Pythagoras History Modern Numbers What Numbers Mean

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Man know thyself; then thou shalt know the Universe and God.


Imagine a university where the professor stands up in front of his class and describes a whole-food, vegetarian diet that he has developed. The professor is totally dedicated to imparting his immense wisdom to his class, saying, "Wisdom is the one thing you can continually give away and still have more to spare. It is what makes the difference between man and beast."

Imagine further that this professor is almost 100 years old, and probably in better physical shape than any of his students, which, incidentally, are among the most worthy (physically, mentally and emotionally) of any on the planet. And yet, the 100-year old professor stands head and shoulders above his students and far surpasses any of them in physical prowess, intellect, and wisdom.

He goes on to describe his beliefs in reincarnation, citing several lifetimes that he vividly remembers. He firmly believes in the powers of meditation and instructs the class in several techniques to be used for various purposes. His goal is not to leave behind earthly body for a realm of transcendent harmony, but rather to become aware of, and enhance the function of, transcendent harmony in the natural, psychological and social orders. He has developed a system of music therapy to harmonize the inner spirit.

He is well versed in the mystery schools of ancient Egypt and the Middle East. During his lectures, he stresses the value of wisdom above all else. Through the use of proper music, diet and exercise, he and his students seek to nurture and maintain the natural harmony of the psychic and somatic faculties.

Does this sound like the New Age University, in a tranquil setting on some hillside in northern California? It certainly could be, but this particular university the first university in history was founded by Pythagoras about 540 BC!

Birth of Pythagoras A Special Event!

Mnesarchus, the father of Pythagoras, and his wife, Parthenis were travelling on business in the city of Delphi, when they decided to consult Pythius, the oracle of Delphi, to learn if their return voyage to Syria would be favorable. Instead of answering their questions, she told them of the son that Parthenis would have of the god Apollo, who would surpass all men in beauty and wisdom, and who throughout the course of his life would contribute much to the benefit of mankind. Iamblichus writes that "no one will deny that the soul of Pythagoras was sent to mankind from Apollo's domain, having either been one of his attendants, or more intimate associates, which may be inferred both from his birth and his versatile wisdom." Mnesarchus was so deeply impressed by the prophecy that he changed his wife's name to Pythasis, in honor of the Pythian oracle.

When the child was born at Sidon in Phoenicia, it was indeed a son. Mnesarchus and Pythasis named the child Pythagoras, for they believed that he had been predestined by the oracle. However, Pythagoras was known by the same title as Jesus, namely, the son of God, because the god Apollo was his father, and was believed by the multitude to be under the influence of divine inspiration.


Mnesarchus had returned from Syria with a great wealth from his voyage, and built a temple to Apollo, inscribed to Pythius. He made certain that his son got the best education possible, studying under almost every teacher in the area. Thus by education and good fortune Pythagoras became the most beautiful and godlike of all time. After his father's death, even though he was still a youth, Pythagoras was so physically impressive and his demeanor was so temperate that he was honored and even revered by elderly men, attracting the attention of all who saw and heard him speak.

Iamblichus states: "Enjoying the privilege of such a renown, of an education so thorough from infancy, and of so impressive a natural appearance, he showed that he deserved all these advantages, by the adornment of piety and discipline, by exquisite habits, by firmness of soul, and by a body duly subjected to the mandates of reason. An inimitable quiet and serenity marked all his words and actions, soaring above all laughter, emulation, contention, or any other irregularity or eccentricity; his influence, at Samos, was that of some beneficent divinity. His great renown, while yet a youth, reached not only men as illustrious for their wisdom as Thales at Miletus, and Bias at Priene, but also extended to the neighboring cities. He was celebrated everywhere as the 'long-haired Samian,' and by the multitude was given credit for being under divine inspiration."

As a youth, Pythagoras studied in the temple of Melchizedek, the same temple that Jesus studied in six centuries later, because Jesus' sect, the Essenes, embraced the teachings of Pythagoras.

Travels & Education

By the time Pythagoras was eighteen, the tyranny of Polycrates had gained such power that Pythagoras knew his studies would be impeded. So at night he quietly left with Hermodamas, the grandson of the host, friend and general preceptor of the poet Homer, and went to study under Pherecydes, Anaximander and Thales at Miletus. Thales was impressed with Pythagoras and recommended that he go to Egypt, to study under the priests of Memphis and Zeus.

Pythagoras learned much from Thales, but his greatest lesson had been to learn the value of saving time, which led him to abstain entirely from wine and animal food, avoiding greediness, and confining himself to nutriments of easy preparation and digestion. As a result, he required little sleep, his soul was pure and vigilant, and the general health of his body was invariable.

On his way to Egypt, he studied with the prophets who were descendants of Moses, and was initiated into all the mysteries of Bybles and Tyre, for he did not want to miss any of the mysteries of the divinities.

