Androcydes (Pythagorean)

Androcydes (Ancient Greek: Ἀνδροκύδης) was a Pythagorean whose work On Pythagorean Symbols[1] survives only in scattered fragments. The dating of his life is uncertain; he lived before the 1st century BC[2] but possibly as early as the 4th. The frequency with which Androcydes is mentioned in other works indicates that he was a major source for the later Pythagorean tradition, and he is also of interest in studying the historical development of the literary and philosophical symbol.[3]

The Pythagorean symbolsEdit

Walter Burkert featured Androcydes in his stemma of Pythagorean symbola,[4] consisting of gnomic utterances or maxims.[5] Androcydes was regarded as one of the most important sources on the akousmata.[6]

According to Grant (2002), he has said, wine and meat do harm the mind.[7]

Paraphrases of his work in later writers demonstrate his method of interpreting these behavioral strictures. For instance, “Do not step over a yoke” should be understood as meaning “Do not transgress justice.” These interpretations indicate that the prohibitions held arcane significance for those willing to ponder them and learn, that the symbola are also enigmata (αἰνίγματα).[8]

The 1st-century BC grammarian Tryphon refers to Androcydes’ work in a section on literary enigmata, which he defines as darkened or obscured allegories. Tryphon implies that Androcydes made no strong distinction between poetic and philosophical modes of discourse, in that he cited passages from Hesiod in interpreting the Pythagorean symbols.[9]

The symbols and magicEdit

Androcydes treated the Ephesia grammata, or ritualized “magic words” used for incantations or amuletic inscriptions, as allegorical language containing theological insights, a “cryptic form of natural theology.”[10] Androcydes interprets the words through perceived lexical and phonic similarities to Greek. His commentary on perhaps the best-known string of such syllables — askion kataskion lix tetrax damnameneus aision[11] — is paraphrased by Clement of Alexandria:

Androcydes … says that the famous so-called Ephesian letters are ordered as allegories: askion signifies ‘darkness’, because darkness throws no shadow (skia); kataskion signifies ‘light’, since it casts shadow with its light (kataugazei); lix is an old word meaning ‘the earth’; tetrax means the ‘year’, because of the (four) seasons; damnameneus means the Sun, which is overpowering (damazôn); the aisia means ‘the true voice’. The allegory intimates that divine things have been arranged in due order, for example, darkness in relation to light, sun to create the year, and the earth to make possible every sort of natural coming-into-being.[12]

The physician?Edit

Some attempts have been made to identify this Androcydes with the Androcydes who was physician to Alexander the Great.[13] Pythagorean dietary discipline regarding wine (bad) and cabbage (good)[14] may be reflected in the physician’s advice to the notoriously wine-drinking conqueror.


  1. ^ Also translated On Pythagoric Symbols; Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie, The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library (Red Wheel/Weiser, 1987), p. 93 online.
  2. ^ The earliest reference to Androcydes’ work appears in the 1st-century BC grammarian Tryphon.
  3. ^ Peter Struck, Birth of the Symbol (Princeton University Press, 2004), p. 99 online; Struck regards the magico-religious performative power of the Pythagorean symbol as exceeding the methodological confines of conventional semiotics.
  4. ^ Walter Burkert, Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism, translated by Edwin L. Minar, Jr. (Cambridge University Press, 1972), pp. 166–173, as cited by Peter Struck, Birth of the Symbol (Princeton University Press, 2004), p. 98.
  5. ^ Such as “Eat not in the chariot,” “Do not urinate against the sun,” and most famously “Abstain from beans”; see Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie, The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library (Red Wheel/Weiser, 1987), p. 146 online and pp. 159–161 online for a full list.
  6. ^ Felix Jacoby, Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker (Brill, 1999), p. 253, note 62 online.
  7. ^ Robert McQueen Grant, Early Christians and Animals (Routledge, 1999), p. 13 online.
  8. ^ Peter Struck, Birth of the Symbol, p. 99.
  9. ^ Peter Struck, Birth of the Symbol, pp. 103–104.
  10. ^ Richard Gordon, “Imagining Greek and Roman Magic,” in Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), p. 236 online.
  11. ^ ἀσκιον κατασκιον λιξ τετραξ δαμναμενευς αἰσιον.
  12. ^ Clement of Alexandria, Stromata–3, p. 356 in Stählin’s edition, as cited by Richard Gordon, Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, p. 239.
  13. ^ Gillian Clark, Iamblichus: On the Pythagorean Life (Liverpool University Press, 1989), p. 64, note 145 online.
  14. ^ Discussed in the course of Cato the Elder’s effusions on the virtues of cabbage, On Agriculture 157, Bill Thayer’s edition at LacusCurtius online.