Who's Who Ancient Greece: The Philosophers

Archytas of Tarentum ( 430 - 350 BC)

Politician, governor, engineer, mathematician, musician and philosopher, Archytas was an important figure not only in Tarentum, but throughout Magna Graecia in southern Italy.

A friend of Plato, and active politically also in his homeland. Revered for his high character, he was reelected seven times, despite prohibitions against this, as chief magistrate of Tarentum by his fellow citizens.

He followed the principles of Pythagorean ethics in carrying out this role. His scientific works are better known than his philosophical work; he is considered the chief leader of Neo Pythagoreanism.

It seems that he saw the world as a unity comprised of matter and form, with motion (or energy) the cause of bodies congealing from matter. He reshaped Pythagorean theory and revitalized it. His work advanced the science of acoustics and music when he discovered that the higher pitch of a musical note is determined by the frequency of the vibrating string (for stringed instruments, at least); he ascertained the arithmetic relationships between tones/notes in chromatic and diatonic intervals and in terms of harmony.

He was also known for his distinction between transmitted knowledge and knowledge that comes from a process of discovery by an individual, for the invention of the rattle for amusing small children and keeping them from damaging more valuable items in the household, and applied his theory of continuous fractions to musical harmony.