Of his trip to Egypt, Iamblichus offers the following account:

"After gaining all he could from the Phoenician mysteries, he found that they had originated from the sacred rites of Egypt, forming as it were an Egyptian colony.

This led him to hope that in Egypt itself he might find monuments of erudition still more genuine, beautiful and divine. 

Therefore following the advice of his teacher Thales, he left, as soon as possible, through the agency of some Egyptian sailors, who very opportunely happened to land on the Phoenician coast under Mount Carmel where, in the temple on the peak, Pythagoras for the most part had dwelt in solitude.

He was gladly received by the sailors, who intended to make a great profit by selling him into slavery.

But they changed their mind in his favor during the voyage, when they perceived the chastened venerability of the mode of life he had undertaken.

They began to reflect that there was something supernatural in the youth's modesty, and in the manner in which he had unexpectedly appeared to them on their landing, when, from the summit of Mount Carmel, which they knew to be more sacred than other mountains, and quite inaccessible to the vulgar, he had leisurely descended without looking back, avoiding all delay from precipices or difficult rocks; and that when he came to the boat, he said nothing more than, 'Are you bound for Egypt?' 

What is more, on their answering affirmatively had gone aboard and had, during the whole trip, sat silent where he would be least likely to inconvenience them at their tasks.

For two nights and three days Pythagoras had remained in the same unmoved position, without food, drink, or sleep, except that, unnoticed by the sailors, he might have dozed while sitting upright.

Moreover, the sailors considered that contrary to their expectations, their voyage had proceeded without interruptions, as if some deity had been on board.

From all these circumstances they concluded that a veritable divinity had passed over with them from Syria into Egypt.

Addressing Pythagoras and each other with a gentleness and propriety that was uncommon, they completed the remainder of their voyage through a halcyon sea, and at length happily landed on the Egyptian coast.

Reverently the sailors here assisted him to disembark; and after they had seen him safe onto a firm beach, they raised before him a temporary altar, heaped on it the now abundant fruits of trees, as if these were the first fruits of their freight, presented them to him and departed hastily to their destination.

Pythagoras, however, whose body had become emaciated through the severity of so long a fast, did not refuse the sailors' help on landing, and as soon as they had left partook as much of the fruits as was requisite to restore his physical vigor.

Then he went inland, in entire safety, preserving his usual tranquility and modesty."

In Egypt, he studied under every priest and prophet, visiting every place that he thought he might discover something worthwhile. For twenty-two years he studied in the temples with the greatest diligence, studying astronomy and gemoetry, and being initiated in all the mysteries of the gods. In Egypt, he was instructed by the priests of Thebes in the mysteries of Isis whose central doctrine was that divine power dwelt within every man no matter how low he might be; that this divine power was in the form of a light they called "The Hidden Light." The Pharaohs motto was "Look for the light," meaning there is good to be found in everyone and it is everyone's duty to bring out the best in others.

However, he was then captured by the soldiers of Cambyses and taken to Babylon. Here he was overjoyed to be associated with the Magi, who instructed him in their venerable knowledge, and in the most perfect worship of the gods. Through their assistance, he studied and completed arithmetic, music and all the other sciences. After twelve years, at about the age of fifty-six, he returned to Samos.

The teachings of Pythagoras indicate that he was thoroughly conversant with the precepts of Oriental and Occidental esotericism. He travelled among the Jews and was instructed by the Rabbins concerning the secret traditions of Moses, the lawgiver of Israel. Later the School of the Essenes was established for the purpose of interpreting the Pythagorean symbols.

While in the Euphrates, Pythagoras learned the secret lore of the Chaldeans. He studied for several years in Hindustan with Brahman priests who were the only ones allowed to interpret the sacred Hindustani texts, the Vedas. There he was known as Yavancharya, the Ionian teacher, a name he took because of his fascination and reverence for the letter Y. It is that name that is still preserved in the records of the Brahmins.

Return to Greece

After his studies abroad, Pythagoras returned home to the island of Samos, where he continued his philosophical researches. Outside of the city, he outfitted a cave especially designed for the study of philosophy, and it was there that he made his home. About this time, Pythagoras opened his first school, yet it probably was not long-lived. His philosophy now gained great importance, and his fame spread to all Greece, so that the best students visited Samos on his account. In spite of this, Pythagoras was disgusted at the Samians' scorn for education.

Move to Croton, Italy

From Samos, Pythagoras journeyed to southern Italy, settling at Croton. Pythagoras reasoned that his real fatherland must be the country that contained the greatest number of scholarly men. His reputation as a philosopher preceded him, and shortly after his arrival he was asked to speak to the people of Croton men, women, and children on the proper conduct of life. He gathered as many as six hundred followers, moved by his teachings, not only to philosophical study, but to an amicable sharing of their worldly goods, earning the name of Cenobites (Greek for "common life").

