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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pythagoras of Samos - pure mathematician


Pythagoras of Samos was the first pure mathematician. He is an important figure in the development of mathematics yet we know little about him or his mathematical achievments. We have nothing of his writings.
Pythagoras’s father was Mnesarchus, while his mother was Pythais. She was a native of Samos. Mnesatchus was a merchant who came from Tyre, and there is a story that he brought corn to Samos in a time of famine and was granted citizenship as a show of gratitude.
Little is known about Pythagoras’s childhood. All accounts are likely to be fictional except for a description of a striking birthmark on his thigh. It is probable that he had three brothers, possibly four. He was well educated. He might have played the lore, learned poetry, and recited Homer. Three philosophers were said to influence Pythagoras while he was a young man. The most important was Pherekydes who many call the teacher of Pythagoras.
The other two philosophers said to influence Pythagoras and introduce him to his mathematical ideas were Thalas and his pupil Alexander who both lived on Miletus. It is said that Pythagoras visited Thalas when he was 18-20 years old.
In about 535 BC. , Pythagouras went to Egypt. This happened a few years after the tyrant Polycrates lost control of the city of Samos. There’s evidence to suggest that Pythagoras and Polycrates were friends at first and it is claimed that Pythagoras went to Egypt with a letter of introduction written by Polycrates.
In fact Polycrates had an alliance with Egypt and were therefor-strong links between Egypt and Samos at this time.
Pythagras made a journey to Cretes shortly after his return to Samos from Egypt. He went to study the system of laws there. Back in Sambas he founded a school called the semicircle.
Pythagoras left Samos and went to Southern Italy in about 518 BC.
Pythagoras founded a philosophical and religious school in Croton (now called Crotone) that had many followers. Pythagoras was the head of the society with an inner circle of followers known as the mathematikoi. The mathematokio lived permissibly with the society, had no personal possessions and were vegetarians. They were taught by Pythagoras himself and had strict rules enforced.
Of Pythagroras’s actual work nothing is known. His school practiced secrecy and communalism making it hard to distinguish Pythagoras’s work from his follower’s work. Certainly his school made outstanding contributions to mathematics, and it is possible to be fairly certain about some of his contributions to mathematics.
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