Samos' most famous son Pythagoras didn't actually spend much time on the island. Known today mainly for his geometric theorems he was, during his lifetime, equal parts mathematician, philosopher, magician and mystic Surprisingly, he left absolutely no written records himself and what we know of his teachings comes only from his students, who did.
Pythagoras exerted a profound influence on later Greek philosophers, including Aristotle and Plato and he established a 'Pythagorean' way of life - noted for its vegetarianism, abstinence and the renouncing of all money and wordily goods.
It was a way of life that would endear the Pythagorean sect to the people, and its members were noted for honesty and incorruptibility. It also earned them enemies and Pythagoras was banished and many of his followers executed.
Pythagoras was born on Samos in the 6th century BC, the son of a wealthy sea trader. Highly intelligent, he made the most of the best education that money could buy. But his father died while Pythagoras was still a teenager and soon afterwards the tyrant Polykrates became ruler of the island.
Pythagoras left for Miletus, aged just 18 years, to be taught by the eminent, if ancient, teacher Thales who advised him to visit Egypt, then a major seat of learning. Pythagoras lived more than 20 years in Egypt, studying astronomy and geometry with their priests and sages.
An extraordinary period followed when Egypt was invaded and Pythagoras was carried off to Babylon, supposedly into slavery. Here he mysteriously rose from captive to a disciple of the Persian magi, studying arithmetic, music and divination. No one understands how a captive Greek slave could have risen to such eminence.
He eventually returned to Samos, aged 56, and set up a school. He preferred a meditative way of life and took to living in a cave, but was constantly pestered by the island authorities to help with public and political administration on Samos. Fed up of the intrusions, he gathered his most loyal followers and left for Croton in Italy.
It was here that he expounded a philosophy of simple living and meditative thought. Followers were strictly vegetarian and ascetic. Their numbers swelled to around 600, despite an arduous initiation into the sect, a process which could take many years . The most devoted followers, known as Cenobites, gave up all worldly possessions to the cause and shared everything equally. The sect slowly acquired great wealth and prestige. Pythagoreans were often asked to mediate in disputes, thanks to their reputation for honesty, fairness, thoughtfulness and complete incorruptibility.
Not surprisingly, they also had their enemies, not least those who had tried and failed to gain entry to the order. One such was the rich and powerful Cyclon of Croton who campaigned forcefully against the sect and eventually forced Pythagoras to flee to Metapontum, where he later died. His leaderless followers were pursued by their enemies and locked in a house which was burnt to the ground, leaving just two survivors.
Pythagoras is credited with a string of firsts - the first to describe higher geometric solids, the first to discover the relationship between the squares on a triangle's sides (the Pythagorean Theorem) and the first to map musical intervals. His number theories shaped much of the Kabbalah of the Jews and his mystical numbers are found in magic practices of the Renaissance.
Many regard him as the father of such wide-ranging disciplines as numerology, geometry, musical theory and psychotherapy. He was also said to be able to predict earthquakes, to talk with animals and to practise hypnosis. All this, and Pythagoras left not a single book behind.