithmetic, music, and other disciplines; and after associating with them twelve years, he returned to Samos about the fifty-sixth year of his age.

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items





Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Contemplation and detachment