Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans: A Brief History

M.F. Burnyeat writes:

Whenever Pythagoreanism comes up for scholarly study, the Walter Burkert revelation is now everywhere, the anxiety of his influence omnipresent – but with different effects on different writers. Kahn remains cool and collected. The difference shows in the heading of Kahn’s fifth chapter, ‘The New Pythagorean Philosophy in the Early Academy’. That little word ‘new’ testifies that Kahn has managed to let go, for it accepts from Burkert that the origins of the traditional picture of Pythagoras are to be sought, not during the sixth century bc, when he lived and fought his political battles, not during the fifth century, when democratic forces ousted his followers from power in various cities of southern Italy, but late in the fourth century. That was when Speusippus and Xenocrates, the dominant figures in Plato’s Academy, sought to devise ancient authority for certain aspects of their late master’s philosophy. Theirs was a conscious construction whereby Pythagoras became the apostle of mathematics and a highly mathematising philosophy, full of anticipations of Platonic metaphysics.

(LRB 22 February 2007)

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