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Pythagoras & His Weird Religious Cult

Unravelling the Mysteries of Pythagoras: Examining the Life and Legacy of the Ancient Philosopher

  • Pythagoras is a pre-socratic philosopher believed to have lived between the 6th and 5th centuries BC
  • He is sometimes called the first philosopher and holds a high status in the Western philosophical tradition
  • Legends surround his life, but it can be difficult to tell fact from fiction
  • His fame during his lifetime was not as a scientific philosopher, but rather as a semi divine being with significant psychic and spiritual powers
  • Accounts of his life come centuries after he died, such as two works by Diogenes Lycist and Porphyry, as well as one by Neoplatonist Iamblichus.

Uncovering the Hidden Wisdoms of Pythagoras

  • Pythagoras was a figure associated with secret wisdoms, who taught that the soul is distinct from the body and immortal
  • He likely taught the theory of reincarnation and believed in divine judgment after death
  • His followers followed a specific set of rules, including a vegetarian diet and abstention from beans
  • Some have compared Pythagoras and his followers to the Orphic cult, which also included initiation into mysteries about Hades.

Mysterious Order of Pythagoras: Unveiling the Secrets of an Ancient Sect

  • Pythagoras and his followers were a secretive group who believed in purifying their souls to achieve a better afterlife, or reincarnation
  • They would practice silence and keep the secrets of their master’s teachings
  • They were known for their ascetic way of life and special rituals
  • They developed theories of number, harmony, music and geometry interconnecting them with the universe
  • It is thought that Pythagoras had esoteric teachings involving numbers and harmony that later followers chose to follow.

Unravelling the Legacy of the Hippies of Antiquity: The Neo-Pythagoreans

  • Pythagoras is an enigmatic figure in ancient Greek philosophy and religion who is believed to have originated many of the ideas we associate with Pythagoreanism
  • Though he died centuries before, his name and legacy were carried forward by Neo-Pythagoreans in late antiquity who’s behavior and conduct may have been influenced by his so-called “Pythagorean way of life”
  • These followers were often vegetarians, clothed simply and had unkept hair or beards, making them the “hippies of antiquity” despite their heavy influence from Plato
  • The legacy of Pythagoras was continued through not only philosophical teachings but also by their behaviors
  • And though he is most commonly associated with a theorem, he contributed much more to history than just that.

