65 Facts About Pythagoras


The teaching most securely identified with Pythagoras is metempsychosis, or the "transmigration of souls", which holds that every soul is immortal and, upon death, enters into a new body.


Scholars debate whether Pythagoras developed the numerological and musical teachings attributed to him, or if those teachings were developed by his later followers, particularly Philolaus of Croton.


Classical historians debate whether Pythagoras made these discoveries, and many of the accomplishments credited to him likely originated earlier or were made by his colleagues or successors.


Some accounts mention that the philosophy associated with Pythagoras was related to mathematics and that numbers were important, but it is debated to what extent, if at all, he actually contributed to mathematics or natural philosophy.


Pythagoras influenced Plato, whose dialogues, especially his Timaeus, exhibit Pythagorean teachings.


Pythagoras's teachings underwent a major revival in the first century BC among Middle Platonists, coinciding with the rise of Neopythagoreanism.


Pythagoras continued to be regarded as a great philosopher throughout the Middle Ages and his philosophy had a major impact on scientists such as Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, and Isaac Newton.


The earliest sources on Pythagoras's life are brief, ambiguous, and often satirical.


The earliest source on Pythagoras's teachings is a satirical poem probably written after his death by Xenophanes of Colophon, who had been one of his contemporaries.


Alcmaeon of Croton, a doctor who lived in Croton at around the same time Pythagoras lived there, incorporates many Pythagorean teachings into his writings and alludes to having possibly known Pythagoras personally.


The Athenian rhetorician Isocrates was the first to describe Pythagoras as having visited Egypt.


Herodotus, Isocrates, and other early writers agree that Pythagoras was the son of Mnesarchus, and that he was born on the Greek island of Samos in the eastern Aegean.


Pythagoras is said to have been a gem-engraver or a wealthy merchant, but his ancestry is disputed and unclear.


Pythagoras's mother was a native of Samos, descending from a geomoroi family.


Pythagoras was a contemporary of the philosophers Anaximander, Anaximenes, and the historian Hecataeus, all of whom lived in Miletus, across the sea from Samos.


Pythagoras is traditionally thought to have received most of his education in the Near East.


Diogenes Laertius asserts that Pythagoras later visited Crete, where he went to the Cave of Ida with Epimenides.


The third-century AD Sophist Philostratus claims that, in addition to the Egyptians, Pythagoras studied under sages or gymnosophists in India.


Iamblichus expands this list even further by claiming that Pythagoras studied with the Celts and Iberians.


Ancient sources record Pythagoras having studied under a variety of native Greek thinkers.


The Neoplatonists wrote of a "sacred discourse" Pythagoras had written on the gods in the Doric Greek dialect, which they believed had been dictated to Pythagoras by the Orphic priest Aglaophamus upon his initiation to the orphic Mysteries at Leibethra.


Iamblichus describes Pythagoreanism as a synthesis of everything Pythagoras had learned from Orpheus, from the Egyptian priests, from the Eleusinian Mysteries, and from other religious and philosophical traditions.


Riedweg states that, although these stories are fanciful, Pythagoras's teachings were definitely influenced by Orphism to a noteworthy extent.


Duris, the historian and tyrant of Samos, is reported to have patriotically boasted of an epitaph supposedly penned by Pherecydes which declared that Pythagoras's wisdom exceeded his own.


Diogenes Laertius cites a statement from Aristoxenus stating that Pythagoras learned most of his moral doctrines from the Delphic priestess Themistoclea.


Porphyry repeats an account from Antiphon, who reported that, while he was still on Samos, Pythagoras founded a school known as the "semicircle".


Pythagoras himself dwelled in a secret cave, where he studied in private and occasionally held discourses with a few of his close friends.


Around 530 BC, when Pythagoras was about forty years old, he left Samos.


Pythagoras arrived in the Greek colony of Croton in what was then Magna Graecia.


All sources agree that Pythagoras was charismatic and quickly acquired great political influence in his new environment.


Pythagoras served as an advisor to the elites in Croton and gave them frequent advice.


The wrestler Milo of Croton was said to have been a close associate of Pythagoras and was credited with having saved the philosopher's life when a roof was about to collapse.


