Essays on Ancient Greek Philosophy

John Burnet's Early Greek Philosophy:
Chapter 1: The Milesian School

1. Miletus and Lydia

It was at Miletus that the earliest school of scientific cosmology had its home, and it is not, perhaps, without significance that Miletus is just the place where the continuity of Aegean and Ionian civilization is most clearly marked. The Milesians had come into conflict more than once with the Lydians, whose rulers were bent on extending their dominion to the coast; but, towards the end of the seventh century B.C., the tyrant Thrasybulus succeeded in making terms with King Alyattes, and an alliance was concluded which secured Miletus against molestation for the future. Even half a century later, when Croesus, resuming his father's forward policy, made war upon and conquered Ephesus, Miletus was able to maintain the old treaty-relation, and never, strictly speaking, became subject to the Lydians at all. The Lydian connection, moreover, favored the growth of science at Miletus. What was called at a later date Hellenism seems to have been traditional in the dynasty of the Mermnadae, and Herodotus says that all the "sophists" of the time flocked to the court of Sardis. The tradition which represents Croesus as the "patron" of Greek wisdom was fully developed in the fifth century; and, however unhistorical its details may be, it must clearly have some foundation in fact. Particularly noteworthy is "the common tale among the Greeks," that Thales accompanied Croesus on his luckless campaign against Pteria, apparently in the capacity of military engineer. Herodotus disbelieves the story that he diverted the course of the Halys, but only because he knew there were bridges there already. It is clear that the Ionians were great engineers, and that they were employed as such by the eastern kings.

It should be added that the Lydian alliance would facilitate intercourse with Babylon and Egypt. Lydia was an advanced post of Babylonian culture, and Croesus was on friendly terms with the kings of Egypt and Babylon. Amasis of Egypt had the same Hellenic sympathies as Croesus, and the Milesians possessed a temple of their own at Naucratis.

2. Origin

The founder of the Milesian school, and therefore the first man of science, was Thales; but all we can really be said to know of him comes from Herodotus, and the Tale of the Seven Wise Men was already in existence when he wrote. He says that Thales was of Phoenician descent, a statement which other writers explained by saying he belonged to a noble house descended from Cadmus and Agenor. Herodotus probably mentions the supposed descent of Thales simply because he was believed to have introduced certain improvements in navigation from Phoenicia. At any rate, his father's name, Examyes, lends no support to the view that he was a Semite. It is Carian, and the Carians had been almost completely assimilated by the Ionians. On the monuments we find Greek and Carian names alternating in the same families, while the name Thales is otherwise known as Cretan. There is therefore no reason to doubt that Thales was of pure Milesian descent, though he probably had Carian blood in his veins.

3. The Eclipse Foretold by Thales

The most remarkable statement Herodotus makes about Thales is that he foretold the eclipse of the sun which put an end to the war between the Lydians and the Medes. Now, he was quite ignorant of the cause of eclipses. Anaximander and his successors certainly were so, and it is incredible that the explanation should have been given and forgotten so soon. Even supposing Thales had known the cause of eclipses, such scraps of elementary geometry as he picked up in Egypt would never have enabled him to calculate one. Yet the evidence for the prediction is too strong to be rejected off-hand. The testimony of Herodotus is said to have been confirmed by Xenophanes, and according to Theophrastus Xenophanes was a disciple of Anaximander. In any case, he must have known scores of people who were able to remember what happened. The prediction of the eclipse is therefore better attested than any other fact about Thales whatsoever.

Now it is possible to predict eclipses of the moon approximately without knowing their true cause, and there is no doubt that the Babylonians actually did so. It is generally stated, further, that they had made out a cycle of 223 lunar months, within which eclipses of the sun and moon recurred at equal intervals of time. This, however, would not have enabled them to predict eclipses of the sun for a given spot on the earth's surface; for these phenomena are not visible at all places where the sun is above the horizon at the time. We do not occupy a position at the center of the earth, and the geocentric parallax has to be taken into account. It would only, therefore, be possible to tell by means of the cycle that an eclipse of the sun would be visible somewhere, and that it might be worth while to look out for it, though an observer at a given place might be disappointed five times out of six. Now, if we may judge from reports by Chaldaean astronomers which have been preserved, this was just the position of the Babylonians in the eighth century B.C. They watched for eclipses at the proper dates; and, if they did not occur, they announced the fact as a good omen. To explain what we are told about Thales no more is required. He said there would be an eclipse by a certain date; and luckily it was visible in Asia Minor, and on a striking occasion.

