VI. THE EARLY GREEK PHILOSOPHERS IN ITALY
Diogenes Laertius tells a story about a youth who, clad in a purple toga, entered the arena at the Olympian games and asked to compete with the other youths in boxing. He was derisively denied admission, presumably because he was beyond the legitimate age for juvenile contestants. Nothing daunted, the youth entered the lists of men, and turned the laugh on his critics by coming off victor. The youth who performed this feat was named Pythagoras. He was the same man, if we may credit the story, who afterwards migrated to Italy and became the founder of the famous Crotonian School of Philosophy; the man who developed the religion of the Orphic mysteries; who conceived the idea of the music of the spheres; who promulgated the doctrine of metempsychosis; who first, perhaps, of all men clearly conceived the notion that this world on which we live is a ball which moves in space and which may be habitable on every side.
A strange development that for a stripling pugilist. But we must not forget that in the Greek world athletics held a peculiar place. The chief winner of Olympian games gave his name to an epoch (the ensuing Olympiad of four years), and was honored almost before all others in the land. A sound mind in a sound body was the motto of the day. To excel in feats of strength and dexterity was an accomplishment that even a philosopher need not scorn. It will be recalled that aeschylus distinguished himself at the battle of Marathon; that Thucydides, the greatest of Greek historians, was a general in the Peloponnesian War; that Xenophon, the pupil and biographer of Socrates, was chiefly famed for having led the Ten Thousand in the memorable campaign of Cyrus the Younger; that Plato himself was credited with having shown great aptitude in early life as a wrestler. If, then, Pythagoras the philosopher was really the Pythagoras who won the boxing contest, we may suppose that in looking back upon this athletic feat from the heights of his priesthood—for he came to be almost deified—he regarded it not as an indiscretion of his youth, but as one of the greatest achievements of his life. Not unlikely he recalled with pride that he was credited with being no less an innovator in athletics than in philosophy. At all events, tradition credits him with the invention of "scientific" boxing. Was it he, perhaps, who taught the Greeks to strike a rising and swinging blow from the hip, as depicted in the famous metopes of the Parthenon? If so, the innovation of Pythagoras was as little heeded in this regard in a subsequent age as was his theory of the motion of the earth; for to strike a swinging blow from the hip, rather than from the shoulder, is a trick which the pugilist learned anew in our own day.
But enough of pugilism and of what, at best, is a doubtful tradition. Our concern is with another "science" than that of the arena. We must follow the purple-robed victor to Italy—if, indeed, we be not over-credulous in accepting the tradition—and learn of triumphs of a different kind that have placed the name of Pythagoras high on the list of the fathers of Grecian thought. To Italy? Yes, to the western limits of the Greek world. Here it was, beyond the confines of actual Greek territory, that Hellenic thought found its second home, its first home being, as we have seen, in Asia Minor. Pythagoras, indeed, to whom we have just been introduced, was born on the island of Samos, which lies near the coast of Asia Minor, but he probably migrated at an early day to Crotona, in Italy. There he lived, taught, and developed his philosophy until rather late in life, when, having incurred the displeasure of his fellow-citizens, he suffered the not unusual penalty of banishment.
Of the three other great Italic leaders of thought of the early period, Xenophanes came rather late in life to Elea and founded the famous Eleatic School, of which Parmenides became the most distinguished ornament. These two were Ionians, and they lived in the sixth century before our era. Empedocles, the Sicilian, was of Doric origin. He lived about the middle of the fifth century B.C., at a time, therefore, when Athens had attained a position of chief glory among the Greek states; but there is no evidence that Empedocles ever visited that city, though it was rumored that he returned to the Peloponnesus to die. The other great Italic philosophers just named, living, as we have seen, in the previous century, can scarcely have thought of Athens as a centre of Greek thought. Indeed, the very fact that these men lived in Italy made that peninsula, rather than the mother-land of Greece, the centre of Hellenic influence. But all these men, it must constantly be borne in mind, were Greeks by birth and language, fully recognized as such in their own time and by posterity. Yet the fact that they lived in a land which was at no time a part of the geographical territory of Greece must not be forgotten. They, or their ancestors of recent generations, had been pioneers among those venturesome colonists who reached out into distant portions of the world, and made homes for themselves in much the same spirit in which colonists from Europe began to populate America some two thousand years later. In general, colonists from the different parts of Greece localized themselves somewhat definitely in their new homes; yet there must naturally have been a good deal of commingling among the various families of pioneers, and, to a certain extent, a mingling also with the earlier inhabitants of the country. This racial mingling, combined with the well-known vitalizing influence of the pioneer life, led, we may suppose, to a more rapid and more varied development than occurred among the home-staying Greeks. In proof of this, witness the remarkable schools of philosophy which, as we have seen, were thus developed at the confines of the Greek world, and which were presently to invade and, as it were, take by storm the mother-country itself.