Apollonius of Tyana was a student of Pythagoras, a man whose scope of mind scaled powerful proportions over two millenniums ago. Born on the Greek island of Samos, his father, an engraver of rings, and his wife visited the oracle of Delphi and were told she would bear a son who would excel in wisdom and fine manners. Most details of his long life are shrouded in mystery, conflicting reports, and standard scribe embellishments, and even speculations of the exact time of his birth generally range from the ten year span from 570 to 580 b.c. An odd beginning considering his impact on the mental landscape in the areas of science, mathematics, music, religion, mysticism, and philosophy even as they continue to arouse the imagination of the most critical modern reader.
He introduced the method of axioms, postulates, definitions, and proofs, solving many basic ratio problems that had remained unapproachable to men of his day. This, in turn, raised the status of mathematics to a level above mere practicality.
Pythagoras rounded out his personality by devising a mystical and prophetic sagacity he claimed essential to practical living. Expanding the tenets of Euclid's geometry, he conducted a thorough study of the special, more subtle relationships prevailing in numbers, emerging from this "golden age of learning" to speak with candid enthusiasm, remarkable insight and steady practicality.
Tireless but not anxious, he was a genius of universal scope. Pythagoras did not parade in the pride of disinterested scientific curiosity often found among contemporary scientists and writers, or even hoards of philosophers holding court in his own day.
Instead he taught that all things in the universe belong to the macrosystem and are assigned and recognized within the matrix of perfected numbers. He sought to devise principles by which many questions the world struggled with in his time and all time since could be understood and answered. All of life, the whole of heaven, he said, was designed for harmony and ordered to function as a number, the universe, the body and the soul, together, and in natural potential to, the divine. It is said that Pythagoras was the first to call the world "kosmos".
An indefatigable pilgrim for much of his life, it is thought that Pythagoras traveled in leisure throughout southern Europe, Asia Minor, Persia, Palestine, Phoenicia, Egypt, Arabia, and as far away as India. He was well received in most places and was often aided on his ventures by great public figures, including kings and respected priests. Both the civic and philosophical sides of his ambitious imagination were generously demonstrated in plain sense directives and carefully considered equations.
Discussing the very essence and meaning of things and assigning to nature a grand metaphysical system was the great preoccupation of Pythagorus. There can be no doubt that the full impact of his intelligence is still being felt even today.
Pythagoras, like Socrates, and later, Jesus, left no written accounts of his work in his own hand. Instead his knowledge and speculations were delivered by disciples and biographers via word of mouth legends, and later in letters, by people who called themselves, aptly, the Pythagoreans.
His own religious spirit responded with, and advocated a lifelong behavioral conservatism, practicing the powers of meditation. Pythagoras, although quite prolific, and always busy. He was a man of few public words, disdaining the profane, exerting instead, an emphasis on brevity and clarity, enhanced by an earnest introspection exercised in silence as a practice of piety.
To add to his appeal, many having heard of him primarily in his roles as an early logician, a very talented thinker, discovered he also wore the persona of a wise sage, and ascetic holy man, and a personality of astounding generosity. He was also capable of expressing biting disapproval.
Beyond mathematical concepts and formulas, some readers may express surprise to learn of his apparent gifts of prophecy, second sight, and an unusual power of suggestion over wild animals, but these were known to be common to other great learned men of his time. Consider the following example:
Pythagoras was said to be walking from the Greek town of Sybaris to the town of Crotona when he came upon some fishermen and predicted the exact number of fish they had swept up in their dragnets. The fishermen pledged allegiance to the man, if what he said was true. The fish were counted, and the number confirmed as foretold. Pythagoras then asked that the fish be returned to the sea, after paying the men for their catch. He predicted earthquakes and caused violent winds to cease. He even is credited with having claimed to have visited the other world, and communed with spirits of deceased friends.
Others suggest Pythagoras once calmed a fierce bear with fruits and caresses, and then commanded it never to again attack any living creature, whereupon the bear stumbled off into the woods to live a life on berries, free from the vile habits of its brutal past.
He divined fortunes and analyzed personalities using his system of numerology, believing in the mystical significance of numbers, each number involving a form and importance derived from its own essence. Believing man to be under divine guidance at all times, Pythagoras was an intuitive, and a teleolgist, suggesting that God himself is the number of numbers, counseling that never is man to assume that he has been overlooked or abandoned by God or his agents. Life itself was the big show, the proving ground of man's true powers of imagination.
To this man of many talents, music played an integral part in helping to modify angers, griefs, fears, and various desires to which the individual is susceptible, laying the groundwork for the old adage that "music can soothe even the most savage beast's soul."
He practiced the arts of healing with herbs and potions. Literature and color therapy were studied and made subjects for instructive lecture and sheer pleasure. Pythagoras believed in daemons whom he regarded as agencies or facilitators of a purposeful plan in the life cycle, interceding between God and man. But to understand his complexity, one cannot underestimate his obsession with numbers and their application to specific concepts and objects. His theory assigned specific numerals to great lists of things animate and inanimate. He also accorded numbers to concepts.
For example, two is said to represent, or coincide with opinion, four with justice, five with marriage, seven with eternity. Each of the ten basic numbers bears a principle, or principles which reflect its inherent nature.
Speculations on cosmogony and cosmology primed the loaded mouths of reflective salon giants, jesters, scribes, and grunts of the day. Pythagoras was the greatest of them all.
He plunged ahead forming agenda, learning and molding the clays of his mind, painting the depths of his intellectual needs with matrix-enhanced ideas.
Moderation in vice and virtue became the Pythagorean exemplar.
His tranquil but nevertheless quite charismatic personality was a lightning rod for young intellectuals eager to be accepted as a disciple of the great teacher. The application process was difficult.
Pupils chosen personally by the teacher, and many were harshly rejected because a lack of mathematical intuition. They would, once in the circle, unite in the common purpose of friendship and utility, worship and practicality.
To some the charlatan-like aspects of the man are too obvious to ignore. His references to past lives reinforced existing reincarnation doctrine. He spoke of appearing before two of his disciples in different places at the same time.
To others, it might be said that he predicted the current age where multimedia and satellite hookups make the same possibly on a daily basis to many more than the primitive two he may have once claimed or imagined.
Plato's is the earliest surviving commentary on Pythagorus, but following the generally accepted political and religious themes of secrecy in his day, most knowledge was imparted orally and many traditions around the man soon sprouted, inevitably causing splinter groups to form in the early years after his death, late in life at the age of eighty.
Yet, no more is known about the exact details of his death than of his birth. Accounts of several commentators are widely conflicted. Prominent among these is his being burned up in the home of a friend torched by political enemies.
Others claim he expired during a forty day fast. The political jealousy story seems plausible because Pythagoras and his followers were quite active in writing political treatises and presenting them for implementation to various towns they visited.
Unfortunately, democracy was gaining influence against the aristocratic principles of Pythagoras and his opinions were not always met with broad gestures of acceptance.
While his astral theology and number mysticism sometimes sway the superficial to misrepresent Pythagorean influence, his prestige and philosophy were powerful forces upon many other wandering mystics, seers, and philosophers for several hundred years before and during the initial stages of the scientific method.
The early Christian church was molded in part by the Pythagorean leanings of Clement of Alexandria and others. So Pythagoras in all his mystery still remains a fascinating character in a long line of mystics and primitive scientists.