10 Strange Facts About Pythagoras: Mathematician And Cult Leader

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7. He Told People He Would Be Reborn After Death

Photo credit: Salvator Rosa

It wasn’t that people just got so swept up in the hypotenuse-finding craze that they started making up stories about Pythagoras—he encouraged them. Pythagoras directly told people that he was the son of a god and that he had been repeatedly reincarnated until he reached his current form.

In a past life, Pythagoras claimed, he was the son of Hermes, who had offered Pythagoras any gift he wanted except for immortality. Pythagoras asked to retain his memories through each life and now could remember every person he had ever been. He had fought with Achilles in the Trojan War. He had worked as a humble fisherman. He had even been a beautiful courtesan who slept with powerful men.

More than that, though, Pythagoras claimed that he could sense old souls in new bodies. Legend has it that he once saw a dog getting beaten on the streets and ran in the way to stop the blows. “Stop! Don’t beat it!” Pythagoras yelled. “It is the soul of a friend.” He had recognized its voice in the dog’s barking.

6. He Was One Of The Earliest And Laziest Vegetarians


Pythagoras was one of the first people in Western history to abstain from eating meat for moral reasons. Eating the dead, he taught his followers, polluted the body—and so they must never kill a living thing.

His rules were a bit weird, though. You might remember that we mentioned earlier his sacrifice of oxen—and, yes, he did both. Like a vegan who eats fish and chicken, Pythagorean vegetarianism had some weird loopholes.

”The offerings he made were always inanimate,” the Greek writer Diogenes wrote in a biography of Pythagoras. Then Diogenes clarified: “Though some say that he would offer cocks, sucking goats, and porkers.” Still, Pythagoras drew the line somewhere. “But lambs,” Diogenes explained, “Never!”

Pythagoras’s rules seemed every bit as weird to the Greeks as they do to us. During his time, the Greeks spread a joke about a Pythagorean who insisted that he never ate any living thing. After getting caught eating dog meat, the Pythagorean said, “Yes, but [I kill] them first, and so they are still not alive.”

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