Back to Home Page or
Contents Page or People
A Greek philosopher of sixth century BC who founded a school and a philosophical
named after him. Born on the Greek island of Samos, off of the coast of
Asia Minor, he migrated as an adult to the Greek city-state of Croton (modern
Crotone), in southern Italy about 530 BC
As a teacher and leader Pythagoras possessed extraordinary charisma. In
Croton he established a society or brotherhood of religious-ethical orientation.
Within its initiates the society fostered strong bonds of friendship and
a feeling of elitism through ritual, esoteric symbolism, and a code of righteous
self-control that included taboos.
The basis of his teaching was ethical, religious, and mystical. He believed
in metempsychosis, the concept that the soul, both human and animal, passes
from one body to another body. It is uncertain whether metempsychosis included
the belief in the immortality of the soul or not. However, the concept provided
the rationale for many of the practices within his society which included:
vegetarianism and rituals of purification which were thought to promote
The body of legend which grew around Pythagoras attribute to him superhuman
abilities and feats. Some think these legends developed because it is more
likely that Pythagoras was a Greek shaman. Other modern scholars have drawn
comparisons with the ideas of the religious sect of Orphism and the ideas of Indian and Persian religions which
indicate influences on Pythagoras.
Pythagoras was thought to be a polymath by his contemporaries. However,
some modern scholars discount this and doubt that he was the founder of
Greek mathematics, or even the geometric theorem named after him.
He died in Metapontum, near modern Metaponto. A.G.H.
P.D. Mourelatos, The University of Texas in Austin) 61.