Date and publication. First printed 1700 in Fables Ancient and Modern (see headnote to ‘Dedication and Preface to Fables’ for further details).

Context. For D.’s account of the composition of this poem in relation to that of the other contributions to Fables, see ‘Preface to Fables’ ll. 17-21. For D.’s previous engagement with Ovid, see ‘Preface to Ovid’s Epistles’, and headnote to ‘The First Book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses’. This particular episode deals with matters which had been the subject of recent controversy. In 1692 the moralist and Anglican apologist Whitelocke Bulstrode (1650-1724) had published An Essay of Transmigration, in Defence of Pythagoras: Or, A Discourse of Natural Philosophy, a work explicitly designed ‘to vindicate the Honour of Pythagoras’ and to ‘defend him from the Calumny of the World so unjustly cast upon him, as the Author of an erroneous Doctrine’ (second edition (1693), sigs. a5v-a6r). The transmigration of souls envisaged by Pythagoras, Bulstrode argues, is not of the ‘Rational Soul’, which is unique to man, but of the ‘Sensitive and Vegetative Spirit’, which man shares with other animals and vegetables. There is, therefore, no incompatibility between his teachings and the Christian doctrine of the Resurrection (5, 82, and passim). But Bishop William Lloyd, in a pamphlet published in 1699, was in diametrical disagreement. ‘There is,’ he wrote, ‘more than idle Fancy in [the teachings of Pythagoras]. They shew plainly a pernicious Devilish design, to confound those two Doctrines that have so great an influence into Men’s minds, to make them do good, and eschew evil: the Doctrines of the Immortality of the Soul, and of the Resurrection of the Body. For if those Fictions were true, there would be no difference between the Soul of a Man, and the Soul of a Brute, or a Plant; and there would be many more Bodies than there would be Souls to animate them at the Resurrection. What would not the Devil give to have these things believ’d by all Mankind?’ (A Chronological Account of the Life of Pythagoras (1699) ix).