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out of all the great ancient greekphilosophers there are few that aremore household names than others figureslike plato aristotle and socrates and onthat list is probably also themysterious pythagoraswe've all heard his name hell we all hadto learn that theorem in school when wegrew up but what do we actually knowabout pythagoraswhen i say the name pythagoras whatcomes to mind perhapsscientist ancient greek philosopherperhaps mathematics and geometry anancient proto-scientist interested inthe ways that reality is built onmathematics and geometrypretty likely but how about cult leadershaman and hater of beings probably notwords that you associate with pythagorasbut words that might not be too far offfrom the truth and maybe even moreclose to the truth than those conceptsthat we usually associate with his nameso let's dive into the world of ancientgreece and explore the fascinating lifeand movement of pythagoras and thepythagoreans[Music]pythagoras is a so-called pre-socraticphilosopher this means that he is afigure that lived before socrates andthis speaks to the importance of thelatter figure more than anything elseit is generally believed that pythagoraslived between the 6th to 5th centuriesbc and is thus one of the earliestfigures of his kind that we know ofnow there are a lot of legendssurrounding pythagoras in later periodshe came to represent the originator ofsome of the most fundamentalphilosophical ideas and currents thatwere believed to be carried on byfigures like plato and many others he'ssometimes even called the firstphilosopher and holds a very high statusand role in the western philosophicaltraditionthere is thus a tendency to projectlater ideas and developments backwardsonto pythagoras butcan we somehow remove all these mythsand get an idea of who the realhistorical pythagoras waspossibly but not without some strugglethe later self-proclaimed followers ofpythagoras the so-called pythagoreanscame to make up a distinct group inantiquity and were characterized byspecific ideas and a particularpythagorean way of lifeaspects of which might be traceable tothe man himself but as the introsuggested it might not be what youexpectso who was he then well as i'm sureyou're used to hearing by this point thesources really aren't on our sidepythagoras himself never wrote anythinghe wrote no texts no books and mostaccounts of his life often comecenturies after he dieddid he even exist probably but it can bedifficult totell legend from historical truth ingeneral some of the later sources thatdescribe his life and teachings mayindeed of course have their source inearlier traditions and the existence ofa somewhat continuous quote unquotepythagorean way of life followed bypeople at the time can be helpful intracing these traditions back to his owntimeespecially useful for us are theso-called accusmata sayings attributedto pythagoras himself which sometimesinclude direct references to the way oflife that he is said to have taught themost complete accounts of his life comein the third and fourth centuries ce ora.d we have two works entitled the lifeof pythagoras from this time one bydiogenes lyricist and another byporphyrywe also have a work called on thepythagorean life by the famousneoplatonist iamblicus these are allwritten 800 years after pythagorassupposedly lived and don't exactlystrive for historical objectivity butthere are aspects of them that can beused we also have more fragmentarymentions earlier on in writings bypeople like aristotle and even earlierfigures that are more trustworthy forthat reason but these accounts are notas complete so with this in mind what dowe gotpythagoras was born and grew up on theisland of samos basically nothing at allis known about his early life but someclaim that he would have traveled a lotto places like babylon and especiallyegypt to learn the so-called wisdoms ofthe egyptiansindeed pythagoras is especiallyassociated with egyptian wisdoms andsome of his ideas claimed to have comefrom that land originally now we shouldkeep in mind that this was a very commontrope back then and it shouldn'tnecessarily be taken as entirely true inany case at some point when he wasaround 40 years old he moved to thegreek city of kroton in southern italyand it is here that he really entershistory at least relativelyhe starts gathering followers andespousing his teachings and way of lifeindeed by all accounts pythagoras becamequite famous during his own lifetime asa kind of sage his fame didn't come fromsome mathematical theories orquote-unquote philosophy in the regularsense of that word but rather as a kindof wonder-working sage who could performamazing superhuman feats and who led agroup of followers that followed acertain pythagorean way of life whichincluded rituals and rules that seemedand still kind of seem pretty weirdthe view of pythagoras as a kind ofmagical being is found all over thesources aristotle retells a few storiesquote the son of nicomachus in otherwords aristotle adds that pythagoras wasonce seen by many people on the same dayand at the same hour both at metapontumand at crotonand at olympia during the games he gotup in the theater and showed that one ofhis thighs was golden which was a signof divinitythe same rider says that while crossingthe cosas he was hailed by the river andthat many people heard