His first task, on arriving in Italy, was to inspire with a love of liberty those cities which he understood had recently oppressed each other with slavery. Then, by means of his auditors, he liberated and restored to independence Croton, Sybaris, Catanes, Rehgium, Himaera, Agrigentum, Tauromenas, and some other cities. Through Charondas the Catanaean, and Zaleucus the Locrian, he established laws which caused the cities to flourish, and become models for others in their proximity. He entirely eliminated partisanship, discord and sedition for several generations from all the Italian and Sicilian lands, which at that time were disturbed by inner and outer contentions. Everywhere, in private and in public, he would repeat, as an epitome of his own opinions, and as a persuasive oracle of divinity, that by any means whatsoever, stratagem, fire, or sword, we should amputate from the body, disease; from the soul, ignorance; from a household, discord; and from all things whatsoever, lack of moderation; through which he brought home to his disciples the quintessence of all teachings, and that with a most paternal affection.


Pythagoras was the first man to call himself a philosopher. Others before had called themselves wise (sophos) or sages, meaning those who know. But when Pythagoras was no longer considered an Initiate he felt there was still much more for him to learn. Pythagoras coined the term philosopher, the root "philo" meaning love and "sopho" meaning wisdom a lover of wisdom or one who is attempting to find out. More importantly, for Pythagoras and his followers, philosophy was not merely an intellectual pursuit, but a way of life, the aim of which was the assimilation to God.

Plato, apparently in line with the Pythagorean tradition, divides the soul into three parts: one part is reasoning, another part is "spirited," and the last desires the pleasures of nutrition and generation. Unlike certain schools of modern psychology, the Platonic division of the soul is hierarchical: the reasoning part is superior to the other two, and deserves more attention, for it is this dimension of the soul which makes us uniquely human. We might summarize the relation between the levels of the soul and their attendant virtues, or forms of excellence.

Seen in this perspective, it becomes plain that psychic health must result when the three "parts" of the soul are brought into a state of harmony, which is not to say a state of equality. Rather, this state of balance could be seen as a state of attunement, where each part receives what it is due. Psychic disturbance results when each part of the soul tries to go its own separate way; the psyche then becomes a house divided, resulting in dissociation and fragmentation, as opposed to the realization of psychic wholeness.

Through the use of proper music, diet and exercise, the early Pythagoreans sought to nurture and maintain the natural harmony of the psychic and somatic faculties. According to Iamblichus, "They took solitary morning walks to places which happened to be appropriately quiet, to temples or groves, or other suitable places. They thought it inadvisable to converse with anyone until they had gained inner serenity, focusing their reasoning powers. They considered it turbulent to mingle in a crowd as soon as they rose from bed, and that is the reason why these Pythagoreans always selected the most sacred spots to walk." All of these practices can be seen as a form of philosophic "purification" (catharsis) or "practice" (praxis), designed to regulate the body and the emotions. On the intellectual and psychic levels, through their study of mathematics and the natural world, the Pythagoreans approached the principles of harmony experientially through the study of harmonics on the monochord and through geometrical constructions. The Pythagoreans also pursued the study of purely abstract mathematics.

Rather than transcend the world, Pythagorean religiosity held as its goal to exist within the cosmos in a state of emotional repose and intellectual acuteness. Man, while possessing a soul which clearly transcends the limitations of the body, the realm of time and space, is nonetheless a reflection of the entire universe, a microcosm, and is linked together with nature, other living beings, and the gods through harmony, justice, and proportion. The Pythagorean goal is not to leave the divinely beautiful cosmos behind for a realm of transcendent harmony, but rather to become aware of, and enhance the function of, transcendent harmony in the natural, psychological and social orders.

It is interesting that the split between science and philosophy coincides roughly with the industrial revolution for once freed from the philosophical element, which anchors scientific inquiry to the whole of life and human values, science ceases to be science in a traditional sense, and is transformed into a servile nursemaid of technology, the development and employment of mechanization. Now machines are quite useful as long as they are subservient to human good, in all the ramifications of that word but as it turned out, the industrial revolution also coincided with a mechanistic conceptualization of the natural order, which sought to increase material profit at the expense of the human spirit. This era, which gave rise to the nightmare of the modern factory William Blake's "dark satanic mills" gained its strength through the naive premise that the human spirit might be elevated and perfected through the agency of the machine.

One day, during a trip from Sybaris to Croton, by the seashore, Pythagoras happened to meet some fishermen engaged in drawing up from the deep their heavily-laden fishnets. He told them he knew the exact number of fish they had caught. The surprised fishermen declared that if he was right they would do anything he said. He then ordered them, after counting the fish accurately, to return them alive to the sea, and what is more wonderful, while he stood on the shore, not one of them died, though they had remained out of their natural element quite a little while. Pythagoras then paid the fishermen the price of their fish, and departed for Croton. The fishermen divulged the occurrence, and on discovering his name from some children, spread it abroad publicly. Everybody wanted to see the stranger, which was easy enough to do. They were deeply impressed on beholding his countenance, which indeed betrayed his real nature.

