Boxing Pythagoras

Philosophy from the mind of a fighter

Archive for the tag “Pythagoras”

A Nativity Story

The man stood, dumbfounded, attempting to comprehend the news he had just been given. The Messenger of God had just informed him that his wife– his Virgin– was now with child, and would present him with a son who would surpass all who had ever lived in beauty and wisdom. The boy to come would be a divine gift, the greatest beneficence that the human race would ever know. Though coming into this world by birth through woman, the infant boy had in fact pre-existed his human form, and was wholly divine in nature. The man rushed home to his wife to find that the Messenger of God had spoken true. She was, indeed, with child.

Thus, Pythagoras was born into this world.

What? You thought I was talking about somebody else? This account is from the Life of Pythagoras, written by the great Neoplatonist philosopher Iamblichus in the 3rd Century, CE. Now, I will completely admit that I paraphrased the story in order to obfuscate it, a bit. The “Messenger of God” that spoke to Mnesarchus (Pythagoras’ father) was the Oracle at Delphi. And the reason that I capitalized “Virgin” in my paraphrase was because that was the name of Mnesarchus’ wife, before he received this news from the Oracle– Parthenis, in Greek. As soon as he received the announcement from the Oracle, Mnesarchus changed his wife’s name to Pythais, in honor of Pythian Apollo (which, Iamblichus tells us, was also the source for Pythagoras’ name). Still, the paraphrase stands: a Messenger of God informed a man that his wife’s womb had been filled by deity, and that the child would be divine, the greatest gift the world could hope to receive.

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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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