Pythagoras of Samos, the first man to call himself a philosopher— literally, a lover of wisdom—was a dominant figure in the history of ancient Greece. A brilliant mathematician and a mystic thinker, spiritual teacher, and political theorist, he embodies the intellectualism that was later to pervade classical Greek thought. The greatest Greek minds, from Aristotle to Proclus, all agree that he is the one who raised mathematics to the rank of a science.
But other, more obscure aspects of his personality cast some doubts on the true nature of the personage, such as his belief in the transmigration of the soul from humans to animals, his claim to divine status, and his alleged recollection of his previous reincarnations.
Pythagoras was born on the island of Samos, in the Aegean Sea, around 570 BC. As a young man he traveled to Egypt, where he was taught by the priests of Amon, the human-headed god of Thebes whose home was the temple of Karnak. He is also said to have met the naked philosophers of India before going to Babylon to study and teach astronomy, mathematics, and astrology.
When he was about forty years old he left Samos to escape the rule of the tyrant Polycrates and went to Magna Graecia, or Greater Greece, the name given to a group of Greek cities along the eastern coast of southern Italy. There he settled in the city of Croton, where he founded an ascetic and secretive sect. The fraternity, as their followers called it, was both a religious community and a scientific school devoted to exploring the mysteries of number, “the source and the root of all things.”