Lysis (Pythagorean)

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Lysis was an ancient Greek Pythagorean and teacher of the Theban statesman Epameinondas . He lived in the 5th and early 4th centuries BC. Chr.


Lysis came from the Greek colony of Taranto in Apulia (southern Italy). The Pythagorean community to which he belonged, widespread in the Greek cities of southern Italy, was at that time very controversial because of their intervention in politics and exposed to violent attacks in several cities. The philosopher Aristoxenus reports that opponents of the Pythagoreans set fire to their meeting house in Croton (today Crotone in Calabria ); all of the Pythagoreans gathered there are said to have perished except two - the then still young Lysis and Archippus of Taranto . In any case, the Pythagoreans were greatly weakened and could no longer assert themselves as a political force for some time. These riots are usually dated around the middle of the 5th century, but late dating (between 440 and 415) is also considered. Lysis was among the Pythagoreans who emigrated to Greece.

The fact that Lysis settled in Thebes and taught there the young Epameinondas, who later rose to become one of the leading statesmen in Greece, is evident from reliable reports. To what extent Epameinondas took up Pythagorean ideas and was later influenced by them is difficult to determine. According to a tradition communicated by Plutarch , Lysis spent his old age in the house of Epameinondas' father Polymnis and was cared for there until his death and was addressed as father by the children of Polymnis.

The Neoplatonist and New Pythagorean Iamblichus of Chalkis tells an anecdote according to which Lysis kept appointments so conscientiously that he once waited a day and a night at the temple of Hera for a Pythagorean who had forgotten the agreement.

Lysis letter

The "Lysis Letter" that Lysis allegedly addressed to the Pythagorean Hipparchus , which was popular in antiquity, is certainly inauthentic . It is one of the pseudepigraphs supposedly Pythagorean letters that were widespread in the Roman Empire. The lysis letter calls on the fictitious recipient to keep philosophical teachings secret.

The first edition was published by Aldus Manutius in Venice in 1499 . Cardinal Bessarion had already translated the letter into Latin in the 15th century . In the 16th century, more Latin translations by Philipp Melanchthon and Nicolaus Copernicus followed . Copernicus was encouraged by the ancient text in his reluctance to publish his own findings. Matthias Claudius made a German translation .


  • Holger Thesleff (Ed.): The Pythagorean Texts of the Hellenistic Period . Åbo Akademi, Åbo 1965, pp. 110–115 (compilation of the relevant sources)
  • Maria Timpanaro Cardini : Pitagorici. Testimonianze e frammenti . Volume 2, La Nuova Italia, Firenze 1962, pp. 258–261 (Greek source texts with Italian translation)


  • Bruno Centrone, Constantinos Macris: Lysis de Tarente . In: Richard Goulet (ed.): Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques . Volume 4, CNRS Éditions, Paris 2005, ISBN 2-271-06386-8 , pp. 218-220


  1. For the dating see Kurt von Fritz : Pythagoreer, Pythagoreismus . In: Pauly-Wissowa RE 24, Stuttgart 1963, Sp. 209-268, here: 212, 214-216; Domenico Musti advocates late dating : Le rivolte antipitagoriche e la concezione pitagorica del tempo. In: Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica NS Vol. 36, 1990, pp. 35-65.
  2. Kurt von Fritz: Pythagorean Politics in Southern Italy , New York 1940, pp. 4, 13, 28f., 78-80; Walter Burkert : Wisdom and Science. Studies on Pythagoras, Philolaos and Plato , Nuremberg 1962, p. 181 and note 47.
  3. Pierre Lévêque and Pierre Vidal-Naquet discuss a hypothesis: The Pythagorean Epaminondas or the tactical problem of the right and left wing. In: Pierre Vidal-Naquet: Der Schwarze Jäger , Frankfurt / Main 1989, pp. 69–84. Cf. Bruno Centrone: Épaminondas de Thèbes. In: Richard Goulet (ed.): Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques , Vol. 3, Paris 2000, p. 101.
  4. ^ Plutarch: De genio Socratis 583a − d.
  5. ^ Iamblichos, De vita Pythagorica 185; see Cornelia J. de Vogel : Pythagoras and Early Pythagoreanism , Assen 1966, p. 157 f.
  6. Edited and translated by Alfons Städele: Die Briefe des Pythagoras und der Pythagoreer , Meisenheim am Glan 1980, pp. 154–159.
  7. ^ Charles H. Kahn: Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans. A Brief History , Indianapolis 2001, pp. 159 f .; Alfons Städele: The letters of Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans , Meisenheim am Glan 1980, p. 145 f.