him so healedit is also told that pythagorassupposedly killed a deadly bitingserpent by biting it himself which isincredibly badass and a bunch of similarstories in other words the reputationthat pythagoras had at the timeaccording to many people was not as somescientific philosopher that word didn'treally even exist at that point butrather as a kind of semi divine beingwho hadvery significant psychic and spiritualpowers i used the word shaman in theintro and that word should rarely beemployed and it doesn't really work hereeither but you can kind of see why somepeople have gravitated towards callinghim a shaman he had secret wisdoms andperformed practices that allowed him tobe in multiple places at the same timeperhaps his soul could travel todifferent realms and other such juicythings and that point about the soul isvery important because it actuallysegues nicely into the actual teachingsthat he is associated with indeedpythagoras seems to have taught that thesoul is distinct from the body that itis immortal and survives after thebody's death this was a quite unusualteaching at the time but would be pickedup by many in the future including ofcourse plato this is one of those thingsthat he might indeed have gotten fromthe egyptians who indeed did believe ina post-mortem life for the soul or soulssometimesafter the body dies the immortal soul isthen reborn into another bodythat's right pythagoras most likelytaught the theory of reincarnationthis is perhaps most colorfullyindicated in a story that appears inboth xenophonies and diogenesliterature's life of pythagoras quotesonce they said that he was passing bywhen a puppy was being whipped and hetook pity and said stop do not beat itfor it is the soul of a friend that irecognized when i heard it screamingin this somewhat comical but tellingstory pythagoras recognizes that it isthe soul of an old friend that hasreincarnated as this particular dogwe don't know much at all about thedetails of pythagoras theory ofreincarnation in other spots it seemslike he imagines the soul to be subjectto a kind of divine judgment after deathwhere it can be punished in theunderworld or have a more pleasantafterlife maybe this is connectedsomehow to the nature of reincarnationbut we simply don't know what is clearis that pythagoras was seen as an experton the nature of the soul and its fateafter deathwe're beginning to get a new idea of whothis guy was or at least claimed to be aperson who knew a thing or two about thesoul and could perhaps even manipulatehis own soul to do really cool tricksand so it isn't perhaps that surprisingthat he made quite a name for himselfand that he managed to gather a devotedgroup of followers in croton these firstpythagoreans would have been like alittle secret society gathering aroundtheir teachers to learn esotericteachings and practices and they wereespecially characterized as i've alludedto already by following a certainpythagorean way of life this was in factwhat pythagoras and his followers weremostly famous for having a specific setof rules and ritual conducts that madethem stand out and here the acousmata orsupposed sayings of the man himselfbecomes especially important it's notcertain just how much of this is truebut it certainly paints a picturefirst of all it seems that pythagoraswas vegetarian and that his way of lifeincluded following a vegetarian dietthis was perhaps connected to the ideaof reincarnation as these two tend to beconnected sometimesapart from this a lot of the rules thatthe pythagoreans followed were connectedto religious ritual rules of conductthat were to be followed in the templesfor example pythagoras didn't form a newreligion of his own they followed theestablished greek religion at the timebut formulated particular rulessurrounding these religious rites forexample one wasn't allowed to enter thetemple barefoot you had to quote poorlibations to the gods from the ear orhandle of the cup you couldn't wearimages of the gods on your finger andyou couldn't sacrifice a whitefair enough you might think but there ismore and it gets weirder thepythagoreans weren't allowed to burytheir dead in wool you had to put on theright shoe first before the left footyou weren't supposed to travel on publicroads and perhaps the strangers of themall you were absolutely not allowed toeat beansbeans were no good at all in an accountfrom the life of pythagoras we learnabout this bean hates as well as some ofthe other rules quotes pythagoreansenjoy and abstention from beings eitherbecause they are like the privy parts orbecause they are like the gates of hadesfor this is the only plant that has nojoints or because they are destructiveunclear what that means or because theyare like the nature of the universe alsohighly unclear or because they areoligarchical being used in the choice ofrulers by lot things that fall from thetable they were told not to pick up toaccustom them to eating with moderationor because such things mark the death ofsomeonethey must not touch a white becausethis animal is sacred to the month andis a supplient and supplication is agood thing they must not break the loafnor must they divide the love whichbrings them together others explain therule by reference to the judgment inhades others explain that it is from theloaf that the universe startsother than these specific rules thepythagoreans were expected