Poor old Pythagoras is slipping away from us. He was always a shadowy figure in Western thought -- his followers were secretive and he himself wrote nothing, as far as we know. Even in his own time and place, the Greek cities of southern Italy in the seventh century B.C., Pythagoras was a kind of myth-magnet. Over time a large body of thought about him developed, though it was based on precious little evidence. Then, in the second half of the 20th century, Pythagoras became yet more mysterious. In 1962, the Swiss scholar Walter Burkert -- using a close reading of earliest written accounts of what Pythagoras was supposed to have said to his followers -- published a monumental debunking of the Pythagorean tradition. Fellow scholars were persuaded that what little they thought they knew about Pythagoras was probably wrong. . . .
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