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The Stolen History of Kemet: Pythagoras, Part Two

By Dr. Josef Ben Levi

Presented by Omni-U Virtual University

The oldest surviving detailed account of Pythagoras’ entire life was written by a Greek man named Diogenes Laërtius, at some point between the early and the middle parts of the third century CE (i.e., about a generation or two after Klemes). Klemes is named after the Greek god of violence, foolishness and stupidity.Diogenes Laërtius wrote a very long book titled, "The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers", which includes short biographies of all the famous Greek philosophers, including Pythagoras of Samos.

In "The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers 8.1.2-3", Diogenes Laërtios repeats the familiar stories about Pythagoras' having studied philosophy with the Egyptians(i.e.Kemetians), the Chaldaians, and the Magoi. However, he adds a few more details not found in earlier accounts—namely that Pythagoras also learned to speak the language of the Egyptians(i.e.,Kemetians)* and that he also went into the cave of Zeus, under Mount Ida on the island of Crete, with Epimenides of Knossos. He writes:

Now he [i.e., Pythagoras] was in Egypt when Polykrates sent him a letter of introduction to Amasis; he learnt the Egyptian language, so we learn from Antiphon in his book "On Men of Outstanding Merit", and he also journeyed among the Chaldaians and Magoi. Then, while in Krete, he went down into the cave of Ida with Epimenides; he also entered the Egyptian sanctuaries and was told their secret lore concerning the gods.”

“Antiphon, in his book "On Men of Outstanding Merit" praises Pythagoras' perseverance while he was in Egypt/Kemet, saying:

"Pythagoras, desiring to become acquainted with the institutions of Egyptian priests, and diligently endeavoring to participate therein, requested the Tyrant Polykrates to write to his friend and former host, Amasis, the King of Egypt, to procure him initiation. Coming to Amasis, he was given letters to the priests of Heliopolis who sent him on to those of Memphis on the pretense that they were the more ancient. On the same pretense, he was sent on from Memphis to Diospolis.’

Plato, in his "Laws", states the following:

ATHENIAN: "All freemen I conceive, should learn as much of these branches of knowledge as every child in Egypt is taught when he learns the alphabet. In that country arithmetical games have been invented for the use of mere children, which they learn as a pleasure and amusement. They have to distribute apples and garlands, using the same number sometimes for a larger and sometimes for a lesser number of persons; and they arrange pugilists and wrestlers as they pair together by lot or remain over, and show how their turns come in natural order. Another mode of amusing them is to distribute vessels, sometimes of gold, brass, silver, and the like, intermixed with one another, sometimes of one metal only; as I was saying they adapt to their amusement the numbers in common use, and in this way make more intelligible to their pupils the arrangements and movements of armies and expeditions, and in the management of a household they make people more useful to themselves, and more wide awake; and again in measurements of things which have length, and breadth, and depth, they free us from that natural ignorance of all these things which is so ludicrous and disgraceful."

CLEINIAS: "What kind of ignorance do you mean?"

ATHENIAN: "O my dear Cleinias, I, like yourself, have late in life heard with amazement of our ignorance in these matters; to me we appear to be more like pigs than men, and I am quite ashamed, not only of myself, but for our whole Hellenic world."

Plato, in his "Laws", also states:

“For securing permanence no better method can be imagined than that of the Egyptians. 'What is their method?' They make a calendar for the year, arranging on what days the festivals of the various Gods shall be celebrated, and for each festival they consecrate an appropriate hymn and dance. In our state a similar arrangement shall in the first instance be framed by certain individuals, and afterwards solemnly ratified by all the citizens."

In Diogenes Laertius' " Lives of Eminent Philosophers: Book VIII: Chapter 1. PYTHAGORAS, (c. 582-500 B.C.)" he states:

"There are some who insist, absurdly enough, that Pythagoras left no writings whatever. At all events Heraclitus, the physicist, almost shouts in our ear, "Pythagoras, son of Mnesarchus,practiced inquiry beyond all other men, and in this selection of his writings made himself a wisdom of his own, showing much learning but poor workmanship."

The occasion of this remark was the opening words of Pythagoras' treatise "On Nature" namely:

"Nay, I swear by the air I breathe, I swear by the water I drink, I will never suffer censure on account of this work."

Pythagoras, in fact, wrote three books: "On Education", "On Statesmanship", and "On Nature". But, the book, which passes as the work of Pythagoras, is by Lysis of Tarentum, a Pythagorean, who fled to Thebes and taught Epaminondas. In his "Epitome of Sotion", Heraclides, the son of Serapion, says that he also wrote a poem, "On the Universe" and, secondly, the "Sacred Poem" which begins:

"Young men, come reverence in quietude. All these my words; thirdly "On the Soul", fourthly "Of Piety", fifthly "Helothales the Father of Epicharmus of Cos", sixthly "Croton", and other works as well. The same authority says that the poem,"On the Mysteries'', was written by Hippasus to defame Pythagoras and that any others written by Aston of Croton were ascribed to Pythagoras.

