Biography: Sources, Facts, and Legends

Leonid Zhmud

in Pythagoras and the Early Pythagoreans

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199289318
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741371 | DOI:
Biography: Sources, Facts, and Legends

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One of the epithets most frequently applied to Pythagoras in the majority of popular books, as well as many scholarly works, is ‘legendary’ or ‘semi-legendary’. In the tradition on Pythagoras it is true that from the very beginning facts have been interwoven with fantastic invention, but it is not too difficult to separate the two. Extracting the real events in his life from information which appears to be quite plausible is much more difficult. This is where we encounter the greatest number of controversies, though these occur, of course, in the biographies of any of the Presocratics, and Pythagoras is no exception. Moreover, we have far more reliable information about his life than about any other philosopher of the sixth century, be it Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, or Xenophanes. The reason is evident: Pythagoras was spoken of and written about much more often. His great fame had the twin effects of making his name the focus of legends, which multiplied over the centuries, and of preserving the memory of the historical events of his time. This chapter begins with a discussion of the main sources of biographical information on Pythagoras. It then details his life on Samos and his travels outside Greece.

Keywords: Pythagoras; sources; Samos; travels; Greece; Magna Graecia

Chapter.  20546 words. 

Subjects: Classical Philosophy

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