Pythagoras (c. 584 – 500)

Pythagoras at the same time a real and mythological figure of ancient Greek civilization. Even his very name is a subject of conjecture and interpretation. The first version of the interpretation of the name Pythagoras is “foretold by Pythia”, that is, a soothsayer. Another, competing option: “persuading by speech”, for Pythagoras not only knew how to convince, but was firm and adamant in his speeches, like the Delphic oracle.

The philosopher came from the island of Samos, where he spent most of his life. At first, Pythagoras travels a lot. In Egypt, thanks to the patronage of the pharaoh Amasis, Pythagoras met the Memphis priests. Thanks to his talents, he opens the holy of holies – the Egyptian temples. Pythagoras is ordained a priest and becomes a member of the priestly caste. Then, during the Persian invasion, Pythagoras is captured by the Persians.

It is as if fate itself leads him, changing one situation for another, while wars, social storms, bloody sacrifices and swift events act only as a background for him and do not affect, on the contrary, exacerbate his craving for learning. In Babylon, Pythagoras meets Persian magicians, from whom, according to legend, he learned astrology and magic.

In adulthood, Pythagoras, being a political opponent of Polycrates of Samos, moved to Italy and settled in the city of Crotone, where power at the end of the 6th century. BC e. belonged to the aristocracy. It is here, in Crotone, that the philosopher creates his famous Pythagorean union. According to Dicaearchus, it followed that Pythagoras died in Metapontus.

“Pythagoras died by fleeing to the Metapontine Temple of the Muses, where he spent forty days without food.”

According to the legends, Pythagoras was the son of the god Hermes. Another legend says that one day the river Kas, seeing him, greeted the philosopher with a human voice. Pythagoras combined the features of a sage, mystic, mathematician and prophet, a thorough researcher of the numerical laws of the world and a religious reformer. At the same time, his adherents revered him as a miracle worker. 

However, the philosopher possessed sufficient humility, as evidenced by some of his instructions: “Do great things without promising great things”; “Be silent or say something that is better than silence”; “Do not consider yourself a great man by the size of your shadow at the setting sun.” 

So, what are the features of the philosophical work of Pythagoras?

Pythagoras absolutized and mystified numbers. Numbers were raised to the level of the real essence of all things and acted as the fundamental principle of the world. The picture of the world was depicted by Pythagoras with the help of mathematics, and the famous “mysticism of numbers” became the pinnacle of his work.

Some numbers, according to Pythagoras, correspond to the sky, others to earthly things – justice, love, marriage. The first four numbers, seven, ten, are the “sacred numbers” that underlie everything that is in the world. The Pythagoreans divided numbers into even and odd and even-odd number – a unit that they recognized as the basis of all numbers.

Here is a summary of Pythagoras’ views on the essence of being:

* Everything is numbers. * The beginning of everything is one. The sacred monad (unit) is the mother of the gods, the universal principle and the basis of all natural phenomena. * The “indefinite two” comes from the unit. Two is the principle of opposites, negativity in nature. * All other numbers come from indefinite duality – points come from numbers – from points – lines – from lines – flat figures – from flat figures – three-dimensional figures – from three-dimensional figures sensually perceived bodies are born, in which the four bases – moving and turning entirely, they produce a world – rational, spherical, in the middle of which the earth, the earth is also spherical and inhabited on all sides.


* The movement of celestial bodies obeys known mathematical relationships, forming a “harmony of spheres”. * Nature forms a body (three), being the trinity of the beginning and its contradictory sides. * Four – the image of the four elements of nature. * Ten is the “sacred decade”, the basis of counting and all mysticism of numbers, it is the image of the universe, consisting of ten celestial spheres with ten luminaries. 


* To know the world according to Pythagoras means to know the numbers that govern it. * Pythagoras considered pure reflection (sophia) to be the highest kind of knowledge. * Allowed magical and mystical ways of knowing.


* Pythagoras was an ardent opponent of democracy, in his opinion, the demos must strictly obey the aristocracy. * Pythagoras considered religion and morality to be the main attributes of ordering society. * The universal “spread of religion” is the basic duty of every member of the Pythagorean union.


Ethical concepts in Pythagoreanism are at some points rather abstract. For example, justice is defined as “a number multiplied by itself”. However, the main ethical principle is non-violence (ahimsa), non-infliction of pain and suffering to all other living beings.


* The soul is immortal, and the bodies are the tombs of the soul. * The soul goes through a cycle of reincarnations in earthly bodies.


The gods are the same creatures as people, they are subject to fate, but more powerful and live longer.


Man is completely subordinate to the gods.

