Pythagorean Brotherhood


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Pythagoras in his school

When Pythagoras came to Croton, he founded a philosophical school called 'semicircle'. The school had many followers, but the inner circle of the school had smaller number of philosophers/mathematicians who were called mathematikoi . They lived as if they were in a monastery, having no private property and observing a number of strict rules. Among other things, they believed that

  • Nature and the whole reality has an underlying mathematical structure
  • That philosophy should be used for spiritual purification
  • That the soul which is pure can rise to experience the union with the divine
  • That certain symbols (including mathematical) have a mystical significance.

Mathematikoi were both men and women, while the outer circle of followers, known as akousmatics lived in their own families and homes, and attended the society's meetings and lectures during the day. They were not required to follow the strict rules as mathematikoi.

It would be wrong to say that Pythagoreans were organised as a research group, or research institution or university. They were rather a philosophical and in a way, religious society, who, because they believed that at the root of all reality lies mathematical truth, studied mathematics and properties of mathematical objects.

This was however, very important for the development of mathematical thought generally, as their study made abstraction of mathematical ideas somewhat common-place and well known in philosophical and therefore in mathematical circles.

Pythagoreans studied varied array of subjects such as:

  • Numbers (and had mathematically formulated odd, triangular and perfect numbers)
  • Music (and noticed that the ratios of the lengths of the strings are whole numbers, and that these ratios can be extended to other instruments)
  • Geometry (and made it into a science which is deserving of study for its own sake and not only for practical purposes).

It is believed that Cylon, a powerful citizen of Croton, wanted to become one of mathematikoi which Pythagoras refused him. This led to a whole-scale attack on Pythagoras and his followers, and their ultimate persecution and demise after the death of Pythagoras himself.




Learn more about Pythagoras himself by clicking on the picture above

More about Greek mathematics in general


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