YOUTH, EDUCATION, TRAVELS
It is reported that Ancaeus, who dwelt in Cephallenian Samos, was descended from Jupiter, the fame of which honorable descent might have been derived from his virtue, or from a certain magnanimity; in any case, he surpassed the remainder of the Cephallenians in wisdom and renown. This Ancaeus was, by the Pythian oracle, bidden form a colony from Arcadia and Thessaly; and besides leading some inhabitants of Athens, Epidaurus, and Chalcis, he was to render habitable an island, which, from the virtue of the soil and vegetation was to be called Blackleaved, while the city was to be called Samos, after Same, in Cephallenia. The oracle ran thus: “I bid you, Ancaeus, to colonise the maritime island of Same, and to call it Phyllas.” That the colony originated from these places is proved first from the divinities, and their sacrifices, which were imported by the inhabitants, second by the relationships of the families, and third by their Samian gatherings.
From the family and alliance of this Ancaeus, founder of the colony, were therefore descended Pythagoras's parents Mnesarchus and Pythais. That Pythagoras was the son of Apollo is a legend due to a certain Samian poet, who thus described the popular recognition of the nobility of his birth. Sang he,
“Pythais, the fairest of the Samian race
From the embraces of the God Apollo
Bore Pythagoras, the friend of Jove.”
It might be worth while to relate the circumstances of the prevalence of this report. Mnesarchus had gone to Delphi on a business trip, leaving his wife without any signs of pregnancy. He enquired of the oracle about the event of his return voyage to Syria, and he was informed that his trip would be lucrative, and most conformable to his wishes; but that his wife was now with child, and would present him with a son who would surpass all who had ever lived in beauty and wisdom, and that he would be of the greatest benefit to the human race in everything pertaining to human achievements. But when Mnesarchus realized that the God, without waiting for any question about a son, had by an oracle informed him that he would possess an illustrious prerogative, and a truly divine gift, he immediately changed his wife's former name Parthenis to one reminiscent of the Delphic prophet and her son, naming her Pythais, and the infant, who was soon after born at Sidon in Phoenicia, Pythagoras, by this name commemorating that such an offspring had been promised him by the Pythian Apollo. The assertions of Epimenides, Eudoxus and Xenocrates, that Apollo having at that time already had actual connexion with Parthenis, causing her pregnancy, had regularized that fact by predicting the birth of Pythagoras, are by no means to be admitted. No one will deny that the soul of Pythagoras was sent to mankind from Apollo's domain, having either been one of his attendants, or more intimate associates, which may be inferred both from his birth, and his versatile wisdom.
After Mnesarchus had returned from Syria to Samos, with great wealth derived from a favorable sea-voyage, he built a temple to Apollo, with the inscription of Pythius. He took care that his son should enjoy the best possible education, studying under Creophilus, then under Phorecydos the Syrian, and then under almost all who presided over sacred concerns, to whom he especially recommended his son, that he might be as expert as possible in divinity. Thus by education and good fortune he became the most beautiful and godlike of all those who have been celebrated in the annals of history.
After his father's death, though he was still but a youth, his aspect was so venerable, and his habits so temperate that he was honored and even reverenced by elderly men, attracting the attention of all who saw and heard him speak, creating the most profound impression. That is the reason that many plausibly asserted that he was a child of the divinity. Enjoying the privilege of such a renown, of an education so thorough from infancy, and of so impressive a natural appearance he showed that he deserved all these advantages by deserving them, by the adornment of piety and discipline, by exquisite habits, by firmness of soul, and by a body duly subjected to the mandates of reason. An inimitable quiet and serenity marked all his words and actions, soaring above all laughter, emulation, contention, or any other irregularity or eccentricity; his influence at Samos was that of some beneficent divinity. His great renown, while yet a youth, reached not only men as illustrious for their wisdom as Thales at Miletus, and Bias at Prione, but also extended to the neighboring cities. He was celebrated everywhere as the “long-haired Samian,” and by the multitude was given credit for being under divine inspiration.
When he had attained his eighteenth year, there arose the tyranny of Policrates; and Pythagoras foresaw that under such a government his studies might be impeded, as they engrossed the whole of his attention. So by night he privately departed with one Hermodamas, - who was surnamed Creophilus, and was the grandson of the host, friend and general preceptor of the poet Homer, - going to Phorecydes, to Anaximander the natural philosopher, and to Thales at Miletu. He successively associated with each of those philosophers in a manner such that they all loved him, admired his natural endowments, and admitted him to the best of their doctrines, Thales especially, on gladly admitting him to the intimacies of his confidence, admired the great difference between him and other young men, who were in every accomplishment surpassed by Pythagoras. After increasing the reputation Pythagoras had already acquired, by communicating to him the utmost he was able to impart to him, Thales, laying stress on his advanced age and the infirmities of his body, advised him to go to Egypt, to get in touch with the priests of Memphis and Jupiter. Thales confessed that the instruction of these priests was the source of his own reputation for wisdom, while neither his own endowments nor achievements equaled those which were so evident in Pythagoras. Thales insisted that, in view of all this, if Pythagoras should study with those priests, he was certain of becoming the wisest and most divine of men.