One of the most important mathematical theorems is named after
Pythagoras of Samos, but this semi-mythical Greek sage has more to
offer than formulas. He is said to have discovered the numerical
nature of the basic consonances and transposed the musical
proportions to the cosmos, postulating a "harmony of the spheres."
He may have coined the words "cosmos" and "philosophy." He is also
believed to have taught the doctrine of transmigration of souls and
therefore to have advised a vegetarian diet.
Ancient legends have Pythagoras conversing with dogs, bears, and
bulls. A distinctly Pythagorean way of life, including detailed
ritual regulations, was observed by his disciples, who were
organized as a secret society. Later, Pythagorean and Platonic
teachings became fused. In this Platonized form, Pythagoreanism has
remained influential through medieval Christianity and the
Renaissance down to the present.
Christoph Riedweg's book is an engaging introduction to the
fundamental contributions of Pythagoras to the establishment of
European culture. To penetrate the intricate maze of lore and
ascertain what history can tell us about the philosopher, Riedweg
not only examines the written record but also considers Pythagoras
within the cultural, intellectual, and spiritual context of his
times. The result is a vivid overview of the life and teachings of
a crucial Greek thinker and his most important followers.
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