Pythagoras of Samos is one of the most famous names in the history of mathematics and is recognized as the first true mathematician. Most of the information we have today on this legendary mathematician were compiled centuries after he lived and thus many are considered to be unreliable. His early biographies are written by authors who wanted to present him as some supernatural or god like figure. It is said that before the birth of Pythagoras, it was prophesized that his pregnant mother would give birth to a man supremely beautiful, wise, and beneficial to humankind.
He was born on the Greek Island – Samos in the eastern Aegean. His birth date is estimated to be somewhere in 570 BC. His father Mnesarchus was a merchant and travelled a lot for business, Pythagoras also accompanied his father in various expeditions. When Pythagoras was 18, he visited Miletus- an ancient Greek city on the western coast of Anatolia; where he met Thales– the first know Greek philosopher and scientist. By that time Thales was very old and is not believed to have taught Pythagoras a great deal. However, it was this meeting which triggered his interest in the science of mathematics and astronomy. Thales advised him to travel to Egypt and explore these avenues. Pythagoras is believed to have had strong desire to learn and for this he had undertaken extensive travels. He was taught by wide range of teachers and philosophers. He spent years in Egypt in search of all available knowledge and received wisdom from an Egyptian priest Oenuphis of Heliopolis.
In around 530 BC Pythagoras settled in Croton- Italy, where he founded a philosophical and religious school that instantly attracted many followers. He established and headed a society called mathematikoi. The members of his society lived permanently together and followed strict rules. Pythagoras taught all the members of the society personally. It is due to the strict rules, secrecy and communal system of his school that there is not much known of Pythagoras’s actual work or it is really hard to distinguish his work from that of his followers.
Pythagoras has commonly been credited for discovering the Pythagorean Theorem of geometry. Though this theorem was previously utilized by Babylonians and Indians; it is widely believed that Pythagoras or his students were the first to construct its proof. Pythagoras believed that numbers had personalities like perfect or incomplete, masculine or feminine, beautiful or ugly. He also studied properties of numbers which would be familiar to mathematicians today like even and odd numbers.
Pythagoras desired to stay out of politics, yet his society was always affected by politics. In 510 BC Croton attacked and defeated its neighbor Sybaris and there are certainly some suggestions that Pythagoras became involved in the dispute. Then in around 508 BC the Pythagorean Society at Croton was attacked by Cylon, a noble from Croton itself. Pythagoras escaped to Metapontium and the most authors say he died there, some claiming that he committed suicide because of the attack on his Society. The evidence is unclear as to when and where the death of Pythagoras occurred but his society expended rapidly after 500 BC and its contributions to mathematics are still recognized and respected.