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Aristoxenus’ five books on the Pythagoreans clearly were an important source for the later Pythagorean tradition. However, if instead of treating Aristoxenus’ Pythagorean works as a group we are careful to focus just on the Pythagorean Precepts the situation is more complicated and interesting. Clearly the Precepts had a significant influence on Stobaeus and Iamblichus. The seven excerpts from the Precepts are an important part of the Pythagorean texts in Stobaeus’ overall collection of texts for the edification of his son.
Iamblichus and Stobaeus are thus the only two sources in the ancient tradition that preserved fragments from the Pythagorean Precepts. In the collection below, frs. 1–7 derive from Stobaeus and frs. 8–11 from Iamblichus. We have seen that there are five cases in which excerpts in Stobaeus, identified as coming from the Pythagorean Precepts, correspond closely with passages in Iamblichus’ On the Pythagorean Way of Life, often agreeing word for word.
In the body of the commentary the goal has been to set out clearly the evidence for the Pythagorean Precepts. This required that I present all fragments of the Precepts in their original contexts even in the cases where there is significant overlap in content between what is preserved in Iamblichus and what is preserved in Stobaeus (e.g., the overlap between fragments 1 and 2 from Stobaeus and fragment 8 from Iamblichus).
The title Πυθαγορικαὶ ἀποφάσεις is commonly translated Pythagorean Sayings (Dillon and Hershbell 1991: 7) or Pythagorean Maxims (Kahn 2001: 70; Barker OCD), although a number of scholars have preferred not to translate it (Wehrli 1967, Burkert 1972, Minar 1942: 99). The word ἀπόφασις has two quite distinct meanings (LSJ s.v.), one derived from ἀπόφημι (in its meaning “to deny”) and the other from ἀποφαίνω (“show forth,” “declare”).
The history of scholarship on Aristoxenus’ Pythagorean Precepts is mainly one of neglect. There has never been a comprehensive book-length treatment of them published in any language. Less than thirty pages of published scholarship in total were devoted to analyzing them in the twentieth century. This is in some ways surprising. Aristoxenus has always been a controversial character, but he was regarded as one of the most important sources for Pythagoreanism by Rohde (1871–2 = 1901) and Zeller (1919) in the later nineteenth century.
Five different titles for works on the Pythagoreans by Aristoxenus have been preserved in the ancient tradition: The Life of Pythagoras, On Pythagoras and His Associates, On the Pythagorean Way of Life, Pythagorean Precepts and The Life of Archytas. Certainly our evidence for these titles is very meager and it is possible that some of these are different names for the same book or that Aristoxenus wrote other books on the Pythagoreans whose titles have not been preserved.
It has long been recognized that sections of the fragments identified as from Aristoxenus’ Pythagorean Precepts by Stobaeus are preserved, sometimes word for word and sometimes with minor changes, in Iamblichus’ On the Pythagorean Way of Life. Iamblichus gives no indication that he is drawing on the Precepts in these cases, but Iamblichus’ general procedure in all of his works is not to identify explicitly the sources on which he is drawing. A clear example is the first sentence of fragment 2, which is derived from Stobaeus and which is repeated word for word but without attribution in section 175 of Iamblichus’ On the Pythagorean Way of Life.
Although the Suda tells us that Aristoxenus composed an astounding 453 works (fr. 1 Wehrli), only two treatises have come down to us in the manuscript tradition and both are works on musical theory, i.e. some pages from the second book of Rhythmics and the Elementa Harmonica, which appears to combine two or more different works by Aristoxenus (Barker 2007: 113–35). No list of Aristoxenus’ writings survives from antiquity.
Furthermore, he supposed that the rule of the gods was most efficacious for establishing justice and, on the basis of that rule on high, he determined the constitution, laws, justice and just acts. It is not a bad idea also to add what distinctions he made about individual cases.
After what belongs to the gods and the divine [they thought it was necessary (see fr. 8)] to pay most attention to parents and laws, not in a counterfeit way but conforming oneself to these things out of conviction. They approved abiding by the customs and laws of their fathers, even if they should be somewhat worse than those of others are.
As a general rule, they thought that it was necessary to suppose that there is no greater evil than anarchy, for it is not natural for human beings to be saved, if there is no one supervising them. Concerning rulers and ruled they thought as follows: they asserted that rulers must not only be knowledgeable but also love humanity, and that the ruled must not only be obedient but also love the rulers.
Concerning generation of children they said the following. As a general rule, <they thought that it was necessary> to guard against what is called “precocious,” for neither in the case of plants nor of animals does the precocious bear good fruit, but they need to be prepared in advance of bearing fruit for some time, in which time their bodies, having gained full strength and having reached maturity, become able to provide both seeds and fruits.
Concerning opinion [they say that] they say the following: it is, on the one hand, foolish to heed every opinion and the opinion of every person, and especially to heed the opinion that arises among the many. For to form opinions and suppositions well belongs to few people. [For it is clear that those with knowledge do this, but these are few. So that it is clear that such an ability would not extend to the many.]