By the time you are 15 years old you’ve seen the equation a2+ b2= c2 at least a thousand times and it’s doubtful you’ll ever forget it, heck even my mom remembers it from when she was in high school! But what do you know about its origins, its impacts on history, and how we still use it today?
Pythagoras was born around 575 BCE on a Greek island name Samos. In approximately 530 BCE Pythagoras discovered a property about right triangles. His theory stated that in any right triangle the sum of the squares of the lengths of the triangle’s legs is the same as the square of the length of the triangle’s hypotenuse. This theorem is represented by the formula a2+ b2= c2. So if you know the lengths of two sides of a right triangle you can solve for the length of the third side. It is very important to remember that only works for right triangles (“The Pythagorean Theorem”).
Not only can it be used to determine a missing length of one side of a right triangle but can also be used to determine if a triangle is actually a right angle triangle.
The Pythagorean Theorem and Other Works
Some historians have said that even though Pythagoras has been given credit for discovering and proving the theory, he was not the first to use it. Many civilizations used the equation long before him. But he is the most famous and the first to actually prove it so that is why it was named after him. For example, the Egyptians and the Babylonians understood the equation over 1000 years earlier than Pythagoras but they did not actually prove it. It is possible that Pythagoras learned about the equation on his trips to the Middle East. These cultures used the equation in construction to measure things. They used ropes with 12 knots tied in it with the knots the same distance apart. They bent the rope to have a triangle with sides of 3, 4 and 5 knots. They knew that they had a right angle and could use that to build their temples (Posamentier 24-25).
The formula is still used today in solving all kinds of simple problems such as the length of wheelchair ramps, the height of a sailboat mast, or even to figure out the biggest size TV you can buy that will fit into a TV cabinet (“The Pythagorean Theorem”1). Surveyors use the formula to determine length, distances and property boundaries. It is also used in more advanced areas like finding coordinates on a plane, surface areas and volumes, nautical navigation, architecture, and engineering (“The Pythagorean Theorem” 2 par. 6).
Not only did Pythagoras prove the famous theorem but he also had such an impact on the people around him that he started a society called the “Pythagoreans”. Not much is really known about the Pythagoreans or their mysterious founder. They were considered a cult who “worshipped mathematical harmonies” (“The Cult of Pythagoras”). It has been said that this society settled in Crotona in southern Italy around 530 BCE. They were the some of the earliest vegetarians because they believed that human’s souls went into animals’ bodies so they did not eat meat. “Pythagoras claimed to have heard the voice of a dead friend in the howl of a dog being beaten” (“Pythagoras Biography” par. 5). Their main interests were religion, math, astronomy and music. They were very superstitious, mystic and believed that numbers were the answers to the secrets of the universe. They especially liked the number one (Posamentier 19). They might have been a little strange but they did contribute a lot to the study of math.
Pythagoras died approximately between 500 and 475 BCE in Italy. Even though he might be thought of as a bit of a nut, he was a pioneer in math. His greatest achievement was the theorem named after him but he was also credited for bringing “proof” into math (Bell 49). He has also been given credit for discovering certain mathematical elements in music like tuning and scales, influencing religious and philosophical teachings, discovering many geometric shapes and considering women as equals (“Pythagoreanism”). If an important part of your life‘s work makes it into an episode of the Simpsons and in the Wizard of Oz, maybe he can be considered a celebrity too (“Surprising Uses of the Pythagorean Theorem” par. 1).