Pythagoras of Samos

Who was Pythagoras?

Pythagoras was born on the Greek island of Samos around 570 and died in 490 B.C., he was a pre-Socratic philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer. He was also the founder of a school for initiates, and his philosophy had many religious and mystical elements. His doctrine was secret; no one could teach it in public places, otherwise he would be excommunicated.

Due to political persecution, Pythagoras moved to the city of Crotona, where he became well known for his wisdom. It is said that the inhabitants of this city feared the influential and revolutionary political theories of Pythagoras, because they believed he could become a tyrant in the city, for this reason, tried to take his life by burning the place where he met with his disciples.

His life is covered in mysteries and legends. Ancient Greek sources report supernatural events, such as, for example, the account that he was seen by several people on the same day and time in two different cities. In another account, Pythagoras is said to have shown, during the games in Olympia, one of his golden thighs. Not only that, he was greeted by the river Cosas as he crossed it!

Pythagoras was involved with many mystical practices. It is believed that his mystical and esoteric doctrines were developed after his trips to Egypt and Babylon, in addition to the Greek beliefs of his own time. His followers revered him as a true oracle.

Pythagoras’ Philosophy

Pythagoras did not write any works. After his death appeared several works attributed to him, but none is considered authentic. It seems that all the teachings of Pythagoras were transmitted only orally.

His philosophy was only widely disseminated after his death by his followers, which makes it extremely difficult to reconstruct his original philosophy.

Therefore, it is not possible to speak strictly of the thought of the individual Pythagoras, but rather of the teachings of the Pythagoreans, that is, the disciples who transmitted the philosophy of their master.

The number as arche

For Pythagoras the arche, that is, the principle of all things, was the number and its components.

Pythagoras would have chosen the number as arche, because he would have noticed that all things in the world have a certain harmony and mathematical regularity. That is why they called the universe cosmos, which in Greek means “order”.

He also realized that musical chords corresponded to certain arithmetic measures. From this, he concluded that nature itself (physis) was also ordered according to numerical proportions.

From this, Pythagoras began to explore further the nature of the world and its relationship to the numbers. He joined his astronomical knowledge with mathematical knowledge, calculated the movement of the stars, and defended the idea of an ordered cosmos governed by complex mathematical relationships.

According to the Pythagoreans, physical bodies are derived from mathematical elements. The number of points of the body would determine its properties. The world would have arisen from the determination of limits for the unlimited (apeiron), from the numerical relations imposed on space.

The years, months, days, the seasons, the cycles of biological development, all have to do with the accuracy of numbers.

Beyond natural phenomena, the Pythagoreans found a relationship between numbers and abstract concepts such as, for example, Justice. According to them, Justice, understood as equity, should be represented by the number 4 or 9 (2 × 2 or 3 × 3). While science should be represented by the number 1, because intelligence and science are things that have a certain consistency. Opinion (doxa), which has nothing permanent or stable about it, since everyone changes their opinion whenever they want, should coincide with the number 2.

Nowadays, we understand the number as a mental reality, which does not exist outside our head. However, the Pythagoreans believed that numbers were as real as anything else.

Metempsychosis: the transmigration of souls

One of Pythagoras’ main doctrines is that of the transmigration of souls. Pythagoreanism held the belief that the soul is bound to the body, and that only death can set it free.

One’s soul could reincarnate in human or animal form. The successive reincarnations would be a means of atonement for the original guilt.

According to an ancient source, when Pythagoras saw a dog being beaten, he said: “Stop, don’t beat this dog anymore, because it is the soul of a friend that I recognized when I heard his voice.

For the Pythagoreans, the ultimate goal of human life was to return to live with the gods, so they developed the doctrine that preached an upright way of life, in communion with divinity. This life should be guided by the search for truth and knowledge, the noblest purification.

Cite This Work

Vieira, S. (2021, September 03). Pythagoras of Samos. Filosofia do Início. Retrieved from

Vieira, Sadoque. “Pythagoras of Samos.” Filosofia do Início, September 3, 2021.

Vieira, Sadoque. “Pythagoras of Samos.” Filosofia do Início, 3 Sep. 2021,


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