"Pythagoras of Samos" redirects here. For the Samian statuary, see Pythagoras (sculptor).
For other uses, see Pythagoras (disambiguation).
Kapitolinischer Pythagoras adjusted.jpg
Bust of Pythagoras of Samos in
the Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Born c. 570 BC
Died c. 495 BC (aged around 75)
Era Ancient philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Pythagoreanism
Main interests
Notable ideas

Pythagoras of Samos (US /pɪˈθæɡərəs/;[1] UK /pˈθæɡərəs/;[2] Greek: Πυθαγόρας ὁ Σάμιος Pythagóras ho Sámios "Pythagoras the Samian", or simply Πυθαγόρας; Πυθαγόρης in Ionian Greek; c. 570 – c. 495 BC)[3][4] was an Ionian Greek philosopher, mathematician, and putative founder of the Pythagoreanism movement. He is often revered as a great mathematician and scientist and is best known for the Pythagorean theorem which bears his name.

Legend and obfuscation cloud his work, so it is uncertain whether he truly contributed much to mathematics or natural philosophy. Many of the accomplishments credited to Pythagoras may actually have been accomplishments of his colleagues or successors. Some accounts mention that the philosophy associated with Pythagoras was related to mathematics and that numbers were important. It was said that he was the first man to call himself a philosopher, or lover of wisdom,[5] and Pythagorean ideas exercised a marked influence on Plato, and through him, all of Western philosophy.


Biographical sources

Much of what we know about Pythagoras's life comes from Neoplatonist writers. These writers believed in the Greek gods,[6] so many myths exist around Pythagoras. Myths about Pythagoras include: Apollo was his father, Pythagoras gleamed with a supernatural brightness, Pythagoras had a golden thigh, Abaris once flew to him on a golden arrow, and Pythagoras was seen in different places at the same time.[7] According to Sir William Smith, with the exception of a few remarks by Xenophanes, Heraclitus, Herodotus, Plato, Aristotle, and Isocrates, we are mainly dependent on Diogenes Laërtius, Porphyry, and Iamblichus for biographical details.[8] Burkert (1972, p. 109) states that Aristoxenus and Dicaearchus are the most important accounts.[9]

Aristotle wrote a work On the Pythagoreans, which is no longer extant.[10] Some of it may be available in the Protrepticus. Aristotle's disciples Dicaearchus, Aristoxenus, and Heraclides Ponticus also wrote on the same subject. These writers were among the best sources from whom Porphyry and Iamblichus drew, while still adding some legendary accounts and their own inventions to the mix. Hence, historians are often reduced to considering the statements based on their inherent probability, but even then, if all the credible stories concerning Pythagoras were supposed true, his range of activity would be impossibly vast.[11]


Bust of Pythagoras, Vatican

Herodotus, Isocrates, and other early writers agree that Pythagoras was the son of Mnesarchus and born on the Greek island of Samos, situated in the eastern Aegean.[12] His father is said to have been a gem-engraver or a wealthy merchant, originally from Tyre or Syria.[13][14] Pythagoras' name led him to be associated with Pythian Apollo; Aristippus of Cyrene explained his name by saying, "He spoke (ἀγορεύω, agoreúo) the truth no less than did the Pythian (Πυθία, Pythía)", and Iamblichus tells the story that the Pythia prophesied that his pregnant mother would give birth to a man supremely beautiful, wise, and beneficial to humankind.[15] A late source gives his mother's name as Pythais.[16] As to the date of his birth, Aristoxenus stated that Pythagoras left Samos in the reign of Polycrates, at the age of 40, which would give a date of birth around 570 BC.[17]

Around 530 BC he arrived in the Greek colony of Croton (today's Crotone, in Calabria) in what was then Magna Graecia.[18] There he founded his own philosophical school the members of which he engaged to a disciplined and simple way of life (the Pythagorean way of life) as well as to mutual loyalty. He furthermore aquired some political influence, on Greeks and non-Greeks of the region.[19] Following a conflict with the neighbouring colony of Sybaris, internal discord drove most of the Pythagoreans out of Croton. Pythagoras left the city before the outbreak of civil unrest and moved to Metapontum (today's Metaponto, in Basilicata), where he stayed for the rest of his life. After his death, his house was transformed into a sanctuary of Demeter, out of veneration for the philosopher, by the local population.[20]

In ancient sources there was much disagreement and inconsistency about the late life of Pythagoras. Some said that he perished in the temple with his disciples,[21] others that he fled first to Tarentum, and that, being driven from there, he escaped to Metapontum, and there according to Diogenes Laërtius, starved himself to death.[22] His tomb was shown at Metapontum in the time of Cicero.[23] According to Walter Burkert,

"Most obvious is the contradiction between Aristoxenus and Dicaearchus, regarding the catastrophe that overwhelmed the Pythagorean society. One of the two reports must be basically wrong: either Pythagoras withdrew to Metapontum before the outbreak of the unrest and died there (as Aristoxenus says) or he and his followers were hounded from city to city (as Dicaearchus has it). Like his doctrines, the life of Pythagoras also becomes a mirror image of real controversies in the schools. On the one hand there is the controversy over the primacy of the theoretical or practical life. In this respect Heraclides thinks Pythagoras as the apostle of pure 'theory'."
"There is not a single detail in the life of Pythagoras that stands uncontradicted. But it is possible, from a more or less critical selection of the data, to construct a plausible account."[9]