4. Date of Thales

The prediction of the eclipse does not, then, throw any light on the scientific attainments of Thales; but, if we can fix its date, it will give us an indication of the time at which he lived. Astronomers have calculated that there was an eclipse of the sun, probably visible in Asia Minor, on May 28 (O.S.), 585 B.C., while Pliny gives the date of the eclipse foretold by Thales as O1. XLVIII. 4 (585/4 B.C.). This does not exactly tally; for May 585 belongs to the year 586/5 B.C. It is near enough, however, to justify us in identifying the eclipse as that of Thales, and this is confirmed by Apollodorus, who fixed his floruit in the same year. The further statement in Diogenes that, according to Demetrius Phalereus, Thales "received the name of wise" in the archonship of Damasias at Athens, really refers to the Tale of the Seven Wise Men, as is shown by the words which follow, and is doubtless based on the story of the Delphic tripod; for the archonship of Damasias is the era of the restoration of the Pythian Games.

5. Thales in Egypt

The introduction of Egyptian geometry into Hellas is ascribed to Thales, and it is probable that he did visit Egypt; for he had a theory of the inundations of the Nile. Herodotus gives three explanations of the fact that this alone of all rivers rises in summer and falls in winter; but, as his custom is, he does not name their authors. The first, however, which attributes the rise of the Nile to the Etesian winds, is ascribed to Thales in the Placita, and by many later writers. Now, this comes from a treatise on the Rise of the Nile attributed to Aristotle and known to the Greek commentators, but extant only in a Latin epitome of the thirteenth century. In this the first of the theories mentioned by Herodotus is ascribed to Thales, the second to Euthymenes of Massalia, and the third to Anaxagoras. Where did Aristotle, or whoever wrote the book, get these names? We think naturally of Hecataeus; and this conjecture is strengthened when we find that Hecataeus mentioned Euthymenes. We may conclude that Thales really was in Egypt; and, perhaps, that Hecataeus, in describing the Nile, took account, as was natural, of his fellow-citizen's views.

6. Thales and Geometry

As to the nature and extent of the mathematical knowledge brought back by Thales from Egypt, it must be pointed out that most writers have seriously misunderstood the character of the tradition. In his commentary on the First Book of Euclid, Proclus enumerates, on the authority of Eudemus, certain propositions which he says were known to Thales, one of which is that two triangles are equal when they have one side and the two adjacent angles equal. This he must have known, as otherwise he could not have measured the distances of ships at sea in the way he was said to have done. Here we see how all these statements arose. Certain feats in the way of measurement were traditionally ascribed to Thales, and Eudemus assumed that he must have known all the propositions these imply. But this is quite illusory. Both the measurement of the distance of ships at sea, and that of the height of the pyramids, which is also ascribed to him, are easy applications of the rule given by Aahmes for finding the seqt. What the tradition really points to is that Thales applied this empirical rule to practical problems which the Egyptians had never faced, and that he was thus the originator of general methods. That is a sufficient title to fame.

7. Thales as a Politician

Thales appears once more in Herodotus some time before the fall of the Lydian monarchy. He is said to have urged the Ionian Greeks to unite in a federal state with its capital at Teos. We shall have occasion to notice more than once that the early schools of philosophy by no means held aloof from politics; and there are many things, for instance the part played by Hecataeus in the Ionian revolt, which suggest that the scientific men of Miletus took up a very decided position in the stirring times that followed the death of Thales. It is this political action which has gained the founder of the Milesian school his undisputed place among the Seven Wise Men; and it is owing to his inclusion among those worthies that the numerous anecdotes told of him in later days attached themselves to his name.

8. Uncertain Character of the Tradition

So far as we know, Thales wrote nothing, and no writer earlier than Aristotle knows anything of him as a scientific man and a philosopher; in the older tradition he is simply an engineer and an inventor. It is obvious, however, that the requirements of Milesian enterprise and commerce would necessarily turn his attention to problems which we should call astronomical. He was said, we saw, to have introduced the practice of steering a ship's course by Ursa minor; and there is a remarkable persistence in the tradition that he tried to do something for the calendar, though the details are not sufficiently well attested to find a place here. No doubt he constructed a parapêgma like those of much later date which have been discovered at Miletus. The parapêgma was the oldest form of almanac, and gave, for a series of years, the equinoxes and solstices, the phases of the moon, the heliacal risings and settings of certain stars, and also weather predictions. Even Aristotle does not pretend to know how Thales arrived at the views he ascribes to him or by what arguments they were supported. This very reserve, however, makes it hard to doubt that he was correctly informed with regard to the few points about them he mentions, so we may venture on a conjectural restoration of his cosmology. This, of course, must be taken for just what it is worth.