to live asomewhat austere and contemplative lifecalled step not over a balance in otherwords be not covetouspoke not the fire with a sword in otherwords do not vex with sharp words a manswollen with anger pluck not the crownin other words offend not against thelaws which are the crowns of cities oragain eat not hearts i vex not yourselfwith grief sit not on the cornration i.elive not in idleness when on a journeyturn not back in other words when youare dying cling not to this lifeif some of you know a thing or two aboutthe ancient world you might already bethinking what i'm about to say a lot ofthis reminds us of the so-called mysterycults that existed in antiquity in thehellenic world particularly indeed manyhave compared and connected pythagorasand the pythagoreans to the so-calledorphics another ancient mystery calledcentered around the mythical figure oforpheus these two groups share a lot offeatures and it wouldn't be too far offto call the pythagoreans a kind ofmystery cultkirk raven and surefield describe theorphic cult as such quote we can safelysay that the name of orpheus wasassociated from at least the fifthcentury on with the institution ofvarious rights which included initiationinto mysteries depicting terrors ofhades and whose object was to produce ahappy state for initiates before andafter death much the same can probablybe said for the pythagoreans they were agroup based on secret initiation andwhich probably included special ritualsand practices alongside a generalascetic way of life and the rulesmentioned above to help the initiatepurify his soul in some way in hopes ofa better afterlife or perhaps betterreincarnation there's a great aura ofesotericism over pythagoras in generalthere's a lot we don't know about whatwent on in the group and what theirteacher actually taught and this ispartially on purpose in fact anotherthing that the pythagoreans becamefamous for was their practice of silenceboth in a literal sense of justbeing silent and not talking somesources claim that a person who wantedto become a pythagorean had to observe afive-year silence but secondly thissilence also includes a less literal wayof simply keeping their mouth shut aboutthe secrets of their master's teachingsthere seems to have been certainesoteric aspects to pythagoras ideasthat his followers weren't allowed todisclose to the uninitiated it's thekind of stuff that we both love and hateto see understandably perhaps thiscolorful little group attracted quite alot of attention at the time but not allof it was positive indeed it is saidthat the group came under attack at somepoint in the last years of the 6thcentury bc even to the point of violencewhich forced pythagoras to relocate toanother greek city in italy calledmetapontum where he's thought to havediedsomewhere around 490 bcnow you might be saying to yourself holdon that's it there's nothing aboutmathematics or geometry or any otherthings that we associate with pythagorasfair point and this is actually a verydifficult topic it is indeed true thatthe name pythagoras is primarilyassociated with philosophy that involvesnumbers and the relationship andimportance in reality and in the worldand when anyone talks about laterphilosophers you know as soon as theysay as soon as they say anything aboutnumbers like plato talking about the oneor the dyad as soon as numbers come intothe picturepeople tend to say oh that's pythagoreanand a lot of the time these philosopherswould say the same plato himself wasoften seen by his later followers asfollowing a pythagorean tradition ofwisdom but are these ideas actuallypythagorean as in originating in thethought of pythagoras himself there isvery little in the direct sources abouthis life that suggests that he had anysuch ideas but that doesn't mean thatthey aren't there at all we should becareful not to apply later ideasbackward and indeed a lot of ideas thatlater thinkers identified as pythagoreanwere actually platonist andanachronistically projected backwards topythagoras to legitimize them but at thesame time it is very possible that hedid have ideas about the fundamentalrole of numbers in the cosmos indeed hismovement did survive after he died afterall some time in association with thisit is often thought that the movementwas divided into two general camps theacousmaticoi which focused on thereligious rules and rituals that hadcharacterized the movement outwardly andthe mathematico who instead appears tohave focused on what we would refer toas morephilosophical questions especiallyincluding and here's the kickermathematicseven if this version of events isn'tbased entirely on historical fact it'shard to sayindeed in the fourth century just alittle bit later we have many people andin this period we of course have a lotmore contemporary sources that refer tothese people we have people whoself-identify as pythagorean and whosephilosophy and his teachings resemble alot more what we would associate withthat name figures like philo laos arguedthat reality was based on the concept ofthe unlimited and limit and on theharmony between the two making numbersessential to understanding the cosmosand arjitas made significant innovationsto mathematics and geometry both beingpythagoreans indeed the laterpythagoreans of the fourth century andafter its resurgence while later came tobe associated not only with thatcharacteristic