Political fragments of Archytas and other ancient Pythagoreans/How we ought to conduct ourselves towards our country

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Ethical fragments of Hierocles, preserved by Stobaeus by Hierocles, translated by Thomas Taylor
How we ought to conduct ourselves towards the gods

From Political fragments of Archytas and other ancient Pythagoreans, by Thomas Taylor, published 1822. In Taylor's day it was assumed that these works were by the 5th-century Pythagorean author Hierocles of Alexandria. They are now assigned to the 2nd-century Stoic philosopher Hierocles.

How we ought to conduct ourselves towards our country[edit]

AFTER speaking of the Gods, it is most reasonable to show, in the next place, how we should conduct ourselves towards our country. For, by Jupiter, our country is as it were a certain secondary God, and our first and greatest parent. Hence he who gave a name to the thing did not rashly denominate it patris; this word being derived from pater, a father; but pronounced with a feminine termination, in order that it might be as it were a mixture of father and mother. This reason, also, proclaims that our country is to be honoured equally with our two parents; so that we ought to prefer it to either of them taken separately, and not to honour the two more than it; but to pay an equal portion of respect to each. There is, likewise, another reason, which exhorts us to honour it more than our two parents conjointly; and not only to honour it beyond these, but also to prefer it to our wife, children, and friends; and, in short, after the Gods, to all other things.

As, therefore, he is stupid who esteems one finger more than the five, but he is most reasonable who prefers the five to one; for the former despises what is more eligible, but the latter, in the five, preserves also the one finger: after the same manner, he who wishes to save himself rather than his country, in addition to acting unlawfully, desires impossibilities. But he who prefers his country to himself is dear to divinity; and reasons fitly and firmly. At the same time it has been observed, that though some one should not be connumerated with the system [or the cooperating combination of the many], but should be considered apart from it, yet it is fit that he should prefer the safety of the system to his own preservation.

For the destruction of the city will evince that the safety of the citizen entirely depends on its existence, just as the abscission of the hand is attended with the destruction of one finger, as a part of the hand. We may, therefore, summarily conclude, that general is not to be seperated from private utility: but is to be considered as one and the same with it. For that which is advantageous to the country is common to each of the parts of it; since the whole without the parts is nothing.[1] And vice versa, that which is advantageous to the citizen extends also to the city, if it is assumed as beneficial to the citizen. For that which is useful to a dancer, so far as he is a dancer, will also be advantageous to the whole choir. Depositing, therefore, all this reasoning in the discursive power of the soul, we shall receive much light from it in particulars, so that we shall never omit to perform what is due from us to our country.

Hence, I say, it is necessary that every passion and disease of the soul should be removed from him who intends to act well by his country. It is likewise requisite that a citizen should observe the laws of his country as certain secondary Gods, and should render himself perfect conformably to their mandate. But he who endeavours either to transgress, or to make any innovation in the laws, should be with all possible diligence prevented from doing so, and in every way opposed. For a contempt of the existing laws, and preferring new to ancient laws, are things by no means beneficial to a city. Hence it is requisite that those should be restrained from giving their votes, and from precipitate innovation, who are pertinaciously disposed to act in this manner. I therefore commend Zaleucus, the Locrian legislator, who ordained, that he who intended to introduce a new law, should do it with a rope about his neck, in order that he might be immediately strangled, unless he could change the ancient constitution of the polity, to the very great advantage of the community. But customs, which are truly those of the country, and which, perhaps, are more ancient than the laws themselves, are to be preserved no less than the laws. The present customs, however, which are but of yesterday, and which have been so very recently introduced into every city, are not to be considered as the customs of the country, [or as the institutes of ancestors]; and, perhaps, neither are they at all to be regarded as customs.[2] In the next place, because custom is an unwritten law, having for its inscription a good legislator, viz. the approbation of all those that use it; perhaps, on this account, it is proximate to things which are naturally just.


  1. This is true of the whole which consists of parts, so as not to he able to subsist without them. For whole has a triple substance; viz. it is either prior to parts, or in other words, is a whole containing parts causally; or it consists of parts; or is in a part, so that a part, also, becomes a whole according to participation. A city, therefore, is a whole consisting of parts, any part of which being absent, diminishes the whole. See Prop. 67 of my translation of Proclus' Elements of Theology; and the second book of my translation of Proclus on the Timaeus.
  2. When the intelligent reader considers that Hierocles flourished about the middle of the fifth century after Christ, he will immediately understand what the recent customs are to which Hierocles, in the ahove passage, alludes. Needham, in his translation of this passage, either did not understand the meaning of it, or wilfully omitted to translate it.