Pythagorean Symbolism and the Philosophic Paideia in the Stromateis of Clement of Alexandria
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Tracing treks of specific philosophic schools in the mixture of different intellectual traditions of the first and second centuries AD is a kind of a task which both extremely rewarding and notoriously difficult. It is rewarding, for the treks if found contribute greatly to our understanding of philosophic paths of the individual figures, especially when direct evidence, and this is usually the case, is scarce and scattered all over different sources. But on the other hand, detective search for clues in order to highlight possible sources of a given author is a dangerous adventure which may easily lead to misunderstanding. For oblique clues and 'striking similarities' while (given limited amount of evidence) prove nothing, can turn search in a direction which brings the whole thing to the dead end. But e)a)n mh) e)/lphtai a)ne/lpiston, ou)k e)ceurh/sei, a)necereu/nhton e)o)n kai) a)/poron. (1)
Now, if we look upon the Pythagorean tradition as a part of the Classical heritage, transmitted to Late Antiquity, we will find it to be relatively well documented by the extant sources, fragments and testimonia, and much work has been recently done to clarify the subject matter. Clement of Alexandria as a 'Neopythagorean Philosopher' is relatively badly served, however. It will be useful therefor to collect various observations on this issue, which are scattered over different studies, in a single outline. Clement is not only a good source of the Pythagorean doctrines, which enhance our knowledge of the Pythagorean tradition. He also was one of the first Christian philosophers to adopt the ancient theory of symbolism and to replace it in the new Christian soil. In his works the conceptual system of the second-century Middle Platonists and Neopythagoreans and the method of allegorical exegesis of Philo of Alexandria were incorporated in the context of the Christian world view. His distinction of the fundamental belief (koine pistis) and the highest faith and this of the scientific knowledge (episteme) and gnosis became fundamental for the later Christian theory of knowledge. The highest faith and true gnosis were considered to be the final step to lead to Gnostic perfection, and symbolism played a central role in the process of its achievement. The process of education under the direction of a learned instructor requires time, ability to listen and understand, and a special disposition towards knowledge, fortified by faith that the real knowledge can be achieved. Clement believes that the student should be directed and educated according to a certain model (partially found, as I shall argue, in the Pythagorean tradition). In the process of paidei/a the student is gradually achieving a certain state of moral perfection, learning in a symbolic way things that he is unable to see clearly and exercising his analytical ability by means of the natural and precise sciences.
Let us turn to Clement's writings, looking everywhere for the Pythagorean elements in them, and if the reader perceives Pythagorean treks in Clement's thought and learns new things about this fascinating philosopher, I shall consider my task accomplished. (2)
What did Clement know about Pythagoras and the Pythagorean Tradition?
Pythagoras in Clement's eyes was an ancient sage and religious reformer, a God-inspired transmitter of the spiritual tradition, which itself ascends to the most antique times. The Pythagorean school from the very beginning functioned as a secret society and was shrouded in mystery.
He was a student of Pherecydes (3) and his floruit falls on the time of dictatorship of Polycrates, around the sixty-second Olympiad [ci. 532-529 BC]. (4) But the real teacher of his was certain Sonchis, the highest prophet of the Egyptians. (5) Pythagoras traveled a lot and even
Clement is inclined to think that Pythagoras composed some writings himself, but gave them out as if they contained ancient wisdom, revealed to him. So did some of his students:
Pythagoras in no means was a mere transmitter, he himself was a sage, prophet and the founder of a philosophic school:
Imagine now, that we are students at Clement's Catechetical School and listen to his lectures. What shall we learn about Pythagoras (given that Clement is the only source of our knowledge)?
Clement would tell us that Pythagoras was a perfect example of righteousness among the Greeks which worth following. But the road which leads to perfection is full of labor that everybody has to overcome personally:
Pythagoras instructed to clean one's body and soul before entering the road by means of strictly drawn dietary regulations. (10) One of the reasons for this is that the burden of food prevents soul from 'rising to higher levels of reality', a condition which, after certain exercise, could be reached during sleep or meditation. Maintaining self-control and a right balance in everything is therefor absolutely necessary for everybody entering the path of knowledge:
The goal of the Pythagoreans consists therefor not in abstaining from doing certain important things, but rather in practicing of abstinentia from harmful and useless things in order to attain to a better performance in those which are really vital. As in the case with marriage (above), Clement generally disagrees with those who put too much force on self-restriction. He has a good reason for doing this, as we shall see later whilst analyzing Clement's critique of some Gnostic ideas that are closely connected with the Pythagorean problematic. Pythagorean abstinentia should be based on reason and judgment rather than tradition or a rite. Koinwni/a kai) sugge/neia unites not only all mankind, but also all living beings with the gods. (14) This alone is a sufficient reason for abstinence from flesh meat.