It was Pythagoras who first called heaven kosmos, because it is perfect, and "adorned" with infinite beauty and living beings.

The Pythagoreans also assert that the whole air is full of souls, and that these are those that are accounted daimons or heroes. They are the ones that send down among men dreams, and tokens of disease and health; the latter not being reserved to human beings, but being sent also to sheep and cattle as well. They are concerned with purifications, expiations, and all kinds of divinations, oracular predictions, and the like.

In his lectures, Pythagoras stressed the value of wisdom above all else: You can continually give it away and still have more to spare. It is what makes the difference between a real man and a beast. There are so few men who possess it that he compared it to sports: in the Olympiad there would be seven outstanding men in racing, but in contrast, there were only seven men in all the world who would excel in wisdom.

Pythagoras' Theory of Education

When he came to teach, Pythagoras recognized that people, too, are arranged in a hierarchy, and that they vary enormously in their receptivity to philosophy. Some are little more than animals, and require the same loving attentions, while others are little short of gods. Consequently he reserved different degrees of teaching for the different levels. Much has been said about the secrecy of the most esoteric branch of his school, but like Plato and Jesus he also involved himself in public life, often to his suffering. 

As a political reformer and giver of laws to several cities, he provided a field for the improvement of all, even of the lowest types for that is what politics should be about. Within his school he went against contemporary custom in giving equal status to women, and his biographers are careful to record the names of his female disciples.

Apparently there were different levels within the school. One group, the akousmatikoi or "auditors" (from the verb akouo, to hear), went through a three year probationary period and were limited mainly to hearing lectures. A more advanced group, the mathematikoi or "students," went through a five year period of "silence," and held their property in common whereas the akousmatikoi did not; there is, however, nothing to indicate that the mathematikoi took anything like a vow of poverty. Rather, their property was managed by certain members of the society the politikoi and they received an adequate subsistence in return for its use.

The First University in History

In 536 BC at age fifty-six, after he moved to Croton, the Greek-speaking region of southern Italy, he established a school that combined religious ritual with scientific study. This was the first university in history.

Here among esoteric lessons, the secrets of number vibration were revealed in personal discourses by Pythagoras to a select few, so secret they were never written. Later writers were very careful not to divulge them openly, but to follow a key statement with less important information that would divert the attention of all but the true seeker.

It is a little-known fact that 600 years later Jesus also established schools of mystery, five of them, one of which is in Palestine. The secrets were the same as those Pythagoras taught. This was uncovered by Max Heindel, the prolific writer of many books on the wisdoms, and a member of the Brothers of the Rosy Cross. The information that has come down to us about the school of Pythagoras is by word of mouth from his students and from a few manuscripts that were preserved.

His students were to get up before sunrise, and never to wear a ring on which the image of God was engraved, lest that image be defiled by being worn at funerals, or other impure places. They were to adore the rising sun. Pythagoras ordered them never to do anything without previous deliberation and discussion, in the morning forming a plan of what was to be done later, and at night to review the day's actions, which served the double purpose of strengthening the memory, and considering their conduct. If any one of their associates made an appointment to meet them at some particular place and time, they should stay there until he came, regardless of the length of time, for Pythagoreans should not speak carelessly, but remember what was said, and regard order and method. At death they were not to blaspheme, but to die uttering propitious words.

Initiation Into The University

Iamblichus recounts the process by which students were admitted into Pythagoras' university:

As he therefore thus prepared his disciples for culture, he did not immediately receive as an associate any who came to him for that purpose until he had tested them and examined them judiciously.  To begin with he inquired about their relation to their parents and kinsfolk.  Next he surveyed their laughter, speech or silence, as to whether it was unseasonable; further, about their desires, their associates, their conversation, how they employed their leisure, and what were the subjects of their joy or grief.  He observed their form, their gait, and the whole motions of their body.  He considered their frame's natural indications physiognomically, rating them as visible exponents of the invisible tendencies of the soul.


After subjecting a candidate to such trials, he allowed him to be neglected for three years, still covertly observing his disposition towards stability, and genuine studiousness, and whether the was sufficiently averse to glory, and ready to despise popular honors.


After the candidate was compelled to observe silence for five years, so as to have made definite experiments incontinence of speech, inasmuch as the subjugation of the tongue is the most difficult of all victories, as has indeed been unfolded by those who have instituted the mysteries.


During this probation, however, the property of each was disposed of in common, being committed to trustees, who were called politicians, economizers, or legislators.  Of these probationers, after the five-year silence, those who by modest dignity had won his approval as worthy to share in his doctrines, then became esoterics, and within the veil both heard and saw Pythagoras.  Prior to this they participated in his words through the hearing alone, without seeing him who remained within the veil, and themselves offering to him a specimen of their manners.


If rejected, they were given the double of the wealth they had brought, but the homacoi raised to them a tomb, as if they were dead, the disciples being generally called Hearers.  Should these later happen to meet the rejected candidate, they would treat him as a stranger, declaring that he whom they had by education modelled had died, inasmuch as the object of these disciplines had been to turn out good and honest men.


