Pythagoras of Samos is a man who was more than just a mathematician. A Greek philosopher, founder of the Pythagorean brotherhood, he was an extremely important political figure for his time. He invented vegetarianism and created one of the first secret organizations. Not much is known about his mathematical achievements because he never wrote anything down. It is unsure where his views end and his disciple’s views began. He influenced Plato and Aristotle and made contributions to the development of mathematics and western philosophy.
Details of Pythagoras's life stem from early biographies and there are conflicting reports of his birth date and death. It is clear that his father’s name was Mnesarchus and his mother’s name was Pythais. Mnesarchus was a merchant who originated from Tyre and who is thought that his father was seen as a hero to the village for bringing food to the people during a famine. It is said that he was granted citizenship to Samos instantly for his great effort. Pythagoras traveled to many places with his father and was taught by a group called the Chaldaeans and intelligent men of Syria.
Pythagoras’s childhood was most likely spent learning to play the lyre, learning poetry and reciting Homer. His physical appearance is unknown except for a scar he might have had on his thigh. Among his teachers there were three men that influenced him the most Pherekydes, Thales, and Anaximander. Thales might have been the most influential to Pythagoras’ formulation of a mathematical following. He did not teach him very much on other subjects but peaked his interest in math and astronomy. Anaximander was Thales’ pupil. He gave lectures on geometry and cosmology and these ideas influenced Pythagoras as well.
During his time in Egypt, Pythagoras spent time with priests and visiting temples. He also became a priest at the temple Diopolis. He was so intrigued by the traditions of the Egyptians that he incorporated the secrecy of the priesthood, the refusal to eat beans, and the refusal to wear clothes made from animal skins into his methods of teaching. While in Egypt, Pythagoras was captured and taken to Babylon. In prison, Pythagoras learned about sacred rites and mystical worships of the gods from the Magoi. He also reached the pinnacle of perfection in arithmetic and music and the other mathematical sciences taught by th...
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...s to aide his ailing teacher Pherekydes. There was a war between Croton and its neighbor Sybaris and it is said that Pythagoras had been involved in some way. Unexpectedly, his own Society was attacked by a noble from Croton. Pythagoras managed to escape but there are conflicting reports to when he actually perished. It is clear that the Society was thriving at the same time under attack for its ideals. At the time of Pythagoras’s reported death the Society continued for many years and spread to other Italian countries. The Society also became politically involved and split into a number of sections.
Pythagoras is a world-renowned contributor to mathematics and a mystifying person. We can never know how much he truly gave or could have given to the math world, but his legacy lives on through his unbeatable achievements.
3. The Mathematical Traveler: Exploring the Grand History of Numbers by Calvin C. Clawson, Perseus Books Group, April 1994
4. “Pythagoras”. Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2001 http://encarta.msn.com
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