(1) Heraclitus fr. 18 DK ap. Clement, Strom. II 17, 4 Stählin.
(2) The works of Clement are extracted according to Otto Stählin edition. The Stromateis I-III are quoted according to J. Ferguson's translation, occasionally altered; translations of the rest of Clement's text are mine.
(3) Strom. I 62,4. Cf. Diog. Laert. I 12 and VIII 2.
(4) Strom. I 65, 2. Polycrates was dictator of Samos.
(5) Strom. I 69, 1. Actually, Clement makes almost all the Greek philosophers the Egyptians, and even Homer 'as the majority agreed' was of Egyptian origin (Strom. I 66,1). So, Homer was a local man, while Plato, Pythagoras, Thales and many others, though from the other place, studied there. Apparently, the idea that he lived in a historic and intellectual center of the world was dear to Clement's heart.
(6) Ion of Chios was a tragic poet (circa 490-422 BC). On the fragment of Ion see: Kirk - Raven - Schofield, The Presocratic Philosophers, p.53.
(7) o( i(ero)j lo/goj. Cf. i(ro)j lo/goj in Herodotus, II, 81. The historian says here that it was Pythagoras, not Orpheus who borrowed the sacred rites from the Egyptians and introduced them to the Greeks.
(8) For how long time? How later Neopythagoreanism relates to the hypothetical original archetype of the Pythagorean School is a problem that admits no single solution. Cf. somewhat 'chaotic' survey of still more chaotic variety of opinions on the Pythagoreans in David L. Blanch's 'Neopythagorean Moralists and the New Testament Household Codes', ANRW II 26.1 382-392. On the subject see: C. de Vogel, Pythagoras and Early Pythagoreanism (Assen, 1966); H. Thesleff, An Introduction to the Phythagorean Writings of the Hellenistic Period (Abo, 1961) and The Pythagorean Texts of the Hellenistic Period (Abo, 1965); W. Burkert, Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism, translated by E. Minar (Cambridge, MA, 1972).
(9) Strom. I 10, 3; the very first reference to Pythagoras in the Stromateis.
(10) Strom. II 92, 1. For detailed account of the dietary regulations and philosophy beyond them see now D.A. Dombrovsky, 'Porphyry and Vegetarianism: A Contemporary Philosophical Approach', ANRW II 36.2 774-791.
(11) Strom. II 79, 2 and V 30,1.
(12) Strom. III 24, 1-2. Cf. M. West, The Orphic Poems (Oxford, 1983) p. 14.
(13) Strom. I 48,1. Cf. the beginning of the last chapter of the Protreptikos. In order to clean and harmonize the soul the Pytagoreans had a habit to play lyre before going to sleep, the fact also attested in Plutarch, De Iside et Osirides, 384a; Cp. Jamblichus, De vita pyth. 25, 110-115.
(14) 'I personally think that Pythagoras derived his gentle attitude to irrational animals from the Law. For example, he declared that people should refrain from taking new births out of their flocks of sheep or goats or herds of cattle for immediate profit or by reason of sacrifice' (Strom. II 92, 1). The doctrine of reincarnation is certainly known to Clement, but he definitely prefers another, more practical explanation here. The reason for this, I believe, is that Pythagoras is taken here as a good example, opposed to certain Gnostics, who also claim to derive their views from the ancient sage, but in Clement's opinion misuse and misinterpret them.
(15) Strom.II 130, 1. The whole passage II 131, 2 - 133,7 is obviously taken from a doxography, which records various 'opinions of the philosophers about happiness'. Clement even indicates where he has finished copying, saying 'so much of that' at the end of the extract.
(16) Strom. V 59, 1 (cf. V 67, 3). A notorious fact is that this distinction between acusmatici and mathematici was regarded also as an indication of two different schools within Pythagoreanism. Jamblichus (Comm. math. scient. 76,16 - 77,2 Festa) says that a certain schism took place within the school. The first group of the Pythagoreans, acusmatici, considered themselves true followers of Pythagoras, while the second, mathematici, with all their intellectual pursuit, were but followers of Hippasus (or Hipparchus 'the Apostat' - see the note below). This is curious especially because, historically speaking, they could have been right, since Pythagoras himself hardly was the originator of the theory of numbers that emerged in later Pythagoreanism. For details cf.: W. Burkert, Lore and Science, pp. 192-217. Clement however does not want to know about any schism: Two-level education is considered by him a well designed technique, which gradually leads the students to the highest knowledge. Moreover, he argues, that this kind of teaching was commonly accepted by all ancient philosophic schools, including Stoic and Epicurean ones (Strom. V 58 ff.).