Those who were slow in the acquisition of knowledge were considered to be badly organized, or, we may say, deficient and sterile.

If, however, after Pythagoras had studied them physiognomically, their gait, motions and state of health, he conceived good hopes of them; and if, after the five years' silence, and the emotions and initiations from so many disciplines together with the ablutions of the soul, and so many and so great purifications produced by such various theorems, through which sagacity and sanctity is ingrained into the soul ) if, after all this even, some one was found to be still sluggish and dull, they would raise to such a candidate within the school a pillar or monument, such as was said to have been done to Perialus the Thurian, and Cylon the prince of the Sybarites, who were rejected.  They expelled them from the auditorium, loading them down with silver and gold.  This wealth had by them been deposited in common, in the care of certain custodians, aptly called Economics.  Should any of the Pythagoreans later meet with the reject, they did not recognize him who they accounted dead.

Children with a seven birthpath were readily taken into the school, since Pythagoras felt they were meant to learn the mysteries.  But others who wished to study there had to pass certain tests first.  They were taken to a secluded spot where they were left to concentrate on a given symbol, such as the triangle.  They were to write down all ideas that came to them and to tie those ideas in with all of life.  The next morning they would report their concepts to all the others in the school.

Sometimes they would be ridiculed to see how they would handle themselves and criticism.  If the candidate was too sensitive it was felt he could not withstand the rigor of the disciplines of the school.

Daily Routine

 Iamblichus offers the following description of the daily routine in Pythagoras' University:

They took solitary morning walks to places which happened to be appropriately quiet, to temples or groves, or other suitable places.  They thought it inadvisable to converse with any one until they had gained inner serenity, focusing their reasoning powers.  They considered it turbulent to mingle in a crowd as soon as they rose from bed, and that is the reason why these Pythagoreans always selected the most sacred spots to walk.


After their morning walk they associated with each other, especially in temples, or, if this was not possible, in similar places.  This time was employed in the discussion of disciplines and doctrines, and in the correction of manners.


After an association so holy they turned their attention to the health of the body.  Most of them were rubbed down and raced; fewer wrestled, in gardens or groves; others exercised in leaping with leaden weights on their hands, or in oratorical gesticulations, with a view to the strengthening of the body, studiously selecting for this purpose alternating exercises.


They lunched on bread and honey, or on the honeycomb, avoiding wine.  Afterwards, they held receptions to guests and strangers, conformably to the mandates of the laws, which receptions were restricted to this time of day.


In the afternoon they once more betook themselves to walking, yet not alone, as in the morning walk, but in parties of two or three, rehearsing the disciplines they had learned, and exercising themselves in attractive studies.


After the walk, they patronized the bath; and after ablutions they gathered in the common dining room, which accommodated no more than a group of ten.  Then were performed libations and sacrifices, with fumigations and incense.  Then followed supper, which closed before the setting of the sun.  They ate herbs, raw and boiled, maize, wine, and every food that is eaten with bread.  Of any animals lawful to immolate, they ate the flesh; but they rarely partook of fish, which was not useful to them, for certain causes.  Animals not naturally noxious were neither to be injured, nor slain.  This supper was followed by libations, succeeded by readings.  The youngest read what the eldest advised, and as they suggested.


When they were about to depart, the cupbearer poured out a libation for them, after which the eldest would announce precepts, like the following:  that a mild and fruitful plant should neither be injured nor corrupted, nor should any harmless animal.  It was further enjoined that we should speak piously, forming suitable conceptions of divine, tutelary, and heroic beings, and similarly, of parents and benefactors; and that we should aid, and not obstruct the enforcement of laws.  Whereafter, all separated to go home.


According to credible historians, his words possessed an admonitory quality that prevailed even with animals, which confirms that in intelligent men learning tames even wild or irrational beasts. The Daunian bear, who had severely injured the inhabitants, was by Pythagoras detained. After long stroking it gently, feeding it on maize and acorns, and compelling it by an oath to leave alone living beings, he sent it away. It hid itself in the mountains and forest, and was never since known to injure any irrational animal.

At Tarentum he saw an ox feeding in a pasture, where he ate green beans. He advised the herdsman to tell the ox to abstain from this food. The herdsman laughed at him, remaking he did not know the language of oxen; but that if Pythagoras did, he had better tell him so himself. Pythagoras approached his ox's ear and whispered into it for a long time, whereafter the ox not only refrained from them, but never even tasted them. This ox lived a long while at Tarentum, near the temple of Hera, and was fed on human food by visitors till very old, being considered sacred.

Once happening to be talking to his intimates about birds, symbols and prodigies, and observing that all these are messengers of the gods, sent by them to men truly dear to them, he brought down an eagle flying over Olympia, which he gently stroked, and dismissed.