The supporters of democracy, headed by Cylon and Ninon, the former of whom is said to have been irritated by his exclusion from Pythagoras's brotherhood, roused the populace against them.


Sources disagree regarding whether Pythagoras was present when the attack occurred and, if he was, whether or not he managed to escape.


In some accounts, Pythagoras was not at the meeting when the Pythagoreans were attacked because he was on Delos tending to the dying Pherecydes.


Pythagoras managed to escape, but was so despondent at the deaths of his beloved students that he committed suicide.


Nothing whatsoever is known about the nature or mechanism by which Pythagoras believed metempsychosis to occur.


Diogenes Laertius reports an account from Heraclides Ponticus that Pythagoras told people that he had lived four previous lives that he could remember in detail.


Pythagoras then became the philosopher Hermotimus, who recognized the shield of Euphorbus in the temple of Apollo.


When Pythagoras was asked [why humans exist], he said, "to observe the heavens," and he used to claim that he himself was an observer of nature, and it was for the sake of this that he had passed over into life.


Pythagoras was credited with devising the tetractys, the triangular figure of four rows which add up to the perfect number, ten.


The organization Pythagoras founded at Croton was called a "school", but, in many ways, resembled a monastery.


For instance, a saying which Leonid Zhmud concludes can probably be genuinely traced back to Pythagoras himself forbids his followers from wearing woolen garments.


Sources indicate that Pythagoras himself was unusually progressive in his attitudes towards women and female members of Pythagoras's school appear to have played an active role in its operations.


Some ancient writers present Pythagoras as enforcing a strictly vegetarian diet.


Pythagoras was supposedly once seen at both Metapontum and Croton at the same time.


When Pythagoras crossed the river Kosas, "several witnesses" reported that they heard it greet him by name.


In Roman times, a legend claimed that Pythagoras was the son of Apollo.


Pythagoras is said to have borne a golden wreath atop his head and to have worn trousers after the fashion of the Thracians.


Diogenes Laertius presents Pythagoras as having exercised remarkable self-control; he was always cheerful, but "abstained wholly from laughter, and from all such indulgences as jests and idle stories".


Pythagoras was said to have had extraordinary success in dealing with animals.


Diogenes Laertes retells a story told by Hermippus of Samos, which states that Pythagoras had once gone into an underground room, telling everyone that he was descending to the underworld.


Pythagoras stayed in this room for months, while his mother secretly recorded everything that happened during his absence.


Many mathematical and scientific discoveries were attributed to Pythagoras, including his famous theorem, as well as discoveries in the fields of music, astronomy, and medicine.


Cicero rejected this story as spurious because of the much more widely held belief that Pythagoras forbade blood sacrifices.


Burkert rejects this suggestion as implausible, noting that Pythagoras was never credited with having proved any theorem in antiquity.


Pythagoras then realized that the tune played when the hammer struck was directly proportional to the size of the hammer and therefore concluded that music was mathematical.


Pythagoras was a close friend of Plato and he is quoted in Plato's Republic.


Plato and Pythagoras shared a "mystical approach to the soul and its place in the material world" and it is probable that both were influenced by Orphism.


The basilica was built underground because of the Pythagorean emphasis on secrecy and because of the legend that Pythagoras had sequestered himself in a cave on Samos.


Pythagoras appears in numerous medieval depictions, in illuminated manuscripts and in the relief sculptures on the portal of the Cathedral of Chartres.


In 1494, the Greek Neopythagorean scholar Constantine Lascaris published The Golden Verses of Pythagoras, translated into Latin, with a printed edition of his Grammatica, thereby bringing them to a widespread audience.


Pythagoras believed in the Pythagorean doctrine of musica universalis and it was his search for the mathematical equations behind this doctrine that led to his discovery of the laws of planetary motion.


The German humanist scholar Johannes Reuchlin synthesized Pythagoreanism with Christian theology and Jewish Kabbalah, arguing that Kabbalah and Pythagoreanism were both inspired by Mosaic tradition and that Pythagoras was therefore a kabbalist.


Sylvain Marechal, in his six-volume 1799 biography The Voyages of Pythagoras, declared that all revolutionaries in all time periods are the "heirs of Pythagoras".