In the year 570 BC a merchant called Mnesarchus living on the island of Samos has a son. He named him Pythagoras. Being wealthy he provided his son with the best education he could, putting at his Son’s disposal a whole team of teachers. He was taught in Greek, Oriental and Egyptian. He met Thales of Miletus, who suggested that he travel to Egypt. It seems likely that he gained much knowledge and education from the Egyptians, just as Thales himself had.
Consider the level of education he received. There can be no doubt that Pythagoras received a truly fine education. Let us break it down.
Egyptian teachers – Geometry
Priestess of Delphi – Themistoclea – Ancient Wisdom and Philosophy
As he grew Pythagoras was sent for further teachings to a Priestess of Delphi. Her name was Themistoclea.
In her role as High Priestess she had to deliver really important oracles. Themistoclea endorsed and would have taken a philosophical approach which joined together reason, experience with the the supernatural. In her role as Prophetess of Apollo at Delphi she would have been a source of a lot of ancient wisdom. She would have been rich with knowledge of the natural world, medicine, music, astronomy, mathematics, the cultivating of crops, breeding and raising livestock. She would have given advice on when to sow seeds and give information on harvests. She would help decided when it was correct to go to war. Someone thinking of marriage could seek her advice to see if this would be an appropriate union. So it is thought that Pythagoras derived many of his ethical doctrines from the teachings of Themistoclea.
The Phoenicians – Mathematics
From the Phoenicians he learnt all about mathematics arithmetic he learnt. They were called the the Phoinikes by the Greeks, this meant the Red People and referred to the reddish purple cloth that they exported – this name became Phoenicians. They themselves would never have called themselves Phoenicians. As far as they were concerned they were citizens from the ports from which they sailed out from – cities such as Sidon, Tyre and Bybos.
From the 9th through to the 6th centuries BC The Phoenicians BC dominated the Mediterranean Sea. They established emporiums and colonies right from Cyprus in the east to the Aegean Sea, Italy, North Africa, and Spain in the west. They grew rich trading precious metals from abroad and products such as olive oil and wine. They also traded timber from the cedars of Lebanon. They can also be attributed to developing the modern day alphabet and spread it as they travelled from trading post to trading post.
Culturally the Phoenicians disseminated myths and ideas. They had great knowledge from the Babylonian worlds (now Iraq and Syria) It was through may of these ideas that help bring about a revival of culture in Greece. This in turn led to the new golden age and from that the birth of Western civilisation. It is noted that they imported so much papyrus from Egypt that the Greeks called the port Byblos, after them, to refer to this ancient paper. From the word Byblos we get the meaning of The Book or The Bible.
The Chaldeans – Astronomy
The Magians – Religion and Order of Life
The Magians were an order of priests. They were interpreters of dreams. The Magi presented sacred offerings and were the only ones who could communicate directly with God. Their main objective was the salvation of Man’s Soul. They believed in a future life after death. Their rites and rituals involved astrology and forms of magic. Much of it included sacrificing of animals.
The fame of the Magi for learning and for the power of divination was widespread in antiquity.
An important Greek source is Herodotus of Halicarnassus (c.480-c.425). In his Histories, he mentions the Magians several times, usually in connection with sacrifices.
As for ceremonial, when the Persians offer sacrifice to the deities, they erect no altar and kindle no fire. The libation, the flute music, the garlands, the sprinkled meal – all these things, familiar to us, they have no use for. But before a ceremony, a man sticks a spray of leaves, usually myrtle leaves, into his headdress, takes his victim to some open place and invokes the deity to whom he wishes to sacrifice. The actual worshipper is not permitted to pray for any personal or private blessing, but only for the king and for the general good of the community. When he has cut up the animal and cooked it, he makes a little heap of the softest green-stuff he can find, preferably clover, and lays all the meat upon it. This done, a Magian -a member of this caste is always present at sacrifices- utters an incantation over it in a form of words which is supposed to recount the birth of the gods. Then after a short interval the worshipper removes the flesh and does what he pleases with it.
