WTF Fun Fact 13571 – Pythagorean Theorem Before Pythagoras

Did you know there was a”Pythagorean” Theorem before Pythagoras?

When one hears the term “Pythagorean Theorem,” the image of the Greek mathematician Pythagoras often comes to mind. And while this mathematical statement holds a significant place in geometry, its origins might surprise many. Contrary to popular belief, evidence suggests the theorem’s knowledge existed 1,000 years before Pythagoras’s birth, with the Babylonians as its early proponents.

Pythagoras: The Man Behind the Name

Pythagoras’s reputation extends far beyond the realm of mathematics. His name adorns many geometry textbooks, and the theorem itself exists under several monikers like Pythagoras’ Theorem and notably Euclid I 47. With over 371 proofs attributed to this theorem, eminent figures, including a young Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and even US President James A. Garfield, have delved into its intricacies.

But for a man with such a renowned theorem attached to his name, little concrete information exists about Pythagoras. Most details that historians possess come from sources written centuries after his time, many of which paint him in an almost divine light, leading to debates about their historical accuracy.

Historical accounts align on a few aspects: Pythagoras was born around 569 BC in Samos, Ionia, and established a unique school in present-day Crotone, Italy. This institution, named the Semicircle of Pythagoras, was a blend of religious and scientific study. While it delved deep into subjects like philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy, it also treaded mystical terrains where numbers held divine significance.

Interestingly, much of what the Pythagoreans discovered was attributed directly to Pythagoras, making it a challenge to distinguish between the man’s actual contributions and those of his followers.

The True Pioneers of the Theorem Before Pythagoras

Long before Pythagoras established his school, the Babylonian civilization flourished in Mesopotamia, an area corresponding to modern-day Iraq. Nestled between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, this civilization left behind a wealth of knowledge inscribed on clay tablets.

These tablets revealed a society that maintained meticulous records, especially in astronomy, arts, and literature. And among these records lies concrete evidence that Babylonian mathematicians had discovered and even proven the Pythagorean Theorem a millennium before Pythagoras was born.

The Babylonians recorded intricate problems and solutions on clay tablets. Among the myriad of tablets, the Plimpton 322 stands out. Dated to around 1800 BC, this tablet lists Pythagorean triplets—sets of three integers that fit the theorem we often attribute to Pythagoras. These inscriptions show that the Babylonians knew the relationship between the sides of a right triangle a millennium before Pythagoras.

For the Babylonians, mathematics wasn’t just theoretical. They saw and used its practical applications. Pythagorean triplets, for example, found use in land measurements, construction, and even astronomy. Their buildings and their celestial predictions show a deep understanding and application of their mathematical discoveries.

How did this profound understanding travel through time? Some historians believe that the mathematical concepts of the Babylonians might have reached neighboring civilizations through trade routes. While the exact path remains unclear, the Greeks, including Pythagoras, could have indirectly absorbed this knowledge.

While the Pythagorean Theorem remains a Greek mathematical cornerstone, its roots delve deep into Babylonian soil. As students and scholars alike marvel at this theorem, they should remember and honor the Babylonians, the original pioneers who first saw the harmony in a right triangle’s sides.

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Source: “Pythagoras: Everyone knows his famous theorem, but not who discovered it 1000 years before him” — Journal of Targeting, Measurement and Analysis for Marketing

WTF Fun Fact 13317 – The History of the Easter Bunny

The Easter Bunny is a beloved symbol of Easter. But where did this tradition come from? Well, the history of bunnies (or hares) symbolizing spring religious observances can be traced back to pre-Christian times. Ancient civilizations celebrated the spring equinox and the return of fertility and new life and hares played a central role. Of course, that’s not the same as the history of the Easter Bunny.

The importance of the hare

According to Smithsonian Magazine (cited below), the hare was a symbol of new life in ancient Egypt and was associated with the goddess of fertility and motherhood, Eostre. But it may have dated back even further. As the note:

“In European traditions, the Easter bunny is known as the Easter hare. The symbolism of the hare has had many tantalizing ritual and religious roles down through the years.
Hares were given ritual burials alongside humans during the Neolithic age in Europe. Archaeologists have interpreted this as a religious ritual, with hares representing rebirth.
Over a thousand years later, during the Iron Age, ritual burials for hares were common, and in 51 B.C.E., Julius Caesar mentioned that in Britain, hares were not eaten due to their religious significance.”

