Read Pythagorus Online

Authors: Kitty Ferguson

Tags: #history, #ancient mathematicians


BOOK: Pythagorus


Tycho & Kepler: The Unlikely Partnership That Forever Changed Our Understanding of the Heavens

Measuring the Universe: Our Historic Quest to Chart the Horizons of Space and Time

The Fire in the Equations: Science, Religion, and the Search for God

Prisons of Light: Black Holes

Stephen Hawking: Quest for a Theory of Everything

Previously published in the USA in 2008 by

Walker Publishing Company, Inc., New York

Published in the UK in 2010 by

Icon Books Ltd, Omnibus Business Centre,

39–41 North Road, London N7 9DP

[email protected]

This electronic edition published in 2010 by Icon Books

ISBN: 978-1-84831-250-0 (ePub format)

ISBN: 978-1-84831-251-7 (Adobe ebook format)

Printed edition (ISBN: 978-1-84831-192-3)

sold in the UK, Europe, South Africa and Asia

by Faber & Faber Ltd, Bloomsbury House,

74–77 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DA

or their agents

Printed edition distributed in the UK, Europe, South Africa and Asia

by TBS Ltd, TBS Distribution Centre, Colchester Road,

Frating Green, Colchester CO7 7DW

Printed edition published in Australia in 2010

by Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd,

PO Box 8500, 83 Alexander Street,

Crows Nest, NSW 2065

Text copyright © 2010 Kitty Ferguson

The author has asserted her moral rights.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, or by any

means, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.

To Serafina Clarke


By the Same Author

Title page





Lifetimes and Other Significant Dates


Part I: Sixth Century B.C.

Chapter 0: ‘At the hinge of legend and history'

Chapter 1: The Long-haired Samian

Chapter 2: ‘Entirely different from the institutions of the Greeks'

Chapter 3: ‘Among them was a man of immense knowledge'

Chapter 4: ‘My true race is of Heaven'

Chapter 5: ‘All things known have number'

Chapter 6: ‘The Famous Figure of Pythagoras'

Part II: Fifth Century B.C.–Seventh Century A.D.

Chapter 7: A Book by Philolaus the Pythagorean

Chapter 8: Plato's Search for Pythagoras

Chapter 9: ‘The ancients, our superiors, who dwelt nearer to the gods, have passed this word on to us'

Chapter 10: From Aristotle to Euclid

Chapter 11: The Roman Pythagoras

Chapter 12: Through Neo-Pythagorean and Ptolemaic Eyes

Chapter 13: The Wrap-up of Antiquity

Part III: Eighth–Twenty-first Centuries A.D.

Chapter 14: ‘Dwarfs on the shoulders of giants': Pythagoras in the Middle Ages

Chapter 15: ‘Wherein Nature shows herself most excellent and complete'

Chapter 16: ‘While the morning stars sang together': Johannes Kepler

Chapter 17: Enlightened and Illuminated

Chapter 18: Janus Face

Chapter 19: The Labyrinths of Simplicity

Epilogue: Music or Silence




A Note on the Author


I wish to thank all those friends who, during the years when I was researching and writing this book, have told me about ways – some of them odd and unexpected – that Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans have made an impact, or at least an appearance, in their own fields of study and interest. I also wish to thank my husband, Yale, for the help he has given me out of his own historical knowledge and library, his wonderful company on research journeys to Samos and Crotone, and his invaluable early critique of this book; Eleanor Robson, for her patient help in the area of Mesopotamian mathematics; John Barrow, for calling my attention to the ‘Sulba-Sûtras' and reconstructing the tunnel of Eupalinos on Samos for me out of a dinner napkin; the staff of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Crotone for their extraordinary helpfulness; and the librarians at the Chester Public Library, for their skill and willingness when I came to them with numerous unusual interlibrary loan requests.

Lifetimes and Other Significant Dates


Pythagoras c. 570–500 B.C.

Thales fl. c. 585 B.C.

Anaximander 610–546 B.C.

Diogenes Laertius fl. c. A.D. 193–217

Porphyry c. A.D. 233–306

Iamblichus of Chalcis c. A.D. 260–330


Babylonian exile of the Hebrews 598/7 and 587/6 to 538 B.C.

Rule of the Samian tyrant Polykrates 535–522 B.C.


Pythagoras' arrival in Croton 532/531 B.C.

