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PYTHAGORAS (6th century B.C.)

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Originally appearing in Volume V22, Page 698 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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PYTHAGORAS (6th century B.C.), Greek philosopher, was, in all probability, a native of Samos or one of the neighbouring islands (others say a Tyrrhenian, a Syrian or a Tyrian), and the first part of his life may therefore be said to belong to that Ionian seaboard which had already witnessed the first development of philosophic thought in Greece (see IONIAN SCHOOL). The exact year of his birth has been variously placed between 586 and 569 B.C., but 582 may be taken as the most probable date. He was a pupil of Pherecydes (q.v.), and later of Hermodamas (Diog. Laert. viii. 2). He left in Ionia the reputation of a learned and universally informed man. " Of all men Pythagoras, the son of Mnesarchus, was the most assiduous inquirer," says Heracleitus, and then proceeds in his contemptuous fashion to brand his predecessor's wisdom as only eclectically compiled information or polymathy (wroXvµaOloi). This accumulated wisdom, as well as most of the tenets of the Pythagorean school, was attributed in antiquity to the extensive travels of Pythagoras, which brought him in contact (so it was said) not only with the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, the Chaldaeans, the Jews and the Arabians, but also with the Druids of Gaul, the Persian Magi and the Brahmans. But these tales represent only the tendency of a later age to connect the beginnings of Greek speculation with the hoary religions and priesthoods of the East. There is no intrinsic improbability, however, in the statement of Isocrates (Laud. Busir. 28, p. 227 Steph.) that Pythagoras visited Egypt and other countries of the Mediterranean, for travel was one of the few ways of gathering knowledge. Some of the accounts (e.g. Callimachus) represent Pythagoras as deriving much of his mathematical knowledge from Egyptian sources, but, however it may have been with the practical beginnings of geometrical knowledge, the scientific development of mathematical principles can be shown to be an independent product of Greek genius. Some of the rules of the Pythagorean ritual have their Egyptian parallels, as Herodotus points out, but it does not necessarily follow that they were borrowed from that quarter, and he is certainly wrong in tracing the doctrine of metempsychosis (q.v.) to Egypt. The historically important part of his career begins with his migration to Crotona, one of the Dorian colonies in the south of Italy, about the year 529. According to tradition, he was driven from Samos by the tyranny of Polycrates. At Crotona Pythagoras speedily became the centre of a widespread and influential organization, which seems to have resembled a religious brotherhood or an association for the moral reformation of society much more than a philosophic school. Pythagoras appears, indeed, in all the accounts more as a moral reformer than as a speculative thinker or scientific teacher; and the doctrine of the school which is most clearly traceable to Pythagoras himself in the ethico-mystical doctrine of transmigration. The Pythagorean brotherhood had its rise in the wave of religious revival which swept over Hellas in the 6th century B.C., and it had much in common with the Orphic communities which sought by rites and abstinences to purify the believer's soul and enable it to escape from " the wheel of birth." Its aims were undoubtedly those of a religious order rather than a political league. But a private religious organization of this description had no place in the traditions of Greek life, and could only maintain itself by establishing " the rule of the saints " on a political basis. The Pythagoreans appear to have established their supremacy for a time over a considerable part of Magna Graecia, CH,.CO•CH•CO2R C(CH3):C•CO,R NH2R+ CH3•CO•CH•CO2R--s RN\C(CH3):C•CO2R By using compounds of the type NH2R and acetophenone acetoacetic ester C6H5CO•CH2•CH (COCH3)•CO2R,C. Paal obtained similar results. For the benzo-pyrrols see INDOLE.
End of Article: PYTHAGORAS (6th century B.C.)
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