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Birth-place of Pythagoras.- His education. Tra
vels, Philosophy, and the tragic termination of
This celebrated philosopher was born in the island of Samos, 600 B.C. His early history is not definitely known, except that his father's name was Mnesarchus, who is said to have emigrated from Phænicia. Being a merchant, and of some distinction, he took care that his son should receive such an education as would enlighten his mind, and develop and strengthen his body. He was taught astronomy, geometry, music, and poetry. Pythagoras first attracted attention in Greece, at the age of 18, by his great strength and skill in the gymnasium, and where he won the prize. for wrestling in the Olympic games.
Having been sent to Egypt for further instruction, he gained a knowledge of the arts and sciences as taught by the priests. After having been duly ini tiated into the mysteries of the sacerdotal order, he then made himself master of their mythology, and the system of symbolical writing by which they governed themselves, and held their power over the people.
After completing his investigations in Egypt he visited Babylon, Assyria, Persia, and India, everywhere gathering knowledge of the opinions of wise men as to the nature of their gods, and on the question of the immortality of the soul. After several years of travel and study, he returned to his native island, Samos, but the tyranny of Polycrates soon made his life so stormy that he sought peace elsewhere.
He is credited with being the first who used the name philosopher, which he applied to himself. When having been saluted as a sophist, or wise man, he replied that he was not yet wise, but was a friend of wisdom. Being asked by Leon, king of Achaia, in what a philosopher differed from other men, he replied, that at the Olympic games some are attracted by a desire of obtaining crowns and honors, others come to dispose of their different commodities, while another and wiser class come to contemplate whatever deserves notice in that celebrated assembly. Thus, on the more extensive theatre of the world, while many struggle for the glory of a name, and many strive for the advantages of fortune, a few, and indeed but a few, who are not desirous of money nor ambitious of fame, are sufficiently gratified to be spectators of the wonder, the hurry, and the magnificence of the scene.
From Olympia the philosopher went to Elis, in Sparta, and finally, when about 40 years of age, he went to Magna Grecia, where he settled in the port of Crotona. Here he founded a new sect, and his knowledge of astronomy, mathematics, and other
higher branches of education, his extensive research and the reputation he had acquired from his travels, and by being crowned at the Olympian games, gave him such a recommendation as drew about him an immense number of pupils, and his eloquence and the boldness with which he attacked the vices and follies of society, astonished and influenced both old and young, and a great reformation took place in Crotona.
Pythagoras taught his followers both by precept and example. He went regularly at an early hour to his devotions; he lived on the plainest and simplest food; his continnal purifications and offerings, his religious deportment, his intellectual achievements, seemed to raise him above the rest of mankind; and to keep himself at a still greater distance from his pupils, several years were required to try their various dispositions--if they were talkative they were not allowed to speak in the presence of their master for five years, while those of a taciturn mind were allowed to speak with him after two years. He had certain doctrines which he taught only to his choice followers, and which being known only to those within, were called esoteric, the other doctrines given to those without, or the people in general, were called ezoteric. When his select pupils had advanced sufficiently to receive the secret instructions of the philosopher, they were instructed in the use of ciphers and hieroglyphic writing, so that his followers might correspond in unknown characters throughout the world in any language; the secret language being intelligible to all the initiated, whatever their native speech; by certain signs and words they made themselves known to each other wherever they went.
Pythagoras taught his pupils to perform their devotions in solitary places in the mountains, early in the morning; and after a rigid self-examination they rejoined their friends and refreshed themselves with light food, for the philosopher forbade his disciples eating flesh, because he believed it to have been produced from the same purified matter from which, at the creation of the world, man was formed.
The conversation and amusements of his followers were of the most innocent kind; both philosophy and politics were discussed, but never with warmth. In the evening, after arranging a course to be pursued the day following, they performed the same religious ceremonies as in the morning.
So profoundly respected, and even revered, was he by his pupils, that to dispute his authority was a crime, and to differ with him was a great offense. The most stubborn were brought to admit a position, or concede a point, when it was said the master held that opinion, and, to use the teacher's own words, was to carry conviction. His great influence in and through his school soon spread abroad in the world, so that it was esteemed a high honor to be counted among his pupils, and so renowned was his school, that the rulers and legislators of Greece, Italy, and other neighboring nations boasted of having been members of it. In many instances the highest positions of honor and profit were attained as a direct result of his teachings put into practice by his pupils.
The doctrine of metempsychosis—the transmigra