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Chapter 5 - Authority and Doctrine in the Pseudo-Pythagorean Writings

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 February 2021

Michael Erler
Affiliation:
Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, Germany
Jan Erik Heßler
Affiliation:
Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, Germany
Federico M. Petrucci
Affiliation:
Università degli Studi di Torino, Italy
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Summary

Within the Pythagorean tradition the supreme source of authority is, needless to say, Pythagoras himself. The Pythagoreans are the only Pre-socratics named after the founder of their brotherhood. However, if one takes into account the amount of extant Pythagorean literature, which is for the most part apocryphal – as is well known, the amount of apocryphal Pythagorean literature by far exceeds the few fragments which can be considered authentic and safely attributed to ancient Pythagoreans – the predominant name is that of Archytas, who was undoubtedly a prominent figure, although not one as authoritative as Pythagoras. Moreover, a great number of pseudo-Pythagorean writings go under the name of largely unimportant, or otherwise unknown, authors. Nonetheless, this apocryphal literature considerably contributed to lending the necessary authority to a very influential tradition that extended over the centuries. In this contribution I will endeavour, among other things, to explain (a) how Archytas came to be regarded as a major source of authority; (b) why the authors of Pythagorean forgeries made recourse to names which apparently were anything but authoritative; (c) more broadly, what kind of criteria may have guided the authors in building the pseudo-Pythagorean corpus; (d) what relationship exists between these writings and the Platonist tradition.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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