The Madness of Pythagoras: Beyond Mathematics and into the Realm of Beans
Famed for his theorem on right-angled triangles, Pythagoras of Samos (c.570–495 BC) was more than a groundbreaking mathematician; he was a philosopher, mystic, and the leader of a religious cult-like school that adopted peculiar practices and beliefs. One of the more curious aspects of Pythagorean doctrine was the sage’s purported disdain for beans—a puzzling eccentricity that invites us to delve deeper into the life of this renowned figure. Welcome to the journey through the ‘madness’ of Pythagoras.
Pythagoras: A Man of Many Mysteries
Pythagoras’ life and teachings are shrouded in mystery. Much of what we know about him comes from later biographies, filled with supernatural occurrences and miraculous feats, blurring the line between fact and myth. Pythagoras and his followers, the Pythagoreans, established a religious and philosophical school that emphasized a spiritual understanding of numbers and nature, advocating a way of life that was as rigorous as it was enigmatic.
A Mysterious Aversion to Beans
One of the most peculiar of Pythagorean practices was the prohibition against eating beans. Various ancient sources note this abstention, including Aristotle, who amusingly conjectured that the reason for this might have been that beans resemble testicles. However, the rationale behind this injunction goes far deeper, shedding light on Pythagorean cosmology and beliefs.
One theory posits that beans were considered sacred and akin to human life, even possessing a soul. Pythagoreans believed in metempsychosis, the transmigration of souls, and beans were thought to hold the capacity for human souls to pass into them after death. Eating beans was, therefore, akin to consuming human souls, a grave sacrilege in Pythagorean eyes.
Another theory revolves around Pythagoras’ belief in the mystical properties of numbers. Pythagoreans noticed that the bean plant’s growth seemed inconsistent with their numerical doctrines. Each part of the plant appeared to grow in a ratio unaligned with the ‘harmonious’ numbers that Pythagoreans considered integral to the order of the cosmos. This numerical aberration might have contributed to their decision to shun beans.
The Enigma of Pythagorean Doctrine
The peculiar prohibition against beans is just one facet of the broader Pythagorean doctrine, which encompassed a strict way of life. Followers adhered to communal living, silence during meals, and avoidance of certain clothing. Their philosophy mingled mathematics, mysticism, music, and cosmology into a unique spiritual doctrine that, despite its oddities, was highly influential in antiquity.
More than mere mathematical genius, Pythagoras emerges as a spiritual guide, a mystical figure whose teachings shaped the intellectual trajectory of Western civilization. The ‘madness’ of Pythagoras—a term we may apply to his unconventional practices—is ultimately an exploration of the human capacity for belief, rationality, and spirituality.
The curious aversion Pythagoras and his followers held towards beans lends itself to an even more profound layer of intrigue when we consider its rumored role in the sage’s demise. While the accounts vary, one narrative from ancient sources tells of how Pythagoras met his end during a period of political upheaval.
Finding himself pursued by his enemies, it’s said that Pythagoras came to a field full of beans. His philosophical convictions held steadfast even in the face of mortal danger. Rather than cross the bean field and violate his sacred prohibition, he chose to confront his pursuers, leading to his death.
Whether or not this account is true, it serves as a striking encapsulation of the Pythagorean doctrine’s intensity and Pythagoras’ unwavering commitment to his beliefs. The ‘madness’ of Pythagoras—a term applied to his unorthodox practices—becomes, in this context, a profound exploration of the strength of human conviction, the interplay between belief and action, and the remarkable ways in which ideas can shape the course of a life.
In the end, Pythagoras remains an enigmatic figure, a pioneering mind whose life was as full of mystique as his teachings. His strange aversion to beans is a peculiar footnote in the annals of philosophical history, a testament to the compelling—and at times bewildering—power of belief. So, when you next encounter a humble bean, spare a thought for Pythagoras—for in your hand, you hold a symbol of the grand, perplexing, and tragically final chapter in the life of this legendary philosopher.