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Pythagŏras

Πυθαγόρας).


1.

A celebrated Greek philosopher, a native of Samos, and the son of Mnesarchus, who was either a merchant, or, according to others, an engraver of signets. The date of his birth is uncertain; but all authorities agree that he flourished in the times of Polycrates and Tarquinius Superbus (B.C. 540-510). He studied in his own country under Creophilus, Pherecydes of Syros, and others, and is said to have visited Egypt and many countries of the East for the purpose of acquiring knowledge. We have not much trustworthy evidence, either as to the kind and amount of knowledge which he acquired, or as to his definite philosophical views. It is certain, however, that he believed in the transmigration of souls; and he is said to have pretended that he had been Euphorbus, the son of Panthoüs, in the Trojan War, as well as various other characters. He is further said to have discovered the propositions that the triangle inscribed in a semicircle is right-angled; that the square on the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares on the sides. There is a celebrated story of his having discovered the arithmetical relations of the musical scale by observing accidentally the various sounds produced by hammers of different weights striking upon an anvil, and suspending by strings weights equal to those of the different hammers. The retailers of the story of course never took the trouble to verify the experiment, or they would have discovered that different hammers do not produce different sounds from the same anvil, any more than different clappers do from the same bell. Discoveries in astronomy are also attributed to Pythagoras. There can be little doubt that he paid great attention to arithmetic, and its application to weights, measures, and the theory of music. Apart from all direct testimony, however, it may safely be affirmed that the very remarkable influence exerted by Pythagoras, and even the fact that he was made the hero of so many marvellous stories, proves him to have been a man both of singular capabilities and of great acquirements. It may also be affirmed with safety that the religious element was the predominant one in the character of Pythagoras, and that religious ascendancy in connection with a certain mystic religious system was the object which he chiefly laboured to secure. It was this religious element which made the profoundest impression upon his contemporaries. They regarded him as standing in a peculiarly close connection with the gods. The Crotoniats even identified him with the Hyperborean Apollo. And, without viewing him as an impostor, we may easily believe that he himself, to some extent, shared the same views. He pretended to divination and prophecy; and he appears as the revealer of a mode of life calculated to raise his disciples above the level of mankind, and to recommend them to the favour of the gods. No certainty can be arrived at as to the length of time spent by Pythagoras in Egypt or the East, or as to his residence and efforts in Samos or other Grecian cities, before he settled at Crotona in Italy. He probably removed to Crotona because he found it impossible to realize his schemes in his native country while under the tyranny of Polycrates. The reason why he selected Crotona as the sphere of his operations it is impossible to ascertain; but soon after his arrival in that city he attained extensive influence, and gained over great numhers to enter into his views. His adherents were chiefly of the noble and wealthy classes. Three hundred of these were formed into a select brotherhood or club, bound by a sort of vow to Pythagoras and each other, for the purpose of cultivating the religious and ascetic observances enjoined by their master, and of studying his religious and philosophical theories. Everything that was done and taught among the members was kept a profound secret from all without its pale. It was an old Pythagorean maxim, that everything was not to be told to everybody. There were also gradations among the members themselves, as in the distinction of ἀκουσματικοί or “hearers” as contrasted with μαθηματικοί or esoteric students. In the admission of candidates Pythagoras is said to have placed great reliance on his physiognomical discernment. If admitted, they had to pass through a period of probation, in which their powers of maintaining silence were especially tested, as well as their general temper, disposition, and mental capacity. As regards the nature of the esoteric instruction to which only the most approved members of the fraternity were admitted, some have supposed that it had reference to the political views of Pythagoras. Others have maintained, with greater probability, that it related mainly to the orgies, or secret religious doctrines and usages, which undoubtedly formed a prominent feature in the Pythagorean system, and were peculiarly connected with the worship of Apollo. There were some outward peculiarities of an ascetic kind in the mode of life to which the members of the brotherhood were subjected. Some represent him as forbidding all animal food; but all the members cannot have been subjected to this prohibition, since the athletic Milo, for instance, could not possibly have dispensed with animal food. According to some ancient authorities, he allowed the use of all kinds of animal food except the flesh of oxen used for ploughing, and rams. There is a similar discrepancy as to the prohibition of fish and beans. But temperance of all kinds seems to have been strictly enjoined. It is also stated that they had common meals, resembling the Spartan syssitia, at which they met in companies of ten. Considerable importance seems to have been attached to music and gymnastics in the daily exercises of the disciples. Their whole discipline is represented as tending to produce a lofty serenity and self-possession, regarding the exhibition of which various anecdotes were current in antiquity. Among the best ascertained features of the brotherhood are the devoted attachment of the members to each other, and their sovereign contempt for those who did not belong to their ranks. It appears that they had some secret conventional symbols, by which members of the fraternity could recognize each other, even if they had never met before. Clubs similar to that at Crotona were established at Sybaris, Metapontum, Tarentum, and other cities of Magna Graecia. The institutions of Pythagoras were certainly not intended to withdraw those who adopted them from active exertion, that they might devote themselves exclusively to religious and philosophical contemplations. He rather aimed at the production of a calm bearing and elevated tone of character, through which those trained in the discipline of the Pythagorean life should exhibit in their personal and social capacities a reflection of the order and harmony of the universe. Whether he had any distinct political designs in the foundation of his brotherhood is doubtful; but it was perfectly natural, even without any express design on his part, that a club such as the Three Hundred of Crotona should gradually come to mingle political with other objects, and, by the facilities afforded by their secret and compact organization, should speedily gain extensive political influence. That this influence should be decisively on the side of aristocracy or oligarchy resulted naturally both from the nature of the Pythagorean institutions, and from the rank and social position of the members of the brotherhood. Through them, of course, Pythagoras himself exercised a large amount of indirect influence over the affairs both of Crotona and of other Italian cities. This Pythagorean brotherhood or order resembled in many respects the one founded by Loyola. It is easy to understand how this aristocratical and exclusive club would excite the jealousy and hostility not only of the democratical party in Crotona, but also of a considerable number of the opposite faction. The hatred which they had excited speedily led to their destruction. The populace of Crotona rose against them; and an attack was made upon them while assembled either in the house of Milo, or in some other place of meeting. The building was set on fire, and many of the assembled members perished; only the more active escaped. Similar commotions ensued in the other cities of Magna Graecia in which Pythagorean clubs had been formed. As an active and organized brotherhood, the Pythagorean Order was everywhere suppressed; but the Pythagoreans still continued to exist as a sect, the members of which kept up among themselves their religious observances and scientific pursuits, while individuals, as in the case of Archytas, acquired now and then great political influence.