(17) Strom. V 57, 3. Cf. Proclus, In primum Euclidis lib. comm. I 44, where it is said that he was accused of disclosing the mystery of irrational numbers. Jamblichus says that if this kind of problem happened at any time after the surrender of goods by a student, he received the double of what he had brought to the community (De vita pyth. 118). It seems that Clement's statement here is based on the Letter of Lysius to Hipparchus, which he quotes with minor changes just before the passage above (V 57, 2; cf. Jambl., VP 75).
(18) In order to see the context the reader is encouraged to refer back to the passages cited above.
(19) Unless this in fact is a reference to Aristotle, as O. Stählin suggests (cf. Arist. fr. 190 Rose). Certain Aristarchus of Samothrace was Alexandrian librarian (the second century BC).
(20) A historian, the third century BC. Cf. Kirk-Raven-Schofield, p.4. Fragments cf. in FGrHist 84.
(21) A historian of philosophy, the third century BC.
(22) An important historian from the fourth century BC. For fragments cf. FGrHist 115. Cf.: Michael A. Flower, Theopompus of Chios: History and Rhetoric in the Fourth Century BC (Oxford, 1994).
(23) This Epigenes was a grammarian of the Hellenistic period, whom Clement also quotes in Strom. V 49, 3 and again in relation with the Pythagoreans.
(24) Fragments are collected in Wehrli, Die Schule des Aristoteles (Basel, 1944-1959), Bd. 8.
(25) Aristoxenus from Tarentum was a student of Aristotle, who is reported to have known the 'last generation' of the Pythagoreans (Diog. Laert. VIII 46; Jambl., VP 251). Clement refers to him again when he discusses musical styles (Strom. VI 88, 1). For Aristoxenus' fragments cf. Wehrli, Die Schule des Aristoteles, Bd.2. Aristoxenus' Elementa Rhytmica is edited and translated by L. Pearson (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1990). A useful collection of evidence about the life of Pythgoras is R.C. Melloni's Ricerche sul Pitagorismo I: Biografia di Pitagora (Bologna, 1969).
(26) (Arius) Didymus is also used by Stobaeus, Eusebius and Diogenes Laert. Hermann Diels has identified him with the Stoic philosopher and confidant of Augustus, Arius of Alexandria (around 70 - 5 BC). 'During the last 15 years there has been a gradual recognition that the hypothesis has its shaky aspects, but no direct challenge was mounted', - note J. Mansfeld and D. Runia in their Aetiana (Leiden, 1997) p. 240; esp. on Clement cf.: p. 239 ftnt 129 of this work.
(27) The first century BC historian Alexander has also written the Succession of Philosophers, from which Diogenes Laert. (VIII, 25) derives his famous account of the Pythagorean doctrine.
(28) Androcydes lived in the 3rd century, or later, as W. Burkert suggests: Lore and Science, p.176, 174.
(29) Indeed he refers to a certain collection of biographies by Neanthes. Some list of philosophical successions must have also been used (a long account of philosophic schools in Strom. I 59 - 65 is a perfect example of that sort).
(30) On Clement's sources in general see: Vol. 4 (Indices) in Stählin edition of Clement's works. Also there is a book by J. Gabrielsson, Ueber die Quellen des Clemens Alexandrinus (Uppsala, 1906-9) in two vols.
(31) Cf. e.g. Strom. V 67, 1. This 'repentance' recalls from memory Plato's periagwgh) (Rep. VII 518 d 4).
(32) On the Pythagorean way of life and Christian monasticism see, e.g. R.M.Grant, 'Early Alexandrian Christianity', Church History 40 (1971) 133-144 and 'Dietary Laws among Pythagoreans, Jews and Christians', Harvard Theological Review 73 (1980) 299-310; M.L. Lagrange, 'Les légendes pythagoriciennes et l'Évangile', Revue Biblique (1936) 481-511 and (1937) 5-28. Isidore Lévy, La légende de Pythagore de Grèce et Palestine (Paris, 1927) and Johannes Schattenmann , 'Jesus and Pythagoras', Kairos 21 (1979) 215-220. P. Jordan in his 'Pythagoras and Monachism' (Traditio 17 (1961) 432-441, p. 438 says: "At any point we meet parallels which would suggest a certain affinity in concept between Pythagoras and early Christian monachism".
(33) M.Hadas and M.Smith, Heroes and Gods. Spiritual Biographies in Antiquity (New York, 1965). Cf. Jamblichus, De Vita Pyth. 2, 12, where Thales is said to proclaim 'good news'. J. Dillon and J. Hershbell rightly suspect a Christian influence here.
(34) This Cercops, as presented in Arist. fr. 75 and Diog. Laert. II 46, appears to be a legendary rival of Hesiod. So he was made a Pythagorean later and no doubts on the ground that Orphica and ancient cosmogony became an integral part of the Pythagorean doctrine. Cf. Burkert, Lore and Science, p. 130 ftnt 60-61.