According to some accounts, Pythagoras married Theano, a lady of Croton. Theano was also a philosopher, and said to have first been Pythagoras' pupil. According to Mary Ritter Beard, Theano told Hippodamus of Thurium (possibly Hippodamus of Miletus, who as per Aristotle planned the city of Thurium[24]), that her treatise On Virtue contained the doctrine of the golden mean.[25] According to Thesleff, Stobaeus and Heeren, in On Piety, Theano wrote that:

I have learned that many of the Greeks believe Pythagoras said all things are generated from number. The very assertion poses a difficulty: How can things which do not exist even be conceived to generate? But he did not say that all things come to be from number; rather, in accordance with number - on the grounds that order in the primary sense is in number and it is by participation in order that a first and a second and the rest sequentially are assigned to things which are counted.[26]

Their children are variously stated to have included a son, Telauges, and three daughters, Damo, Arignote, and Myia (who married to a famous wrestler, Milo of Croton). Milo was said to be an associate of Pythagoras. One story tells of the wrestler saving the philosopher's life when a roof was about to collapse.[27]

Arignote wrote a Bacchica concerning the mysteries of Demeter, and a work called The Rites of Dionysus. Among the Pythagorean Sacred Discourses there is a dictum attributed to Arignote: "The eternal essence of number is the most providential cause of the whole heaven, earth and the region in between. Likewise it is the root of the continued existence of the gods and daimones, as well as that of divine men."[26] Brewer (1894) mentioned that "Pythagoras taught that the sun is a movable sphere in the centre of the universe, and that all the planets revolve round it." Thus, it would appear that Arignote's quote above is not entirely in alignment with his model of the universe, since it is limited to Earth orbit.[28]


Before 520 BC, on one of his visits to Egypt or Greece, Pythagoras might have met the c. 54 years older Thales of Miletus.[29] Thales was a philosopher, scientist, mathematician, and engineer,[30] also known for a special case of the inscribed angle theorem. It can be marked that Pythagoras' birthplace, the island of Samos, is situated in the Northeast Aegean Sea not far from Miletus.[31]

Scholars disagree about who taught Pythagoras due to an absence of reliable information. Some say his training was almost entirely Greek, others exclusively Egyptian and Oriental. The various names seem to call attention for different aspects of Pythagoras' own teachings.[32] Thus, we find mentioned as his instructors Hermodamas of Samos,[33] or his father Creophylus of Samos (who both stand for a domestic rhapsodic tradition of Samos, competing with Homer's more renowned), Bias of Priene, Thales,[34] Anaximander (a pupil of Thales),[34][35] and Pherecydes of Syros (all exponents of the Greek philosophical tradition).[36] Of the various claims regarding his Greek teachers, Pherecydes of Syros is mentioned most often.[37]

A scene at the Chartres Cathedral shows a philosopher, on one of the archivolts over the right door of the west portal at Chartres, which has been attributed to depict Pythagoras.

The third aspect of Pythagorean learning to be covered were the fields of piety and cult, equally incorporated into the philosopher's teachings.[32] In his Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, Diogenes Laërtius (3rd century AD) cites the statement of Aristoxenus (4th century BC) that the Delphic Themistoclea taught Pythagoras his moral doctrines: "Aristoxenus says that Pythagoras got most of his moral doctrines from the Delphic priestess Themistoclea."[38][39][40] Porphyry (c. 234–305 AD), who calls her Aristoclea (Aristokleia),[41] wrote: "He (Pythagoras) taught much else, which he claimed to have learned from Aristoclea at Delphi."[42] Ancient authorities furthermore note the similarities between the religious and ascetic peculiarities of Pythagoras with the Orphic or Cretan mysteries,[43] or the Delphic oracle.[44]

Following a similar logic, the Egyptians are said to have taught him geometry, the Phoenicians arithmetic, the Chaldeans astronomy, the Magians the principles of religion and practical maxims for the conduct of life.[45] According to Diogenes Laërtius, Pythagoras not only visited Egypt and learnt the Egyptian language (as reported by Antiphon in his On Men of Outstanding Merit), but also "journeyed among the Chaldaeans and Magi." Later in Crete, he went to the Cave of Ida with Epimenides, and entered Egyptian sanctuaries for the purpose to learn information concerning the secret lore of the different gods.[46] The Middle Platonist biographer Plutarch (c. 46–120 AD) asserted in his book On Isis and Osiris that during his visit to Egypt, Pythagoras received instruction from the Egyptian priest Oenuphis of Heliopolis (meanwhile Solon received lectures from a Sonchis of Sais).[47] Other ancient writers asserted his visit to Egypt.[48] According to the Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215 AD), Pythagoras was a disciple of Soches, an Egyptian archprophet, as well as Plato of Sechnuphis of Heliopolis. Finally, the Neoplatonist philosopher Iamblichus (ca. 245–325 AD) gives a rather fanciful account of the philosopher's 'years of apprenticeship' in his Life of Pythagoras:

"Twenty-two years Pythagoras remained in Egypt, pursuing closely his investigations, visiting every place famous for its teachings, every person celebrated for wisdom. Astronomy and geometry he especially studied and he was thoroughly initiated in all the mysteries of the gods, till, having been taken captive by the soldiers of Cambyses, he was carried to Babylon. Here the Magi instructed him in their venerable knowledge and he arrived at the summit of arithmetic, music and other disciplines. After twelve years he returned to Samos, being then about fifty-six years of age."[49]