Aristoxenus says that Pythagoras got most of his moral doctrines from the Delphic priestess Themistoclea. According to Ion of Chios, in his "Triagmi", he ascribed some poems of his own making to Orpheus. They further attribute to him the "Scopiads'' which begins thus: "Be not shameless, before any man."

Pythagoras of Samos was a vegetarian. Most vegetarians consume beans, but Pythagoras initially told his followers they must not eat or even touch beans! Was Pythagoras worried about gastric problems or did he have a deeper reason for omitting beans from the diet? The reason behind this is not entirely known, but there are certain theories that can provide some light on the great philosopher’s reluctance to eat beans. Pythagoras believed that a person should strive for tranquility and peace. Beans were associated with metempsychosis, a philosophical term in the Greek language referring to the transmigration of the soul, especially its reincarnation after death. Pythagoreans believed that beans had the potential for life because they looked like human genitalia or fetuses.

There is also another theory, Pythagoras may not have had anything against beans at all. However, beans were used in ancient Greece as a ballot system. White beans represented a yes vote, and black a no.

When Pythagoras said to his disciples, "Abstain from beans," he had no reference to them as an article of diet, for he ate them himself, but he advised his students not to get caught up in politics or government.

In 525 BC Cambyses II , the king of Persia, invaded Egypt/Kemet. Polycrates abandoned his alliance with Egypt/Kemet and sent 40 ships to join the Persian fleet against them. After Cambyses had won the Battle of Pelusium in the Nile Delta and had captured Heliopolis and Memphis, Egyptian/Kemtian resistance collapsed. Pythagoras was taken prisoner and taken to Babylon.

Iamblichus writes:

“Pythagoras... was transported by the followers of Cambyses as a prisoner of war. Whilst he was there, he gladly associated with the Magoi ... and was instructed in their sacred rites and learnt about a very mystical worship of the gods. He also reached the acme of perfection in arithmetic and music and the other mathematical sciences taught by the Babylonians...”

In about 520 BC, Pythagoras left Babylon and returned to Samos. Polycrates had been killed in about 522 BC and in the summer of 522 BC Cambyses died, either by committing suicide or as the result of an accident. The deaths of these rulers may have been a factor in Pythagoras' return to Samos, but it is nowhere explained how Pythagoras obtained his freedom.

Darius of Persia (550-486 BC) had taken control of Samos after Polycrates' death, and he would have been in control of the island on Pythagoras' return. This conflicts with the accounts of Porphyry and Diogenes Laertius that Polycrates was still in control of Samos when Pythagoras returned there.

Pythagoras made a journey to Crete shortly after his return to Samos to study the system of laws there. Back in Samos, he founded a school which was called the semicircle.

In the third century CE, Iamblichus writes:

“... he formed a school in the city of Samos, the 'semicircle' of Pythagoras, which is known by that name, even today, in which the Samians hold political meetings. They do this because they think one should discuss questions about goodness, justice, and expediency in this place which was founded by the man who made all these subjects his business. Outside the city he made a cave the private site of his own philosophical teaching, spending most of the night and daytime there and doing research into the uses of mathematics...”

Pythagoras left Samos and went to southern Italy in about 518 BC (some say much earlier). Iamblichus gives some reasons for his leaving. First, he comments on the Samian response to his teaching methods:

“... he tried to use his symbolic method of teaching which was similar in all respects to the lessons he had learnt in Egypt. The Samians were not very keen on this method and treated him in a rude and improper manner.”

This was, according to Iamblichus, used in part as an excuse for Pythagoras to leave Samos:

“... Pythagoras was dragged into all sorts of diplomatic missions by his fellow citizens and forced to participate in public affairs. ... He knew that all the philosophers before him had ended their days on foreign soil, so he decided to escape all political responsibility, alleging as his excuse, according to some sources, the contempt the Samians had for his teaching method."

Pythagoras founded a philosophical and religious school in Croton (now Crotone) that had many followers. Pythagoras was the head of the society with an inner circle of followers known as “Mathematikoi” (μαθεματικοι) or “inner circle”. The Mathematikoi lived permanently with the Society, had no personal possessions and were vegetarians. They were taught by Pythagoras himself and obeyed strict rules. Some of the beliefs that Pythagoras held were as follows:-

  1. At t its deepest level, reality is mathematical in nature

  2. Philosophy can be used for spiritual purification

  3. The soul can rise to union with the divine

  4. Certain symbols have a mystical significance

  5. All brothers of the order should observe strict loyalty and secrecy.

Both men and women were permitted to become members of the Society, in fact, several later female Pythagoreans became famous philosophers. The outer circle of the Society was known as the akousmatics (ακουσματικοι) or the “outer circle” and they lived in their own houses, only coming to the Society during the day. They were allowed their own possessions and were not required to be vegetarians.