The veneration of hares is practically prehistoric!

The history of the Easter Bunny

The Easter Bunny as we know it today is thought to have originated in Germany in the 16th century. The first recorded mention of the Easter Bunny was in a book by Georg Franck von Franckenau. He was a physician in Frankfurt who wrote about the Easter Hare bringing eggs for children to find.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, German immigrants brought the Easter Bunny tradition to the United States. The first edible Easter bunnies, made of pastry and sugar, were produced in Germany during the early 19th century. After that, the tradition of giving chocolate bunnies as Easter gifts spread throughout Europe and North America.

Today, the Easter Bunny is a central part of many Easter celebrations. In many countries, people still hold Easter egg hunts where children search for colored eggs that have been hidden around a park or other public space.

The tradition of the Easter Bunny continues to be a fun and beloved part of Easter celebrations around the world.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “The Ancient Origins of the Easter Bunny” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 13315 – The First Easter Eggs

The history of decorating eggs for spring festivals thousands of years to the ancient Egyptians, Persians, and Romans. For example, the ancient Egyptians believed that the egg symbolized the sun and its rebirth. And the Persians used eggs to celebrate the spring equinox, which marks the beginning of spring. The Romans also had a tradition of giving decorated eggs as gifts during their spring festival known as Hilaria. But when were the first “Easter eggs” decorated?

The first Easter eggs

As Christianity began to spread throughout Europe, the practice of decorating eggs was incorporated into the celebration of Easter. Christians viewed eggs as a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus. The hard shell of the egg represents the sealed tomb. The new life that emerges from it represents the resurrection.

The custom of decorating eggs for Easter may have originated in medieval Europe. During Lent, the 40-day period of fasting and prayer leading up to Easter, Christians were not allowed to eat eggs or any other animal products. However, chickens would continue to lay them during this time, so the extras would be boiled to preserve them for later consumption.

On Easter Sunday, the eggs would be painted and decorated in bright colors to celebrate the end of the fast and the arrival of spring.

In Greece, Russia, and other Orthodox countries, eggs are dyed red to symbolize the blood of Christ and the resurrection. Then they’re exchanged as gifts and used in traditional Easter games and activities.

Eggs as art and for fun

In some cultures, eggs are more than just a symbol of spring and rebirth. They are also a form of art. The tradition of decorating eggs with intricate designs and patterns has been passed down through generations of families. As a result, it has become a beloved folk art in many parts of the world.

From the elaborate pysanky eggs of Ukraine to the delicate filigree eggs of Poland, this art is a beautiful and fascinating tradition that continues to thrive today.

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Source: “Here’s Why Easter Eggs Are a Thing” — Time Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 12984 – Demetrius The Besieger

Demetrius The Besieger was the son of one of Alexander the Great’s generals. And if you know much about ancient history, you know Alexander died young, leaving his enormous kingdom in the lurch when it came to a ruler. As a result, many men tried to step up and declare themselves king, splitting the empire into many parts.

It’s important to note, however, that most of what we know about Demetrius comes from the ancient biographer Plutarch, so it’s second-hand knowledge.

The story of Demetrius The Besieger

Dr. Charlotte Dunn from the University of Tasmania is an expert on Demetrius. In The Conversation (cited below), she explains how he came to power. Calling him “one of the more outrageous rulers of the time,” she notes that:

“…Demetrius was never supposed to be king. But he and his father Antigonus the One-Eyed didn’t let a lack of royal blood get in the way of ambition. The two of them spent many years fighting, stealing territory, and eliminating rivals. In 306 BCE, they both claimed the title King. They were trendsetters in this area, and soon self-made kings popped up all over the place, dividing Alexander’s empire into smaller kingdoms of their own. But even during this time of royally bad behavior and a multitude of rival kings, Demetrius still managed to gain a standout reputation.”

Demetrius became known as the Besieger after commissioning a giant machine called the Helepolis (or “city-taker”). It besieged cities with catapults and battering rams non-stop. In fact, even the citizens of the besieged cities were impressed by it. One city asked if they could keep it.