[Herodotus, Histories 1.132; tr. Aubrey de Selincourt]
One teacher that is mentioned many time in reference to the education of Pythagoras is Pherecydes of Syros, he was one of his Greek teachers.
So we can see that Pythagaros has a mixed blending of rich influences:-
He was taught in Greek, Oriental and Egyptian.
Egyptian teachers – Geometry
Priestess of Delphi – Philosophy
Phoenicians – Arithmetic
Chaldeans – Astronomy
The Magians – Religion
Pherecydes of Syros – Cosmogony
Egyptian Priest – Oenuphis
Added to this we must consider the influence that all his great travels would have no doubt had travelling and collecting information and knowledge through Arabia, Egypt, Judaea, Babylon, India and Phoenicia.
He was particularly intrigued in any information he could gather on cults, mystic and secret.
During his visit to Egypt, Pythagoras received instruction from the Egyptian priest Oenuphis of Heliopolis. It is not easy to say how much Pythagoras learned from the Egyptian priests. In truth we cannot identify any traces of evidence of what, if anything he adopted from this priest.
Whatever secret rites that he showed could well have been taken from the Greek religion itself. His philosophy could have well come from a Greek mindset expected of that time. The authorities of ancient times also observe the similarities between the religious mindset of Pythagoras and the Orphic or Cretan mysteries. We just cannot find any really strong evidence as to the where he found the information and knowledge or even his actual philosophical views. Lots of the things discussed and written by Aristotle and Plato is not actually attributed by them, to Pythagoras but actually to the Pythagoreans.
In Samos he was feeling at odds. The tyranny of Polycrates was making it more difficult from him to put into action many of his projects. He also was burdened with many public duties, he felt very overburdened. So around 530 BC. He moved to Croton in Italy.
Many soon followed him. He made a impressive speech encouraging the people of Croton to leave their lives of corruption and luxury and follow him and devote their lives to a much purer way of life which he would show them.
Pythagorean School and Order
He then opened and established a secret society as a school. This was his own religious order. Called the semi circle he taught mathematics, music and astronomy. He allowed both men and woman to attend. All students were expected to stick to a code of high secrecy and could not write his teachings down. Some say that his pupils had to endure a five year long period of silence to give them great powers of reflection and contemplation as well as develop their faith.
The people that followed him set up a sect or brotherhood with the main purpose in following the religious practices as taught by him. Most accounts agree that all that was taught was kept a highly secretive. One thing we can deduce is that his teachings concerning his secret doctrines where prominent in his system. There is some belief that fundamental to his teachings was connected to the worshiping of Apollo. He urged discipline and pure hearts. Some say that he forbid his followers to eat any animal food. It combined philosophical, religious and political doctrines.
Because his school was so secretive and the fact that all the students had to give full credit for any of their findings or discoveries to Pythagoras it really is difficult to know who discovered what. There were also a lot of people using his name – many of the biographers wanted to exaggerate his achievements and potray him as some sort of Godlike figure.
When you think about his school think of it as an old secret brotherhood. So much surrounded the religious aspects of the teachings. The students really had to live to a high standard of morality. hey had to show respect and love to each other. They were pacifists and shared similar political beliefs. They were vegetarian in diet. They Practised vows of silence which if broken could be punishable by death.
As far as Pythagoras was concerned his religious and scientific views were totally interconnected. He fully believed in the theory of metempsychosis (the transmigration of the soul, the soul becoming reincarnated again and again in the bodies of humans, animals or even vegetables until it eventually became totally moral. This belief could have come from one of his teachers Pherecydes of Syros; he is often given credit the first Greek to teach the transmigration of souls. He was one of the first people to suggest that processes of thought processes and the soul were to be found in the brain rather than the heart.
One of Pythagoras other main beliefs was to suggest that the actual essence of being, including the stability of all things that created the universe could be found in the form of numbers. He went on to suggest that through the study of mathematics this could be proven. In the same way he strongly believed that to stay healthy we need to take in the right proportion of everything. Too much or too little would cause an inbalance and make that person quite unhealthy.
