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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Pythagoreanism was the system of esoteric and metaphysical beliefs held by Pythagoras and his followers, the Pythagoreans, who were considerably influenced by mathematics, music and astronomy. Pythagoreanism originated in the 5th century BC and greatly influenced platonism and the concept of vegetarianism. Later revivals of Pythagorean doctrines led to what is now called neopythagoreanism.


  • The Pythagorean idea that whole numbers and harmonic (euphonic) sounds are intimately connected in music, must have been well known to lute-player and maker Vincenzo Galilei, father of Galileo Galilei. While possibly following Pythagorean modes of thinking, Vincenzo is known to have discovered a new mathematical relationship between string tension and pitch, thus suggesting a generalization of the idea that music and musical instruments can be mathematically quantified and described. This may have paved the way to his son's crucial insight that all physical phenomena may be described quantitatively in mathematical language (as physical "laws"), thus beginning and defining the era of modern physics.
  • Pythagoreanism has had a clear and obvious influence on the texts found in the hermetica corpus and thus flows over into hermeticism, gnosticism and alchemy.
  • The Pythagorean cosmology also inspired the Arab gnostic Monoimus to combine this system with monism and other things to form his own cosmology.
  • The pentagram (five-pointed star) was an important religious symbol used by the Pythagoreans.
  • The Pythagorean school doubtless had a monumental impact on the development of numerology and number mysticism, an influence that still resonates today. For example, it is from the Pythagoreans that the number 3 acquires its modern reputation as the noblest of all digits.
  • The Pythagoreans were advised to "speak the truth in all situations," which Pythagoras said he learned from the Magi of Babylon.
  • The Pythagorean theory of harmonic ratios is the basis of studies on music theory in the Islamic world, for example al-Farabi's Kitab al-Musiqa al-kabir.
  • Pythagorean philosophy had a marked impact on the thoughts of early modern scholars involved within the Scientific Revolution. Of particular interest is the focus applied to the Platonic Solids derived from the Pythagorean theories of geometry and numbers by Plato. Within the work of Leonardo fascination can be found within manuscripts describing the Platonic Solids, and also within the work of Kepler who supported the Copernican theory of heliocentrism and attempted a theory of the universe based on musical, geometrical harmony.

See also

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