Pythagoras, the famous Greek philosopher and mathematician of the sixth century B.C., was born in Samos, off the coast of Asia Minor. As a mature man he immigrated to Croton, in southern Italy. Here he founded a brotherhood of religious-ethical orientation, which practiced strict self-discipline and vegetarianism. Pythagoreanism became politically influential in Croton, but was violently attacked throughout Italy, and the brotherhood broke into two groups. Neither branch had a long life.
Pythagoras taught transmigration of the soul and a doctrine that came to be known as the «harmony of the spheres». According to this doctrine, certain parameters characterizing the celestial bodies are related to one another «harmoniously» by a mathematical rule. Pythagoreanism has been a powerful force in the development of Western culture. It has creatively inspired philosophers, theologians, mathematicians, and astronomers (notably Copernicus and Kepler).
Schoolchildren are taught the Pythagorean theorem, that the square on the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. Fewer students may remember that Pythagoras symbolized the divergent paths of virtue and vice by the twentieth Greek letter of the alphabet, Upsilon (υ).
Legend has it that Pythagoras used to write on a looking-glass in blood and place it opposite the moon, and the inscription that appeared reflected on the moon’s disc; that he tamed a savage Daunian bear by «stroking it gently with his hand»; that he subdued an eagle by the same means; and that he held absolute dominion over beasts and birds by «the power of his voice» or «influence of his touch».