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Saturday, 3 June 2017



Pythagoras born on the Greek island of Samos, situated in the eastern Aegean around 570 BC.

His father, Mnesarchus, is said to have been a gem-engraver or a wealthy merchant, originally from Tyre or Syria.

A late source gives his mother's name as Pythais.

Pythagoras travelled widely in Egypt and Asia Minor before settling in the Greek colony Croton (today's Crotone, on the southern coast of Magna Graecia (Southern Italy).

Bust of Pythagoras in the Capitoline Museums, Rome. Galilea at German Wikipedia


Pythagoras arrived in Croton in around 530BC. He founded there an educational society that was half-religious and half-philosophical. His pupils were trained in gymnastics, mathematics and music.
Pythagoras opened his school to men and women students alike.

According to Iamblichus, the Pythagoreans followed a structured life of religious teaching, common meals, exercise, reading and philosophical study. We may infer from this that participants required some degree of wealth and leisure to join the inner circle.

Pythagoras, the man in the center with the book, teaching music, in Raphael's The School of Athens

Internal discord drove most of the Pythagoreans out of Croton due to mistrust of the society. Pythagoras left the city before the outbreak of civil unrest and moved to Metapontum (today's Metaponto, on the Italian Ionian Coast), where he stayed for the rest of his life.


Both Plato and Isocrates affirm that, above all else, Pythagoras was famous for leaving behind him a way of life. The Samian sage was the first person known to have referred to himself as a philosopher (meaning a "Lover of Wisdom".)

Pythagoras believed in immortality and the transformation into glorification of souls.

He regarded elaborate dress and superfluous possessions as weaknesses to be avoided.

The Pythagorean letter Ypsilon is the 20th letter of the Greek alphabet. The letter was seen by Pythagoras as an emblem of the path of virtue or vice.

Geoffroy Tory Ypsilon
Pythagoras preached abstention from meat, beans and mallows and he desired a return to the golden age. He believed that a vegetarian diet helped with his clarity of thought.

Pythagoras forbade the eating of broad (fava) beans as it was thought they contain the souls of the dead. He even refused to walk through fields of broad beans. It is probable that he was prone to favism, which is almost entirely confined to genetically susceptible people of Mediterranean origin. Favism occurs when such individuals consume broad beans or inhale the pollen and it leads to the destruction of red blood cells resulting in severe anemia.

Pythagoras and fava beans, French, 1512/1514

Pythagoras favored a cucumber salad with raisin-coriander vinaigrette.


Pythagoras has commonly been given credit for discovering the Pythagorean theorem, which states that in a right-angled triangle the area of the square on the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle) is equal to the sum of the areas of the squares of the other two sides—that is, a 2   + b 2   = c 2. In doing so he founded a new branch of mathematics - geometry.

His Pythagorean theorem was actually discovered by the Babylonians 1000 years earlier. However while the theorem that now bears Pythagoras' name was known and previously utilized by the Babylonians, he, or his students, are often said to have constructed the first proof.

Pythagoras and his students believed that everything was related to mathematics, and felt that everything could be predicted and measured in rhythmic cycles.

He discovered the first two amicable numbers - 284 and 220 (two numbers that each is the sum of all the divisors of the other.) The divisors of 284 are 1,2,4,71, 142 whose sum is 220. The divisors of 284 are 1,2,4,5,10,11,20,22,44,55,110 whose sum is 284.


Pythagoras had a revelation when he discovered the relationship between the principal interviews of the musical score. Music, he realized, operates according to the same mathematical laws which govern the rest of the world including the cosmos. The philosopher posited that the stars and planets were part of a celestial refrain, a divine symphony. "There is geometry in the humming of the strings," he is quoted by Aristotle as saying. "There is music in the spacings of the spheres."

Pythagoras' eureka moment arrived when listening to the sounds made by a blacksmith striking his anvil. He noticed that a heavy hammer produced a frequency twice as long as that produced by one half its weight, an octave lower; that the musical scale correlated with simple mathematical ratios.

Medieval woodcut showing Pythagoras with bells and other instruments in Pythagorean tuning

Music featured as an essential organizing factor in his Pythagoran society. The disciples would sing hymns to Apollo together regularly; they used the lyre to cure illness of the soul or body; poetry recitations occurred before and after sleep to aid the memory.


As a youngster, Pythagoras was a fine boxer.

Later, the Samian sage applied science to in boxing knocking out men with upper cuts. He philosophized that a sharp blow delivered from the hip was the most effective method.

Throughout his life Pythagoras carried out yoga-like physical exercises.

Pythagoras claimed that life resembled the Olympic Games. A few men strain their muscles to carry off a prize: others bring trinkets to sell to the crowd for a profit: and some there are those who seek no further advantage than to look at the show and see how everything is done.


According to some accounts, Pythagoras married Theano, a lady of Croton. (Others state she was the wife of Brontinus). Theano was also a philosopher, and said to have first been Pythagoras' pupil.

The children variously ascribed to Pythagoras and Theano included three daughters, Damo, Myia, and Arignote, and a son, Telauges.

Pythagoras was one of the first Greeks to start wearing trousers instead of the usual skirt.

Pythagoras invented a practical joke cup that would spill wine all over a person if they filled their cup too much.


Pythagoras met his death in around 495BC at the hands of the people of Crotonia in Italy. Pursued by them, he came to the edge of a bean field and, rather than set foot in it, was caught and killed.

Sources Food For Thought by Ed Pearce, The Observer Book of Space

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