Pythagoras of Samos (6th century BCE)
Pythagoras was very big on mathematics. So much so, in fact, that he founded a religious cult based on loving mathematics and despising beans. (“Beans?!”, you say? We’ll get to that later!) “All is number,” he said, after (it is claimed, quite dubiously) being the first to discover that musical notes are related in a simple mathematical fashion to the lengths of the vibrating strings that produce them. His cult was also deeply into numerology, believing for example that the number four is associated with “justice”. And of course the Pythagorean Theorem in geometry is attributed to him (though it was known well before his time).
Pythagoras was apparently a character much like Jesus; that is, a founder of a religious cult who didn’t amount to much in his own day, but who was built up into some sort of “bigger-than-life” personage by his followers after his death. In antiquity he was generally included in lists of the “Seven Great Wise Men”, along with THALES and other worthies. Like Jesus, it seems he never wrote anything, and in fact most of the things attributed to Pythagoras seem to have actually been invented by his adherents or intellectual descendants.
Wicked Green Beans
One thing that everybody seems to say about Pythagoras is that he and his sect refused to eat beans. Of course many are those who since then have sniffed unhappily at those who do eat beans!
Oh Pythagoras please tell me just what it means—
Your strange idea that it’s bad to eat beans.
Unless your reasoning to me you imp*rt
I’ll have to think it’s ’cause...
oh, you know, ’cause beans make you f*rt!
This of course might imply that Pythagoras was some sort of early Emily Post, who could not stand the thought of making such a gross social blunder. There is another proposed explanation, however:
That the spirit transmigrated,
Leaving the body by a route obscene
(That’s why he never ate a bean).
—Peter J. King
Hmmm. Some background might help here. The ancient Greek concept of psyche, just like the ancient Roman concept of spirit or soul (spiritus) comes from words that originally just meant “breath”. The original idea was simply that when you die your breath leaves you. But due to people like Pythagoras and Plato that physical concept of breath got turned into a mystical, religious object, “the soul”. Now gas can actually leave the body at either end... So I think you see what Pythagoras may have been getting at!
A peculiar idea though, that by eating beans you might accidentally fart your soul out and die! Religion is full of ideas just as strange, however, such as the weird Christian doctrine that sacramental wine gets magically turned into Jesus’ blood during “Holy Communion”. (Which believers then drink!) I guess Pythagoras was probably no more ridiculous than any other religious fanatic.
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