Neopythagoreanism

Neopythagoreanism

[nee-oh-pi-thag-uh-ree-uh-niz-uhm]

Neopythagoreanism (or Neo-Pythagoreanism) was a Graeco-Alexandrian school of philosophy, reviving Pythagorean doctrines, which became prominent in the 1st and 2nd centuries.

In the 1st century BCE Cicero's friend Nigidius Figulus (died 45 BCE) made an attempt to revive Pythagorean doctrines, but the most important members of the school were Apollonius of Tyana and Moderatus of Gades in the 1st century. There has been much discussion as to whether the Pythagorean literature which was widely published at the time in Alexandria was the original work of 1st-century writers or merely reproductions of and commentaries on the older Pythagorean writings. Other important Neopythagoreans include the mathematician Nicomachus of Gerasa, who wrote about the mystical properties of numbers. In the 2nd century, Numenius of Apamea sought to fuse additional elements of Platonism into Neopythagoreanism, prefiguring the rise of Neoplatonism.

Neopythagoreanism was an attempt to introduce a religious element into pagan philosophy in place of what had come to be regarded as an arid formalism. The founders of the school sought to invest their doctrines with the halo of tradition by ascribing them to Pythagoras and Plato, and there is no reason to accuse them of insincerity. They went back to the later period of Plato's thought, the period when Plato endeavoured to combine his doctrine of Ideas with the Pythagorean number-theory, and identified the Good with the One, the source of the duality of the Infinite and the Measured with the resultant scale of realities from the One down to the objects of the material world. They emphasized the fundamental distinction between the Soul and the Body. God must be worshipped spiritually by prayer and the will to be good, not in outward action. The soul must be freed from its material surrounding, the "muddy vesture of decay," by an ascetic habit of life. Bodily pleasures and all sensuous impulses must be abandoned as detrimental to the spiritual purity of the soul. God is the principle of good; Matter the groundwork of Evil. In this system we distinguish not only the asceticism of Pythagoras and the later mysticism of Plato, but also the influence of the Orphic mysteries. and of Oriental philosophy. The Ideas of Plato are no longer self-subsistent entities; they are the elements which constitute the content of spiritual activity. The non-material universe is regarded as the sphere of mind or spirit.

Neopythagoreanism is a link in the chain between the old and the new in pagan philosophy. It connects the teaching of Plato with the doctrines of Neoplatonism. Iamblichus, in particular, was especially influenced by Neopythagoreanism.

In 1915 a subterranean basilica was discovered near Porta Maggiore on Via Praenestina in Rome where Neopythagoreans held their meetings in the 1st century. The groundplan shows a basilica with three naves and an apse similarly to early Christian basilicas that appeared only much later in the 4th century. The vaults are decorated with white stuccoes symbolizing Neopythagorean beliefs but its exact meaning remains a subject of debate.

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