There are several views about how and when the Pythagorean Society ended. In their practical ethics (εθικε –character), the Pythagoreans were famous for their mutual friendship, unselfishness, and honesty. Pythagoras' Society at Croton was not unaffected by political events despite his desire to stay out of politics. In 513 BC, Pythagoras went to Delos to nurse his old teacher, Pherekydes, who was dying. He remained there for a few months until the death of his friend and teacher and then returned to Croton.

In 510 BC, Croton attacked and defeated its neighbor, Sybaris, and there are some suggestions that Pythagoras became involved in the dispute. Then, in around 508 BC, the Pythagorean Society at Croton was attacked by Cylon, a noble from Croton, itself. Pythagoras escaped to Metapontium and, according to most authors, he died there - some claiming that he committed suicide because of the attack on his Society. Iamblichus quotes one version of events:

Cylon, a Crotoniate and leading citizen by birth, fame, and riches, but otherwise a difficult, violent, disturbing, and tyrannically disposed man, eagerly desired to participate in the Pythagorean way of life. He approached Pythagoras, then an old man, but was rejected because of the character defects just described. When this happened, Cylon and his friends vowed to make a strong attack on Pythagoras and his followers. Thus, a powerfully aggressive zeal activated Cylon and his followers to persecute the Pythagoreans to the very last man. Because of this Pythagoras left for Metapontium and there is said to have ended his days."

This seems to be an accepted argument by most ancient writers but Iamblichus, himself, does not accept this version and argues that the attack by Cylon was a minor affair and that Pythagoras returned to Croton. Certainly, the Pythagorean Society thrived for many years after this and spread from Croton to many other Italian cities.

It has also been argued that this is a strong reason to believe that Pythagoras returned to Croton and other evidence supports this conclusion, such as the widely reported age of Pythagoras, at the time of his death, as around 100 and the fact that many sources say that Pythagoras taught Empedokles, claiming that he must have lived well after 480 BC. The evidence is unclear as to when and where the death of Pythagoras occurred. Certainly, the Pythagorean Society expanded rapidly after 500 BC, became political in nature, and split into a number of factions.

In 460 BC, the Society:

“... was violently suppressed. Its meeting houses were everywhere sacked and burned; mention is made in particular of "the house of Milo" in Croton, where 50 or 60 Pythagoreans were surprised and slain. Those who survived took refuge at Thebes and other places.”

  • Editors Note: Except in direct quotations, the references to Egypt have been accompanied by its proper name,i.e., Kemet, "the land of the Black people".

  • According to Dr. Walter A. McCray author of "The Black Presence in the Bible": The "Chaldeans"[,i.e., Chaldaians] should be classified as Biblical Blacks" …" Chaldea was "a land occupied by the Cushites."...

  • Op cit, McCray:" It is a noted fact that wherever ancient civilizations have emerged on the face of the earth, they were Black. Whether in Egypt, Cush, Sumer, Asia, North America, or South America, each cultural center of the ancient world was "Hamitic" in origin".


James, George G. M. Stolen Legacy: The Egyptian Origins of Western Philosophy. United States: Feather Trail, 2010. Print.

Bakalis, Nikolaos. Handbook of Greek Philosophy: From Thales to the Stoics. Victoria, BC.: Trafford, 2005. Print.

Clement of Alexandria, Stromata (Miscellanies). Memphis: Bottom of the Trail Pub. 2012.

John Dillon & Jackson Hershbell, Iamblichus: On the Pythagorean Way of Life. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 1991.

Chad Trainer, The Merits of the Milesians. Philosophy Now Magazine issue 69 September/October 2008.

Theophile Obenga, African Philosophy: The Pharaonic Period: 2780-330 BC. Paris: Per-Ankh. 2004.

Herodutus, Book II:81, London: Penguin Classics, 1972.

Diogenes Laertius, The Lives and Opinions of the Eminent Philosophers. Forgotten Books, 1853/2012.

Innocent C. Onyewuenyi. The African Origin of Greek Philosophy: An Exercise in Afrocentrism. Nsukka: University of Nigeria Press. 2005.

Okasha El-Daly. Egyptology: The Missing Millennium: Ancient Egypt in Medieval Writings. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press. 2005.

Peter Flegel. Does Western Philosophy have Egyptian Roots? Philosophy Now Magazine, October/November 2018 Issue 128

Connie Waters, Why Didn’t Pythagoras And His Followers Eat Beans? January 18, 2019

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