There is little direct evidence as to the kind and amount of knowledge which Pythagoras acquired, or as to his definite philosophical views. Everything of the kind mentioned by Plato and Aristotle is attributed not to Pythagoras, but to the Pythagoreans. Heraclitus stated that he was a man of extensive learning;[50] and Xenophanes claimed that he believed in the transmigration of souls.[51] Xenophanes mentions the story of his interceding on behalf of a dog that was being beaten, professing to recognise in its cries the voice of a departed friend. Pythagoras is supposed to have claimed that he had been Euphorbus, the son of Panthus, in the Trojan war, as well as various other characters, a tradesman, a courtesan, etc.[52] In his book The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Philostratus wrote that Pythagoras knew not only who he was himself, but also who he had been.[53]

Many mathematical and scientific discoveries were attributed to Pythagoras, including his famous theorem,[54] as well as discoveries in the field of music,[55] astronomy,[56] and medicine.[57] It is mentioned that the people of Croton were supposed to have identified him with the Hyperborean Apollo,[58] and he was said to have practised divination and prophecy.[59] In the visits to various places in Greece – Delos, Sparta, Phlius, Crete, etc. – which are ascribed to him, he usually appears either in his religious or priestly guise, or else as a lawgiver.[60] In his philosophical dialogue Protrepticus Aristotle has his literary double say:

"This is the thing for the sake of which nature and the god engendered us. So what is this thing? When Pythagoras was asked, 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. And they say that when somebody asked Anaxagoras for what reason anyone might choose to come to be and be alive, he replied to the question by saying, ‘To observe the heavens and the stars in it, as well as moon and sun,’ since everything else at any rate is worth nothing."[61]


Croton on the southern coast of Magna Graecia (Southern Italy), to which Pythagoras ventured after feeling overburdened in Samos.

After traveling to Egypt, Greece, and possibly India, Pythagoras moved (around 530 BC) to Croton, in Italy (Magna Graecia).[30] Possibly the tyranny of Polycrates in Samos made it difficult for him to achieve his schemes there. His later admirers claimed that Pythagoras was so overburdened with public duties in Samos, because of the high estimation in which he was held by his fellow-citizens, that he moved to Croton.[62] On his arrival in Croton, he quickly attained extensive influence, and many people began to follow him. Later biographers tell fantastical stories of the effects of his eloquent speech in leading the people of Croton to abandon their luxurious and corrupt way of life and devote themselves to the purer system which he came to introduce.[63]

According to Diogenes Laërtius, his followers established a select brotherhood or club (see below school) for the purpose of pursuing the religious and ascetic practices which developed. According to Diogenes Laërtius, what was done and taught among the members was kept a secret. The esoteric teachings may have concerned science and mathematics, or religious doctrines, and may have been connected with the worship of Apollo.[64] Temperance of all kinds seems to have been strictly urged. There is disagreement among the biographers as to whether Pythagoras forbade all animal food,[65] or only certain types.[66] The club was in practice at once "a philosophical school, a religious brotherhood, and a political association".[67]

Conflict seems to have broken out between the towns of Sybaris and Croton. The forces of Croton were headed by the Pythagorean Milo, and it is likely that the members of the brotherhood took a prominent part. After the decisive victory by Croton, a proposal for establishing a more democratic constitution, was unsuccessfully resisted by the Pythagoreans. Their enemies, headed by Cylon and Ninon, the former of whom is said to have been irritated by his exclusion from the brotherhood, roused the populace against them. An attack was made upon them while assembled either in the house of Milo, or in some other meeting-place. The building was set on fire, and many of the assembled members perished; only the younger and more active escaping.[68] Similar commotions ensued in the other cities of Magna Graecia in which Pythagorean clubs had been formed.

As an active and organised brotherhood the Pythagorean order was everywhere suppressed, and did not again revive. Still the Pythagoreans continued to exist as a sect, the members of which kept up among themselves their religious observances and scientific pursuits, while individuals, as in the case of Archytas, acquired now and then great political influence.


Excerpt from Philolaus Pythagoras book, (Sir William Smith, 1870)

No texts by Pythagoras are known to have survived, although forgeries under his name — a few of which remain extant — did circulate in antiquity. Critical ancient sources like Aristotle and Aristoxenus cast doubt on these writings. Ancient Pythagoreans usually quoted their master's doctrines with the phrase autos ephe ("he himself said") — emphasising the essentially oral nature of his teaching.

According to Sir William Smith (1870) (see book screenshot for full quote)[8]

"It appears, in fact, from this, as well as from the extant fragments, that the first book of the work contained a general account of the origin and arrangement of the universe. The second book appears to have been an exposition of the nature of numbers, which in the Pythagorean theory are the essence and source of all things." (p. 305)


The Pythagorean theorem: The sum of the areas of the two squares on the legs (a and b) equals the area of the square on the hypotenuse (c).

Aristotle, Metaphysics 1–5 , cc. 350 BC

The so-called Pythagoreans, who were the first to take up mathematics, not only advanced this subject, but saturated with it, they fancied that the principles of mathematics were the principles of all things.

Pythagorean theorem

Main article: Pythagorean theorem
See also: Thales' theorem
A visual proof of the Pythagorean theorem

Since the fourth century AD, Pythagoras has commonly been given credit for discovering the Pythagorean theorem, a theorem in geometry that 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,  .

