a2 + b2 = Love?
About loving wisdom and hating olives
His name was Pythagoras, Pythagoras of Samos, to be precise. You may have heard of him, or, at the very least, of something which nowadays students of the mathematical sciences lovingly refer to as the Pythagorean Theorem. You know, that thing with the triangles and squares you learned about in high school. Uhm…You do remember, do you not? (…Oh, and just to clarify: NO, Pythagoras did not invent the triangle!!).
Despite what one may or may not remember about Pythagoras’ work in Euclidean geometry and algebraic theory, many people do, at the very least, know that good old Pythagoras was quite the thinker back in the day, at a time when Greece was in the process of laying the philosophical and scientific foundations for what was to become Western civilization as we now know it. He was well versed in mathematics and philosophy, worked in the fields of astronomy and medicine, and even had a thing or two to say about music. Although, from what I‘ve been told, it was not recommended by scholars, students, and other highly trained artisans of the time, to persuade the man to sing (think Florence Foster Jenkins in Baritone).
What most of us don't know about this wise man from ancient Greece, is the fact that, despite all his wisdom and learnedness, and even though he had been considered to be quite a looker in his younger days, he wasn't very adept when it came to matters of the heart. Even a man as enlightened as he, was not able to find an equation for love. Thus he lived his life, studious and diligent, investigating and learning, spending solitary hour after solitary hour at his work desk in his small garden in Kroton¬—a beautiful and quiet area in Southern Italy, just along the Eastern tip of modern-day Calabria. There he worked in peace, never bothering much about trivial matters such as love, women, or relationships, until, one fine day…Well, you'll see!
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"Olives?" she said with a teasing smile, holding three of the plump, green, and fragrant ellipsoids straight under Pythagoras' nose.
"Ach…You know I hate those things, Sophia!" he grumbled, pushing her hand aside without taking his eyes off the calculations he had scribbled manically all over the papyrus lying on the simple wooden desk in front of him.
Even just the smell of every other Grecian's favorite fruit made him retch. But more than that, it was that unacceptably bitter and utterly revolting taste those green and black pebbles of misery had about them, which he abhorred beyond measure. Even Hades himself—that old wicked rascal—would spit them straight into the river Styx, if he’d ever get a hefty mouthful of them; Pythagoras was sure of it.
Once in his life he had tried them. Only once! And it was then and there, that he knew beyond any doubt or uncertainty, that olives were the most vile and unpalatable concoction of pure evil to be found among all the fruit that existed between the heavens and the earth.
This was also how he knew that the gods had a rather exuberant sense of humor, having put him into a time and place where olives were part of, more or less, every single meal anyone ever ate in every corner of the Magna Graecia. And, to make matters worse, olive oil, that foul smelling nectar of madness, oozing straight from Melinoë’s teat, was one of the most popular and widely used beauty products among his fellow Greek citizens; particularly the females. Almost every woman’s hair and skin reeked of it.
“Olives!” he scoffed, as he continued his scribbling.
"Come now, Pythagoras, at least give them a try,” Sophia continued to tease him. “Here, smell how sweet and ripe they are."
"If you don't take those horrendous things out of my sight, by Zeus, I will take this ruler and slap you across the head with it. I have work to do, and you're keeping me from doing it. You know how much I despise being interrupted."
Disregarding his comments entirely, she playfully slipped a particularly juicy looking olive into her mouth, made it blatantly obvious how much she enjoyed the flavor by moaning and groaning in delight, paused for a moment, and then looked at him with glee.
"Work? Don't be silly, dear,” she mumbled, while sliding another olive between her smirking lips. “What could be more important or more pleasurable, than to enjoy some fresh olives on a warm and sundrenched summer afternoon as beautiful as this? O wise and busy Pythagoras, O mighty wielder of rulers!" Her chuckle, so light and silvery, had a delightful sparkling ring to it, refreshing and cool, like tiny pearls of early morning dew glittering among the waking green grass, on the cusp of a hot and quiet summer’s day. Although—and she knew this very well—the innocence in her laughter did not quite match the sly twinkle in her deep dark-brown eyes.
"Are you not at all tempted to taste them, ripe and juicy, right from my hand?" With a little pout she added, "Not even a little?"
"No!" came the curt reply.
Without success he had been working on this one particular mathematical puzzle for some weeks now, and was in no mood to deal with Sophia's silliness. His desk was littered with an exorbitant amount of papers marked with numbers, geometric figures, and complicated equations, as well as plenty of charcoal, three different sized rulers, some protractors, a compass or two, and a sheer endless assortment of various items which he frequently used for his intricate calculations. He did not notice—or rather, not pay attention—as she got up from next to him and slowly started to stroll around the garden; her tan feet barely touching the grass beneath—or did they at all?
If you would have ever been in Kroton on a day like this, with the sun high up in the sky, no clouds as far as the eye can see, the rich succulent smells and sounds and tastes of summer weaving through the shimmering air around you, the intricate songs of birds in harmony with the remote buzz of cicadas, a gracious counterpoint to the low rustle of vine leaves swaying leisurely in the breeze, then you would know how calm and serene, how sweet and luscious, how truly precious and full of joy this life can be.
