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Pythagoras the Theologian

Pythagoras (peTHAgeres) lived from around 582 to 507 and was another Greek on the coast of Asia Minor. From there he migrated to Croton, a Greek city in Italy. He believed in the magic of the gods and was influenced by the cult that worshiped the god Dionysus. He believed that the dust one can see floating about in sunlight was pulled about by a spirit.

He labelled himself a philosopher. He believed in self-examination. He was interested in astronomy and mathematics and wanted to apply observation and reason toward understanding the universe. He wished to plumb mysteries of nature and to combine his ideas on religion, astronomy and mathematics into a coherent view. He was the first European theologian.

Pythagoras founded his own religious brotherhood, which followed a life of strict asceticism. They believed in the transmigration of souls: that after death the soul is temporarily in Hades where it loses its memory of its previous life and then transmigrates into another human form and is reborn. Believing this, Pythagoras saw the possibility of animals having a human-like soul. Therefore, he saw the eating of animals as possibly cannibalism and an abomination. Pythagoras and his followers became vegetarians. Also, they forbade the eating of beans, which they thought harmful to the soul.

Pythagoras advanced geometry from practical measurements to new geometric theorems. He and his followers advanced astronomy by examining the movements of celestial bodies. They observed the shadow of the earth on the moon, and they made some calculations and concluded that the earth was a sphere. They also concluded that the earth was one of a group of planets. Blended with Greek religion, they believed that the sun reflected light from a great fire at the center of the universe, which they called the throne of Zeus, around which, they believed, all else revolved.

Pythagoras found harmony in geometry and arithmetic, and in the harmonics of sound he found mathematics – that the tone of a vibrating string depends upon its length. He concluded that mathematical harmony was a part of the perfection of the heavens.

Interested in mathematics but over-confident, he assumed that numbers had a meaning beyond counting. Rather than an arbitrary unit of measurement, Pythagoras gave to numbers an essence. He believed that it was mathematics that held the universe together raher than physical forces. Like the Sumerians and others, he believed that the heavens moved in cycles and were essentially unchanging, as permanent as the realities of mathematics. Changes that one sees on earth he described as illusion. Here were ideas that were to influence Plato and his followers into modernity.

Pythagoras took the essence embodied in an abstraction further – to an extreme that wouldn't make it far into the future. Having described mathematics as divine, Pythagoras searched for signs of divinity within numbers. With much theorizing he found what he was looking for. With theological certitude he concluded that the number 1 embodied reason, 2 was female, 3 was male, 5 (2+3) was marriage, and 6 (marriage plus 1) was creation. The number 4 (the first number greater than 1 that can be the square of any two numbers) he concluded contained the divinity of justice.

In his later years, according to his followers, Pythagoras searched for the significance of his own brilliance and concluded that he was semi-divine. After his death, some of his followers described him as having been capable of miracles. Some claimed that he was the son of Apollo.

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