While the theorem that now bears his name was known and previously utilised by the Babylonians and Indians, he, or his students, are often said to have constructed the first proof. It must, however, be stressed that the way in which the Babylonians handled Pythagorean numbers implies that they knew that the principle was generally applicable, and knew some kind of proof, which has not yet been found in the (still largely unpublished) cuneiform sources.[69] Because of the secretive nature of his school and the custom of its students to attribute everything to their teacher, there is no evidence that Pythagoras himself worked on or proved this theorem. For that matter, there is no evidence that he worked on any mathematical or meta-mathematical problems. Some attribute it as a carefully constructed myth by followers of Plato over two centuries after the death of Pythagoras, mainly to bolster the case for Platonic meta-physics, which resonate well with the ideas they attributed to Pythagoras. This attribution has stuck down the centuries up to modern times.[70] The earliest known mention of Pythagoras's name in connection with the theorem occurred five centuries after his death, in the writings of Cicero and Plutarch.

Musical theories and investigations

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

According to legend, the way Pythagoras discovered that musical notes could be translated into mathematical equations was when he passed blacksmiths at work one day and thought that the sounds emanating from their anvils were beautiful and harmonious and decided that whatever scientific law caused this to happen must be mathematical and could be applied to music. He went to the blacksmiths to learn how the sounds were produced by looking at their tools. He discovered that it was because the hammers were "simple ratios of each other, one was half the size of the first, another was 2/3 the size, and so on".

This legend has since proven to be false by virtue of the fact that these ratios are only relevant to string length (such as the string of a monochord), and not to hammer weight.[71][72] However, it may be that Pythagoras was indeed responsible for discovering the properties of string length.

Pythagoreans elaborated on a theory of numbers, the exact meaning of which is still debated among scholars. Another belief attributed to Pythagoras was that of the "harmony of the spheres". Thus the planets and stars moved according to mathematical equations, which corresponded to musical notes and thus produced a symphony.[73]

Brewer (1894), wrote (page 2614):[28]

"The music or harmony of the spheres. Pythagoras, having ascertained that the pitch of notes depends on the rapidity of vibrations, and also that the planets move at different rates of motion, concluded that the sounds made by their motion must vary according to their different rates of motion. As all things in nature are harmoniously made, the different sounds must harmonise, and the combination he called the “harmony of the spheres.” Kepler has a treatise on the subject."


Pythagoras was also credited with devising the tetractys, the triangular figure of four rows which add up to the perfect number, ten. As a mystical symbol, it was very important to the worship of the Pythagoreans who would swear oaths by it.

Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth., 29

"And the inventions were so admirable, and so divinised by those who understood them, that the members used them as forms of oath: 'By him who handed to our generation the tetractys, source of the roots of ever-flowing nature.'"

Brewer (1894), wrote (page 2732):[28]

"The four letters, meaning the four which compose the name of Deity. The ancient Jews never pronounced the word Jehovah composed of the four sacred letters JHVH. The word means 'I am,' or 'I exist' (Exod. iii. 14); but Rabbi Bechai says the letters include the three times— past, present, and future. Pythagoras called Deity a Tetrad or Tetractys, meaning the 'four sacred letters.'"

Religion and science

Heraclides Ponticus reports the story that Pythagoras claimed that he had lived four previous lives that he could remember in detail.[74] One of his past lives, as reported by Aulus Gellius, was as a beautiful courtesan.[75] According to Xenophanes, Pythagoras heard the cry of his dead friend in the bark of a dog.[76]

Brewer (1894), wrote (page 2293):[28]

"Pythagoras maintained that the soul has three vehicles: (1) the ethereal, which is luminous and celestial, in which the soul resides in a state of bliss in the stars; (2) the luminous, which suffers the punishment of sin after death; and (3) the terrestrial, which is the vehicle it occupies on this earth."
"Pythagoras asserted he could write on the moon. His plan of operation was to write on a looking—glass in blood, and place it opposite the moon, when the inscription would appear photographed or reflected on the moon's disc."
"Mesmerism was practised by Pythagoras, if we may credit Iamblichus, who tells us that he tamed a savage Daunian bear by “stroking it gently with his hand;” subdued an eagle by the same means; and held absolute dominion over beasts and birds by 'the power of his voice,' or 'influence of his touch.'"
"Pythagoras taught that the sun is a movable sphere in the centre of the universe, and that all the planets revolve round it. This is substantially the same as the Copernican and Newtonian systems."
"The Pythian games were held by the Greeks at Pytho, in Phocis, subsequently called Delphi. They took place every fourth year, the second of each Olympiad."


Pythagoras became the subject of elaborate legends surrounding his historic persona. Aristotle described Pythagoras as a wonder-worker and somewhat of a supernatural figure, attributing to him such aspects as a golden thigh, which he showed to Abaris, the Hyperborean priest, and exhibited in the Olympic games.[28] According to Muslim tradition, Pythagoras was said to have been initiated by Hermes (Egyptian Thoth).[77]

Brewer (1894), wrote (page 2292):[28]

Pythagoras maintained that he distinctly recollected having occupied other human forms before his birth at Samos: (1) He was AEthalides, son of Mercury; (2) Euphorbos the Phrygian, son of Panthoos, in which form he ran Patroclos through with a lance, leaving Hector to dispatch the hateful friend of Achilles; (3) Hermotimos, the prophet of Clazomenae; and'(4) a fisherman. To prove his Phrygian existence he was taken to the temple of Hera, in Argos, and asked to point out the shield of the son of Panthoos, which he did without hesitation. (See Rat.)


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

Both Plato and Isocrates affirm that, above all else, Pythagoras was famous for leaving behind him a way of life.[78] According to Timaeus of Locri, he was the first to say, Friends have all things in common and Friendship is equality.[79][80]

Brewer (1894), wrote (page 2685):[28]

"In deadly hostility, ready to fight each other with swords. Poke not fire with a sword. This was a precept of Pythagoras, meaning add not fuel to fire, or do not irritate an angry man by sharp words which will only increase his rage." (See Iamblichus Protreptics, symbol ix.)