Through such and similar occurrences, Pythagoras demonstrated that he possessed the same dominion as Orpheus over savage animals, and that he allured and detained them by the power of his voice.

When Pythagoras sacrificed to the gods, he did not use offensive profusion, but offered no more than barley bread, cakes and myrrh, least of all animals, unless perhaps cocks and pigs. When he discovered the proposition that the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle was equal to the squares on the sides containing the right angle, he is said to have sacrificed an ox, although the more accurate say that this ox was made of flour.

Nutrition and Diet

Pythagoras taught the kinship of all living things; hence, he and his followers were vegetarians.  Pythagoras also believed in the transmigration of souls, where one species evolves into the next higher level, adding to his belief in vegetarianism.

Porphyry records the following account of Pythagoras' daily diet:  

As to food, his breakfast was chiefly of honey; at dinner he used bread made of millet, barley or herbs, raw and boiled.  Only rarely did he eat the flesh of sacrificial victims, nor did he take this from every part of the anatomy.  When he intended to sojourn in the sanctuaries of the divinities, he would eat no more than was necessary to still hunger and thirst.  To quiet hunger he made a mixture of poppy seed and sesame, the skin of a sea-onion, well washed until entirely drained of the outward juices, of the flowers of the daffodil, and the leaves of mallows, of paste of barley and chick peas, taking an equal weight of which, and chopping it small, with honey of Hymettus he made it into a mass.  Against thirst he took the seed of cucumbers, and the best dried raisins, extracting the seeds, and coriander flowers, and the seeds of mallows, purslane, scraped cheese, wheat meal and cream, all of which he mixed up with wild honey.


He claimed that this diet had, by Demeter, been taught to Hercules, when he was sent into the Libyan deserts.  This preserved his body in an unchanging condition, not at one time well, and at another time sick, nor at one time fat, and at another lean.  Pythagoras' countenance showed the same constancy that was also in his soul.  For he was neither more elated by pleasure, nor dejected by grief, and no one ever saw him either rejoicing or mourning.


Beans were forbidden, it is said, because the particular plants grow and individualize only after that which is the principle and origin of things is mixed together, so that many things underground are confused, and coalesce, after which everything rots together.  Then living creatures were produced together with plants, so that both men and beans arose out of putrefaction, whereof he alleged many manifest arguments.  For if any one should chew a bean, and having ground it to a pulp with his teeth, and should expose that pulp to the warm sun, for a short while, and then return to it, he will perceive the scent of human blood.


Pythagoras is well known as a mathematician, but few realize that he was also a music therapist having, in fact, founded the discipline.

Pythagoras is usually credited with the discovery of the relationship between sound and numbers.  Popular legend has it that when passing a forge he noticed that the four different sized anvils produced different notes when struck with a hammer.  Upon further investigation he found that their weights were in the proportion 6, 8, 9 and 12.  When he later suspended four weights of the same proportions on strings he discovered, to his immense satisfaction, that when he plucked the strings he could reproduce the same four notes that he obtained from the anvils.  When the lengths of the strings were doubled the new notes produced were an octave above the original notes.  Therefore the octave could be expressed numerically as a ratio of 2:1.  The other musical intervals were ratios of 3:2 and 4:3 ) once again only the first four numbers are required to express these facts.

There can be no doubt that Pythagoras experimented with the monochord, a one-stringed musical instrument with a moveable bridge, used to investigate the principles and problems of tuning theory.

A curious phenomenon occurs when a string is plucked. First, the string vibrates as a unit. Then, in two parts, then in three parts, four, and so on. As the string vibrates in smaller parts higher tones are produced, this being the so-called harmonic overtone series. While they are not as loud as the fundamental tone of the entire string vibrating, with practice the overtones can nonetheless be heard.

Through the power of Limit, the most formal manifestation of which is Number, harmonic nodal points naturally and innately exist on the string, dividing its length in halves, thirds, fourths, and so on. Plucking the string at one end, and simultaneously touching one of the nodal points without the bridge, will produce the corresponding overtone vibration. In this fashion, one can play out the overtone series, as far as is practical. However, dampening the string at any other point will just deaden out the string.

Even more immediately evident is the undeniable influence of Number on our psychic state through the medium of music, depending as it does on numerical proportion. Certain musical proportions express a sense of cheerfulness; others, such as the minor third, possess a bittersweet quality that can make us sad. The fact that Number can influence a person's emotional state is indeed mysterious and points toward a dimension of qualitative Number which transcends the merely quantitative.

Related to the question of music and harmony is the principle of resonance: two strings, tuned to the same frequency, will both vibrate if only one is plucked, the unplucked string resonating in sympathy with the first. This, of course, is accomplished through the medium of the vibrating air, but the principle underlying the phenomenon is one of harmonic attunement. If, as the Pythagoreans held, man is a microcosm, and the soul is a harmony, perhaps it is through a form of resonance that we relate so intensely to the archetypal ratios of musical proportion. Moreover, by experientially investigating and employing the principles of harmony in the external world, one comes to understand and activate those same principles within. This idea in fact underlies the Pythagorean approach to mathematical study.

