Pythagoras of Samos was a well-known mathematician, scientist and a religious teacher. He was born in Samos and is often hailed as the first great mathematician. Pythagoras is remembered today for his famous theorem in geometry, the ‘Pythagoras Theorem’. His mentors were Thales, Pherekydes and Anaximander, who inspired him to pursue mathematics and astronomy. Pythagoras also made important discoveries in music, astronomy and medicine. He accepted priesthood and performed the rites that were required in order to enter one of the temples in Egypt, known as Diospolis. He set up a brotherhood with some of his followers, who practiced his way of life and pursued his religious ideologies. He became one of the most distinguished teachers of religion in ancient Greece. Read on to know more about the childhood and career of this ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician.
Childhood And Early Life
Pythagoras was born in the island of Samos in around 569 BC. His father, Mnesarchus, was a merchant and his mother Pythais, was a native of Samos. Young Pythagoras spent most of his early years in Samos but travelled to many places with his father. He was intelligent, well-educated. Pythagoras was also fond of poetry and recited the poems of Homer.
It is believed that philosophers like Thales, Pherekydes and Anaximander influenced Pythagoras to a great extent when he was young. Thales created a strong impression on him. He contributed to Pythagoras’s interest in astronomy and mathematics. On Thales’s advice, Pythagoras travelled to Egypt and learned a great deal about astronomy and mathematics there. He attended many lectures given by Anaximander, who was Thales’s pupil. Anaximander’s interest in cosmology and geometry influenced Pythagoras to a large extent.
In 535 BC, Pythagoras left Samos and went to Egypt when Polycrates, the tyrant of Samos, took control. Pythagoras and Polycrates were believed to be friends at one point of time. There are evidences which suggest that Pythagoras was refrained from entering all temples in Egypt except the temple of Diospolis. He accepted priesthood and was allowed to enter the temple of Diospolis after performing the necessary rituals. He took part in several discussions with the Egyptian priests and embraced the various customs of Egyptian priests such as secrecy, not eating beans and wearing clothes that are not made from animal skins. During his time in Egypt, he pursued his education and specialized in Geometry and Mathematics. When Cambyses II, the king of Persia, invaded Egypt in 525 BC, Pythagoras was made prisoner and was taken to Babylon. On attaining freedom, he left Babylon in 520 BC and returned back to Samos. He then travelled to Crete to study the system of laws. He returned to Samos shortly after that and established a school named the ‘Semicircle’. In 518 BC, Pythagoras left Samos again for Southern Italy. It was in Croton, where he founded a religious school and had several followers who adopted his philosophical principles. He had inner circle of followers known as the ‘Mathematikoi’.
Pythagoras was famous for his religious teachings and made several contributions to science and religion. Pythagoras’s teachings were centered on the doctrine of metempsychosis. He believed that a person’s soul does not die and is destined to a cycle of rebirths. The soul is freed from the cycle of births only through the purity of its life. His doctrine later came to be known as ‘Pythagoreanism’, which emphasized on esoteric and metaphysical ideologies. Pythagoras and his followers also believed that a soul or spirit lies in all animals and vegetable life.
Pythagoras studied properties of numbers and classified them as even numbers, odd numbers, triangular numbers and perfect numbers etc. The ‘Pythagoras theorem’ is one of the earliest theorems in geometry, which states that in right-angle triangles, the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of square the other two sides. This theorem was already proposed during the reign of the Babylonian King Hammurabi, but Pythagoras applied it to mathematics and science and refined the concept. Pythagoras also asserted that dynamics of the structure of the universe lies on the interaction of the contraries or the opposites, such as, light and darkness, limited and unlimited, square and oblong, straight and crooked, right and left, singularity and plurality, male and female, motionless and movement and good and bad.
There are very few records regarding Pythagoras’s personal life. According to some historical accounts, Pythagoras married Theano, who was a native of Croton. He had one son named Telauges and three daughters Myia, Damo and Arignote.
Death And Legacy
Most of his works were lost throughout the history and very few survived. Pythagorean brotherhood couldn’t survive for long as they were suppressed. According to certain historical accounts Pythagoras died along with his disciples in the temple, while some other evidences suggest that he fled to Tarentum and then to Metapontum, where he starved himself to death.