According to Walter Burkert (1972, p. 109)[9]

"The history of Pythagoreanism was already, at that time, the laborious reconstruction of something lost and gone. It is only post-Aristolian sources that biographical and historical details regarding Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans are to be found."

Pythagorean school

Pythagoreans celebrate sunrise, painting by Fyodor Bronnikov(1827–1902)

According to Iamblichus (ca. 245–325 AD, 1918 translation) in The life of Pythagoras[81]

"There were also two forms of philosophy, for the two genera of those that pursued it: the Acusmatici and the Mathematici. The latter are acknowledged to be Pythagoreans by the rest but the Mathematici do not admit that the Acusmatici derived their instructions from Pythagoras but from Hippasus. The philosophy of the Acusmatici consisted in auditions unaccompanied with demonstrations and a reasoning process; because it merely ordered a thing to be done in a certain way and that they should endeavour to preserve such other things as were said by him, as divine dogmas. Memory was the most valued faculty. All these auditions were of three kinds; some signifying what a thing is; others what it especially is, others what ought or ought not to be done." (p. 61)
"The best of all legislators came from the school of Pythagoras, Charondas, the Catanean, Zaleucus and Timaratus as well as many others, who established laws with great benevolence and political science." (p. 26)
"The whole Pythagoric school produced appropriate songs, which they called exartysis or adaptations; synarmoge or elegance of manners and apaphe or contact, usefully conducting the dispositions of the soul to passions contrary to those which it before possessed. By musical sounds alone unaccompanied with words they healed the passions of the soul and certain diseases, enchanting in reality, as they say. It is probable that from hence this name epode, i. e., "enchantment," came to be generally used.
For his disciples, Pythagoras used divinely contrived mixtures of diatonic, chromatic and enharmonic melodies, through which he easily transferred and circularly led the passions of the soul in a contrary direction, when they had recently and in an irrational and secret manner been formed; such as sorrow, rage and pity, absurd emulation and fear, all-various desires, angers and appetites, pride, supineness and vehemence. Each of these he corrected through the rule of virtue, attempering them through appropriate melodies, as well as through certain salubrious (health giving) medicine." (p.43)

Carl B. Boyer (1968), mentioned that "the Pythagorean school of thought was politically conservative and with a strict code of conduct."[30] Leonid Zhmud (2006), identified two camps with the early Pythagoreans, the scientific mathematici and the religious acusmatici, who engaged in politics.[31] According to Reidwig and Rendall (2005), who cite Antiphon reports, the school name was Semicircle, a place to discuss common interest topics among Samians. Outside of Samos he adapted a cave where he studied and lived day and night, discoursing with a few of his associates. In Samos he may have instructed the small athlete Eurymenes to eat a certain amount of meat every day.[27]

Both Iamblichus and Porphyry give detailed accounts of the organisation of the school, although the primary interest of both writers is not historical accuracy, but rather to present Pythagoras as a divine figure, sent by the gods to benefit humankind.[82]

Pythagoras set up an organisation which was in some ways a school, in some ways a brotherhood (and here it should be noted that sources indicate that as well as men there were many women among the adherents of Pythagoras),[83] and in some ways a monastery. It was based upon the religious teachings of Pythagoras and was very secretive.[citation needed] The adherents were bound by a vow to Pythagoras and each other, for the purpose of pursuing the religious and ascetic observances, and of studying his religious and philosophical theories.[84] There is mentioning of an oath on the Tetractys.

Pythagoras and fava beans, French, 1512/1514

There were ascetic practices (many of which had, perhaps, a symbolic meaning).[85] Some represent Pythagoras as forbidding all animal food, advocating a plant-based diet, and prohibiting consumption of beans. This may have been due to the doctrine of metempsychosis.[86] Other authorities contradict the statement. According to Aristoxenus,[87] he allowed the use of all kinds of animal food except the flesh of oxen used for ploughing, and rams.[88] There is a similar discrepancy as to the prohibition of fish and beans.[89] But temperance of all kinds seems to have been urged. It is also stated that they had common meals, resembling the Spartan system, at which they met in companies of ten.[90]

Considerable importance seems to have been attached to music and gymnastics in the daily exercises of the disciples. Their whole discipline is represented as encouraging a lofty serenity and self-possession, of which, there were various anecdotes in antiquity.[91] Iamblichus (apparently on the authority of Aristoxenus)[92] gives a long description of the daily routine of the members, which suggests many similarities with Sparta. The members of the sect showed a devoted attachment to each other, to the exclusion of those who did not belong to their ranks.[93] There were even stories of secret symbols, by which members of the sect could recognise each other, even if they had never met before.[94]

Commentary from Sir William Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870, p. 620).[95]

At one point, the active and organised brotherhood the Pythagorean order was everywhere suppressed, and did not again revive, though it was probably a long time before it was put down in all the Italian cities [Lysis; Philolaus]. Still the Pythagoreans continued to exist as a sect, the members of which kept up among themselves their religious observances and scientific pursuits, while individuals, as in the case of Archytas, acquired now and then great political influence. Respecting the fate of Pythagoras himself, the accounts varied.


