The Life of Pythagoras


There is some controversy as to the exact dates of Pythagoras's life, but he was probably born around 570 BC to Mnesarchus and Pythias of Samos, where he began his studies under Thales and Anaximander. When he was 18 he went to study outside Samos. He is said to have spent twelve years in Egypt studying with priests, and also to have traveled to Persia to study under Zoroaster. In these distant countries he gained his extensive knowledge of mathematics and astronomy, as well as instruction in their "barbarian" religions.

Having spent his young life traveling, in search of knowledge wherever it could be gained, Pythagoras returned to Samos with the intention of building a school there. He made his home in a cave, and may indeed have succeeded in the establishment of a school -- but his attempt was short-lived, and at about the age of 40 he again left Samos, probably due to his dissatisfaction with current political sentiment there.

He made short visits to Sparta and Crete to study their politics and legislation before journeying to Southern Italy, where he settled in Croton around 530 BC. Iamblichus tells this story of his arrival: when first Pythagoras reached Croton, he encountered a group of fishermen hauling in their nets. He claimed that he could tell them the exact number of fish in their nets. The fishermen agreed that, if he was correct, they would do anything he said. Pythagoras fulfilled his end of the bargain, and told them to return the fish alive to the sea. He then paid them the price of the fish and went on to Croton. The fishermen were so impressed by him that they spread his name about at home, so that everyone was eager to encounter him.

He began his teaching in the gymnasium at Croton, where young men gathered to hear him speak. For about 20 years he ran a school there before retiring to Metapontum, where he lived another 20 years or so until his death, by which time he was about 100 years old.


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