The Making of Fornication: Eros, Ethics, and Political Reform in Greek Philosophy and Early Christianity

By Kathy L. Gaca | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
The Reproductive Technology
of the Pythagoreans

Little is known about early Pythagorean sexual ethics, but several lineaments become clear from Plato and antedate him. These include determining, through geometry, the right time to reproduce, and advocating an appropriate method of copulation to ensure that the souls of offspring remain free of needless discordance. The overall purpose of these prescriptions is similar to Plato's in the Laws: to improve the human condition by developing a moderate breed of persons dedicated to practicing sexual and dietary austerity, with the dietary regimen serving to facilitate the spare use of sexual activity. To understand the Pythagorean sexual program, it is helpful to begin with their enigmatic geometry about the suitable time to reproduce.


THE NUPTIAL NUMBER

One of the more extraordinary ancient Greek ideas about regulating human conception is a Pythagorean theorem never taught in modern geometry. Though known as “the nuptial number, ” it pertains to procreation, not to marriage per se, and it dates at least from the time of Plato's Republic. The significance of the number here rests in the convictions that inform it, which help explain the Pythagorean ethic of harmonious and beneficial reproduction. Even though the nuptial number has had no discernible influence on ancient or modern sexual mores, it is a good overture to another aspect of Pythagorean sexual ethics that has had great influence in its transmuted Christian guise: “procreationism, ” the dictate that sexual relations should be practiced strictly in a temperate and deliberately reproductive way, and solely within marriage. This dictate dates at least from the time of Plato's last dialogue, the Laws. First, though, the nuptial number should set the tone.

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