Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
37. Character of the Tradition 39. The Order

From Chapter II., Science and Religion

38. Life of Pythagoras
We may be said to know for certain that Pythagoras passed his early manhood at Samos, and was the son of Mnesarchos;31 and he "flourished," we are told, in the reign of Polykrates (532 B.C.).32 This date cannot be far wrong; for Herakleitos already speaks of him in the past tense.33

The extensive travels attributed to Pythagoras by late writers are, of course, apocryphal. Even the statement that he visited Egypt, though far from improbable if we consider the close relations between Polykrates of Samos and Amasis, rests on no sufficient authority.34 Herodotos, it is true, observes that the Egyptians agreed in certain practices with the rules called Orphic and Bacchic, which are really Egyptian, and with the Pythagoreans;35 but this does not imply that the Pythagoreans derived these directly from Egypt. He says also that the belief in transmigration came from Egypt, though certain Greeks, both at an earlier and a later date, had passed it off as their own. He refuses, however, to give their names, so he can hardly be referring to Pythagoras.36 Nor does it matter; for the Egyptians did not believe in transmigration at all, and Herodotos was deceived by the priests or the symbolism of the monuments.

Aristoxenos said that Pythagoras left Samos in order to escape from the tyranny of Polykrates.37 It was at Kroton, a city which had long been in friendly relations with Samos and was famed for its athletes and its doctors,38 that he founded his society. Timaios appears to have said that he came to Italy in 529 B.C. and remained at Kroton for twenty years. He died at Metapontion, whither he had retired when the Krotoniates rose in revolt against his authority.39

Burnet's Notes


31. Cf. Herod. iv. 95, and Herakleitos, fr. 17 (R. P. 31 a). Timaios, however, gave his father's name as Demaratos. Herodotos represents him as living at Samos. Aristoxenos said his family came from one of the islands which the Athenians occupied after expelling the Tyrrhenians (Diog. viii. 1). This suggests Lemnos or Imbros, from which the Tyrrhenian "Pelasgians" were expelled by Miltiades (Herod. vi. 140). That explains the story that he was an Etrurian or a Tyrian. Other accounts bring him into connexion with Phleious, but that may be a pious invention of the society which flourished there at the beginning of the fourth century B.C. Pausanias (ii. 13, 1) gives it as a Phleiasian tradition that Hippasos, the great-grandfather of Pythagoras, had emigrated from Phleious to Samos.

32. Eratosthenes wrongly identified Pythagoras with the Olympic victor of Ol. XLVIII 1 (588/7 B.C.), but Apollodoros gave his floruit as 532/1, the era of Polykrates. He doubtless based this on the statement of Aristoxenos quoted by Porphyry (V. Pyth. 9), that Pythagoras left Samos from dislike to the tyranny of Polykrates (R. P. 53 a).

33. Herakl. fr. 16, 17 (R. P. 31, 31 a).

34. It occurs first in the Bousiris of Isokrates, § 28 (R. P. 52).

35. Herod. ii. 81 (R. P. 52 a). The comma at Αἰγυπτίοισι is clearly right. Herodotos believed that the cult of Dionysos was introduced by Melampous (ii. 49), and he means that the Orphics got these practices from the worshippers of Bakchos, while the Pythagoreans got them from the Orphics.

36. Herod. ii. 123 (R. P. ib.). The words "whose names I know, but do not write" cannot refer to Pythagoras; for it is only of contemporaries Herodotos speaks in this way (Cf. i. 51, iv. 48). Stein's suggestion that he meant Empedokles seems convincing. Herodotos must have met him at Thourioi. If Herodotos had ever heard of Pythagoras visiting Egypt, he would surely have said so in one or other of these passages. There was no occasion for reserve, as Pythagoras must have died before Herodotos was born.

37. Porph. V. Pyth. 9 (R. P. 53 a).

38. From what Herodotos tells us of Demokedes (iii. 131) we may infer that the medical school of Kroton was founded before the time of Pythagoras. The series of Olympian victories won by Krotoniates in the sixth century B.C. is remarkable.

39. For a full discussion of the chronological problem, see Rostagni, op. cit. pp. 376 sqq. It seems clear that Timaios made the rising of Kylon take place just after the destruction of Sybaris (510 B.C.), with which he connected it. The statement that Pythagoras then retired to Metapontion is confirmed by Cicero, who speaks (De fin. v. 4) of the honours still paid to his memory in that city (R. P. 57 c). Aristoxenos (ap. Iambl. V. Pyth. 249) referred to the same thing (R. P. 57 c). Cf. also Andron, fr. 6 (F.H.G. ii. 347).

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