Dunn describes many more stories from Plutarch about the outrageous king. This includes one about his obsession with being admitted to the Athenian Mystery cult. Since admission only happened at specific times of the year, Demetrius changed the calendar to make it possible.

Making money with Demetrius

And while there are coins that appear to represent his predecessor Alexander the Great, it’s more likely that all coins made before Demetrius depicted divine beings (who may have had a resemblance to contemporary leaders, many of whom claimed to be descended from gods and goddesses).

Demetrius purposely ensured his image was on coins (though he sometimes bore a striking resemblance to Poseidon as well). He was likely the first ruler to do so in the Western world. He claimed to be the son of Poseidon and Aphrodite.

More “fun facts” about Demetrius the Besieger

Demetrius was also a partier, a polygamist, and a pretty poor leader.

He cavorted with wives and mistresses inside of temples, taxed his people in order to procure beauty products for his lovers, and dumped the petitions of his citizens into the river instead of reading them.

Eventually, he was chased out of Macedonia and captured by his enemies. However, he still maintained his bad behavior, even in captivity.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Siege warfare, polygamy and sacrilege: meet history’s most outrageous king, Demetrius the Besieger” — The Conversation

WTF Fun Fact 12559 – The Roman Gladiatrix

The Romans were entertained by some pretty gruesome violence. And while gladiatorial combat didn’t originate in ancient Rome, that’s where we think of most of it taking place.

Gladiators were either born poor or were being punished for something. The most famous gladiator, Spartacus, had served as a soldier until a mistake got him imprisoned and enslaved and sent to train as a gladiator (prisoners had no choice – they could either train or be easily killed in the arena).

But if everything you know about gladiators comes from Spartacus or Russell Crowe’s turn in the arena, then you might be surprised to learn that every now and then, Romans could catch a glimpse of women in the arena fighting for their lives.

Referred to as gladiatracies (or Amazons, colloquially), they found topless, and there was an erotic element to their skillset. They weren’t pitted against men but other women or, occasionally, dwarves. It all depended on the predilections of that particular emperor at the time.

In fact, the memorably unstable emperor Nero put Ethiopian men, women, AND children in the arena together, presumably to shock and (for some) delight.

There were female gladiators in ancient Rome. They were rare, but we know gladiatrices existed partly because they were viewed as symptoms of a corrupt society and officially banned in 200 AD.

After all the scandal of seeing women this way, Septimius Severus (the emperor after the also-unstable gladiator-loving Commodus) decided that people had seen enough debauchery from women in the arena and banned female gladiators in 200 AD. –  WTF fun fact

Source: “Did female gladiators exist?” – BBC Culture

WTF Fun Fact 12552 – Mithridates’ Poison Plan

King Mithridates VI of Pontus (aka Mithridates the Great) ruled what is now eastern Turkey from 120-63 BCE. The ruled while the Roman Empire was in its prime, but was its sworn enemy. His goal was to build his own empire, which required taking parts of Rome.In fact, according to the ancient writer Plutarch, in 88 BCE, Mithridates’ armies slaughtered 150,000 Roman and Italian noncombatants in one day in his quest for land.

More recently, Mthridates VI has been referred to as The Poison King. His predecessor Mithridates V had been assassinated with poison and he became obsessed with studying toxicology. There is plenty of proof of this, but what we’re not entirely sure about is the story that he microdosed an elixer of toxins to build up an immunity to poisons in case someone tried to assassinate him.

Ancient writers attest to the story, but modern historians aren’t so sure. Still, historians admit that there are enough sources with stories of some of his public attempts to ingest poison that it’s partly true.

It’s also likely that he conducted experiments on potential poison remedies by using prisoners as his subjects.

Ancient writer Pliny the Elder wrote that Mithridites VI created his own elixer made up of toxins he thought would make him immune to poisoning. It became known mithridate (or mithridatium).

But if the legends are true, all of these plans backfired on the king. Eventually, Rome came for him and on the eve of his capture, he did try to poison himself with the lethal dose of poison he kept hidden in his sword’s hilt. But it didn’t work. Some believe that it was because he shared it with his daughters (who both died) and there wasn’t enough left for him. But this only adds to the theory that he may have, in some way, made himself immune to poison. Of course, he didn’t save the recipe.

