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Pythagoras of Samos

569 BC in Samos, Ionia - 475 BC

Most people have heard of Pythagoras because they learn about his theorem while still at school. So you probably think that there was this great mathematician philosopher who invented this beautifully simple, yet incredibly useful theorem. Well you may be wrong on both accounts: we can't with absolute certainty say that Pythagoras actually existed, and we can with absolute certainty say that he didn't really invent the theorem but that the theorem was actually known and used by ancient Babylonians.

Enough of that uncertainty - let us see what we know about Pythagoras. What we know about him comes mostly from two Syrian philosophers: Iamblichus (who was born around 250 and died about 330 AD) and Porphyry (233-309 AD). If you look at the timeline you will see that a considerable amount of time passed between Pythagoras' death and these two historians writing about him, and this brings about a question about how certain could they had been about events and people in Pythagoras' life. You can think of it as being similar to you trying to find out something about a mediaeval scientist and writing about his life.  

Nevertheless, from Iamblichus and Porphyry we learn that Pythagoras was influenced by two philosophers-mathematicians: Thales and Anaximander, who both lived in Miletus. Anaximander was a pupil of Thales, and Pythagoras apparently met them both, attending some lectures by Anaximander in Miletus. Thales then advised Pythagoras that to learn mathematics he must travel to Egypt, which he did.

This seemed to have been a lasting influence in Pythagoras' life and on his philosophical and mathematical approach. Upon his return to Samos, Pythagoras founded a school to teach philosophy and mathematics, but moved later to Croton. There his school flourished - and you can learn more about it and about the belief systems that stem from Pythagorean teaching by clicking here.



Click on the picture above to learn more about Pythagoreans.

More about Greek mathematics in general

Click on the picture above to learn more about Thales

More on Pythagoras' Theorem

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