Influence on Plato

Pythagoras, depicted as a medieval scholar in the Nuremberg Chronicle

Pythagoras, or in a broader sense, the Pythagoreans, allegedly exercised an important influence on the work of Plato. According to R. M. Hare, this influence consists of three points: (1) The platonic Republic might be related to the idea of "a tightly organised community of like-minded thinkers", like the one established by Pythagoras in Croton. (2) There is evidence that Plato possibly took from Pythagoras the idea that mathematics and, generally speaking, abstract thinking is a secure basis for philosophical thinking as well as "for substantial theses in science and morals". (3) Plato and Pythagoras shared a "mystical approach to the soul and its place in the material world". It is probable that both were influenced by Orphism.[96]

Aristotle claimed that the philosophy of Plato closely followed the teachings of the Pythagoreans,[97] and Cicero repeats this claim: Platonem ferunt didicisse Pythagorea omnia ("They say Plato learned all things Pythagorean").[98] Bertrand Russell, in his A History of Western Philosophy, contended that the influence of Pythagoras on Plato and others was so great that he should be considered the most influential of all Western philosophers.

Politics and science

Pythagoras was the first person known to have taught the earth was spherical, with antipodes and that it revolved around the sun. Pythagoras was also said to have spread the seeds of political liberty to Crotona, Sybaris, Metapontum, Rhegium, Sicily, Tauromenium, Catana, Agrigentum and Himera.[99]

Influence on Greek art

Pythagoras, depicted on a 3rd-century coin

In the arts the Greeks searched some reality behind the appearances of things. The early Archaic sculpture represents life in simple forms, and it seems that it was influenced by the earliest Greek natural philosophies.[100] There was a general Greek belief that nature expresses itself in ideal forms, and it was represented by a type (εἶδος), which was mathematically calculated.[101][102] This can be observed in the construction of the first temples. The original forms were considered divine, and the forms of the later marble or stone elements indicate that there was an original wooden prototype.[103] When the dimensions changed, the architects searched in mathematics some permanent principles behind the appearances of things. Maurice Bowra believes that these ideas influenced the theory of Pythagoras and his students who asserted that "all things are numbers".[104]

During the 6th century BC, there was an evolution in the arts from the natural philosophies to the metaphysical theory of Pythagoras.[105] The Greek sculptors and architects, tried to find the mathematical relation (canon), which would lead to the aesthetic perfection.[102] The sculptor Polykleitos in his Canon wrote that beauty consists in the proportion not of the elements (materials), but of the parts, that is the interrelation of parts with one another and with the whole. It seems that he was influenced by the theories of Pythagoras.[106] The numbers were extensively used in the Greek architectural orders. In the architectural canons every element was calculated and constructed by mathematical relations. The universe was controlled by the order, and even the sounds were functions of number and ratio. Rhys Carpenter says that he ratio 2:1 was the generative ratio of the Doric order, and in Hellenistic times an ordinary Doric colonnade, beats out a rhythm of notes."[102]

Influence on other groups

Pythagoreanism may had an effect on Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism, both of which were groups dedicated to the study of mathematics/geometry and logical reasoning as opposed to religious dogma. Both Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism have claimed to have evolved out of the Pythagorean Brotherhood. Pythagorean mathematics are discussed in a chapter of Manly P. Hall's The Secret Teachings of All Ages entitled "Pythagorean Mathematics".[107]

