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Who was Pythagoras?

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The Greek philosopher, mathematician and religious reformer Pythagoras was born on the island of Samos and lived from 582 BC to 500 BC.

In his early years Pythagoras traveled throughout Egypt and Babylonia, where he studied mathematical and religious doctrines.

He also drew on the teachings of the early Ionian philosophers and the Orphic mysteries. In about 530 BC he settled in Crotona, southern Italy, and established a religious and philosophical school that combined the study of nature with asceticism.

Members of the Pythagorean brotherhood were called Friends of Wisdom and practiced obedience, silence, simplicity and self-observation. They believed in immortality and the reincarnation of human souls and investigated theories of mathematics and astronomy.

The Pythagoreans were mistrusted by the Greek aristocrats and democrats alike and were frequently forced to flee from prosecution.

Pythagoras believed in the sanctity and perfection of certain numbers. The rational study of numbers underlaid Pythagorean principles of order, proportion and harmony in the universe and led to the formulation of Pythagoras' theorem (later formally proved by Euclid), which states that, in any right-angled triangle, the square on the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares on the other two sides; a specific example is one whose sides are in the ratio 3:4:5.

The Pythagoreans were the first to put forward the idea that the Earth, Sun and other planets are globes revolving in the heavens. They also discovered the numerical ratios determining the musical intervals on a tuned string and believed that the heavenly bodies were positioned in accordance with this, their movements giving rise to musical sounds.

Towards the end of the fifth century BC the Pythagorean order was violently put down by the powerful Democratic Party. Pythagoras was forced by a conspiracy of his enemies to flee to Metapontum, where he died.

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