Pythagoras: His Life, Teaching, and Influence

Translated by Steven Rendall
Christoph Riedweg
Andreas Schatzmann
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 198
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6484-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiii)
    Christoph Riedweg
  4. [Map]
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  5. 1. FICTION AND TRUTH: Ancient Stories about Pythagoras
    (pp. 1-41)

    Ancient reports about Pythagoras suggest a multifaceted man. Many aspects of this picture are familiar: Pythagoras the mathematician, the discoverer of certain basic principles of acoustics, the natural philosopher, and perhaps also Pythagoras the adherent to vegetarianism and to the doctrine of the transmigration of souls. Other aspects strike us as alien and may make us wonder whether Pythagoras can be considered a “thinker” in the narrow sense at all. With the word thinker we usually associate the idea of a philosophically reflective person who strives, by using reason in a methodical way, to achieve clarity regarding things and the...

    (pp. 42-97)

    In the preceding chapter we presented the simultaneously stimulating and confusing multiplicity of ancient reports regarding Pythagoras and his school. Turning now to the historical roots of this figure, we are immediately confronted by a fundamental question: Can we really know anything at all about Pythagoras himself, who probably lived from about 570 b.c.e. to around 480 b.c.e. (the precise dates of his life are uncertain)?¹ Isn’t direct access to him entirely foreclosed—and all the more so because like Buddha, Socrates, and Jesus, the sage of Samos is supposed deliberately not to have written anything, so that basically there...

    (pp. 98-113)

    Before trying to answer the question in our heading, it seems necessary to attempt a brief clarification of the term sect. It is well known that this loan-word comes from the Latin noun secta, which by way of the intensive form sectari derives from the verb sequi, “to follow, to follow after,” and hence denotes first of all the direction/line one “follows.” Unlike the current modern use of the word, no value judgment is initially attached to this term. Thus, for example, in antiquity people spoke of the secta of the Stoics, of the Peripatetics, or of the Academics, and...

    (pp. 114-134)

    There can be no doubt that with his personality and doctrines, the charismatic Pythagoras made an extremely strong impression on his immediate environment. It is harder to gauge, though, whether and to what extent his opinions had an effect outside the Pythagorean community (in the narrower and in the wider senses). It is tempting to assume that after the extensive dissolution of the organizational structures resulting from the anti-Pythagorean riots, this influence became more widespread as the surviving members of the community were dispersed and people were more likely to come into contact with Pythagoreans, especially in Greece. However, as...

    (pp. 135-140)
    (pp. 141-144)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 145-162)
    (pp. 163-176)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 177-184)