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Pythagoras and the Pythagorean School

Pythagoras and the Pythagorean School

Pythagoras was not Greek, but Phoenician, born to a relatively wealthy family on the island of Samos. Samos was governed by Polycrates, an infamous tyrant. Pythagoras was well educated, having been taught by the philosopher Pherekydes. The great teacher Thales and his student Anaximander were the ones who introduced Pythagoras to mathematical ideas. Thales advised Pythagoras to travel to Egypt to learn more about mathematics and astronomy. The Egyptians taught him geometry and it was the secrecy of the Egyptian priests, their refusal to eat beans, their refusal to wear even cloths made from animal skins, and their striving for purity were all customs that Pythagoras would later adopt (PythagorasPythagoras was taken prisoner and sent to Babylon by the Persians when they who Polycrates allied with attacked Egypt. He was released, and sent back to Samos. Pythagoras left Samos for Croton, a prosperous town in Southern Italy. It was there where Pythagoras developed most of his ideas and theories. In Croton, he founded a society of disciples which grew to be very influential for the times, and even today. His most noteworthy impression is that he did not leave any original writings. Most everything that is known about Pythagoras has been handed down by philosophers and historiographers. The Pythagorean School was made up of men and women. Both genders were treated equally, which was very uncommon for the time. Several women from the society became famous philosophers (Pythagoras). The Pythagoreans adhered to certain mysteries, similar in many respects to the Orphic mysteries. Obedience and silence, abstinence from food, simplicity in dress and possessions, and the habit of frequent self-examination were prescribed (Temple of Pythagoras). All of the society's members practiced strict religious tenets which included transmigration of souls and abstaining from eating beans. It was also forbidden to touch white cocks, or to look into a mirror beside a light (Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans), and considered eating meat as an abomination. All of these beliefs were ideas that Pythagoras adopted from the Egyptians. Pythagoras was the first to prove the square of the hypotenuse is the sum of the sides squared, or Pythagorean theorem. Many of his teachings were based on respect and tolerance; most importantly, respect of self. Pythagoreans took on the study of self and the philosophy to question things such as, "Who am I?", and "Why am I here?" Pythagoras preached that what comes first is more honored: dawn before evening, the planners of a city before its builders, gods before demons, and -- most importantly -- those who cause birth. In this way, he taught youths to honor their parents as their parents should honor their ancestors, and to submit to their wishes (Philosophy and the School of Pythagoras).

The Pythagoreans believed in gender equality, the ethical treatment of animals and they thought that slaves should be treated humanely. Of course, in those days, a woman's place in regular society was one of servitude to her male counter part. Now, nearly two and a half millennia later, women find that their roles are closer to the roles the women in the Pythagorean Society held. His ideas for that period were probably thought of as ludicrous, and most of the other philosophers of the time opposed his views.

Pythagoras believed in the transmigration of souls, in that even after death, your soul would move into another body, but you would remember everything from all of your past lives. It is said that Pythagoras himself believed that he was in his fifth body and would recount all of his experiences from his past lives. After he introduced the idea of eternal recurrence into Greek thought, it became a very popular idea. It was his ambition to reveal the validity and structure of a higher order, the basis of a divine order, for which the souls return in a constant cycle (The Philosophy of Pythagoras).

Pythagoras believed that the study of mathematics purified the soul almost as much as music, though the highest purification came from philosophy. It was he and his followers that made a mathematical connection in music. They discovered that the intervals between notes could be expressed into mathematical terms. "Pythagoras himself discovered the numerical ratios which determine the concordant intervals of the musical scale" (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). It is almost unreal the amount of everyday things that most individuals take for granted, like a musical scale, or acoustics. Pythagoras saw numbers in everything, and figured that "divine principles of the universe, though imperceptible to the senses, can be expressed in terms of relationships of numbers" (The Philosophy of Pythagoras). The Pythagoreans even figured that the Earth was one of several planets that revolved around the sun. "Each number had its own personality - masculine or feminine, perfect or incomplete, beautiful or ugly. This feeling modern mathematics has deliberately eliminated, but we still find overtones of it in fiction and poetry. Ten was the very best number: it contained in itself the first four integers - one, two, three, and four [1+2+3+4 = 10] - and these written in dot notation formed a perfect triangle" (Pythagoras). Mathematics is also known as the universal language. No matter where one is from, numbers are numbers.

As we go back and take a brief look at only a few things that were discovered by the Pythagoreans, we have a lot to be thankful for.


Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans




The Philosophy of Pythagoras


The Philosophy of Pythagoras


Temple of Pythagoras


Philosophy and the School of Pythagoras