Archytas of Tarentum Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Perhaps a friend of the philosopher Plato, Archytas of Tarentum (ahr-KIT-uhs of tuh-REHN-tuhm) is mentioned in Plato’s Menōn (388-368 b.c.e.; Meno, 1769) as a great ruler of Taras or Tarentum, where he served for seven years. He is mainly known, however, as a scientist and mathematician, the founder of mathematical mechanics. He was a second-generation follower of Pythagoras, who sought to explain all phenomena in terms of numbers. Archytas’s achievements in geometry, acoustics, and music theory include solving the problem of doubling the cube, the application of proportions to musical harmony, and a resultant theory of pitch intervals in which he posited that pitch is related to the movement of air in response to such stimuli as a stringed instrument. Although some of his conclusions are inaccurate, many are correct.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Only fragments of Archytas’s philosophical works on subjects of mathematical or scientific nature survive. Book 8 of Euclid’s Stoicheia (compiled c. 300 b.c.e.; Elements, 1570) probably borrows from Archytas. Other, nonmathematical fragments have been attributed to him but are more dubious because they are on Platonic themes.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Freeman, Kathleen. Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983.

Tejera, V. Rewriting the History of Ancient Greek Philosophy. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997.