Pythagoras (6th C BCE) was a Greek philosopher and geometrist born on the island of Samos. He is credited with inventing the intervals of the musical scale, the Pythagorean theorem and a complicated system of representing the universe through numbers.
His moral teachings included asceticism and a belief in the transmigration of souls. He founded a moral and religious school in Crotona but was forced to move to Metapontum due to prolonged persecution.
S. G. F. Brandon says this persecution probably arose because of Pythagoreanism’s similarity to Orphism.¹ On this point sociologists and professors of religion like John Gager have proposed an “in-group” “out-group” conflict theory. According to this theory, conflict and persecution may arise when a minority, challenger group shares too many features with a more powerful, orthodox group.
Not just a dry philosophy, Pythagoreanism was regarded as a practical guide to living a valuable life. But the school is best known for its contribution to the study of numbers.
His thinking, and that of his followers, had a profound influence on the work of Plato.
And Pythagorean ideas resurfaced in Rome and Alexandria from the 1st C. BCE.
Today, every math student learns the Pythagorean Theorem:
For a right-angled triangle, the square of the length of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the remaining two sides.
¹ S. G. F. Brandon (ed.) Dictionary of Comparative Religion, New York: Scribner’s, 1970, p. 520.
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