(35) Brontinus was the father or husband of the Pythagorean Theano (Kirk-Raven-Schofield, The Presocratic philosophers, 221). Theano is also mentioned by Clement: 'Didymus in his work On Pythagorean Philosophy records that Theano of Croton was the first woman, who wrote philosophic and poetic works' (Strom. I 80, 4). Cf. also Strom IV 44,2 and 121,2 where Clement cites from some 'works' of Theano. Diogen. Laert. (VIII 42) reports two alternative tradition concerning Theano: she was either daughter of Bro(n)tinus and wife of Pythagoras, or wife of Brontinus and student of Pythagoras.
(36) On Philolaus now cf. C. Huffman, Philolaus of Croton (Cambridge University Press, 1993).
(37) The servant of Pythagoras. Cf. Diog. Laert. VIII 2; Both Clement (expressly) and Diogenes ascend here to Herodotus, IV, 93.
(38) A Pythagorean of the fifth century BC (?).
(39) I do not know who he was.
(40) A legendary founder of the 'mathematic' branch of ancient Pythagoreanism (cf. above). Cf. M. Tardieu, 'La Lettre à Hipparque et les réminiscences pythagoriciennes de Clément d'Alexandria', Vigiliae Christianae 28 (1974) p. 244.
(41) A Neopythagorean philosopher. The text of his De natura mundi et animae is edited and translated by Walter Marg (Leiden, 1972).
(42) Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome (715-673) was indeed a religious reformer. It is almost certain that Plutharch's Numa, 8 is Clement's source here.
(43) He quotes the beginning of the Nem. 6 here: "eán a)ndrw=n, eán qew=n ge/noj, e)k mia=j de) matro)j pne/omen a)/mfw", and adds: «;i.e. th=j u(/lhj». This indeed may be rendered in Pythagorean sense.
(44) Strom I 34,1 and again 37, 2: 'the only cultivator of the soil who from the beginning of the universe has been sowing the seeds and who sends rain when it is needed in the form of his sovereign Logos'. Compare with Numenius, fr. 13 Des Places.
(45) Strom. I 45,1 and 32, 4ff.
(46) Strom. I 34, 3ff.
(47) Strom. I 14, 1 and I 5,1.
(48) Cf. Strom. 150, 4 = fr. 8 Des Places.
(49) Cf. Plutarch, Numa, 8. One must suspect direct or indirect influence of Plutarch on Clement, judging from close parallelism, observed in such places like, e.g. Strom. I 70, 4 (just before the passage in question on Numa!) ~ Plutarch, The Oracles at Delphi (Moralia, 397c-d).
(50) I mean Strom. I 48, 2 where Clement says: 'The Pythagorean in Plato's Statesman, etc.' (and a quote from the Statesman, 261e is following).
(51) D. Runia, 'Why does Clement of Alexandria call Philo 'the Pythagorean'?', Vigiliae Christianae 49 (1995) 1-21.
(52) Strom. I 72,4 and II 103,1. Philo is mentioned by name only two more times in Strom. I 31,1 and I 152,2, though the extend to which he is really used by Clement is much greater.
(53) Cf. id. p.18.
(54) Annewies van den Hoek, 'Technique of quotations in Clement of Alexandria', Vigiliae Christianae 50 (1996) 223-243, esp. 232.
(55) Strom. 140, 1; Philolaus, fr. B 20 DK; cf. Cf. also C. Huffman, Philolaus of Croton (Cambridge, 1993), p. 334 ff. This information Clement borrowed from Philo (De opifficio mundi, 100; Legum alleg. I 15; Quis rerum div. heres, 170).
(56) 'La Lettre à Hipparque et les réminiscences pythagoriciennes de Clément d'Alexandria', Vigiliae Christianae 28 (1974) p. 244. I shall add here that as far as the sources of Clement's Pythagoreanism are concerned, app. crit. and indices of Stählin-Früchtel-Treu's edition of Clement are still far from being complete.
(57) Cf. her book: 'Clement of Alexandria and His Use of Philo in the Stromateis (Leiden, 1988) and a number of articles: 'Techniques of quotation in Clement of Alexandria: A view of Ancient Literary Methods', Vigiliae Christianae 50 (1996) 223-243; 'The 'Catechetical' School of Early Alexandria and its Philonic heritage', Harvard Theologival Review 90 (1997) 56-87, and some others.
(58) Cf. Philo in Early Christian Literature (Assen, Van Gorcum, 1993).
(59) Clement very often discusses his style in various parts of the Stromateis. Cf.: I 11, 1-2; I 15, 1-2; I 55, 2-3; VI 4, 4,2-3; VI 22,1-4. Cf. A.Méhat, Étude sur les Stromates de Clément d' Alexandrie (Paris, 1966) p. 212 ff. and L. Robert, 'The literary form of the Stromateis', The Second Century 7 (1989) 211-220.
(60) Strom I, 7, 1.