See also


  1. ^ "American: Pythagoras". Collins Dictionary. n.d. Retrieved 25 September 2014. 
  2. ^ "British: Pythagoras". Collins Dictionary. n.d. Retrieved 25 September 2014. 
  3. ^ "The dates of his life cannot be fixed exactly, but assuming the approximate correctness of the statement of Aristoxenus (ap. Porph. V.P. 9) that he left Samos to escape the tyranny of Polycrates at the age of forty, we may put his birth round about 570 BC, or a few years earlier. The length of his life was variously estimated in antiquity, but it is agreed that he lived to a fairly ripe old age, and most probably he died at about seventy-five or eighty." William Keith Chambers Guthrie, (1978), A history of Greek philosophy, Volume 1: The earlier Presocratics and the Pythagoreans, page 173. Cambridge University Press
  4. ^ Biographies
  5. ^ Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, 5.3.8–9 = Heraclides Ponticus fr. 88 Wehrli, Diogenes Laërtius 1.12, 8.8, Iamblichus VP 58. Burkert attempted to discredit this ancient tradition, but it has been defended by C.J. De Vogel, Pythagoras and Early Pythagoreanism (1966), pp. 97–102, and C. Riedweg, Pythagoras: His Life, Teaching, And Influence (2005), p. 92.
  6. ^ Iamblichus, Adhort. ad Philos. p. 324, ed. Kiessling.
  7. ^ Comp. Herodian, iv. 94, etc.
  8. ^ a b   Smith, William, ed. (1870). "Philola'us". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. p. 305 col 2. 
  9. ^ a b c Burkert, Walter (1972). Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism. Translated by Edwin L. Minar, jr. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. p. 106. 
  10. ^ He alludes to it himself, Met. i. 5. p. 986. 12, ed. Bekker.
  11. ^   One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSmith, William, ed. (1870). "Pythagoras". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. pp. 616–625. 
  12. ^ Herodotus, iv. 95, Isocrates, Busiris, 28–9. Later writers called him a Tyrrhenian or Phliasian, and gave Marmacus, or Demaratus, as the name of his father: Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 1; Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 1, 2; Justin, xx. 4; Pausanias, ii. 13.
  13. ^ Clemens von Alexandria: Stromata I 62, 2–3, cit. Eugene V. Afonasin, John M. Dillon, John Finamore, ed. (2012). Iamblichus and the Foundations of Late Platonism. Leiden and Boston: Brill. p. 15. 
  14. ^ Joost-Gaugier, Christiane (2007). Measuring Heaven: Pythagoras and his influence in thought and Art. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. p. 21. 
  15. ^ Riedweg, Christoph (2005). Pythagoras: His Life, Teaching and Influence. Translated by Steven Rendall. Ithaca and London: Cornell University. pp. 5–6, 59, 73. ISBN 0-8014-7452-3. 
  16. ^ Apollonius of Tyana ap. Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 2.
  17. ^ Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 9
  18. ^ Cornelia J. de Vogel: Pythagoras and Early Pythagoreanism. Assen 1966, p. 21ff. Cfr. Cicero, De re publica 2,28–30.
  19. ^ Cornelia J. de Vogel: Pythagoras and Early Pythagoreanism, Assen 1966, S. 148–150.
  20. ^ Pierre Boyancé: Le culte des Muses chez les philosophes grecs. Paris 1937, p. 234–236.
  21. ^ Arnob. adv. Gentes, i. p. 23
  22. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 39, 40; Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 56; Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth. 249; Plutarch, de Stoic. Rep. 37.
  23. ^ Cicero, de Fin. v. 2
  24. ^ Russell Sturgis, Francis A. Davis (2013). Sturgis' Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture and Building: An Unabridged Reprint of the 1901-2 Edition. p. 386. 
  25. ^ Mary Ritter Beard, (1931), On understanding women, p. 139. See also: Mary Ritter Beard, (1946), Woman as force in history: a study in traditions and realities, p. 314.
  26. ^ a b Waithe, M.E. (1987). A History of Women Philosophers: Volume I: Ancient Women Philosophers, 600 B.C.-500 A.D. p. 12. 
  27. ^ a b Riedweg, Christoph (2005). Pythagoras: His Life, Teaching and Influence. Translated by Steven Rendall. Ithaca and London: Cornell University. pp. 5–6, 59, 73. Retrieved 2009-04-03. 
  28. ^ a b c d e f g Brewer, E. Cobham (1894). Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (PDF). p. 1233. 
  29. ^ C. B. Boyer (1968)
  30. ^ a b c Boyer, Carl B. (1968). A History of Mathematics. 
  31. ^ a b Zhmud, Leonid (2006). Pythagoras and the Early Pythagoreans. p. 2 and 16. 
  32. ^ a b Riedweg, Christoph (2005). Pythagoras: His Life, Teaching and Influence. Translated by Steven Rendall. Ithaca and London: Cornell University. p. 8. ISBN 0-8014-7452-3. Retrieved 2017-03-28. 
  33. ^ Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 2, Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 2.
  34. ^ a b Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth. 9.
  35. ^ Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 2.
  36. ^ Aristoxenus and others in Diogenes Laërtius, i. 118, 119; Cicero, de Div. i. 49
  37. ^ Riedweg, Christoph (2005). Pythagoras: His Life, Teaching and Influence. Translated by Steven Rendall. Ithaca and London: Cornell University. p. 9. ISBN 0-8014-7452-3. Retrieved 2017-03-28. 
  38. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, viii. 1, 8.
  39. ^ Mary Ellen Waithe, Ancient women philosophers, 600 B.C.–500 A.D., p. 11
  40. ^ Malone, John C. (30 June 2009). Psychology: Pythagoras to present. MIT Press. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-262-01296-6. Retrieved 25 October 2010. 
  41. ^ Gilles Ménage: The history of women philosophers. Translated from the Latin with an introduction by Beatrice H. Zedler. University Press of America, Lanham 1984, p. 48. "The person who is referred to as Themistoclea in Laertius and Theoclea in Suidas, Porphyry calls Aristoclea."
  42. ^ Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras, 41.
  43. ^ Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth. 25; Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 17; Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 3.
  44. ^ Ariston. ap. Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 8, 21; Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 41.
  45. ^ Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 6.
  46. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 1, 3.
  47. ^ Plutarch, On Isis And Osiris, ch. 10.
  48. ^ Antiphon. ap. Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 7; Isocrates, Busiris, 28–9; Cicero, de Finibus, v. 27; Strabo, xiv.
  49. ^ Iamblichus (1918). The Life of Pythagoras. Translated by Thomas Taylor. Krotona, Hollywood, Los Angeles and New York: Theosophical Publishing House / American Branch. p. 10. 
  50. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 6, ix. 1, comp. Herodotus, i. 29, ii. 49, iv. 95
  51. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 36, comp. Aristotle, de Anima, i. 3; Herodotus, ii. 123.
  52. ^ Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 26; Pausanias, ii. 17; Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 5; Horace, Od. i. 28,1. 10
  53. ^ Flavius Philostratus, The Life of Apollonius of Tyana , trad. F. C. Conybeare, Vol. 2, London, 1912, Book VI, p. 39.
