Friday, August 8, 2008

No beans, Pythagoras! (Why the Greek Philosopher put dietary restrictions on his sect)

Pythagoras immersed in reading a book with people around him
Pythagoras was an enigmatic figure, to say the least. We learn mostly about him in mathematics class, regarding his famed Theorem of a²+b²=c². Yet it turns out that many scholars do not credit him with it and claim that it was probably discovered earlier by the Egyptians or the Babylonians, though Pythagoras supposedly added the proofs.

Yet he was much more than a mathematician; in fact, he must have been an icon in his own time. He certainly had his followers and disciples who would voluntarily join his sect. What is uncommon for his times was that he accepted men and women equally in a society where the latter were usually discriminated against.

One of the tenets of his sect was that the soul is immortal and that it transmigrates. He himself believed to be the reincarnation of “Euphorbus”, a warrior of Trojan times, and once he pleaded not to hurt a dog because he apparently recognized the soul of a friend in the dog's body.

His most famous saying was that “all things are numbers;” everything can be explained by mathematics similar to what the character in the movie Pi by Darren Aronofsky believed. Due to its infallible preciseness and absolute general truths, mathematics could be deemed to offer a magical key to unlocking and understanding the cosmos. Everything could be explained with numbers and equations.

He appreciated music because it was equally mathematical. One of his most beautiful claims was that the heavenly bodies were separated along longitudes by chords. These chords vibrated whenever the celestial bodies moved and produced the music of the spheres.

Pythagoras also cherished silence because it involved deep reflection and meditation. In his monastery, one of the first known of its kind, he would dress simply and follow strict regimens. He abstained from eating meat and hence was one of the earliest proponents of vegetarianism. Following a balanced diet he hoped to purify the body and consequently aid the soul. He believed that the body was a prison of the soul and by eating well one could help the soul aspire to higher truths. However, one of the most interesting facts about his diet was the avoidance of beans.

So why no beans? Would it disturb the silence or break the spiritual contemplation due to possible flatulence among its members? There is probably a better explanation for it. During Greek times, there was a common disease associated with the consumption of beans called "favism", which is a form of hemolytic anemia. So it all came down to rather practical reasons and considerations.

It is really too bad that we know so little about this philosopher. Unfortunately, he left us no concrete written records, so we are mostly left in the dark. What a shame because Pythagoras, the “father of numbers” was a rather interesting fellow!


Stronys Cathalonia said...

ooooohhh., that got me interested in pythagoras.

I like mathematics btw.

Shelby Jones (omega_squid) said...

Nice, I did not know that about the 'triangle dude'

Ha, math can be easy some of the time!