4 - The Man With The Golden Thigh: Pythagoras

Peter discusses the Pre-Socratic philosopher Pythagoras, as well as Pythagoreanism and the role of mathematics in ancient philosophy.

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Further Reading: 

W. Burkert, Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism, trans. E.L. Minar (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972).

C. Huffman (ed.), A History of Pythagoreanism (Cambridge: 2014).

Iamblichus, On the Pythagorean Way of Life, trans. J.M. Dillon and J. Hershbell (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991).

C.H. Kahn, Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans: a Brief History (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2001).

Stanford Encyclopedia: Pythagoras

Malcolm's picture

Assassinate the number 7?

Lakoff & Nunez suggest that the embodied mind brings mathematics into being, so to "assassinate the number 7", wouldn't you simply (!) need to "assassinate all humans"?

Are there any Ancient Philosophers who thought this way, or did they all follow Pythagoras in thinking of numbers as something "out there", existing in an "ideal space" forever?

Peter Adamson's picture

Mathematics as mental constructs

Perhaps Aristotle comes closer to this kind of view than Plato, since he talks for instance of geometrical figures as being made out of "intelligible matter." In a few episodes I'll be doing an interview with Serafina Cuomo, an expert on ancient mathematics, so you may find that that sheds some further light.

D Turner's picture

Universe is made from numbers - Pythagoras

This podcast has a wonderful sychronicity to the interview I listened to last week on vortex-based mathematics. One of the quotes from that broadcast of Feb 2013: "Numbers are three dimensional living geometry"

Graham's picture


I have heard a hundred times now that Pythagoras said not to eat beans. However, i was browsing through Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, under the entry EMBLEM is the following:

". . . .
Abstain from beans.--Flee frequently public assemblies in which one gave one's suffrage with black or white beans.

. . . . Such are the maxims of Pythagoras, the sense of which is not hard to understand."

So is the whole bean thing really about casting votes?

Love the podcasts, thanks very much.


Peter Adamson's picture


Oh, that's an interesting theory! I quite like that, although I thought that they voted with pebbles rather than beans, at least in Athens.

Ward Scott's picture

It strikes me that today's

It strikes me that today's "new age" philosophies could be seen as a resurgence of Pythagoreanism.

TD's picture

Musical ratios and the sound of linear and exponential harmony

Picture a 4 stringed banjo - all the strings are the same length. I turn the first tuning key one full turn;the second two full turns; the third three full turns; the forth four full turns.

From this perfectly tuned Pathagorean instrument (the total number of turns is 10; the perfect number) will I hear the ratios or the perfect sound of linear mathematics. And would you have to turn the third key 4 times and the forth key 16 times to be able to hear what the ratios of exponential growth sounds like albeit it's no longer a perfectly tuned Pathagorean instrument any more. I have to think linear would sound better than exponential

Anyone out there have a stringed instrument to try this in order to hear the results. I wonder if our minds would find the notes pleasurable or would only those minds in mathematical harmony find them pleasant?