Episode 48: Pythagoras Revived: An Anatomy of Neopythagoreanism

In the late Hellenistic and into the Roman republican milieu we begin to see signs that Pythagoreanism isn’t dead as a movement. But, of course, it is: it’s just that it has become so powerful as an imaginary that it is reborn in a number of guises. In this episode we look at the several forms which this ‘revival’ of Pythagoreanism took.

The term ‘Neopythagoreanism’ is used in a bewildering number of different senses in the scholarly literature, and we try to anatomise it into three useful strands, namely

  • Neopythagorean philosophy,
  • The rise of the Pythagorean mystique, and
  • The Neopythagorean ‘lifestyle’.

Along the way we meet snake-gods with Pythagorean coiffure, wandering mages, hippies, holy-men, silent philosophers, and the founder of mathematical science, all of whom wear the mantle of the ‘Pythagorean tradition’.

Works Discussed in this Episode:


  • Apollonius of Tyana: ‘to keep silent is also to speak’, Philostratus V.A. I.1[53].
  • Iamblichus: the ‘friendly numbers’: Iamblichus, In Nicomachi Arithmeticam, N. Vinel (ed., trans. and comm.) (Pisa: Fabrizio Serra Editore, 2014) II, 125–6 or in the Teubner edition: H. Pistelli (ed.), 1894, pp. 34, line 24–35, line 10. On Pythagorean echemythia: V.P. 94; cf. 32, 68, 188, 194 for other examples of ἐχεμυθία.
  • Lucian of Samosata: the most concentrated of Lucian’s many snipes at philosophic poseurs can be found in the works Philosophies for Sale and The Banquet or Lapiths.
  • Numenius of Apamea: Socrates and Plato both Pythagoreans: Fr. 25 ll. 41-3, in Petty, R., 2011. The Fragments of Numenius of Apamea: Text, Translation, and Commentary. The Prometheus Trust. Numenius himself a Pythagorean according to his contemporaries: Longinus ap. Porph. Plot. 20; Euseb. PE IX, 7, 1 = Numen. Fr. 1; Nemesius Nat. hom. 2, 6-14 = Numen. Fr. 4b; Orig. Cels. V.38 = Numen. Fr. 53. But Proclus calls him a Platonist: Procl. In Tim. III p. 33, 30- p. 34, 1; 34, 6 Diehl; In R. II, p. 96, 11.
  • Plotinus: Porphyry on Plotinus’ vegetarianism: Plot. 2. Mysterious statement that the gods should come to him, not the other way round: Plot. 10. Smelly in his final illness: Plot. 2. Longinus calls him the most clear expounder of the principles (ἀρχάς) of Pythagoras and Plato: Plot. 20. Discovers who stole the necklace: Plot. 11.
  • Plutarch on Pythagorean echemythia: Quaest. conv. 728e 6-11, quoting Emped. fr. B5 DK.
  • Porphyry: six and nine as perfect numbers: Plot. 24. For his work On the Life of Pythagoras, see below


  • O’Meara, D. Pythagoras Revived (see below).
  • Copernicus, N., 1543. De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. Iohannes Petreius, Nürnberg.

Recommended Reading:

See in the first instance The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v.Pythagoreanism’.

  • Dodds, E. R., 1963. Proclus: The Elements of Theology. Clarendon Press, Oxford. Talk of Neopythagoreanism as an autonomous movement throughout.
  • Iamblichus. Dillon, J. M. & Hershbell, J. P. (Ed.), 1991. On the Pythagorean Way of Life. Scholars’ Press, Atlanta, GA.
  • Melvin-Koushki, M. (2017). ‘Powers of the One: The Mathematicalization of the Occult Sciences in the High Persianate Tradition’, Intellectual History of the Islamicate World : 127-199. On early-modern Islamicate ‘Pythagorean’ lettrism.
  • O’Meara, D., 1989. Pythagoras Revived : Mathematics and Philosophy in Late Antiquity. Oxford University Press, Oxford. A great survey of Late Platonist ‘Pythagorean’ thought, with particularly good assessment of Iamblichus’ fragmentary oeuvre.
  • Perry, B. E., 1964. Secundus the Silent Philosopher. American Philological Association, London and Beccles.
  • Porphyry. Des Places, É. et al. (Ed.), 1982. Vie de Pythagore. Les Belles Lettres, Paris.
  • Whittaker, J. (1969a). ‘Neopythagoreanism and Negative Theology’, Symbolae Osloenses 44 : 109-125.
  • Whittaker, J. (1969b). ‘Epekeina Nou Kai Ousias’, Vigiliae Christianae 23 : 91-104.
  • Whittaker, J. (1973). ‘Neopythagoreanism and the Transcendent Absolute’, Symbolae Osloenses 48 : 77-86.


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