Pythagoras the Musician

Date

2015

Authors

Stanulonis, Christine

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Worldwide access

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Abstract

It is contested whether or not the mathematical and scientific strain of the Pythagorean tradition could have belonged along with the mythological and religious strain to the original sect. Denying the mathematic tradition to original Pythagoreanism is often based upon assumptions that privilege one form of mathematics over another. But the Pythagorean conception of number need not be judged by the standard of deductive, axiomatic geometry, the paradigmatic mathematics of ancient Greece; instead, it can be considered as a practice which shares many of the characteristics of Greek arithmetic. This is because early Pythagorean figured numbers and later Greek arithmetic share a non-verbal and intuitive nature in accord with number understood through musical, poetic expression rather than through the strict, logical language upon which the geometry relies. This thesis will argue that the practice of measuring the numerical ratios of musical intervals may have been a kind of exemplar of scientific inquiry that acted as the catalyst for Pythagorean philosophical development. In addition, because these musical intervals were the living, pulsing heart of moral, religious, poetic, and communal life for members of the Pythagorean sect, their Pythagoreans’ understanding of their relationship to what they measured in mathematical terms would be radically different from the understanding of philosophers whose methods began with geometry. Thus, the privileged place of music as part of both aspects of the Pythagorean experience—the scientific and the religious—may have allowed for two modes of expression—the philosophical and the mythological—to operate within the same system of thought.

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