The Ancient Greek Philosophers: Pythagoras

Pythagoras lived from c. 570—c. 495 B.C., and is perhaps most famously known for his theorem (a2+b2=c2). He was originally from Samos but moved to Croton to avoid being ruled by a tyrant. There he set up a school of people dedicated to scholarship.  He posited that there are three types of men (he used the example of the Olympics)-those who buy and sell, those who compete, and those who look on, and Pythagoras believed that those who look on are the best type of man. The Pythagoreans spent a lot of time studying numbers, and came to conclude that the world is made from numbers, and that reality was founded and based upon numbers. A famous comparison was made that the body is like a musical instrument. Just as a properly tuned and looked-after instrument produces good music, a properly cared for and healthy body produces the means for a good life. Moreover, our bodies, like instruments, can easily become out of tune, and so we should tune ourselves regularly. Moreover, it was a Pythagorean idea that music is a medicine that can heal the soul. Such was the power of music for Pythagoras. As Pythagoras’ ideas developed, two schools developed, the mathēmatikoi (μαθηματικοί meaning “teachers”) and the akousmatikoi (ἀκουσματικοί, meaning “listeners”). The former emphasised mathematical and scientific development, whereas the latter honed in on the religious aspects. Overall, it seems that Pythagorean thought was dominated by mathematics, and it was maths which the Pythagoreans based their outlook and their ideas about the world. We are indebted to Pythagoras for his work on numbers, as well as his ideas about man-ideas which influenced Socrates and Plato.

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The Power of Art

Art is many things. It can inspire, comfort, transform. Art enables man to transform his essence. Christian Morgenstern said that ‘in every work of art, the artist himself is present’ and I believe this to be true. In the music of Mozart we are able to gain an insight into the intense feelings, doubts and frustrations of a musical genius, in the paintings of van Gogh we are thrown into a world of madness, pain and, again, majestic skill. At times, art can satisfactorily express emotions which words cannot.

Through art, Mozart, Bach, da Vinci, Ovid, Homer, and numerous other writers, musicians, poets and painters, became immortal. Although they were all inevitably destined for death, they were able to live forever, not in body or mind, but in spirit. Each person’s art allows a glimpse of that persons life. Not only does art satisfy and gratify the spectators, but it also satisfies the creators themselves. Art, it seems, is created because of some dissatisfaction or some feeling of emptiness that can only be filled by something creative. Many writers have expressed some belief of this sort, saying that ‘art never comes from happiness’ (Chuck Palahniuk) or ‘art is to console those who are broken by life’ (van Gogh). Art can, if we allow, assume a form of catharsis. To the artist himself, art is a means to expressing the inexpressible, to the spectator, art indicates that the feelings of loneliness, doubt, fear,  inadequacy, anxiety, and depression are not exclusive to the spectator alone, and that art can be used to channel these feelings. As Thomas Merton said, ‘art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.’

We live in a society full of art. Music is available at a few clicks of a button, is played in supermarkets, restaurants, in transport, and in many other public and private spaces. Moreover, paintings are widely available to view and poetry and writings are at hand in many, many places. We have, thankfully, recognised its importance and its benefit to mankind. For art may be, at times, the only thing that keeps a man sane.