In the end, Mithridates VI convinced a servent to slay him with a sword to avoid being captured by the Romans. And there’s really no antidote for that. –  WTF fun fact

Source: “Mithridates’ Poison Elixir: Fact or Fiction?” – World History Encyclopedia

WTF Fun Fact 12550 – Magical Gladiator Blood

It’s not hard to find references to the drinking of gladiator blood in ancient sources. However, it was most often used to treat what ancient medical writers called “The Sacred Disease,” which we now believe is epilepsy. Some thought it was brought on by the gods, while others argued for a more natural cause.

Of course, there’s no truth to the claim, but epilepsy held an important place in ancient medicine because it stumped doctors for centuries. It could come on suddenly, making it even more mysterious.

And when diseases are misunderstood, their potential cures are likely to get pretty interesting.

In their 2003 article, “Between horror and hope: gladiator’s blood as a cure for epileptics in ancient medicine,” scholars Ferdinand Peter Moog and Axel Karenberg state that not only was gladiator blood a potential cure for this disease but a gladiator’s liver would be consumed as well. AND that the tradition may have continued in some places up into recent times!

“Between the first and the sixth century a single theological and several medical authors reported on the consumption of gladiator’s blood or liver to cure epileptics…
…the magical use of gladiators’ blood continued for centuries. After the prohibition of gladiatorial combat in about 400 AD, an executed individual (particularly had he been beheaded) became the “legitimate” successor to the gladiator.
Occasional indications in early modern textbooks on medicine as well as reports in the popular literature of the 19th and early 20th century document the existence of this ancient magical practice until modern times. Spontaneous recovery of some forms of epilepsy may be responsible for the illusion of therapeutic effectiveness and for the confirming statements by physicians who have commented on this cure.”

As the authors state, the condition we now know as epilepsy got better on its own in some people. But if they had the “gladiator treatment” and did get better, it simply strengthened doctors’ resolve to keep using it.

But why gladiator blood? According to Dr. Lydia Kang, MD, author of the book, Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything:

“They stemmed from this magical idea that young, healthy males had energy. If you could harness that energy right at the point of death, you could ingest some of this healthfulness. In other words: you are what you eat.” –  WTF fun fact

Source: “Gladiator Blood and Liquid Gold: Good for What Ails You?” — MedPage Today

WTF Fun Fact 12547 – Caligula’s Equine Obsession

There’s not a lot of love in the history books for the madman/Roman emperor Caligula. Much of what we know about him comes from ancient historians Suetonius and Cassius Dio, who weren’t big fans.

If you look up Caligula’s horse Incitatus (and he does have his own Wikipedia page!), you’ll see stories about how the emperor decided he had so little respect for the Roman Senate that he installed the horse as a senator and even made him consul. (A Roman consul is a senator elected to the executive office for a 1-year term.)

And while that may have been one of Caligula’s half-baked plans, he was assassinated before it became a reality.

Not everyone believes this was a real plan, however. Some historians think it was simply the result of a one-off remark the emperor made about his senators being “asses.” But one thing is likely, and that’s Caligula’s love for his horse. It’s possible that he even held parties in Incitatus’ grand stable where the horse served as “host.”

Interestingly, Caligula’s horse comes up in the “Rights of Great Britain Asserted against the Claims of America,” the British response to the American Declaration of Independence. Believing the ancient historians’ accounts that the horse did become consul, the author uses it as an example of what happens when a state goes rogue:

The extension of the right of electing Magistrates to the people at large, was the principal cause of the fall of freedom in Old Rome. The prejudices and fears of the rabble were the steps by which ambitious men ascended to a power, which they converted into tyranny over their foolish Constituents…the grandsons of voters who placed Marius, Cinna, and Caesar at the head of the State, were employed by Caligula in raising his horse to the Consulship.

True or not, the story of Caligula’s horse serves as a pretty striking talking point, especially for anyone who wants to call a politician an “ass.”

–  WTF fun fact

Source: “Mythbusting Ancient Rome – Caligula’s Horse” — The Conversation