1. Education

Pythagoras of Samos

Presocratic Philosopher and Mathematician

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Bust of Pythagoras at the Vatican Museum, in Rome.

Bust of Pythagoras at the Vatican Museum, in Rome.

Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Pythagoras. Digital ID: 1818796.

Pythagoras. Digital ID: 1818796.

New York Public Library Digital Gallery">

Basics:

  • Pythagoras, born on the Aegean island of Samos in the 6th century B.C. and active in southern Italy, was an ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician best known for a theorem in geometry that was named for him.
  • Pythagoras is credited with founding a philosophical school.

About the School and His Teachings

  1. The school deviated from the male-dominated Greek norms by allowing women to participate equally.
  2. The teachings of the school aren't strictly what we think of as philosophical. They also include rules on living and what to eat.
  3. Pythagoras is also associated with the theory of metempsychosis, in which the soul of the dead is reborn into another body.

The Pythagorean Theorem:

Pythagoras is most familiar to students of geometry for a theorem that bears his name. The Pythagorean Theorem says that the square of the hypoteneuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of each of the other two sides or A2 + B2 = C2.

His Followers:

The Pythagoreans (followers of Pythagoras) branched out. Those who adhered strictly to his precepts were known as the Akousmatikoi 'Hearers'; the others were called the Mathematikoi 'the learned'. Among the unusual rules the "Hearers" followed were:

  • injunctions against eating beans. Supposedly, the Pythagoreans explained the common human physiological response to beans as a spirit trying to exit the body. Therefore bean-consumption was taboo. 
  • letting the mark of a pot stand in its ashes or letting the impression of the human body remain in the bedclothes. (Source: www.drury.edu/faculty/Ess/History/Ancient/pythagoreans1.html)

What We Don't Know:

Pythagoras is, according to J.V. Luce (Introduction to Greek Philosophy), the most familiar of the Pre-Socratics, yet we know surprisingly little about him. Many assume he didn't write, but we don't even know that for sure. In Mystery Cults of the Ancient World, Hugh Bowden says that according to late 5th century B.C. philosopher Ion of Chios, Pythagoras wrote poems in the name of Orpheus. We believe the Pythagoreans, in homage to their founder, attributed later discoveries to Pythagoras, and we know the school kept close guard on its activities. Even so, Luce believes we can still make fair guesses about Pythagoras' beliefs and biography.

Pythagoras Migrates From Samos to Croton:

A native of the Aegean island of Samos, a powerful, technologically advanced Ionian city-state, Pythagoras opposed the regime of Polycrates, a tyrant who came to power in the 530s. In 530 Pythagoras left and took up residence in Croton, in the south of Italy, a city known for its athletes and doctors.
(Source: www.csudh.edu/phenom_studies/ greekphil/greek04.htm)

Political Life:

Pythagoras accumulated power at Croton by revitalizing the city after a military defeat and then by framing a new constitution. This constitution was aristocratic, which at the time meant rule by the best (the best=aristoi). Since the best men on Croton were Pythagoras and his followers, they soon had control of the city.

Buddha and Pythagoras - Probably Coincidental Similarities:

Siddhartha (Gautama Buddha) (is thought to have) lived at the same time as Pythagoras. Buddhists came up with ideas on the transmigration of the soul that were very similar to ideas of Pythagoras, but that doesn't necessarily mean there was contact. Both groups were also vegetarians, but probably for different reasons. John Burnet suggests Pythagoreans occasionally ate (and usually refrained from eating) meat for reasons of taboo rather than philosophy.
(Source: plato.evansville.edu/public/burnet/ch2a.htm)

Pythagoras Quotation:

"Once, they say, he [Pythagoras] was passing by when a dog was being ill-treated. 'Stop!' he said, 'don't hit it! It is the soul of a friend! I knew it when I heard its voice.'"

- Xenophanes (Source: plato.evansville.edu/texts/xenophan.htm#7)

More Pythagoras Quotes

Reincarnation:

"[10.6.1] Pythagoras believed in the transmigration of souls and considered the eating of flesh as an abominable thing, saying that the souls of all living creatures pass after death into other living creatures. And as for himself, he used to declare that he remembered having been in Trojan times Euphorbus, the son of Panthus, who was slain by Menelaus."
Diodorus Historical Library 10.6.1 (www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ text?lookup=diod.+10.6.1)
Coming from Greece, where education consisted of music and gymnastics, where perfecting the body meant adherence to a rigorous diet and lifestyle, Pythagoras followed an orderly, ascetic lifestyle. Such orderly arrangements Pythagoras saw in human society as well as in the universe. Pythagoras believed the body was a container for the soul whose object was eventually to purify itself so it could become free of the body. Meanwhile, human shortcomings resulted in climbing backwards down what we'd call the evolutionary scale in each successive re-incarnation.

 

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