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A Hero of Music

The reader of books has choice of works bearing such titles as "Heroes of Discovery," "Heroes of Science," etc. The musician who has read widely in the story of music knows that it is possible to make quite a romance about the "Heroes of Music." And in the whole history of music no figure looms so lofty, not so much by what he did for music and in music, but for the whole race, as the Greek philosopher, Pythagoras. Lofty, perhaps, because he belongs to the early ages when fewer men stood out significantly, but also because his life was one of pursuit of pure thought and living, because his teachings inclined to the moral improvement of mankind, and because he turned their thoughts to intellectual things.
 
The history of music does not show Pythagoras as a practicing musician. Such men had but little esteem in his day; in fact, the professional musician was generally a slave. But he included music and the laws of music among the subjects worthy of scientific study, and thus, at one effort, gave it a place which no skill of the player could ever have claimed or justified.
 
Pythagoras was a native of Samos, in Greece, and was born between 586 and 569 B. C., 582 being assigned as a probable date by some works of reference. Little or nothing is available as to his early life. We may judge that he was an eager student, a constant and keen observer, and one who wished to know all he could find out about the things around him. This is a fair inference if we note what Heraclitus says of him : "Of all men Pythagoras was the most assiduous inquirer." How much this statement makes us think of Socrates, that persistent questioner!
 
Tradition makes Pythagoras an extensive traveler, which characteristic was inevitable to such a temperament as his, since travel and personal contact with other scholars was the only way to acquire information. Books did not exist, and teaching was possible only viva voce. Like nearly all accounts of the historical worthies of those days, much that is untrustworthy is connected with him. Thus we are told that his travels included visits to the wise men among the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Chaldæans, Jews, Arabians, Druids of Gaul, the Magi of Persia and the Brahmins of India. We are hardly prepared to credit all of this, but it is easy to believe that he visited all the countries bordering on the Mediterranean Sea. From Egypt he is generally considered to have received considerable of his mathematical knowledge.
 
His historical importance dates from the time when he left Greece to settle at Crotona, a Dorian colony in Italy. He had formed the idea of organizing a fraternity which should follow his teachings and demonstrate them to the community in which they lived.  His adherents came chiefly from the higher classes, men of rank and wealth, restricting the number to 300. These he formed into a select society, a sort of religious brotherhood or an association for the moral reformation of society much more than a philosophic school. Their aim was the moral education and purification of the community. They joined to this the cultivation of certain ascetic observances and religious rites enjoined by the master. He is said to have admitted women to his lectures and teaching, although not to membership. In the matter of instruction great attention was paid to mathematics, music and astronomy.
 
The organization, on account of the high character of the members, was very influential and became entangled in political matters and was finally broken up. Pythagoras died about 504 or 505 B. C.
 
One phrase indissolubly associated with the name of Pythagoras is that of "the harmony of the spheres," an abstract idea, in all probability, although the master is said to have claimed that, by study and meditation, he had refined his faculties until he could hear the great rhythm and melody of the universe moving in its course in obedience to law, carrying us back to the time in which "the morning stars sang together."
 
Our readers will doubtless be interested to know something of the theories of Pythagoras. The central thought of his philosophy is the idea of number, the recognition of the numerical and mathematical relation of things. This thought crystallized into the formula that all things are numbers or that number is the essence of everything. Number is the principle of order by which a cosmos or ordered world subsists. The chief illustrations, or rather grounds of their position, were found in the regular movements of the heavenly bodies, and in the harmony of musical sounds, the dependence of which on regular mathematical intervals the Pythagoreans were apparently the first to discover. The famous theory of the harmony of spheres combines both ideas; the seven planets are the seven golden chords of the heavenly heptachord. To Pythagoras is due the honor of having raised mathematics in Greece to the rank of a science. He is also said to have introduced weights and measures.
 
The illustration on this page is a part of a larger picture which shows a group of Pythagoreans greeting the rising sun with the music of voice and instrument. While they were not sun worshippers, yet the sun had a great place in their rites and observances. We see the familiar Greek lyre, also the harp, which suggests the Egyptian influence; in the center is one playing the flute, an instrument much favored by the Greeks.
 
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