Among the undoubted merits of Pythagoras before philosophy, one should include the fact that he is one of the very first in the history of ancient philosophy to speak in a scientific language about metempsychosis, reincarnation, the evolution of spiritual souls and their relocation from one body to another. His advocacy of the idea of ​​metampsychosis sometimes took the most bizarre forms: once the philosopher forbade offending a little puppy on the grounds that, in his opinion, this puppy had a human appearance in its past incarnation and was a friend of Pythagoras.

The idea of ​​metempsychosis would later be accepted by the philosopher Plato and developed by him into an integral philosophical concept, and before Pythagoras its popularizers and confessors were the Orphics. Like the supporters of the Olympian cult, the Orphics had their own “bizarre” myths about the origin of the world – for example, the idea of ​​uXNUMXbuXNUMXbits birth from a giant embryo-egg.

Our universe has the shape of an egg also according to the cosmogony of the Puranas (ancient Indian, Vedic texts). For example, in the “Mahabharata” we read: “In this world, when it was shrouded in darkness on all sides without brilliance and light, one huge egg appeared at the beginning of the yuga as the root cause of creation, the eternal seed of all beings, which is called Mahadivya (Great deity) “.

One of the most interesting moments in Orphism, from the point of view of the subsequent formation of Greek philosophy, was the doctrine of metempsychosis – the transmigration of souls, which makes this Hellenic tradition related to Indian views on samsara (the cycle of births and deaths) and the law of karma (the law of reincarnation in accordance with activity) .

If Homer’s earthly life is preferable to the afterlife, then the Orphics have the opposite: life is suffering, the soul in the body is inferior. The body is the tomb and prison of the soul. The goal of life is the liberation of the soul from the body, overcoming the inexorable law, breaking the chain of reincarnations and reaching the “island of the blessed” after death.

This basic axiological (value) principle underlay the cleansing rites practiced by both the Orphics and the Pythagoreans. Pythagoras adopted from the Orphics the ritual-ascetic rules of preparation for a “blissful life”, having built education in his schools according to the monastic-order type. The Pythagorean order had its own hierarchy, its own complex ceremonies and a strict system of initiation. The elite of the order were mathematicians (“esoterics”). As for the acusmatists (“exoterics”, or novices), only the external, simplified part of the Pythagorean doctrine was available to them.

All members of the community practiced an ascetic lifestyle, which included numerous food prohibitions, in particular the prohibition of eating animal food. Pythagoras was a staunch vegetarian. On the example of his life, we first notice how philosophical knowledge is combined with philosophical behavior, the center of which is asceticism and practical sacrifice.

Pythagoras was characterized by detachment, an important spiritual property, an unchanging companion of wisdom. With all the ruthless criticism of the ancient philosopher, one should not forget that it was he, a hermit from the island of Samos, who at one time defined philosophy as such. When the tyrant Leontes of Phlius asked Pythagoras who he was, Pythagoras replied: “Philosopher”. This word was unfamiliar to Leont, and Pythagoras had to explain the meaning of neologism.

“Life,” he commented, “is like games: some come to compete, others to trade, and the happiest to watch; so also in life others, like slaves, are born greedy for glory and gain, while philosophers are only up to the only truth.

In conclusion, I will cite two ethical aphorisms of Pythagoras, clearly showing that in the person of this thinker, Greek thought for the first time approached the understanding of wisdom, primarily as ideal behavior, that is, practice: “The statue is beautiful by the appearance, and the man by his deeds.” “Measure your desires, weigh your thoughts, number your words.”

Poetic afterword:

It doesn’t take much to become a vegetarian – you just need to take the first step. However, the first step is often the hardest. When the famous Sufi master Shibli was asked why he chose the Path of spiritual self-improvement, the master replied that he was moved to this by a stray puppy who saw his reflection in a puddle. We ask ourselves: how did the story of a stray puppy and his reflection in a puddle play a symbolic role in the fate of the Sufi? The puppy was afraid of his own reflection, and then the thirst overcame his fear, he closed his eyes and, jumping into a puddle, began to drink. In the same way, each of us, if we decide to embark on the path of perfection, should, having thirsted, fall down to the life-giving source, ceasing to turn our body into a sarcophagus (!) – the abode of death, every day burying the flesh of poor tortured animals in our own stomach.

—— Sergey Dvoryanov, Candidate of Philosophical Sciences, Associate Professor of the Department of Moscow State Technical University of Civil Aviation, President of the East-West Philosophical and Journalistic Club, practicing a vegetarian lifestyle for 12 years (son – 11 years old, vegetarian from birth)

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