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E - 15 : Pythagoras - More Legend than a Man

When I plan our trips, I usually work with a big map on one side of my laptop and my iPad on the other. On the iPad I look up details. Google Earth is perfect for that task – am not a fan of google who thinks it is legitimate to read personal e-mails. They should be broken up. But some of their stuff is amazing and amazingly useful.

Working on the second week of this year’s sailing, I am looking for a port near Crotone in Calabria (yes, the “Mafia” town) which has enough depth for AFAET’s 4.1 meters of draft. I found a harbor but without the information I need. Instead, I found a Pythagoras Museum and wondered what such a museum is doing there. We all know of Pythagoras theorem and that he was a Greek mathematician. But it seems he was actually living in Calabria and that he was not a mathematician either. Aristotle said that he used mathematics only for mystical purposes.

Pythagoras was more a philosopher who believed in re-incarnation and was thus a devoted vegetarian. He also practiced celibacy and frequent fasting to cleanse his mind. His idea of an eternal soul influenced later philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristoteles. None of his texts survived – if there were any. The school of Pythagoras was rather secretive and shared its believes only with its closest followers.

The secretive school of Pythagoras celebrating the re-incarnation of the sun at daw

We know very little about Pythagoras’ life. There are no direct sources. All we have are secondhand accounts which are impossible to corroborate. Apparently, Pythagoras was born into a wealthy merchant family in Samos, the Greek Island, 30 km north-west of Miletus in Anatolia. He enjoyed a privileged upbringing. His father did not spare any cost and had him taught by the best teachers available. Hearsay has it that Pythagoras spent some time in Babylon where he was introduced to mathematics – some people say that is where he picked up his famous theorem – other say that one of his students found it. It is impossible to judge.

The same applies to his theory of re-incarnation. Some people say he picked it up in Egypt where he supposedly studied. Other from the Magi in Persia. A few maintain that he really studied with learned Jews. In the third century BC, when people started to have a better understanding of India after the Hindus Valley conquest by Alexander the Great, rumors started that Pythagoras had studied and copied Hinduism. Be it as it may, we will never find out. Seems that everyone has an opinion but few facts.

Pythagoras (570 - 495 BC) - nobody knows how he looked

like - but we have several busts!

Pythagoras left Samos when he was 40 years old. Again, the sources offer different reasons. But whether his public duties collided with his intention to teach, or his objection to the democratic movement made him unpopular or whether he opposed the local tyrant in Samos, we do not know. Plenty of unresolved contradictions.

I probably had stayed in Samos - Croton may offer more money but is less spectacular

The only fact which is certain is that by 530 BC he arrived in Croton. There, he quickly gained prominence, advised the local rulers, apparently help them to defeat the neighboring town of Sybaris (we are going to visit the following day). It is said that he also tried to convince his hosts to abandon their luxurious lifestyle and live a more modest, ascetic, obedient life.

The coastline of Crotone is now "enhanced" with modern, Mediterranean concrete

His ideas made him a fair share of enemies. 15 years after his contribution to the victory over Sybaris, a violent mob set his school on fire. The puritanic lifestyle he tried to impose made him unpopular – sounds like in Samos 35 years early. Whether he died in the house, or during his escape in a field or wether he was even present – nothing is clear. However, everybody seems to know that he died in the year 495 BC. Curious precision!

Spiral sculpture in the Pythagoras Museum in Crotone

The best write-up I found is on the following site below which also offers good links to philosophers who influenced Pythagoras and teachers who were influenced by him. There is not much to add – it is written really well:

Maybe we learn more at the Pythagoras Museum when we are there – to be continued in my blog once we visited Crotone.

This sculpture refers to Pythagoras' mystical use of numbers - let's find out more!

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