How to be more Pythagoras

Max Hughes investigates how channelling your inner Pythagorean may help you to become the next big lifestyle influencer


It all began in the second lockdown of 2020. Takeaway containers littered the floor of my flat, I hadn’t exercised in months, and after what felt like an eternity shut inside, my body clock had forgotten the difference between night and day. The rate of change in my life with respect to time ($\mathrm{d}\Delta/\mathrm{d}t$) was at an all-time low, and I desperately needed to increase it.

Many people, when faced with the same daily challenges, turned to social media for their wellness advice. From waking up at sunrise for their morning yoga routine to curating the perfect spinach and kale smoothie, everyone else seemed to be live, laugh, loving their way through lockdown in an exasperatingly Instagrammable manner.

Forever the mathematician, I decided to turn to an altogether different source for my wellness tips and tricks: Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician of triangle fame. I decided to embark on a week-long journey to live in Pythagoras’ sandals, and to my amazement, discovered a remarkable overlap between the ancient philosopher’s teachings and those of modern lifestyle gurus.

History’s greatest influencer

When Pythagoras first arrived in southern Italy in around 530 BC, the distinct lack of social media didn’t stop him from gaining a large number of followers. His admirers, or fandom, eventually garnered their own name—the Pythagoreans were quite literally the Swifties to Pythagoras’ Taylor Swift. In fact, Pythagoras was so influential that even 2500-odd years later, Pythagoras’ theorem is taught in almost every classroom around the world. Everyone and their mother can tell you that:

Charli D’Amelio could only ever dream of that level of reach, especially when you consider that Pythagoras is unlikely to have thought up this famous theorem himself. Historical evidence points to earlier proofs of the theorem in ancient Babylon, India, and even by other mathematicians within Pythagoras’ sect.

The goal of many social media stars is to become something bigger than themselves; to become immortalised in memetic form for the whole world to remember. Well, not only has Pythagoras been immortalised by this small but significant theorem, but the ancient philosopher was also said to have taught his followers how to attain immortality in a very literal sense. Though I have a feeling we would be aware if he had actually succeeded in this, I decided to try it out for myself. Here are just some of the wise words of advice I followed in my week spent as a Pythagorean:

 1. Take daily morning walks

Much like fitness personality Joe Wicks, a large part of the average day in Pythagorean life was getting up early for exercise, in the form of a long walk every morning amongst the verdant hills of Croton.

Not just content with getting up early for #FitnessInspo, a Pythagorean cultist would fit in a whole host of activities before heading off to work: they would use this time to meditate, contemplate, or even curate a healthy vegetarian breakfast.

An emphasis on athletics and therapeutic dancing helped to supplement the daily exercise of a Pythagorean. Pythagoras himself is said to have been friends with legendary Greek wrestler Milo of Croton after Milo saved him from a collapsing house. According to legend, old Pythag even had a thigh made of pure gold that he proudly displayed at the Olympic games—he clearly took his exercise very seriously.

2. Embrace your own personal style

It is said that Pythagoras was a trendsetter in his day, wearing white trousers while everyone else was wearing the robes from last decade’s edition of Samian Vogue. I don’t think it is too unrealistic to say that, if he were alive today, Pythagoras would be posting videos of his morning workout routine while advertising the newest pair of white Lululemon leggings.

3. Utilise both sound and silence

From Olivia Rodrigo to your K-pop bias from Blackpink or BTS, there is a massive overlap between musicians and the cover stars of your monthly lifestyle magazines. After hearing the varying sounds of hammers striking anvils within a blacksmith’s, Pythagoras excitedly began investigating and found a link between the proportions of the hammers and the sounds that they created. It was clear to him that music abides by the laws of mathematics, prompting him to talk about the proportions and ratios of the stars and planets as the “harmony of the spheres”. Clearly, the only thing between Andrew Wiles and the cover of next month’s Cosmopolitan is a hit debut album.

On the other side of the spectrum comes the silence of meditation. Pythagoreans were said to have meditated at the beginning and end of each day, setting aside time to relax, calm, refocus and rebalance. Self-awareness and meditation are at the very base of your average influencer’s hierarchy of needs: without centring themselves at the start of the day how would a Pythagorean even start to tackle some of the biggest problems in mathematics? I’m no historian, but I’d wager that the day Pythagoras drowned his follower Hippasus for believing in irrational numbers was the day he skipped his morning meditation.

4. Never eat a bean

A widely known but heavily disputed fact about Pythagoras revolves around a particular aspect of his vegetarianism. One of the main philosophical schools of thought that Pythagoras subscribed to was that of metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls. Belief in reincarnation is fairly widespread amongst different cultures and histories; however, it was the belief that beans are part of this grand circle of rebirth that makes Pythagoras stand out from the crowd. Yes… it is said that Pythagoras believed that beans had souls.

According to the great philosopher, a bean could have been a scorpion in another life, which could have in turn been his great uncle Edmund. This belief in metempsychosis has made Pythagoras a bit of a rock star amongst modern day vegetarians: Pythagoras didn’t eat meat, or beans, because of the morality of killing and eating a living being with a soul.

His belief was so staunch that the most famous story of his death involves him refusing to run through a bean field while being chased out of town by an angry mob. It is worth noting that all of the information we have on Pythagoras today is third hand texts that paint him as an almost mythic figure, so should be taken with a pinch of salt (so long as the salt doesn’t have a soul, that is).

5. Don’t touch a white rooster

There is some science to explain why the lifestyle techniques of the Pythagoreans are being repeated by social media celebrities a few millennia later. A consistent morning routine can create a sense of structure and order to your day, improving sleep patterns and setting you on the right path. Exercise improves your wellbeing through the release of endorphins and in the long term helps improve cognitive function and self-esteem. Even something as simple as sunlight can have a marked effect on your serotonin levels, help battle insomnia, and improve your mental health.


Not all Pythagorean practices have analogues in the modern day, but here is a selection of some of Pythagoras’ rules and beliefs that might well be one of the next big viral trends:

During my week as Pythagoras my takeaway containers were quickly replaced by the remnants of Mediterranean fruits and vegetables, my body had finally got moving again, and the lockdown fog clouding my mind slowly began to thin. Through attempting to fit into Pythagoras’ gleaming white trousers for the week I was unknowingly becoming the ultimate wellbeing guru. So, there we have it, from morning walks and river talks to rhythm and vegetarianism, we could all stand to be a little bit more Pythagoras.

Max is a recent graduate from the University of Leeds and maths outreach professional who is currently helping to set up a new specialist mathematics school in north London after a stint as an enabler at MathsCity Leeds.

More from Chalkdust