way of life sometimes notat all but with mystical andphilosophical ideas surrounding numbersstuff like numerology geometryarithmetic and music theory in the mostgeneral sense pythagoreans believed thatreality was somehow made up of numbersand this expresses itself in a multitudeof ways geometry is of course intimatelyconnected with numbers and math and thepythagoreans develop geometric theoriesthat also seemingly explain the innerworkings of the cosmos especially inworks by people like phil laos who talkabout the unlimited and limit harmonybecomes important in pythagoreanismmathematical and geometric ratios andharmony are key to their philosophy andis also directly connected to musicwhich is another subject with whichpythagoreanism is strongly associatedthe pythagoreans develop significanttheories around music theory and are keyto the understanding of harmonic ratiosin music for example determining thefourth fifth an octave in a scale theharmony between musical notes and chordsis all based on mathematical ratios thatcorrespond to auditory experience andlastly pythagoreanism is also associatedwith a certain cosmology involving therevolution of the planetary spheres as apart of this mathematical harmoniousuniverse indeed the already mentionedphila laos may have been one of thefirst to suggest that the earth was notin the center of the universe and someeven claimed that he affirmed theheliocentric model based on his claimthat the earth revolves around the greatfire but this is of courseinterpretation to connect it all againthe pythagoreans would hold to a theoryof the so-called music of the spheresthat the heavenly bodies as they revolveand move across the sky and theirspheres create harmonious musicso all of it is connected to themathematical and geometric ideassurrounding harmonyis it possible then that these ideas atleast some of them originate withpythagoras himselfsurein fact i think it would be a littleweird that so many who claim to followthe teachings of pythagoras in latercenturies simply took those ideascompletely out of thin air so to say itis quite possible that underneath theascetic ways of life and the ritualrules pythagoras had more esotericsecret teachings involving numbers andharmony some later followers may havechosen to follow only the ritualisticand practical aspects of his thoughtperhaps the so-called accusmaticoi whileothers brought into light the morespeculative philosophical teachings theso-called mathematico perhaps but it isa difficult topic to wrap your headaround indeed sometime in the 4thcentury the pythagoreans essentiallydisappeared it is only a few centurieslater in the last years before the turnof the common era that we see aresurgence of what is known asneo-pythagoreanismand this isn't necessarily a school ofthought per se but a loose group ofindividuals who all held pythagoras as acentral figure in the history ofphilosophy perhaps even as the firstphilosopher it is these so-calledneo-pythagoreans that might haveoriginated some of the ideas that wemost associate with pythagoreanism moregenerally and which traces all laterwisdom such as the ideas of plato forexample back to the figure of pythagorasthe neopythagoreans were often heavilyinfluenced by platonism in fact andlater played an important part in thedevelopment of so-called neoplatonismbut even aside from these philosophicalideas the legacy of pythagoras continuedtobe carried forward in different wayseven in late antiquity there are peoplewho are associated with pythagoras orassociated with pythagoreanism simplybased on their behaviors and conductperhaps connected to that so-calledpythagorean way of life that he was sostrongly associated with thesepythagoreans were so identified becausethey for example were vegetarians thatthey were very simple clothing hadunkept hair and beard something that wasvery unusual in roman times especiallyand that they kind of smelled bad sobasically they were kind of like thehippies of antiquity in other words thelegacy of the wonder working sage wascarried forward in many different anddiverse ways even many many centuriesafter he died so pythagoras is an enigmain more ways than one to me he's one ofthe most interestingcharacters one of the most interestingfigures in the whole tradition ofancient greek philosophy and religionthere are perhaps many different sidesto his life and thoughtssides that were carried forward bydifferent groups of his followers inlater centuries most of us might haveheard his name many times and beentaught that theorem in school whichprobably wasn't his to begin with butfew of us have delved into themysterious wonder working semi-divinesage side of him that is so fascinatingbut that's why i'm here to provide youwith esoteric and strange goodies tohelp you sleep at night for now i hopeyou've learned something new aboutpythagoras and his weird religious cultswe should definitely spend more episodesin the future talking about thosemathematicalideas that his later followers wereassociated with something that i onlyhad time to touch on very briefly inthis episode it does indeed provide someof the most interesting and foundationalideas in the history of philosophy andmysticism so as you contemplate that oneplus two plus three plus four equals 10don't forget to leave a comment and likethe video if you feel like it deservedit and i'll see you next time[Music]you