I know that just about everyone in their lives has had to learn about Pythagoras’ theorem. Although the theorem is an interesting thing to discuss in and of itself, I also enjoy learning about the people who derived these equations, and in this case, Pythagoras.
If we jump back in time to approximately 569 BC, a legend was born by the name of Pythagoras, in Samos, Greece. Little was known of Pythagoras’ early life and, therefore, I will focus on the more important milestones in his life. Around the year 518BC, he settled down in the Greek town of Cortona, in southern Italy. During his time in Cortona, he set up a religion and philosophy school, where he mainly taught his students the wonders of mathematics.
His followers nowadays are more commonly known as Pythagoreans, but in the past, they were mainly referred to as “mathematikoi”. There were very strict rules, such as the requirement that everyone be vegetarian and, that like a monk, no one had any possessions. There were also some very distinctly, well, different rules - for example, it was sinful to eat beans.
The secrecy of the Pythagoreans was their downfall as it is believed that the surrounding denizens of Cortona grew wary of them and what they were doing within the walls of the school; started a mob, marched to the school and proceeded to burn it down. Pythagoras was thought to have died circa 500 BC, and in many tellings it has been said that he did not want to escape because he had to trample over a bean patch, and so was murdered by a mob or engulfed by a fire (created by the mob).
All in all, and besides all, the mathematikoi were involved in great things, such as the acknowledgement of numbers as singular entities which can be manipulated. In addition, they proved the existence of some of my favourite mathematical creatures today - like why √2 is irrational, which still gives me satisfaction each time I write it down, mainly because it is one of the first mathematical proofs I ever saw, and it really blew me away.
If you want to see this proof, I've typed it up neatly for you here.
Written by William T.H. Magnay
A-Level Further Mathematician, Royal Grammar School.