He is known in the main and most famously for his theorem – Pythagoras’ Theory. A theory in geometry that states that, in a right-angled triangle, the square of the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle) is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. However at the time this was already know and used by the Babylonians. But it is him that first proved it.
Regarding the number system (and also the Universe system) he believed it to be based on the sum of the numbers one to four (i.e. ten). He stated that odd numbers were masculine and that even numbers were feminine. He discovered the theory of mathematical proportions, constructed from three to five geometrical solids. He also discovered square numbers and square roots. He also discovered The Golden Ratio (this refers to the ratio of two quantities so that the sum of those quantities and the larger one is the same as the ratio between the larger one and the smaller, approximately 1.618).
He was one of the first people to suggest that Earth was round, and also claiming that all planets have an axis with all the planets travelling around one central point. At first he said that this was around Earth but later revised his thinking to suggest that all the planets revolved around a main central fire. He never said however that it was the Sun. Another of his beliefs was that the Moon was another planet that he called a counter earth.
Music of Spheres
He thought that the music of his time was far too erratic. He did not feel it was harmonious at all. He apparently found musical notes that could be translated into mathematical equations and by listening to blacksmiths at work. Pythagoras produced a teaching known as the Music of the Spheres, whereby the distances and speeds of the planets orbits were thought to create a musical harmony that humans could not hear. This became known as “Pythagorean Tuning” is a system of musical tuning in which the frequency relationships of all intervals are based on the ratio 3:2 (a stack of perfect fifths), this is a system which has as long ago as 3500 B.C. Been documented in Babylonian texts; however there it is often attributed to Pythagoras. He also believed in the “Musica Universalis” (the harmony of the spheres), the idea that the planets and stars moved according to mathematical equations, which corresponded to musical notes and thus produced a kind of symphony.
As time went on this very elite club certainly contributed in people in Croton becoming quite hostile and jealous. This could have led to its eventual downfall. Nothing however is certain. A lot is speculative. We do believe that there was conflict between Croton and Sybaris. It is quite probable that the sect of the Pythagorean took a major part as the forces of Croton. They achieved a victory and then The Crotians trying to work for a more democratic constitution found it was resisted by the Pythagoreans. They did have enemies included some that had been excluded from the religious sect. These encouraged the population to rise against them. They were attacked when they were all together in one of their meeting house. They set fire to the building and many of the members were killed. In other cities where the Pythagorean sect had grown had to accept similar fates. The Pythagorean faith was destroyed and never allowed to rise again. They did continue to exist and their members did continue with their beliefs both scientific and religious.
When we look at what happened to Pythagoras there are many differing reports. Some say that he died in his temple with his followers. Others say that he made his way to Metapontum where he died by starving himself to death. Some say that he married a woman called Theona a lady from Croton. They had children a son by the name of Telauges and three daughters named Arignote, Damo and Myia.
Pythagoras is considered as the creator of the Pythagorean system believing that reality is mathematical. Viewing the entire universe as being made up of mathematical patterns. He was convinced that everything could be described and expressed as numbers and that number held their very own pattern of energy and vibration.
The Pythagorean Theorem
I cannot justify writing this article on him without showing what is has become so iconic for:-
A right triangle consists of two sides called the legs and one side called the hypotenuse. The hypotenuse is the longest side and is opposite the right angle.
The Pythagorean Theorem or Pythagoras’ Theorem is a formula relating the lengths of the three sides of a right angle.
If we take the length of the hypotenuse to be c and the length of the legs to be a and b then this theorem tells us that:
c2 = a2 + b2
Pythagorean theorem states that
In any right triangle, the sum of the squared lengths of the two legs is equal to the squared length of the hypotenuse.
Scholars have not been able to account for the belief in reincarnation among the Greeks. Herodotus believed that it had been adopted from the Egyptians, but no such teaching can be found. Some have thought it could have come from India, but it is unlikely as the belief emerged their much later. Though reincarnation is not found in orthodox Zoroastrianism, it would have been an important thought of the Magi;
The Magi divided themselves into three classes:-
The Uppermost and the wisest did not eat or kill any living creature and have an abstinence from flesh.
the second did not consume any wild game or domestic animals.
the third only ate certain species or animals.
