THE BEANS AND PYTHAGORAS: MYTHS AND LEGENDS
5th/8 PART “THE BLACK LIST OF FORBIDDEN PLANTS”
As we know for centuries, legends surrounding philosophical thinking and Pythagoras‘ conception of the world around him have been reinforced, probably driven by his same school prone to mystical symbols and esoteric customs .
Obviously also the difficulty of direct information has contributed even more to feed these legends and myths.
Verifiable data are scarce and there are no direct or contemporary biographies . Writings referring to his life were transmitted orally and collected after more than 150 and 200 years after his death so there are large differences and discrepancies between them.
How could it be otherwise, also the infamous beans have become an important part in the myths that exist around Pythagoras.
In fact it was said that Pythagoras did not eat them and being as they said vegetarian, this statement has been transported for a long time as a valid reason to give weight to the superstitions around this humble legume.
But as in almost all Pythagorean legends, there are also doubts about the interpretation of his poem , in which “he recommended to refrain from eating beans .”
According to Aristoxenus based on the experiences of his Pythagorean friend Xenophon, it was not true that Pythagoreans did not eat beans, but that belief was derived from a confusion in the interpretation of the word “ bean ”, which actually referred to “ testicle “, Because of its similarity in form and because then it was common to call it that way. As Diogenes Laërtius interpreted , Aristotle said that Pythagoras repulsed them because of their resemblance to these organs.
So in the writing it could have simply recommended “refrain from sexual intercourse” and not eat beans. Since staying free from the state of impurity that caused sexual intercourse was also a point in his teaching where Pythagoras and his followers regularly committed.
So it is also feasible to express it with that word (beans) , but with the same intention of recommending continence in sexual relations.
It is reported that he knew other cultures in which the beans were considered invigorating and somehow aphrodisiac . Therefore it was already “verified” that activated sexual desire.
Of course, they ignored their high nutritional content , which was obviously the reason why the beans invigorate the whole body in general, naturally including the sexual aspect.
Plutarch , also said that the Pythagoreans did not eat beans, peas, or chickpeas, because they were plants of death and hell . But it also justified its contraindication at the health level, indicating the digestion problems caused by the beans and the inclination it caused at the sexual level.
So he also recommended to refrain from consuming them to “keep the body and mind pure” It is believed that from these statements about the belief of the impure origin of the beans will pass to Greece and from there Pythagoras also acquired it.
One of the legends about beans and Pythagoras is the one that Porphyry narrates in one of his writings: being Pythagoras in Taranto, he saw an ox eat beans from a field. Then he asked the shepherd not to let the animal do that. He replied laughing that he did not know his language , then Pythagoras approached and whispered to the animal in his ear his precepts and the animal stopped eating beans.
Regarding beans there are many other stories that tell facts and sayings about the opinion that Pythagoras had regarding this legume. One of the most significant is what happened around the moments near his death , the date of which today is not determined with certainty . Some scholars think it was in 532 a. C. others however in 475 a. C.
Although, it is mostly agreed that it was around 508 a. C. after his school was violently attacked by revenge of Cylon , a rich and powerful nobleman, rejected by Pythagoras for his tendency to violence and tyranny. So Pythagoras (estimated to be older than 90), had to escape to Metaponto , a city where he died with approximately 94 years .
As we say, curiously, beans are also present at this crucial moment in his life, it is said that during his sudden escape he refused to cross a field of bean cultivation and that this caused his death shortly after, (some narratives tell us that injuries to his persecutors and others due to the exhaustion and tribulation caused by the attack and subsequent flight).
Other versions of the story say that he starved to death due to a strong fatigue possibly caused by the normal course of his advanced age .
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THE BEANS AND PYTHAGORAS: MYTHS AND LEGENDS