The History of the Pythagorean Theorem

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A Brief History of the Pythagorean Theorem

Just Who Was This Pythagoras, Anyway?
Pythagoras (569-500 B.C.E.) was born on the island of Samos in Greece, and did much traveling through Egypt, learning, among other things, mathematics. Not much more is known of his early years. Pythagoras gained his famous status by founding a group, the Brotherhood of Pythagoreans, which was devoted to the study of mathematics. The group was almost cult-like in that it had symbols, rituals and prayers. In addition, Pythagoras believed that "Number rules the universe,"and the Pythagoreans gave numerical values to many objects and ideas. These numerical values, in turn, were endowed with mystical and spiritual qualities. Legend has it that upon completion of his famous theorem, Pythagoras sacrificed 100 oxen. Although he is credited with the discovery of the famous theorem, it is not possible to tell if Pythagoras is the actual author. The Pythagoreans wrote many geometric proofs, but it is difficult to ascertain who proved what, as the group wanted to keep their findings secret. Unfortunately, this vow of secrecy prevented an important mathematical idea from being made public. The Pythagoreans had discovered irrational numbers! If we take an isosceles right triangle with legs of measure 1, the hypotenuse will measure sqrt 2. But this number cannot be expressed as a length that can be measured with a ruler divided into fractional parts, and that deeply disturbed the Pythagoreans, who believed that "All is number." They called these numbers "alogon," which means "unutterable." So shocked were the Pythagoreans by these numbers, they put to death a member who dared to mention their existence to the public. It would be 200 years later that the Greek mathematician Eudoxus developed a way to deal with these unutterable numbers.

Pythagoras of Samos
Who is Pythagoras?

Born: about 569 BC in Samos, Ionia
Died: about 475 BC
Pythagoras is often described as the first pure...
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