All three classes believed in metempsychosis.
One of the biggest impressions he made some feel it was on the religious front. It is claimed by some that the Cotonians identified him as the Hyperborean Apollo and was well versed in prophecy and divination. In many of his visits throughout Greece; Sparta, Phlius, Delos and Crete quite often he is seen as a priest or in religious guise.
There can be no doubt that in the late 6th century he did make major contributions to religious teachings and philosophy. Even though is is remembered as the Great Mathematical, scientist and mystic, he is best remembered for his Pythagorean Theorem. Because there is much debate do to lack of evidence and because he worked so closely with many of the other pre Socratic philosophers, some question how much was attributable to him, some do question as to how much he did contributed to natural philosophy and mathematics. So some of the recorded accomplishments of Pythagoras could well have been accomplishments of some of his colleagues and future successors. We do not know if his followers believed everything was connected to mathematics. Many say that he loved wisdom and that he classed himself as the first philosopher and many of his ideas had a great influence on Plato and eventually all of Western philosophy. Because there was so little real information by the writers, along with all the secrecy around him and his religion much was made up taking the place of hard facts. True accuracy about his life is hard to establish and the facts that did come through, came about so late and of such untrustworthy sources we can only get a rough outline about his life. Stories about his life were always in demand by writers who have provided most of the information. They did not criticise anything at all that referred to the gods or in fact anything that could be classed as divine. So because of this we do get many myths. This include stories such as he was the son of Apollo. They also suggested that he had supernatural abilities; such as being able to be in two places at exactly the same time. We only get a few remarks and comments by Herodotus, Plato, Isocrates and Aristotle. The main biographical information comes from Diogenes, Porphyry and Laertius. A work was written by Aristotle but did not survive. Even though these writers arrived later they were probably the best source from whom Lamblichus and Porphyry got there foundation, apart from their own inventions.
We only know a little about what he taught during this time, this being finally written down and recorded after his death. His main interest it seemed was concerning concepts and principles about mathematics rather that merely solving mathematical problems. He thought it seems, that everything in the universe could be explained via the power of numbers. This is why he created his own system for this, this was later developed further by other Greek philosophers.
Who Said What About Pythagoras
Pythagoras did believe in the transmigration of the Soul.
A man of great learning.
He was The Son of Panthus and that he has been many other characters such as courtesan, tradesman etc.
Pythagoras knew who he had been in previous lives.
Pythagoras was captured by Cambyses during his invasion of the country, and taken back to Babylon along with other prisoners. In Babylon, maintains Porphyry Pythagoras was taught by Zaratas, a disciple of Zoroaster, and initiated into the highest esoteric mysteries of the Zoroastrians.
Pythagoras had been a student of Zaratas.
Aristoxenus, friend and pupil of Aristotle, (Pythagorean circles)
Pythagoras travelled to Phoenici, where he conversed with the prophets who were descendants of Moschus as well as with the local hierophants.
Pythagoras practised and taught these in imitation of the beliefs of the Jews and the Thracians, which he had appropriated to himself.
Hermippus, (Greek writer who lived about 200 BC)
It is plain that he did not only know our doctrines, but was in very great measure a follower and admirer of them. For it is very truly affirmed of this Pythagoras, that he took a great many of the laws of the Jews into his own philosophy.
It was in Babylon that Pythagoras learned mathematics, music, and all other sciences.
“It is to this gentleman that we owe pure mathematics. The contemplative ideal – since it led to pure mathematics – was the source of a useful activity. This increased it’s prestige and gave it a success in theology, in ethics, and in philosophy.”
Lots of mathematical discoveries were attributed to him of course this includes his very famous theorem. He made other discoveries in astronomy, medicine and music.
Most of the credit for numerology in modern time is however given to this man, this Greek philosopher Pythagoras of Samos the Ionian Greek philosopher and mathematician and is attributed as the founder of the religious order called Pythagoreanism.
He was without doubt one of the best known and most important philosophers of his day.