Sophia was the kind of woman who had the wisdom to appreciate moments like these, appreciate them more than anything; moments when the world stops spinning for just a fraction of eternity; when the sorrow and bitterness of failure subsides; when the hardship of existence falls by the wayside, left lying there like the discarded cocoon of a multicolored angel soaring high above, and you revel in the utter beauty and wonder of it all.
Sophia heard the annoyance in his voice, but chose to ignore the rudeness of his gruff reply. She knew him too well to take it to heart.
"Why did you choose me?" she asked.
“Hm…” He was not interested in conversation.
“What was it that made you choose me?” she repeated after a moment.
“Oh, Sophia,” he finally replied, “you already know the answer to that question. Leave me be!"
The piece of charcoal, firmly guided by his hand, made barely audible yet rather hectic scraping sounds, as the mathematician continued to scribble all sorts of numbers, letters, and equations onto the rough yellow papyrus.
"No, really, Pythagoras, why did you choose me?" Sophia insisted.
The scraping stopped. It took a moment until—with a sigh—Pythagoras put down his papers and finally looked at her. "Why do you have to bother me in the midst of my work, Sophia? You know that it is utterly vexing to me, to be so close yet so far from finding the answer to a problem. It's this old Babylonian equation which has been troubling me for the longest time." He shoved a stack of wrinkled papers toward her. "If I could only work out a system to visualize the problem,” he continued, “I'm sure I would be able to solve it. I must be looking at it the wrong way, but I simply can’t—"
"What is it?” she interrupted. “What is it you see when you look at me, my love?" She knew exactly how important his work was to him, but just as it had happened so many times before, she also knew that he tended to get too caught up in the details, and lost sight of what things really were. "Look at me, Pythagoras! Look, and tell me what you see."
Despite his single-minded focus and unwavering determination in solving his mathematical riddles and equations, it was Sophia—and Sophia alone—who had the power to draw his attention in the most peculiar way.
She was a woman of stunning beauty, even amongst the plentitude of extraordinarily beautiful women who lived within the borders of the Greek empire at the time. Her long dark hair, falling loosely over her shoulders, reaching down to her waist, was one of her most outstanding features. Her skin, so smooth, so soft and fragrant, had a flawless caramel complexion; her dark eyes, the deep rich color of Ébenos wood; the soothing inflection of her voice, her touch, her attention, they all were precious to Pythagoras—even though he would not admit it.
So often, when he was at a loss and did not know how to proceed in his work, it had been Sophia who had helped him. Yet every time, again and again, it was as if he had forgotten that it was she and, yet again, she alone, who had the ability to show him the way.
He looked at her and felt an ever growing tide of warmth gather inside, until, after a moment or two, it rushed through him; a wave of recognition, deep and true, sweeping away any and all resistance he may have had to offer—unstoppable, unforgiving, all consuming. He gave in and shivered ever so slightly as it overtook his body, swept across his mind, clearing his thoughts and purifying his emotions. His stiff shoulders dropped, he exhaled and his composure finally relaxed, and he rested his arms heavy on the table. He did not notice as the small piece of charcoal he had held in his hand, rolled across the table and came to a sudden stop next to a stack of discarded papyrus.
It was a strange sensation he experienced whenever he took the time to really look at Sophia. It was as if color, sound, smell, and taste had suddenly been added to a grey and vapid world. How was it possible that a man as wise as he—this great mathematician, scientist, and philosopher—would forget, and forget again, that it was here, in these moments of singular clarity, of tranquility, calmness, and profound serenity, when he allowed himself to walk the path of least resistance and let Sophia guide him, it was here that life became worth living?
He now saw her for who she really was to him.
Quietly he said: "I see wisdom, I see beauty, I see truth." The words came out barely above a whisper. The wooden bench creaked slightly as he completely relaxed, his entire body sinking into itself, leaning his full weight against the sturdy backrest. He took a slow deep breath, and for the first time that day, he noticed a bird singing in one of the many tall pine trees, which had been growing in the garden since long before he could remember.
"Wisdom? Beauty? Truth?" Sophia said with a smile. "Are those not the very same things you claim to look for in your work?” She paused.
“Yes.” He heard the word, but was not sure if he had spoken it, or whether he had merely thought his answer.
“Then look at me, Pythagoras, my love. Look at me and find them," Sophia demanded.
For a moment he sat completely still and let the calmness of her voice fill him to the brim; until there was not one iota left in his existence that was not touched by her wisdom, her beauty, and her truth. Slowly his eyes closed, and he remembered why it was that he had chosen her. She was the reason for his being, his purpose in life, she was wisdom. And if there was one voice amongst the myriad of voices to be heard, it was hers which warranted listening to. Without her, there was no wisdom, and without wisdom there could be neither beauty nor truth.
"Open your eyes, Pythagoras, and see the truth," she whispered, gently touching his hair, sitting next to him on the bench once more.
As his eyes slowly opened he saw Sophia in all her beauty, radiant and pure; not a woman, but an idea, and in that moment, without exerting even the least amount of effort, the solution came to him. He knew that, once again, it had been Sophia who had shown him the true path to wisdom, and that he would love her for it as he had always done.
As he picked up the paper and charcoal to write down the solution to his equation, she tenderly kissed him on the forehead, quietly saying: "You will see me again, Pythagoras, my love." But he was already too busy to hear.
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