Pythagoras Essay, Research Paper

Pythagoras

Pythagoras must have been one of the world’s greatest men. However, he wrote nothing and it is unknown how much of the doctrine of Pythagoras is due to the founder of society and how much is later development. Sometimes he is represented as a man of science, a mathematician, and even as a preacher of mystical doctrines. None of these traditional views, however, should be rejected, for he contributed his genius in each field.

Pythagoras lived from about 569 BC to about 475 BC. His father was Mnesarchus, a merchant from Tyre; his mother was Pythais, a native of Samos. Pythagoras spent most of his early years in Samos but traveled with his father. He was taught by the Chaldeans and the learned men of Syria. Among his teachers, there were three philosophers who influenced Pythagoras while he was a young man, Pherekydes, Thales, and Aleximander. They influenced Pythagoras’ interest in geometry and cosmology, encouraging him to pursue his studies in Egypt. In 535 BC, Pythagoras went to Egypt where he visited many temples and took part in many discussions with priests. Then, after his journeys to Samos and Crete, Pythagoras founded a philosophical and religious school in Crotona. He was the head of the society with an inner circle of followers known as mathematikoi.

Pythagoras influenced a group of early Greek scientific and religious thinkers, the Pythagoreans. They believed that the soul was immortal and separable from the body. Because they believed that the soul was reincarnated in different animal bodies, they practiced vegetarianism. The group was almost cult-like in that it had symbols, rituals and prayers. In addition, Pythagoras believed that “Number rules the universe,” and the Pythagoreans gave numerical values to many objects and ideas. These numerical values, in turn, were endowed with mystical

and spiritual qualities.

The Pythagoreans discovered irrational numbers. If an isosceles right triangle is taken with legs of measure 1, the hypotenuse will measure square root of 2. However, because this number cannot be expressed as a length that can be measured with a ruler divided into fractional parts, it deeply disturbed the Pythagoreans who believed that “All is number.” They called these numbers “alogon,” which means “unutterable.” So shocked were the Pythagoreans by these numbers that they put to death a member who dared to mention their existence to the public. There are a couple of theorems attributed to Pythagoras or rather, more generally, to the Pythagoras.

I. The sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles.

II. For a right-angled triangle, the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides.

In ancient times, the Egyptians used their knowledge of the Pythagorean Theorem to construct right angles. They knotted ropes with units of 3, 4, and 5 knot spaces. Then, using the three ropes, they stretched them and formed a triangle. They knew the triangle would always end up having a right angle opposite the longest side (32+42=52).

Pythagoras and his followers also constructed figures of a given area and the five regular solids. In astronomy, Pythagoras taught the Earth was a sphere at the center of the universe. He recognized that the orbit of the moon was inclined to the equator of the Earth; and, he was one of the first to realize that Venus as an evening star was the same planet as Venus as a morning star.

Finally, Pythagoras went to Delos in 513 BC to nurse his old teacher Pherekydes who was dying. He remained there for a few months until the death of his friend and teacher and then returned to Crotona. In 510 BC Crotona attacked and defeated its neighbor Sybaris and became involved in the dispute. Then in around 508 BC the Pythagorean Society at Crotona was attacked by Cylon, a noble from Crotona itself.

Pythagoras escaped to Metapontium and died there, some claiming that he committed suicide because of the attack on his Society. Iamblichus quotes one version of events: Cylon, a Crotoniate and leading citizen by birth, fame and riches, but otherwise a difficult, violent, disturbing and tyrannically disposed man, eagerly desired to participate in the Pythagorean way of life. He approached Pythagoras, then an old man, but was rejected because of the character defects just described. When this happened, Cylon and his friends vowed to make a strong attack on Pythagoras and his followers. Thus a powerfully aggressive zeal activated Cylon and his followers to persecute the Pythagoreans to the very last man. Because of this Pythagoras left for Metapontium and there is said to have ended his days. The evidence is unclear as to when and where the death of Pythagoras occurred. Certainly, the Pythagorean Society expanded rapidly after 500 BC, became political in nature and also spilt into a number of factions. In 460 BC the Society:

… was violently suppressed. Its meeting houses were everywhere sacked and burned; mention is made in particular of “the house of Milo” in Crotona, where 50 or 60 Pythagoreans were surprised and slain. Those who survived took refuge at Thebes and other places.

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