Wisdom of the Ancient Sages
In Search of the Divine Nature of the Soul
An Introduction to Pythagoras
The first thing that anyone should know about Pythagoras is the widespread controversy regarding the authenticity of the information provided in different sources, concerning his life, his work and his powers to work wonders and heal through music.
Pythagoras' existence has been connected to divine origin, guidance, inspiration and assistance. For his disciples, whatever he said was an Oracle of God, but through the centuries people have known Pythagoras more as a great mathematician of the antiquity, rather than a great mystic.
According to legend Ancaeus, a descendant of God Jupiter, from the Ionian island of Cephalonia, was the one who colonized the island of Samos following the instructions of Pythia in the Oracle of Delphi. It is said that Pythagoras's parents, Mnesarchus and Pythais, descended from the family of Ancaeus. On a visit to the Oracle of Delphi, Pythia had told Mnesarchus about the greatness, the wisdom and the benefit his son would bring on humanity.
570 - 495 BC
Another legend, based on a song by a Samian poet, says that Pythagoras was the son of God Apollo and Pythias, the fairest woman of the Samian race.
Mnesarchus provided Pythagoras with the best education and Creophilus and Pherecydes were his first teachers. When his father died, Pythagoras travelled to Asia Minor and there he studied under the guidance of great teachers and wise men like Thalis, Bias and Anaximander. It is also believed that Pythagoras acquired his extensive knowledge by travelling to Egypt where he was taught geometry and spent some time with the priests of Jupiter and Memphis. He is also said to have travelled to Phoenicia where he learned arithmetic, to Babylon and Chaldea where astronomy flourished, and even to India to delve into the religious principles of mysticism.
Did you know
that Pythagoras avoided eating beans because he believed they had a soul?
At the age of forty, and because of the unbearable regime of the tyranny of Polycrates, Pythagoras left Samos and emigrated to southern Italy, to the Greek city of Croton where he started a school of philosophy which attracted a great number of pupils and followers who, apart from philosophizing and doing scientific work, lived a life of purity by abstaining from sexual practices and certain foods. They were also dressed in white and avoided speaking about the holy. That way of life attracted protest and violence against Pythagoras and his disciples and that made him flee to Metapontum, another Greek city in the south of Italy, where he died some time around 490 BC.
Pythagoras, himself did not leave any written works, but through the philosophical school he founded in Croton, his ideas, beliefs and knowledge, as well as the works of his pupils have formed a way of approaching science, philosophy and religion called Pythagoreanism.
Pythagoras, from the painting "The School of Athens" (Scuola di Atene) by Raphael (~1510).
Pythagoreanism is based on 6 major principles concerning knowledge, study & human development:
a) the mathematical nature of music, astronomy and the metaphysical conception of numbers and reality,
b) spiritual achievements, purification and ascension through philosophy,
c) the divine nature of the soul and its capability of union with its divine source,
d) the use of mystical symbols, such as the tetraktys, the harmony of the spheres and the golden section,
e) the use of the Pythagorean theorem and,
f) the demand of secrecy and strict loyalty of the members of his school.
Pythagoras and his disciples dealt mainly with metaphysics and they used methods that can be found only in mystery religious, like the ancient Orphism, in their search of the divine nature of the soul. Even though there is significant historical uncertainty about the heterogenous material, and the authors of different philosophies and scientific treatises, Pythagoreanism has greatly contributed to western culture.
The transmigration of the soul was a major belief of the Pythagoreans. Pythagoras himself claimed that he was able to remember his previous incarnations, that he had shamanic powers and taught the purification of the soul through music and certain mental activities. His disciples attributed to him the ability to accurately predict earthquakes and to calm the waves of the seas and rivers they were travelling on. They also believed that Pythagoras was able to travel through the air using a dart given to him by Apollo. This way they explained how he discoursed simultaneously with his disciples at two different towns miles away one from the other.
Connected to metaphysics, was the study of numbers and the concept that all things are proportional in terms of numbers, an idea of great significance for the Western civilization. Going a step further, they maintained that the harmony of the cosmos was also based on mathematics. The tetraktys, the perfect triangle, represented the order of things and its application on music revealed the hidden order of sounds. Pythagoras claimed that he was able to hear the music of the heavens, and that the array of the heavenly bodies in connection to their distance from the Earth resulted in his theory of "the harmony of the spheres".
Apart from metaphysical, Pythagorean thought was scientific, with developments in astronomy, science, music, arithmetic and geometry mainly with the application of the Pythagorean theorem. The Pythagorean doctrine of opposites can be seen as a bridge between mathematics and philosophy, starting with the opposites of the odd and even numbers. The odd numbers are the limiting numbers, which represent the active force effecting harmony on the unlimited ,which are the even numbers. In the Pythagorean society there was a table of ten opposites, such as light-darkness, good-evil, male-female, which somehow fit together not only in the cosmos, but also in the micro-cosmos of each individual.
The fact that we only know Pythagoras through the descriptions of others does not give us the opportunity to have a clear idea of his philosophical beliefs and form our own opinion on the true value of the philosopher. Moreover, about 150 years after his death, Pythagoras was regarded as the master philosopher of the Greek culture, so a large number of books were forged in his name or in the name of his close disciples. It is also suggested that from those forged books, Plato and Aristotle derived some of their philosophical ideas for works like Timaeus and Categories. The mystery concerning the authenticity of Pythagoras's ideas has been puzzling modern philosophers and scholars up to this day, and it will probably puzzle them in the centuries to come.
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