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The Pythagorean maxim "Do not walk in the public streets" had an inner significance which meant "Shun the views of the unenlightened masses." "Do not eat the heart of an animal" meant "Do not give way to the emotions of despondency and anxiety." The interdiction against beans should not be taken literally, but only symbolically.

The real teaching of Pythagoras during his lifetime to his personal disciples, as compared with the recorded teaching made by later generations of followers who had lost much of the inner significance of his wisdom, cannot be got by taking those records too literally. The records contradict each other in many particulars. Consider how most of Pythagoras' biographers say that he forbade the use of woolen bedclothes and enjoined the use of linen ones only. On the other hand, Diogenes Laertes says in his biography that linen had not yet been introduced into the country where Pythagoras lived and that his bedclothes were always woolen! Aristoxenes said that Pythagoras permitted the eating of all animals except oxen, rams, and lambs--whereas the biography preserved by Photius says that he taught the abstention from all animals because of his belief in the transmigration of souls. Even the absurd story that Pythagoras refused to save his life from his assailants by making his escape across a bean field is only one of several conflicting stories about the manner of his death, and none of the other stories mentions this bean field at all. Such contradictions should make us very wary of accepting the assertion that he really forbade beans as an article of diet. What, then, is the real meaning of the injunction to abstain from eating beans, for which, incidentally, the only authority I can trace is Hierocles' inclusion of it in his collection of the Golden Manimo? It is an entirely symbolic injunction, and it means "Abstain from following the broad popular path." Beans were used in the democratic election procedures as a convenient means of casting votes for candidates, and in the course of time came to symbolize the democratic or popular way of life which was so abhorrent to the aristocratic character and secretive nature of Pythagoras and his teachings.

Concerning the interdiction of cremation, it should be remembered that Pythagoras got most of his training in the Egyptian schools, where the practice of mummifying the dead was the rule and where cremation was abhorred.

-- Notebooks Category 15: The Orient > Chapter 7: Related Entries > # 29

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