The differing views between Plato and the earlier Pythagoreans can also be seen in the realm of music. Plato refers to different musical modes throughout his writings, and to the negative effects that some forms of music can have on the soul and on society. The Pythagoreans, however, actually used certain forms of music to pacify and harmonize the psychic state. In the same way that the music of Orpheus enchanted the wild beasts of the field, so too did the Pythagoreans use music to quell and harmonize the irrational passions.

Iamblichus describes Pythagoras' use of music in his University:


Pythagoras conceived that the first attention that should be given to men should be addressed to the senses, as when one perceives beautiful figures and forms, or hears beautiful rhythms and melodies.  Consequently he laid down that the first erudition was that which subsists through music's melodies and rhythms, and from these he obtained remedies of human manners and passions, and restored the pristine harmony of the faculties of the soul.  Moreover, he devised medicines calculated to repress and cure the diseases of both bodies and souls.  Here is also, by Zeus, something which deserves to be mentioned above all:  namely, that for his disciples he arranged and adjusted what might be called "preparations" and "touchings," divinely contriving mingling of certain diatonic, chromatic and enharmonic melodies, through which he easily switched and circulated the passions of the soul in a contrary direction, whenever they had accumulated recently, irrationally, or clandestinely ) such as sorrow, rage, pity, over-emulation, fear, manifold desires, angers, appetites, pride, collapse or spasms.  Each of these he corrected by the rule of virtue, at tempering them through appropriate melodies, as through some salutary medicine.


In the evening, likewise, when his disciples were retiring to sleep, he would thus liberate them from the day's perturbations and tumults, purifying their intellective powers from the influxive and effluxive waves of corporeal nature, quieting their sleep, and rendering their dreams pleasing and prophetic.  But when they arose again in the morning, he would free them from the night's heaviness, coma and torpor through certain peculiar chords and modulations, produced by either simply striking the lyre, or adapting the voice.  Not through instruments or physical voice-organs did Pythagoras effect this; but by the employment of a certain indescribable divinity, difficult of apprehension, through which he extended his powers of hearing, fixing his intellect on the sublime symphonies of the world, he alone apparently hearing and grasping the universal harmony and consonance of the spheres, and the stars that are moved through them, producing a melody fuller and more intense than anything effected by mortal sounds.


This melody was also the result of dissimilar and varying sounds, speeds, magnitudes and intervals arranged with reference to each other in a certain musical ratio, producing a convoluted motion most musical and gentle.  Irrigated therefore with this melody, his intellect ordered and exercised thereby, he would, to the best of his ability exhibit certain symbols of these things to his disciples, especially through imitations thereof through instruments or the physical organs of voice.  For he conceived that, of all the inhabitants of earth, by him alone were these celestial sounds understood and heard, as if coming from the central spring and root of nature.  He therefore thought himself worthy to be taught, and to learn something about the celestial orbs, and to be assimilated to them by desire and imitation, inasmuch as his body alone had been well enough conformed thereto by the divinity who had given birth to him.  As to other men, he thought they should be satisfied with looking to him and the gifts he possessed, and in being benefited and corrected through images and examples, in consequence of their inability truly to comprehend the first and genuine archetypes of things.  Just as to those who are unable to look intently at the sun, we contrive to show its eclipses in either the reflections of some still water, or in melted pitch, or some smoked glass, or well brazen mirror, so we spare the weakness of their eyes devising a method of representing light that is reflective, though less intense than its archetype, to those who are interested in this sort of thing.

Pythagoras saw the universe as a harmonious whole and believed that everything in it emitted a sound or "vibration."  He viewed the earth and the planets as globes orbiting around a central luminary.  Following his discovery that strings of different lengths produced different notes when plucked, he believed each planet had a note of its own which depended upon its distance from the center.  When combined these planetary sounds should produce a "harmonious cosmic octave" more commonly known as the "music of the spheres."

He believed that if sounds could be expressed in terms of numbers this would provide the key to the mysteries of the universe. The vibration or "tone" of the universe at the exact moment of an individual's birth was believed to influence both his character and his destiny in life.


The Pythagorean understanding of Number is quite different from the predominately quantitative understanding of today.  For the Pythagoreans, Number is a living, qualitative reality which must be approached in an experiential manner.  Whereas the typical modern usage of number is as a sign, to denote a specific quantity or amount, the Pythagorean usage is not, in a sense, even a usage at all:  Number is not something to be used; rather, its nature is to be discovered.  In other words, we use numbers as tokens to represent things, but for Pythagoreans Number is a universal principle, as real as light (electromagnetism) or sound.  As modern physics has demonstrated, it is precisely the numeric, vibrational frequency of electromagnetic energy ) the "wavelength" ) which determines its particular manifestation.

