Pythagoras: Inherited Legend and Fables? Or a True Story?

Pythagoras Case!

Pythagoras: Myth OR Reality?

Since school days up till now, every time the word “Pythagoras” is said, our minds rush without even a small hurdle to the theorem we all know today: the square of c equals the square of a added to the square of b. In other words c²=a²+b². However, no student at class tried to ask – at least in my classes – who is Pythagoras? Or at least What is Pythagoras? Is he an alien? robot? human? etc.

The most important thing for a teenager in secondary school is only to summarize what is given to him in order to pass his annoying quizzes and exams. Even many of college students I met during my studies in Engineering Faculty didn’t even bother to ask the lecturer anything regarding the names each formula refers to.

I have been curious for some days about this topic. So I started searching in my  history books for evidence that proves existence of Pythagoras. I could conclude from the facts I found out that it is only a legend. However, the same facts may lead other researchers to conclude the opposite. It really depends how much your brain is prepared to accepts what you read.

Who is Pythagoras?

Pythagoras (569? – 500? BC) is a Greek mathematician, philosopher, mystic, and investigator of nature born in Samos, Greece. He traveled to Egypt where he learned a lot from the priests there. His next stop was Babylon, where he arranged a visit. His major works were determined in Croton, Southern Italy; there he founded a secret brotherhood for high mathematical thinking, nonsensical mental, ethical, and moral speculation. Several sources claim he was the first mathematician on Earth.

His contribution to mathematics was the insertion of proof to it. Before his days, it is said that people used a collection of rules of thumb. Also, they never suspected any clue to a general formula used to deduce all their calculations. Pythagoras discovered that laws of geometry are the outcomes of some axioms and postulates.

Pythagoras, according to one legend, died by his school’s flame when it was fired by religious and political bigots who provoked the masses against his enlightenment. The information up till here is from E.T.Bell’s book chapter 2, Men of Mathematics.

Debate Surrounding the Issue.

I surfed the web for reliable sources. And I felt that Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is worth stopping at to examine. What information does the article contain?

The article reports that the earliest sources around Pythagoras are in Aristotle’s fragments and that of Plato 150 years later. These fragments showcase Pythagoras famous not as a mathematician or a scientist. Rather, he is famous as an expert in soul fate. He preaches that soul is immortal and travels through a series of incarnations. Next, he is well-known for religious rituals. What’s incredible, is he had a thigh of gold. He also acquired the ability to be in two places simultaneously. He is also famous for being the founder of a strict way of life including limiting dietary, rituals, and tough self discipline. Moreover, Pythagoras wrote nothing. Or at least none is found related to his works.

One can easily find that in Plato’s Republic in Book 10 mention of Pythagoras as a preacher of wisdom. He established life rules attracted his followers. However, in Book 7, the word “Pythagorean” refers to a group of people who learned harmonious motions through their ears. Adding to that, Pythagoreans were criticized for errors that why some numbers are harmonious and others not.

Pythagoras Acquired his Knowledge and Wisdom from Egypt?

In a paper by Leonid Zhmud published in “Historia Mathematica” journal with the title “Pythagoras As A Mathematician”, the author claims Pythagoras as a real mathematician. He defends his claims against opinions proposing that Pythagoras obtained his knowledge from Egypt. He finds no clue linking Ancient Greek scientists’ works with any Egyptian influence. Then, he came to the conclusion that Pythagoras never traveled to Egypt or at least didn’t copy their works. Moreover, in the same paper Zhmud refers to Iamblichus – Syrian Philosopher (245 – 325 A.D) – listed legends about Hippasus – Hippasus of Metapontum, a Pythagorean Philosopher  (500 B.C?). One of the legends shows Hippasus punished by the gods for revealing secrets about Pythagoras teaching secrets. Zhmud seems to make a lot of effort to find evidence for the sake of granting credits in Mathematics discoveries for Pythagoras. Furthermore, he mentions the old fragments written by Aristotle referring to Pythagoras which reads the following: “Pythagoras, son of Mnesarchus, first devoted himself to the study of mathematics, in particular of number, but later he could not refrain from the miracle-making of Pherecydes.”

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy showcase Zhmud’s arguments, but it concludes, by referring to Carl Huffman’s works, that these words have no relation to Aristotle.

We conclude then, that it’s up to the reader researching the topic and historical clues, how his mind adopts to what he touches. I am sure there’s still a division about this topic; many researchers will find clues Pythagoras was present one day in history with his teachings, school, and discoveries. On the other hand, many others will disagree with this for the reason of insufficient evidence carrying them to the true story.

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