Croton defeats and destroys Sybaris 510 B.C.

Death or disappearance of Pythagoras 500 B.C.

Second decimation of the Pythagoreans 454 B.C.


Philolaus c. 474–399? B.C.

Parmenides 515 or 540–mid-5th century B.C.

Melissus early 5th century–late 5th century B.C.

Zeno of Elea c. 490–mid to late 5th century B.C.

Socrates c. 470–399 B.C.


Plato 427–347 B.C.

Archytas 428–347 B.C.

Dionysius the Elder c. 430–367 B.C.

Dionysius the Younger 397–343 B.C.

Aristoxenus of Tarentum fl. fourth century B.C.


Socrates c. 470–399 B.C.

Plato 427–347 B.C.


Aristotle 384–322 B.C.

Theophrastus 372–287 B.C.

Alexander the Great 356–323 B.C.

Heracleides Ponticus 387–312 B.C.

Dicaearchus of Messina fl. c. 320 B.C.

Euclid fl. c. 300 B.C.


Cicero 106–43 B.C.

Numa ruled c. 715–673 B.C.

Ennius c. 239–c. 160 B.C.

Marcus Fulvius Nobilior 2nd century B.C.

Cato the Elder 234–149 B.C.

Pliny the Elder A.D. 23–79

Posidonius c. 135–51 B.C.

Sextus Empiricus fl. 3rd century A.D.

Eudorus of Alexandria fl. c. 25 BC

Nigidius Figulus fl. no later than 98–27 B.C.

Vitruvius fl. 1st century B.C.

Occelus of Lucania after Aristotle


Eudorus of Alexandria fl. c. 25 B.C.

Sotion 1st century A.D.

Seneca c. 4 B.C.–A.D. 65

‘Sextians' 1st century A.D.

Apollonius of Tyana 1st century A.D.

Alexander of Abonuteichos c. A.D. 110–170

Julia Domna died A.D. 217

Philostratus A.D. 170–c. 245

Philo of Alexandria 20 B.C.–A.D. 40

Ovid 43 B.C.–A.D. 17

Plutarch A.D. 45–125

Moderatus of Gades 1st century A.D.

Theon of Smyrna c. A.D. 70–130/140

Nicomachus fl. c. A.D. 100

Numenius of Apamea fl. late 2nd century A.D.

Ptolemy c. A.D. 100–c. 180


Diogenes Laertius fl. A.D. 193–217

Porphyry c. A.D. 233–306

Iamblichus of Chalcis c. A.D. 260–330

Longinus A.D. 213–273

Plotinus A.D. 204–270

Macrobius A.D. 395–423

Boethius c. A.D. 470–524


Hunayn 9th century

Brethren of Purity 10th century

Al-Hasan 10th century

Aurelian 9th century

John Scotus Eriugena c. 815–c. 877

Regino of Prüm died 915

Raymund of Toledo 1125–1152

King Roger of Sicily 1095–1154

Bernard of Chartres 12th century

Nicole d'Oresme 14th century

Nicholas of Cusa 1401–1464

Franchino Gaffurio 1451–1522


Petrarch 1304–1374

Nicholas of Cusa 1401–1464

Leon Battista Alberti 1407–1472

Marsilio Ficino 1433–1499

Pico della Mirandola 1463–1494

Giorgio Anselmi 15th century

Nicolaus Copernicus 1473–1543

Andrea Palladio 1508–1580

Tycho Brahe 1546–1601


Philipp Melanchthon 1497–1560

Tycho Brahe 1546–1601

Michael Mästlin 1550–1631

Johannes Kepler 1571–1630


Vincenzo Galilei late 1520s–1591

Galileo Galilei 1564–1642

William Shakespeare c. 1564–1616

John Milton 1608–1674

John Dryden 1631–1700

Joseph Addison 1672–1719

René Descartes 1596–1650

Robert Hooke 1635–1703

Robert Boyle 1627–1691

Isaac Newton 1642–1727

Gottfried Leibniz 1646–1716

Carl Linnaeus 1707–1778

William Wordsworth 1770–1850

Pierre-Simon de LaPlace 1749–1827

Filippo Michele Buonarroti 1761–1837

Hans Christian Oersted 1777–1851

Michael Faraday 1791–1867

James Clerk Maxwell 1831–1879


Bertrand Russell 1872–1970

Arthur Koestler 1905–1983

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