Pythagoras was born on the Aegean island of Samos, Greece around 580-569BC to parents Mnesarchus a merchant from Tyre (Lebanon) who dealt in gems, and his wife Pythias a native of Samos. His early childhood was spent in Samos, until he reached an age to accompany his father on trading ships.
Pythagoras was educated as an athlete, but all that changed, and he abandoned his chosen education and devoted himself to the study of Philosophy. He learnt much from Chaldea and Pherecydes of Syros.
Aged eighteen, Pythagoras met with Thales, an accomplished master of mathematics and astronomy. The aged Thales is said to have put the young student on the road to understanding science, mathematics and astronomy. Pythagoras studied with Anaximander a former student of Thales.
In 535BC Pythagoras took advice from Thales and journeyed to Egypt, to be tutored by Temple Priests. This was at a time, when he needed to escape the tyranny of Polycrates, the then ruler of Samos. He lived in Egypt for ten years and during his time, completed the rites which gained him admission to the “Temple of Diospolis” and acceptance into the priesthood. It is believed he also studied under Oenuphis of Heliopolis, an Egyptian priest.
In 525BC, Emperor Cambyses II of Persia conquered Egypt. Pythagoras was taken prisoner and taken to Babylon. It was here he associated himself with the Persian priests known as the Magi, and begun studying mathematics, mathematical sciences and music under them.
In 522BC, Cambyses II of Persia died and Polycrates, tyrannical ruler of Samos was killed. These events gave Pythagoras the chance to return to Samos.
Upon returning to Samos in 520BC, he opened a school called “The Semicircle” and his teaching methods appealed to only a few. In 518BC he moved his base to Croton, gathering a band of loyal followers. Later he set up a brotherhood, which developed into a religious/philosophical school with much political influence.
The Pythagoreans, followers of Pythagoras were divided into two sects. Those who lived and worked at the school were referred to as the Mathematikoi or Learners. Others located outside the school were known as Akousmatics or Listeners. Pythagoras was master of both sects.
The Mathematikoi followed strict rules, which defined what they ate, wore or even spoke. They had no personal possessions and were followers of vegetarianism. On the other side the Akousmatics were allowed to have their own personal belongings, eat non-vegetarian foods, and attend school during the day only.
The society practiced strict secrecy about rites, rituals and teachings.
Pythagoras made contributions to mathematics… Today, he is best remembered for his concept of numbers. He believed everything could be reduced to numbers and each had their strength and weaknesses. He believed 10 was a complete number because it was made up on the first four numerical digits (1+2+3+4) and when written in dot notation, formed a triangle. He further believed geometry as the highest form of mathematical studies, through which one could explain the physical world.
Pythagoras’ belief stemmed from his observations of mathematics, music and astronomy. He noticed that vibrating strings produce harmonious tone only when the ratios between the lengths of the strings are whole numbers. He later realized that these ratios could be extended to other instruments.
He also propagated that the soul is immortal. On death of a person, it takes up a new form and it moves from person to person and even to smaller animals through a series of incarnations until it becomes pure and such purification could be undertaken through music and mathematics.
Pythagoras a believer of mysticism, held the belief that certain symbols have mystical significance and that interaction between the opposites was an essential feature of the world.
He taught that Earth was a sphere at the center of the Cosmos. He held the belief that all other planets and stars were spherical because the sphere is the most perfect solid figure.
Pythagoras is remembered for his concept of geometry. His belief being that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles and that for a right-angled triangle the square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. Although the theorem had been discovered previously by the Babylonians, Pythagoras was first to prove it…
Pythagoras was very outspoken and as such attracted many enemies. It is believed; one of those instigated a mob which set fire to his school of learning at Crotana, where forty of his followers were burnt to death.
Pythagoras escaped with his life, and fled to the Locrians who denied him access, and was forced to seek asylum from his enemies at the “Temple of the Muses.” It is believed he died of starvation around 506BC.