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Pythagoras - One of the Most Written About Philosopher of Antiquity

Updated on January 13, 2012

Pythagoras - the father of contemporary western thought and culture is best known for the theorem named after him, (the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle equals the sum of the squares of the other two sides).

Pythagoras's connection with western culture is more pertinent than Plato, who is believed to be a follower of Pythagoras, or Aristotle who is a student of Plato’s. Pythagoras is one of the most written about philosopher of Antiquity. Generations after generations have created Pythagoras to fit the image of their time, making him part of our collective western consciousness.

Pythagoras is credited with advances in art, architecture, mathematics, astronomy, music, medicine, morals, religion, law, alchemy, and the occult sciences. His use of numbers did not have the same meaning as it does for mathematicians today. Pythagoreans believed numbers had warmth relating to human conditions, where today numbers are cold, abstract units, or integers. Pythagoras is said to have introduced the doctrine of transmigration of souls into Greece, and his religious influence is reflected in the cult organization of the Pythagorean society which included initiations, secret doctrines, passwords, special dietary restrictions, and burial rites.

According to ancient writers, Pliny and Diogenes Laertisu - there were two sculptors named Pythagoras, one from Rhegion, the other from Samos. They were said to have been contemporaries and identical in appearance. Modern scholars generally equate the two, supposing that Pythagoras was among the Samians who migrated to Zankle-Messana in 494 BC and became subject to Anaxilas of Rhegion. No copies of his sculptures, all bronzes, have been identified with certainty, although a statue base for the victor, Euthymos, at Olympia preserves the name Pythagoras of Samos.

Ancient writers have also ranked him among the greatest Greek sculptors. Pliny describes him as ‘the first to represent sinews and veins and to bestow attention on the treatment of hair’ and the Greek biographer Diogenes Laertius writes that he is ‘thought to have been the first to aim at rhythm and proportion’.

Bibliography and Notes

  1. Christiane L. Joost-Gaugier, Measuring Heaven: Pythagoras And His Influence on Thought And Art in Antiquity And the Middle Ages 2006.
  2. Guthrie, K. S (comp. and trans.), and Fideler, D. R. (introd. and ed.) (1987). The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library: An Anthology of Ancient Writings Which Relate to Pythagoras and Pythagorean Philosophy.
    Strohmeier, J., and Westbrook, P. (2002). Divine Harmony: The Life and Teachings of Pythagoras.
  3. Pythagoras" The Oxford Companion to the Mind. Richard L. Gregory. Oxford University Press 1987. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of South Florida. 29 December 2007 <>
  4. Overbeck: Die antiken Schriftquellen zur Geschichte der bildenden Künste bei den Griechen (Leipzig, 1868/R Hildesheim, 1959), nos 489–507
    B. S. Ridgway: The Severe Style in Greek Sculpture (Princeton, NJ, 1970), pp. 83–4, 91
  5. Michael Rosenthal: "Gainsborough, Thomas" Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, [2007,Dec],


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