Because Pythagorean science possessed a sacred dimension, Number is seen not only as a universal principle, it is a divine  principle as well.  The two, in fact, are synonymous:  because Number is universal it is divine; but one could as easily say that because it is divine, it is universal.  Hence, the aim of Pythagorean and later Platonic science is different from that of modern "Aristotelian" science:  it is not so much involved with the investigation of things, as the investigation of principles.  It should be very firmly emphasized, however, that for Pythagoras the scientific and religious dimensions of number were never at odds with each other.  Moreover, the Pythagorean approach to Number, for the first time in Greece, elevated mathematics to a study worth pursuing above any purely utilitarian ends for which it had previously been employed.

The Pythagoreans believed that Number is "the principle, the source and the root of all things."  But to make things more explicit:  the Monad, or Unity, is the principle of Number.  In other words, the Pythagoreans did not see One as a number at all, but as the principle underlying number, which is to say that numbers ) especially the first ten ) may be seen as manifestations of diversity in a unified continuum.

The Pythagoreans divided the study of Number into four branches which may be analyzed in the following fashion:

                        Arithmetic                =    Number in itself

                        Geometry                 =    Number in space

                        Music or Harmonics    =    Number in time

                        Astronomy                =    Number in space and time

Marriage and Family

When he was about sixty years old, Pythagoras married one of his followers, Theano, the daughter of Bontinus of Croton, and had seven children.  His wife was a remarkably able woman, who not only inspired him during the years of his life but after his assassination continued to promulgate his doctrines.

The Attack on Pythagoras

There were certain persons who were hostile to Pythagoras and who plotted against him.  There is different accounts of what actually happened, but Porphyry offers the following account:

Cylon, a Crotonian, who in race, nobility and wealth was the most preeminent, was of a severe, violent and tyrannical disposition, and did not hesitate to use the multitude of his followers to achieve his ends.  As he esteemed himself worthy of whatever was best, he considered it his right to be admitted to Pythagorean fellowship.  He therefore went to Pythagoras, extolled himself, and desired his conversation.  Pythagoras, however, who was accustomed to read in the nature and manners of human bodies the disposition of the man, bade him to depart, and go about his business.  Cylon, being of a rough and violent disposition, took it as a great affront, and became furious.

At length, however, the Cylonians became so hostile to "the men," as they were called, that they set fire to Milo's residence, where were assembled all the Pythagoreans, holding a council of war.  All were burned, except two, Archippus and Lysis, who escaped through their bodily vigor.  As no public notice was taken of this calamity, the Pythagoreans ceased to pay any further attention to public affairs, for two reasons:  the cities' negligence, and through the loss of those men most qualified to govern.

Both of the saved Pythagoreans were Tarentines, and Archippus returned home.  Lysis, resenting the public neglect, went into Greece, residing in the Achaian Peloponnesus.  Stimulated by an ardent desire, he migrated to Thebes, where he had as disciple Epaminondas, who spoke of his teacher as his father.  There Lysis died.

Fearing however, lest the name of philosophy should be entirely exterminated from among mankind, and that they should, on this account, incur the indignation of the gods by suffering so great a gift of theirs to perish, they made a collection of certain commentaries and symbols, gathered the writings of the more ancient Pythagoreans, and of such things as they remembered.  These relics each left at his death to his son, or daughter, or wife, with a strict injunction not to divulge them outside the family.  This was carried out for some time, and the relics were transmitted in succession to their posterity.

His surviving disciples attempted to perpetuate his doctrines, but they were persecuted on every hand and very little remains today as a testimonial to the greatness of this philosopher.  It is said that the disciples of Pythagoras never addressed him or referred to him by his own name, but always as The Master or That Man.  This may have been because of the fact that the name Pythagoras was believed to consist of a certain number of specially arranged letters with great sacred significance.  The Word magazine has printed an article by T.R. Prater, showing that Pythagoras initiated his candidates by means of a certain formula concealed within the letters of his own name.  This may explain why the word Pythagoras was so highly revered.

After the death of Pythagoras his school gradually disintegrated, but those who had benefitted by its teachings revered the memory of the great philosopher, as during his life they had reverenced the man himself.  As time went on, Pythagoras came to be regarded as a god rather than a man, and his scattered disciples were bound together by their common admiration for the transcendent genius of their teacher.  Edouard Schure, in his Pythagoras and the Delphic Mysteries, relates the following incident as illustrative of the bond of fellowship uniting the members of the Pythagorean School:

"One of them who had fallen upon sickness and poverty was kindly taken in by an innkeeper.  Before dying he traced a few mysterious signs (the pentagram, no doubt) on the door of the inn and said to the host, 'Do not be uneasy, one of my brothers will pay my debts.'  A year afterwards, as a stranger was passing by this inn he saw the signs and said to the host, 'I am a Pythagorean; one of my brothers died here; tell me what I owe you on his account.'"


Copyright 2010 Tim Stouse
Last modified: December 10, 2010
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