Members-only podcast episode

Storytime: Reading Hierocles on the Golden Verses, Part I

This is a special podcast episode for SHWEP members only

Join now to listen

The so-called ‘Golden’ Pythagorean Verses, containing an elementary exposition of the most perfect philosophy of the Pythagoreans

Honour first the immortal gods, as established by law,
And respect the oath; then revere the glorious heroes
And the earth-dwelling daemons, performing lawful offerings.
Honour your parents also and your nearest kin.
Of others make your friend whoever excels in virtue.
Yield to gentle words and beneficent deeds,
And contemn not your friend for a trivial fault,
As long as you can; for ability dwells near necessity.
The above things know in this way.
And accustom yourself to control:
First of all, the belly, sleep, and lust,
And spirit. Never do anything shameful with another
Nor when alone; most of all before yourself be ashamed.
Next accustom yourself to practise justice in deed and word,
And in nothing to behave irrationally.
But know that to die has been destined for all,
And that possessions are wont to be acquired at one time and lost at another.
As many pains as mortals have by heaven-sent fortunes,
Bear lightly your portion of these and be not distressed.
You may seek to cure them, as far as you can, but keep in mind:
Destiny does not give too many of these to the good.
Many words, both base and noble, come to men’s ears;
Do not be perplexed by these nor allow them To hinder you; and if some falsehood be told,
Gently withdraw. In everything do as I tell you!
Let no one persuade you by word or by deed
To do or say what does not prove better for you.
Take counsel before the deed, so that no foolishness may arise;
It is a miserable man who acts and speaks thoughtlessly.
But accomplish those things that will not distress you later on.
Do no single thing in which you lack knowledge, but learn
Whatever is necessary, and so you will lead a most agreeable life.
And you must not be careless of the health of your body,
But maintain moderation in drink and food and exercise;
The moderation I mean will cause you no distress.
Accustom yourself to a manner of life that is pure, unaffected,
And take care not to practise what leads to envy.
Do not spend beyond measure like one ignorant of the good,
Nor be illiberal—moderation in all things is best!
Do what does you no harm, and take thought before the deed.
Let not your feeble eyes expect to sleep
Until you have rehearsed each of the day’s deeds three times:
‘Where have I transgressed? what have I done? what duty not fulfilled?’
Beginning from the first go through them in detail, and then
Rebuke yourself for the mean things you have done, but delight in the good.
Work hard at these [precepts], put them to practice; you must desire them.
They shall set you on the path of divine virtue, I swear by him who gave our soul the tetractys,
The fount of everflowing nature! But go to your work,
Having prayed to the gods to perfect it. Master these [precepts]
And you will know the connection of immortal gods and mortal men,
How it pervades each thing, and how each is ruled.
You will know, as is meet and right, the likeness of nature in all,
So that you do not hope what cannot be hoped nor fail in your awareness.
You will know that men have freely chosen their troubles,
Wretches, who neither discern the goods that are close by
Nor give them heed; few understand deliverance from evils.
Such is the fate that harms their minds: like cylinders
They are borne here and there, to one thing and another, suffering endless troubles.
For baneful discord follows along, secretly working its harm,
Innate in us; you must not advance it, but withdraw and flee.
Father Zeus, from many evils you would surely deliver all men,
If you would show to all what sort of daemon they have.
But be of good courage, since the race of mortals is divine;
To them sacred nature displays and reveals each thing. If you have a share in this,
you will master my commands,
Find a cure, and save your soul from sufferings like these.
But avoid the foods of which we spoke, in purifications
And in the deliverance of the soul being judicious, and ponder each thing,
Setting on high most excellent knowledge as your charioteer.
And when, with the body deserted, you have reached the free ether,
You will be a deathless god, immortal, no longer a mortal.

(trans. H. Schibli, 2002)

Works Cited in this Episode and in Part II:


The Chaldæan Oracles: on alkē, ‘strength’: 1.5, 2.2, 32.5, 49.3, 82.4, 117.3, 118.4, 119.4, 214.6 Des Places/Majercik.

Damascius on the proper separation of philosophic and theurgic teaching: Damasc. PH fr. 88a Athanassiadi = E132, F213 Zinzten = Suda III 577, 21 (from ουδὲν ἧττον = Photius cod. 242, 132).

Iamblichus on θεοπρεπῶς: De myst. II 11.96, 17–18 p. 96; vis à vis oracles, III 11. 127, 14 p. 114.

Marinus, Life of Proclus 3.1-7.

Origen claims that all rational creatures always require some kind of body: see Ilaria L. E. Ramelli. Origen. In Anna Marmodoro and Sophie Cartwright, editors, A History of Mind and Body in Late Antiquity, pages 245-66. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2018. Cf. Idem. Matter in the Dialogue of Adamantius: Origen’s Heritage and Hylomorphism. In Johannes Zachhuber and Anna Schiavoni, editors, Platonism and Christianity in Late Ancient Cosmology: God, Soul, Matter, pages 741-24. Brill, Leiden, 2022, p. 75.

Plato, Phdr. 245d1. Against μάντεις καὶ ἀγύρται ‘diviners and beggar-priests’: R. 364b.

Plot. Enn. V 4.1, 18–19.


N. Aujoulat. Le néo-platonisme alexandrin, Hiéroclès d’Alexandrie. Brill, Leiden, 1986.: “compenetration approximative des deux doctrines”, Christian and pagan: we quote p. 65; cf. 415.

Nicholas Banner. Philosophic Silence and the `One’ in Plotinus. The University Press, Cambridge, 2018. [on ‘philosophic silence’ in Platonism up to Plotinus].

Walter Burkert. Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1972. Translated by Edward L. Minar, pp.177– 85.

Ilsetraut Hadot. Le Démiurge comme principe dérivé dans le système ontologique d’Hiéroclès. REG, 103:24162, 1990; we cite p. 258.

Sarah Iles Johnston. Magic and Theurgy. In David Frankfurter, editor, Guide to the Study of Ancient Magic, pages 694-719. Brill, Leiden, 2019; we quote p. 713.

Theo Kobusch. Studien zur Philosophie des Hierokles von Alexandrien. Munich, 1976.

Hermann Sadun Schibli. Hierocles of Alexandria. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002. We cite 116 f. on Schibli’s reading of Hierocles’ depiction of telestikē as traditional public cult as an attempt to remove suspicion of ‘magic’ from his theurgy.

Ilinca Tanaseanu-Döbler. Theurgy in Late Antiquity: The Invention of a Ritual Tradition. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, 2013; we quote p. 176; see 183-4 for a detailed list of reasons why we should take Hierocles’ ‘sacred art’ and similar terms as a reference to theurgic theory. We also quote p. 193 on the question of whether the virtues are to be read as an ‘ascending scale’ in Hierocles’ interpretation.

Johan C. Thom. The Pythagorean Golden Verses with Introduction and Commentary. Number 123 in Religions in the Græco-Roman World. Brill, Leiden/New York, NY/Köln, 1995; we cite pp. 171-7.