Pythagoras was a pretty cool dude. Over 2500 years ago in Greece, he was a preeminent mathematician, and is even credited for the Pythagorean Theorem that states “The sum of the squares on the legs of a right triangle is equal to the square on the hypotenuse (the side that is opposite of the right angle).” I dig how Pythagoras approached numbers from a creative perspective, and he inspired me a lot when writing about the spiritual meaning of numbers. At any rate, Pythagoras was also quite a philosopher too. In fact, I keep these Pythagorean maxims for wisdom nearby, and they’ve helped me stay mindfully balanced throughout my life.
Symbolic Pythagorean Maxims for Wisdom (with explanations for each in my own words)
The following eight (originally there were 39 in total) Pythagorean maxims for wisdom are highly symbolic and noteworthy. I keep these tacked to my philosophical cork board – they’re phenomenal keystones. And, they provide central supporting themes which render remarkable foundational support in life. Here are a few that are my favorites with explanations in my own words. As you read through, think about how you would interpret these Pythagorean maxims for wisdom. After all, everybody has their own opinion and perception. Your ideas about the meaning of these maxims might be very different from mine.
1. Decline from public ways, walk in unfrequented paths:
Wisdom comes from solitude. The evolution of ingenuity is not found on the path of conformity or commonplace. “Public ways,” and “paths” may represent the way of wisdom – essentially, beliefs, spirituality, and thought itself.
I’m particularly fond of this maxim for wisdom. As a self-professed hermit, I appreciate being sequestered. In fact, my most creative and artistic phases in life are when I’ve been alone. Very often, when we carve out space and time to ponder in solitude, it leads to enlightenment.
Furthermore, when we do as Pythagoras observed and walk unfrequented paths, we find the most astounding treasures. Following the herd (or the “norm”) isn’t always conducive to living creatively or colorfully. Instead, go where most don’t go and encounter remarkable discoveries.
2. Govern your tongue before all other things:
Be mindful of the words you speak (or write, for that matter). They cannot be retracted. When in doubt, be silent. “Tongue” is akin to speech.
This is perhaps one of the best-advised Pythagorean maxim for wisdom. Why? Because watching our words is tantamount to extending compassion and empathy. This holds true for what we tell ourselves too. Govern your mental tongue when it comes to messages you say to yourself.
What’s interesting about speaking is that it’s often done in response to listening. Actively listen to others and think about what was said before responding. This is hands-down one of the greatest tips for healthy communication. Again, this holds true for self-talk too. Listen to your inner messages. If they do not align with you, or if the narrative is negative, speak to that with positive speech to yourself.
3. The wind blowing, adore the sound:
Nature’s symbolic language is at the back of all wisdom, ergo wisdom is everywhere – if only you opt to hear it. “Wind” is symbolic of the divine, energy, life-source. It represents the divine harmony supporting all existence.
Therefore, Pythagoras might be encouraging us to adore the presence of the divine in our midst. By connecting with your understanding of the divine (god, goddess, higher power, whatever), you are connected to an illuminated, buoying, elevated source.
Adoring that “sound” or presence, is akin to celebrating life in general. You might also say that Nature is divine. As such, it is worthy of our attention. The more we become present in the midst of Nature’s majesty, the more balanced and serene we become.
4. Assist a man in raising a burden, but do not assist him in laying it down:
We could say this means we should help others in a manner that prolongs the gift of assistance. Do not help in a fashion that makes others dependent wholly upon you. Help others to help themselves. “Burden” here refers to perils of thought rather than physical burdens.
You could equate the “Teach a man to fish” adage to this particular Pythagorean maxims for wisdom. That is to say, give assistance in a way that facilitates others to live a better life going forward. Helping others to learn and grow for themselves is empowering.
We could also look at this maxim and consider the importance of acknowledging if and how we are being helpful to others. For instance, if we help someone exact revenge – that’s not helpful at all, because it breeds emotional vitriol. Furthermore, helping others to do the “wrong” thing propels negativity in the environment and can certainly boomerang back to us in negative ways.
5. Speak not about Pythagorean concerns without light:
Knowledge (both having and sharing) is a deep responsibility. Spiritual and intellectual clarity is essential prior to speaking about the mysteries of the universe. “Pythagorean concerns” indicate cosmic, esoteric matters – mysteries of life & universe. Pythagorean concerns also relate to mathematical and philosophical tenets taught by Pythagoras himself.
In fact, Pythagoras had a school, and he had serious expectations from his students. Applicants endured a rigorous interview process and were only admitted if they could clearly show that they had “light” and were devoted to the art of gaining wisdom.
What’s really interesting is that Pythagoras’ school admitted women. This was practically unheard of back in those days. Pythagoras had no gender bias, age bias, or concern about outward appearances. His primary objective was to teach those who had a fire burning within to honor knowledge and had a passion to respect wisdom as well as commit to higher learning.
6. Having departed from your house, turn not back for the furies will be your attendants:
Once you start on the path of spiritual unfolding, turning back to unconsciousness is not an option. Regression is the path to pain and sorrow is its final destination. “House” is symbolic of mental/spiritual foundation – that which is grounded. “Furies” is a symbolic form of torment, discomfort.
We could also interpret maxim for wisdom in the framework of setting goals. If you set out to achieve a goal, Pythagoras may be implying to “go for it!” Don’t look back, and don’t regress from your ideal vision for the future.
We might also look at this maxim a little more literally. You know that saying, “You can never go back”? It’s meant to explain that the things of the past can never be relived. If you find yourself pining for the old, comfortable ways, or your halcyon days – you could be haunted by those memories. While you can’t relive the past, you can certainly suffer by pining for the way things were. Instead, learn from the past, love the good memories, and embrace the future.
7. Receive not a swallow in your house:
Still the mind and the body. Do not chase after random beliefs, idle thoughts, or flippant fads. “Swallow” is symbolic of drifting thoughts, or passing fancies. “House” represents the mind, body, and foundational beliefs.
When we’re talking about balance and strength, focus is key. A swallow in your house points to potential distractions flapping about that undermines the integrity of your mind, body or spirit. What’s worse, Pythagoras is pointing out that we can’t let nuisances or negative influences build nests in our minds.
He is encouraging a focused, balanced foundation. He is also promoting keeping our environment (mental, spiritual and physical) pure from wayward influences that might compromise our integrity. All that said, I love swallows! But, as a comparison, I try to keep the barns in my brains clear of them.
8. Offer not your right hand easily to anyone:
“Right hand” was a common symbol for truth or sacred wisdom in Pythagoras’ day. So, we could say, cramming the truth down the throat only leads to choking. Live in truth and it will be available to all without your having to offer it. In other words, the truth (right hand) might not always be welcomed by others. But if you live in truth, that will be evident to others. Furthermore, he might be suggesting to be mindful before giving advice. Some people might not need it, much less want it.
Pythagoras might also be conveying the importance of not lending a hand to those who are unworthy of help. Helping others is great, but helping those who refuse to help themselves is a bad scene. Furthermore, assisting people who are “takers” – meaning always taking advantage of your generosity and kindness is a recipe for disaster. Pythagoras is merely saying here that it’s prudent to think before lending a helping hand.
The Last Word
I hope you’ve enjoyed these interpretations of the symbolic aphorisms of Pythagoras. Perhaps these Pythagorean maxims for wisdom might serve as inspiration and guidance on your path as they do for me. As always, thanks for reading!
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