  54. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 12 ; Plutarch, Non posse suav. vivi sec. Ep. p. 1094
  55. ^ Porphyry, in Ptol. Harm. p. 213; Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 12.
  56. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 14 ; Pliny, Hist. Nat. ii. 8.
  57. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 12, 14, 32.
  58. ^ Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 20; Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth. 31, 140; Aelian, Varia Historia, ii. 26; Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 36.
  59. ^ Cicero, de Divin. i. 3, 46; Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 29.
  60. ^ Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth. 25; Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 17; Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 3, 13; Cicero, Tusc. Qu. v. 3.
  61. ^ D. S. Hutchinson and Monte Ransome Johnson (25 January 2015). "New Reconstruction, includes Greek text". p. 48. 
  62. ^ Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth. 28; Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 9
  63. ^ Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 18; Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth. 37, etc.
  64. ^ Aelian, Varia Historia, ii. 26; Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 13; Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth. 8, 91, 141
  65. ^ as Empedocles did afterwards, Aristotle, Rhet. i. 14. § 2; Sextus Empiricus, ix. 127. This was also one of the Orphic precepts, Aristoph. Ran. 1032
  66. ^ Aristo ap. Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 20; comp. Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 7; Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth. 85, 108
  67. ^ Thirlwall, Hist. of Greece, vol. ii. p. 148
  68. ^ Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth. 255–259; Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 54–57; Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 39; comp. Plutarch, de Gen. Socr. p. 583
  69. ^ There are about 100,000 unpublished cuneiform sources in the British Museum alone. Babylonian knowledge of proof of the Pythagorean Theorem is discussed by J. Høyrup, 'The Pythagorean "Rule" and "Theorem" – Mirror of the Relation between Babylonian and Greek Mathematics,' in: J. Renger (red.): Babylon. Focus mesopotamischer Geschichte, Wiege früher Gelehrsamkeit, Mythos in der Moderne (1999).
  70. ^ From Christoph Riedweg , Pythagoras, His Life, Teaching and Influence, Cornell: Cornell University Press, 2005: "Had Pythagoras and his teachings not been since the early Academy overwritten with Plato's philosophy, and had this 'palimpsest' not in the course of the Roman Empire achieved unchallenged authority among Platonists, it would be scarcely conceivable that scholars from the Middle Ages and modernity down to the present would have found the Presocratic charismatic from Samos so fascinating. In fact, as a rule it was the image of Pythagoras elaborated by Neopythagoreans and Neoplatonists that determined the idea of what was Pythagorean over the centuries."
  71. ^ Weiss, Piero, and Richard Taruskin, eds. Music in the Western World: A History in Documents. 2nd ed. N.p.: Thomson Schirmer, 1984. 3. Print.
  72. ^ Christensen, Thomas, ed. The Cambridge history of Western music theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 143. Print.
  73. ^ Christoph Riedweg, Pythagoras: His Life, Teaching and Influence, Cornell: Cornell University Press, 2005 .
  74. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 3–4
  75. ^ Aulus Gellius, iv. 11
  76. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 36
  77. ^ See Antoine Faivre, in The Eternal Hermes (1995)
  78. ^ Plato, Republic, 600a, Isocrates, Busiris, 28
  79. ^ Delphi Classics (2015). "Friends+have+all+things+in+common"+and+"Friendship+is+equality" Delphi Complete Works of Diogenes Laertius (Illustrated). 
  80. ^ Wikisource:Lives of the Eminent Philosophers/Book VIII
  81. ^ Iamblichus (1918). The life of Pythagoras. 
  82. ^ John Dillon and Jackson Hershbell, (1991), Iamblichus, On the Pythagorean Way of Life, page 14. Scholars Press.; D. J. O'Meara, (1989), Pythagoras Revived. Mathematics and Philosophy in Late Antiquity, pages 35–40. Clarendon Press.
  83. ^ Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 19
  84. ^ comp. Cicero, de Leg. i. 12, de Off. i. 7; Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 10
  85. ^ comp. Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 32; Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth. 96, etc.
  86. ^ Plutarch, de Esu Carn. pp. 993, 996, 997
  87. ^ Aristoxenus ap. Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 20
  88. ^ comp. Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 7; Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth. 85, 108
  89. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 19, 34; Aulus Gellius, iv. 11; Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 34, de Abst. i. 26; Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth. 98
  90. ^ Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth. 98; Strabo, vi.
  91. ^ Athenaeus, xiv. 623; Aelian, Varia Historia, xiv. 18; Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth. 197
  92. ^ Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth. 96–101
  93. ^ Aristonexus ap. Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth. 94, 101, etc., 229, etc.; comp. the story of Damon and Phintias; Porphyry, Vit. Pyth. 60; Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth. 233, etc.
  94. ^ Scholion ad Aristophanes, Nub. 611; Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth. 237, 238
  95. ^   Smith, William, ed. (1870). "Pythagoras". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. p. 620. 
  96. ^ R.M. Hare, Plato in C.C.W. Taylor, R.M. Hare and Jonathan Barnes, Greek Philosophers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999 (1982), 103–189, here 117–9.
  97. ^ Metaphysics, 1.6.1 (987a)
  98. ^ Tusc. Disput. 1.17.39.
  99. ^ Godwin, William (1876). "Lives of the Necromancers". p. 48. 
  100. ^ " For Thales, the origin was water, and for Anaximander the infinite (apeiron), which must be considered a material form": Homann-Wedeking, p. 63
  101. ^ "Every kouros statue seeks to embody the idea of a kouros": Homann-Wedeking, p. 62
  102. ^ a b c R. Carpenter (1959) The esthetic basis of Greek art, Indiana University Press, pp. 107, 122, 128
  103. ^ Nigel Spivey (1997) Greek art. Phaedon Press Ltd, p. 116
  104. ^ C. M. Bowra (1957). "The Greek experience". W. P. Company, p. 166
  105. ^ Homann-Wedeking (1968) Art of the world. Archaic Geece, pp. 62–65.
  106. ^ "Each part (finger, palm, arm, etc) transmitted its individual existence to the next, and then to the whole": Canon of Polykleitos, also Plotinus, Ennead I.vi.i: Nigel Spivey, pp. 290–294.
  107. ^ Hall, Manly The Secrets Teaching of All Ages Tarcher Penguin 2003 pages 191–221.


Classical secondary sources

Only a few relevant source texts deal with Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans, most are available in different translations. Other texts usually build solely on information in these works.

Modern secondary sources

External links