Notebook, 1993-


Ancient Greek Philosophy
The Phythagoreans

The community of the Pythagoreans appears to have been first organized at the close of the 6th Century B.C. as a religious and political movement in the large cities of Magna Graecia. Its founder was Pythagoras of Samos [570-496 B.C.] who had fled from his native country on account of the tyrant Polycrates. His travels were widespread until he finally settled in Magna Graecia. The community of [p. 156] Pythagoreans was not a philosophical sect but a religious brotherhood which sought the moral and intellectual reawakening of all mankind. Its members, both men and women, abided by certain rules in the 'Pythagorean fashion'. The purpose was salvation from the cycle of births [Orphism] and the return to the lost divine state of blessedness. The brethren believed in the immortality of the soul and its transmigration, for the perishable body was but a tomb or prison which the soul had inhabited for a time. It was in effect a sophisticated form of mystery religion in which strict training, intellectual and physical was practiced. Mathematics and Music were the principal intellectual training fields, and gymnastics were practiced to strengthen physical stamina which in turn supplements the intellect. The meaning of the contemplative life according to the Pythagoreans was that knowledge prepared the soul in finding the path of its salvation. This path leads from the sensible and the perishable to the intelligible and the eternal. Thus from the need for the purification of the soul which was exclusively a religious aim, there emerged pure thought, the knowledge of logic. Thus the terms cleanliness or purity, and purification, had two meanings, the religious and the logical purification of the soul. The new faith in believing that every scientific truth was based on pure logical precepts raised mathematics for the first time into an independent science and the rules of the techniques of measurement of the earth assumed the shape of geometry. The school quickly registered remarkable advances in geometrical proofs and the theory of numbers, for the art of calculation became a pure arithmetic, that is, a theory of numbers. With this switch of the Pythagoreans from the practical arts to pure theory, the systematic interpretation of philosophy as a pure science was created. The basic [p. 157] theory of this school was that number is the substance or matter of beings. The Pythagoreans did not identify the sensible beings with numbers, but relate beings to numbers, hence separation the one from the other. In speaking of the Pythagoreans, Aristotle relates that in accordance with their theory, specific beings 'imitate' the relationships of numbers. But the Pythagorean contribution to music, or, to be more accurate, to acoustics, is of even greater interest than their cosmology, for musical harmony and the fixed intervals in the scale which were based on certain mathematical ratios intrigued the master philosopher. [p. 156-158]

[Kyriazis, Constantine D. Eternal Greece. Translated by Harry T. Hionides. A Chat Publication.]



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