Boxing Pythagoras

Philosophy from the mind of a fighter

Archive for the tag “boxing”

Philosophy from the Mind of a Fighter

Pythagoras was a boxer. Plato was a wrestler. Xenophon was a soldier. Marcus Aurelius directed armies. There is a rich history of philosophers who were also fighters– or perhaps fighters who were also philosophers. And these two seemingly disparate endeavors have much more in common than most people realize. When people think of philosophy, they often conjure images of frail intellectuals discussing lofty ideals and contemplating nigh incomprehensible trivialities with like minded men. When people think of fighters, they often imagine brutish lugs thrashing at one another with neither thought nor civility. Both of these stereotypes are false. Philosophers have been some of the most brash, combative men in history; and I have personally known fighters who are absolutely brilliantly intellectual and incomparably kind. The truth is that neither philosophy nor fighting is really what most people believe them to be, and that these two concepts share a great deal more in common than most would realize.

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Introduction

In 588 BC, a young man from Samos made his way to the Olympic Games with the goal of winning the youth division in boxing. However, when registering, the officials told the young man that he was too old to compete amongst the boys. Spectators and competitors began to mock the Samian for his long hair and purple robes, accusing him of effeminacy for attempting to compete with the younger boys. Undeterred, the young man signed to fight with the adult boxers. Despite the derision which he had suffered from the crowd, Pythagoras won bout after bout, and was crowned victorious at the 48th Olympiad.

According to the ancient historian Diogenes Laertius, this was the self-same Pythagoras of Samos who would go on to found the Brotherhood, a unique school of philosophers in Greek history. The Pythagoreans were incredibly well-respected, and their work influenced that of all the great philosophers who would follow them– including the famous trio of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Music and mathematics played especially important roles, to the Pythagoreans.  These fields informed their philosophy, while their philosophy simultaneously inspired their musical and mathematical discoveries.

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