Respecting the fate of Pythagoras himself, the accounts varied. Some say that he perished in the temple with his disciples, others that he fled first to Tarentum, and that, being driven thence, he escaped to Metapontum, and there starved himself to death. His tomb was shown at Metapontum in the time of Cicero. According to some accounts, Pythagoras married Theano , a lady of Crotona, and had a daughter Damo, and a son Telauges, or, according to others, two daughters, Damo and Myia ; while other notices seem to imply that he had a wife and a daughter grown up when he came to Crotona. When we come to inquire what were the philosophical or religious opinions held by Pythagoras himself, we are met at the outset by the difficulty that even the authors from whom we have to draw possessed no authentic records bearing upon the age of Pythagoras himself. If Pythagoras ever wrote anything, his writings perished with him, or not long after. The probability is that he wrote nothing. Everything current under his name in antiquity is spurious. It is all but certain that Philolaüs was the first who published the Pythagorean doctrines, at any rate in a written form. (See Philolaüs.) Still there was so marked a peculiarity running through the Pythagorean philosophy that there can be little question as to the germs of the system, at any rate, having been derived from Pythagoras himself. Pythagoras resembled the philosophers of the Ionic school, who undertook to solve, by means of a single primordial principle, the vague problem of the origin and constitution of the universe as a whole. His predilection for mathematical studies led him to trace the origin of all things to number, his theory being suggested, or at all events confirmed, by the observation of various numerical relations, or analogies to them, in the phenomena of the universe. Musical principles likewise played almost as important a part in the Pythagorean system as mathematical or numerical ideas. We find running through the entire system the idea that order, or harmony of relation, is the regulating principle of the whole universe. The intervals between the heavenly bodies were supposed to be determined according to the laws and relations of musical harmony. Hence arose the celebrated doctrine of the harmony of the spheres; for the heavenly bodies, in their motion, could not but occasion a certain sound or note, depending on their distances and velocities; and as these were determined by the laws of harmonical intervals, the notes altogether formed a regular musical scale or harmony. This harmony, however, we do not hear, either because we have been accustomed to it from the first, and have never had an opportunity of contrasting it with stillness, or because the sound is so powerful as to exceed our capacities for hearing. The ethics of the Pythagoreans consisted more in ascetic practice, and maxims for the restraint of the passions, especially of anger, and the cultivation of the power of endurance, than in scientific theory. What of the latter they had was, as might be expected, intimately connected with their numbertheory. Happiness consisted in the science of the perfection of the virtues of the soul, or in the perfect science of numbers. Likeness to the Deity was to be the object of all our endeavours, man becoming better as he approaches the gods, who are the guardians and guides of men. Great importance was attached to the influence of music in controlling the force of the passions. Self-examination was strongly insisted on. The transmigration of souls was viewed apparently in the light of a process of purification. Souls under the dominion of sensuality either passed into the bodies of animals, or, if incurable, were thrust down into Tartarus to meet with expiation or condign punishment. The pure were exalted to higher modes of life, and at last attained to incorporeal existence. As regards the fruits of this system of training or belief, it is interesting to remark, that wherever we have notices of distinguished Pythagoreans, we usually hear of them as men of great uprightness, conscientiousness, and self-restraint, and as capable of devoted and enduring friendship. (See Archytas; Damon; and Phintias.) Existing works that bear the name of Pythagoras are spurious. See Günther, Carmen Aureum (Breslau, 1816); Schneeberger, Die goldenen Sprüche des Pythagoras (Münnerstadt, 1862). On the life of Pythagoras, see the Eng. version of the life by Iamblichus made by Taylor (London, 1818); and, in general, Ritter, Geschichte der Pythagorischen Philosophie (Hamburg, 1826); Brandis, Ueber die Zahlenlehre der Pythagoreer und Platoniker in the Rheinisches Museum for 1828; Gladisch, Die Pythagoreer (Posen, 1841); Grote, History of Greece, vol. iv. pp. 525-551; Langel, Pythagore, in the Revue des Deux Mondes for 1864, pp. 969-989; Rathgeber, Grossgriechenland und Pythagoras (Gotha, 1866); Baltzer, Pythagoras der Weise von Samos (Nordhausen, 1868); Chaignet, Pythagore et la Philosophie Pythagorienne (Paris, 1873); Gow, Short History of Mathematics (London, 1884); Zeller, The Pre-Socratic Schools (Eng. trans. 1882); and the article Philosophia.


2.

Of Rhegium, one of the most celebrated statuaries of Greece, probably flourished B.C. 480-430. His most important works appear to have been his statues of athletes.

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