It’s All Greek to Me – Great Greek Thinkers Part Two
Continuing from the previous article, we now look at two more great Greek thinkers who have influenced our modern ways of thinking.
Pythagoras – 570 BCE – 495 BCE
Pythagoras of Samos is described today as the first pure mathematician. Despite being such an important figure in the development of mathematics, due to the code of secrecy he worked under, we know relatively little about his achievements. In fact, unlike many later Greek mathematicians, we have nothing left today of Pythagoras’ writings. What we do know about this man’s life is constructed from the writings of other philosophers and the pupils who studied at the school of religion and philosophy he founded in Croton, Southern Italy.
Pythagoras was the head of his school, which consisted of a group of scholars and also an inner circle. The inner circle was made up of avid followers known as mathematikoi. The mathematikoi lived permanently at the school, gave up personal wealth and possessions and were vegetarians.
Pythagoras and his mathematikoi made outstanding contributions to the study of mathematics which are still widely used today.
As well as his famous study of geometry, Pythagoras created and tested theories relating to odd and even numbers, triangular numbers, perfect numbers, algebra and solid shapes.
Much of Pythagoras’ work stemmed from his observations of astronomy and music and the patterns that numbers form in everything around us. He was a fine musician, playing the lyre, and also believed that music had great healing properties.
Interestingly, Pythagoras was an avid believer in the reality of the soul and the theory that the soul is energy-based. He also advocated the theory of reincarnation, believing that the soul continued to be reincarnated until all the necessary life lessons were learned and a state that he called ‘purification’ achieved.
Empedocles – 490 BCE – 430 BCE
Empedocles was born to a wealthy family in Acragas in Sicily. He is said to have been a very well-travelled and flamboyant man who worked tirelessly in support of the poor.
A well-renowned orator of his time, Empedocles was a popular politician. He was even offered the rule of the city of Acragas, which he declined for reasons of his own. Empedocles was also hugely knowledgeable about medicine and human anatomy. Many people would seek him out for assistance in medical matters.
He produced two major written works, which survive in fragments today. Both contain ideas and theories that still resonate with modern-day thinkers. His first work was called ‘On Nature’ and his second, ‘Purifications’.
Empedocles was the first philosopher to theorise that everything on our planet is made up of proportions of four elements: earth, fire, air and water. He claimed that, upon the ‘death’ of the physical form, the elements that made up a structure are returned to the universe to be recycled into a new living organism. Many spiritual thinkers of today still follow this idea and many spiritual organisations have structures based on the four element theory.
Empedocles saw the universe as being in a constant cycle of change, growth and decay. He theorised that two opposing forces, Love and Strife, are locked in an eternal battle. Love draws elements together and Strife forces them apart. Like Pythagoras, he was a strong advocate of reincarnation, believing that the souls of those who have failed to learn their life’s lessons become those of animals. This belief led him to advise his followers to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle.
A philosopher, mystical theologian, healer, politician, shamanic magician and greatly influential poet, Empedocles, one of the great Greek thinkers, continues to be a huge influence on the religious and spiritual leaders of the modern world.
The ancient Greeks were a race renowned for their thinking and theorising. Many of their famous scholars are credited with some truly ground-breaking work which still holds its ground today in the face of modern scientific discoveries.
Studying the work of the great Greek thinkers, it becomes apparent that many of their discoveries were made by observing the natural world around them and trying to make sense of the great changes in the environment and cosmos.
Many of their ideas on existence also have a spiritual element. It’s interesting that many of these ideas are still widely held today. Recent advances in quantum mechanics are beginning to offer scientifically proven theories concerning their theories on issues such as the existence and continuation of the soul after physical death.
As science progresses, it becomes even more apparent that these ancient thinkers were more ahead of their time than we have previously believed. Their ideas have resonated through the centuries, adding to and embellishing our own understanding of the world and the universe we live in.