Chicago author Kevin Guilfoile, 42, has worked in media relations, sports marketing and advertising and is now a full-time writer with two successful novels.
He’s’s written many essays and articles, and is known as a humorist. In this capacity, he’s covered topics such as politics, philosophy, religion, culture and more. During the 2000 election, he was approached by a publisher to write a book about George W. Bush. My First Presidentiary: A Scrapbook by George W. Bush, was a #1 best-seller on the Washington Post list. His first novel was called Cast of Shadows. His current work, a thriller called The Thousand, revives the lore of the Pythagorean cults. In an interview with The Greek Star, he discussed his work, his fascination with Pythagoras, and his latest novel.
Had you written about Greek themes before?
No, though I took a lot of philosophy courses in college and was always interested in ancient philosophers, the Greek thinkers of the era. When I began writing, I knew I wanted to write a novel about the intersection of math, art, religion, philosophy, music, art and science – things that 2500 years ago in Greece were considered part of the same fabric. Now, with our sophisticated knowledge, we’ve separated them into different disciplines. I wanted to write how those things still connect.
I had a basic premise, but wasn’t totally happy with it, and discussed it with an old college professor. He said go back and read everything about Pythagoras, that he’s at the center of all of this. It had been 20 years since I’d studied Pythagoras; he’s actually very underrated. Few philosophers were more important. He was a fascinating character. Most know him only for the Theorem – which he actually had nothing to do with it – it was posthumously named for him in tribute. He didn’t write anything down, but he wasn’t just a philosopher, but also a politician, cult leader, scientist, teacher, musician and more. Things he knew intuitively were things that science wouldn’t know for 2000 years. The more I learned, the more I wanted to make him the point from where all this traces back to.
There were really two “warring” factions of Pythagoreans?
Yes. When Pythagoras started the semi-circle school in Croton, many gave up their professions to go live with him at the school to learn from him. Another group kept their jobs, homes and families and just went there to learn. These people basically took over the political oligarchy – they were called “The Thousand.” The non-Pythagorists didn’t like it and eventually drove them out in a bloody coup. Pythagoras died soon after, and the followers split into two groups. The Acusmatici believed Pythagoras was a prophet or god. The Mathematici – the dominant group – thought Pythagoras had great wisdom that needed to be built on. They became teachers and philosophers who spread throughout the Mediterranean and actively kept the memory and teachings of Pythagoras alive. Since nothing was written down, the disciples passed down the highly coveted knowledge through the generations. The groups are still at odds.
Pythagoras was ahead of his time.
Yes. He believed that numbers were the basic building blocks of everything in creation. 2000 years later, we know everything can be described by an equation, it’s the foundation of science. This idea that everything can be described by numbers was radical then. Pythagoras isn’t studied because we take his ideas for granted. He thought numbers described the greatest coincidences in the history of science. At the heart of the debate, is which came first, numbers or the universe that numbers describe. The book’s plot is centered around the question of what if there was some secret knowledge passed down through generations of Pythagorean enthusiasts, that hadn’t been useful for the last two millennia, because they are arcane? What if a couple of ideas were not widely told, but now made people incredibly powerful, since we’re so reliant on technology?
The Thousand is skilled storytelling at its best, and has received excellent reviews. Guilfoile is adept at creating complex and compelling characters that draw you in, and you can’t put the book down. These intriguing characters are multi-dimensional and not always what they seem. Readers begin to wonder who can be trusted. His story is quite clever and suspenseful, with a surprise ending.