The Philosopher who Trolled Himself to Death and Other Philosophical Oddities from History
The Philosopher who Trolled Himself to Death and Other Philosophical Oddities from History

The Philosopher who Trolled Himself to Death and Other Philosophical Oddities from History

Khalid Elhassan - September 27, 2022

The Philosopher who Trolled Himself to Death and Other Philosophical Oddities from History
Pythagoras. Pixels

Pythagoras Led a Cult That Took Over a City

Like most cults, that of Pythagoras and his followers alarmed the rest of the community in which they dwelt. At first, the people of Croton, where Pythagoras lived with his followers, put up with the math weirdos in their midst. Then the Pythagoreans stepped over the line. Overestimating their power – and the appeal of their beliefs – they made a bid for power, and tried to compel ordinary citizens to adopt the Pythagorean lifestyle. It did not end well for Pythagoras and his adherents.

The Pythagoreans morphed into an ancient Greek math ISIS or Boko Haram. They tried to prevent the people of Croton from eating beans, and directed that at all costs, they must not eat meat. The good people of Croton reacted violently, and it ended in a general persecution of Pythagoreans. By the time the dust had settled, many of the cultists had been killed, while the rest were forced to flee. The survivors attempted to regroup and carry on elsewhere, but they never again achieved as much prominence or power as they had secured in Croton, and they cult soon faded away.

The Philosopher who Trolled Himself to Death and Other Philosophical Oddities from History
Pythagoras turns away from beans in disgust, as depicted by an early sixteenth century French illustration. National Gallery of Art

How Beans Got Pythagoras Killed

As to Pythagoras himself, the mathematician and philosopher was killed in the backlash against his cult. A number of different accounts depict his end. One of them has it that, as he fled for his life with angry pursuers hot on his heels, Pythagoras flight took him to a field of beans. Beans were sacred to Pythagoras, so he stated that he would rather die than step on a single bean. That is what happened when his pursuers caught up with him at the edge of the bean field, and slit his throat.

In another version, the people of Croton attacked a house in which Pythagoras and his followers were conducting a meeting, and set it on fire. Pythagoras escaped with a small group of followers, and eventually took shelter in a temple. There, he was besieged, and eventually starved to death. He had refused to eat the only food available: beans. Contra his claims, Pythagoras was not a god, and contra his and his followers’ prediction, he did not return from the dead.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Adams, Mark – Meet Me in Atlantis: My Obsessive Quest to Find the Sunken City (2015)

All That is Interesting – Is Death From Laughter Real? Chrysippus and Others Say Yes

All That is Interesting – The Tragic Life of Kurt Godel

Ancient Origins – Heraclitus Died When He Covered Himself in Cow Dung

Bussanich, John, and Smith, Nicholas D. – The Bloomsbury Companion to Socrates: The Politics of Impiety – Why Was Socrates Prosecuted by the Athenian Democracy? (2013)

Classical Wisdom – The Cult of Pythagoras

Cracked – 5 Badass (and Bonkers) Moments in Philosophy History

Daily Beast – From Communing With Animals to Obsessive Bean Hatred, Pythagoras Was One Weird Dude

Encyclopedia Britannica – Socrates

Encyclopedia Britannica – Thirty Tyrants

Famous Trials – The Trial of Socrates

Fuhrman, Manfred – Cicero and the Roman Republic (1992)

Gizmodo – Was Pythagoras Really a Murderer?

Gonick, Larry – The Cartoon History of the Universe, Volumes 1 – 7: From the Big Bang to Alexander the Great (1990)

History Collection – 11 Things the Ancient Greeks Did Better Than the Modern High Tech World

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Chrysippus

Krentz, Peter – The Thirty Tyrants at Athens (1982)

Listverse – 10 Strange Facts About Pythagoras: Mathematician and Cult Leader

Live Science – ‘Lost City’ of Atlantis: Facts & Fable

Mehring, Franz – Karl Marx: The Story of His Life (2003)

Mookerji, Radhakumud – Chandragupta Maurya and His Times (1966)

Morrison, Donald R. – The Cambridge Companion to Socrates: Socrates and Democratic Athens (2010)

National Geographic – Atlantis

Nomad, Max – Apostles of Revolution (1961)

Sihler, Ernest Gottlieb – Cicero of Arpinum: A Political and Literary Biography (1914)

Singh, Upinder – A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century (2008)

Scullard, Howard Hayes – From the Gracchi to Nero (1982)

Sherwood, Andrew N., et al Greek and Roman Technology, a Sourcebook of Translated Greek and Roman Texts (2019)

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Heraclitus

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Kurt Godel

Vine Pair – The Pythagorean Cup Will Keep You From Drinking Too Much

Waterfield, Robin – Why Socrates Died: Dispelling the Myths (2009)