Part 1

Pythagoras' Origin and Education

April 30, 2022

Many think that Pythagoras was the son of Mnesarchus, but they differ as to the latter’s race.

  • Some think he was a Samian.
  • Neanthes, in the fifth book of his Fables, states he was a Syrian from Tyre.

Samos had a famine, so Mnesarchus went there to trade and was naturalized there.

  • His son Pythagoras was then born.

He manifested studiousness and was later taken to Tyre and entrusted to the Chaldeans, whose doctrines he imbibed.

  • From there he returned to Ionia, where he first studied under the Syrian Pherecydes.
  • Then he studied under Hermodamas the Creophylian who was then an old man in Samos.

Neanthes says that his father was a Tyrrhenian from Lemnos. On sailing to Italy, Mnesarchus took the young Pythagoras with him. At that time, Italy was greatly flourishing.

Pythagoras had two older brothers, Eunostus and Tyrrhenus.

But Apollonius, in his book about Pythagoras, affirms that his mother was Pythais, a descendant, of Ancaeus, the founder of Samos.

  • Apollonius adds that he was the offspring of Apollo and Pythais, on the authority of Mnesarchus.

A Samian poet sings:

Pythais, of all Samians the most fair; Jove-loved Pythagoras to Phoebus bare!

This poet says that Pythagoras studied not only under Pherecydes and Hermodamas, but also under Anaximander.

The Samian Duris, in the second book of his “Hours,” writes that his son was named Arimnestus, that he was the teacher of Democritus, and that on returning from banishment, he suspended a 2 foot square bronze tablet in the temple of Hera bearing this inscription:

Me, Arimnestus, who much learning traced, Pythagoras's beloved son here placed.

This tablet was removed by Simus, a musician, who claimed the canon graven thereon, and published it as his own.

Seven arts were engraved, but when Simus took away one, the others were destroyed.

Theano, a Cretan, the daughter of Pythonax, said that Pythagoras had:

  • a son, Thelauges
  • a daughter, Myia
  • some add Arignota, who keep Pythagorean writings

Timaeus says that Pythagoras’s daughter took precedence among:

  • the maidens in Crotona when she was unmarried
  • married women when she became a wife

The Crotonians made her house a temple of Demeter. The neighboring street they called a museum.

Lycus, in the fourth book of his Histories, noted different opinions about his country. He says:

“Unless you happen to know the country and the city which Pythagoras was a citizen, will remain a mere matter of conjecture. Some say he was a Samian, others, a Phliasian, others a Metapontine.

He learned math from the Egyptians, Chaldeans Phoenicians, and the Magi.

  • the Egyptians excelled in geometry
  • the Phoenicians excelled in numbers and proportions
  • the Chaldeans excelled of astronomical theorems, divine rites, and worship of the Gods
  • the Magi taught him other secrets
  • used the greatest purity
  • was shocked at all bloodshed and killing
  • abstained from animal food, and never approached butchers or hunters.

Antiphon, in his book on illustrious Virtuous Men, praises his perseverance while he was in Egypt. He says:

Pythagoras wanted to become acquainted with the institutions of Egyptian priests He diligently participated in them. He requested the Tyrant Polycrates to write to Amasis, the King of Egypt, his friend and former host, to initiate him. He arrived in Amasis where he was given letters from the priests. The priest of Heliopoliso sent him on to the priests of Memphis on the pretense that they were more ancient. He was then sent from Memphis to Diospolis which was more ancient."

From fear of the King, the priests of Diospolis dared not make excuses. They believed that Pythagoras would stop what he was doing if he had great difficulties. And so they imposed on him very hard precepts, entirely different from the institutions of the Greeks.

These he performed so readily that he won their admiration. They permitted him to sacrifice to the Gods and to acquaint himself with all their sciences, a favor never before granted to a foreigner.