9. The Cosmology of Thales

The statements of Aristotle may be reduced to three:

(1) The earth floats on the water.
(2) Water is the material cause of all things.
(3) All things are full of gods. The magnet is alive; for it has the power of moving iron.

The first of these statements must be understood in the light of the second, which is expressed in Aristotelian terminology, but would undoubtedly mean that Thales had said water was the stuff of which all other things were transient forms. We have seen that this was the great question of the day.

10. Water

Aristotle and Theophrastus, followed by Simplicius and the doxographers, suggest several explanations of this doctrine. Aristotle gives them as conjectures; it is only later writers that repeat them as if they were quite certain. The most probable view seems to be that Aristotle ascribed to Thales the arguments used at a later date by Hippon of Samos in support of a similar thesis. That would account for their physiological character. The rise of scientific medicine had made biological arguments popular in the fifth century; but, in the days of Thales, the prevailing interest was not physiological, but meteorological, and it is from this point of view we must try to understand the theory.

Now it is not hard to see how meteorological considerations may have led Thales to adopt the view he did. Of all the things we know, water seems to take the most various shapes. It is familiar to us in a solid, a liquid, and a vaporous form, and so Thales may well have thought he saw the world-process from water and back to water again going on before his eyes. The phenomenon of evaporation naturally suggests that the fire of the heavenly bodies is kept up by the moisture they draw from the sea. Even at the present day people speak of "the sun drawing water." Water comes down again in rain; and lastly, so the early cosmologists thought, it turns to earth. This may have seemed natural enough to men familiar with the river of Egypt which had formed the Delta, and the torrents of Asia Minor which bring down large alluvial deposits. At the present day the Gulf of Latmos, on which Miletus used to stand, is filled up. Lastly, they thought, earth turns once more to water -- an idea derived from the observation of dew, night-mists, and subterranean springs. For these last were not in early times supposed to have anything to do with the rain. The "waters under the earth" were regarded as an independent source of moisture.

11. Theology

The third of the statements mentioned above is supposed by Aristotle to imply that Thales believed in a "soul of the world," though he is careful to mark this as no more than an inference. The doctrine of the world-soul is then attributed quite positively to Thales by Aetius, who gives it in the Stoic phraseology which he found in his immediate source, and identifies the world-intellect with God. Cicero found a similar statement in the Epicurean manual which he followed, but he goes a step further. Eliminating the Stoic pantheism, he turns the world-intellect into a Platonic demiourgos, and says that Thales held there was a divine mind which formed all things out of water. All this is derived from Aristotle's cautious statement, and can have no greater authority than its source. We need not enter, then, on the old controversy whether Thales was an atheist or not. If we may judge from his successors, he may very possibly have called water a "god"; but that would not imply any definite religious belief .

Nor must we make too much of the saying that "all things are full of gods." It is not safe to regard an apophthegm as evidence, and the chances are that it belongs to Thales as one of the Seven Wise Men, rather than as founder of the Milesian school. Further, such sayings are, as a rule, anonymous to begin with, and are attributed now to one sage and now to another. On the other hand, it is probable that Thales did say the magnet and amber had souls. That is no apophthegm, but more on the level of the statement that the earth floats on the water. It is just the sort of thing we should expect Hecataeus to record about Thales. It would be wrong, however, to draw any inference from it as to his view of the world; for to say the magnet and amber are alive is to imply, if anything, that other things are not.

12. The Life of Anaximander

Anaximander, son of Praxiades, was also a citizen of Miletus, and Theophrastus described him as an "associate" of Thales. We have seen how that expression is to be understood (§ XIV).

According to Apollodorus, Anaximander was sixty-four years old in 01. LVIII. 2 (547/6 B.C.); and this is confirmed by Hippolytus, who says he was born in 01. XLII. 3 (610/9 B.C.), and by Pliny, who assigns his great discovery of the obliquity of the zodiac to 01. LVIII. We seem to have something more here than a combination of the ordinary type; for, according to all the rules, Anaximander should have "flourished" in 565 B.C., half-way between Thales and Anaximenes, and this would make him sixty, not sixty-four, in 546. Now Apollodorus appears to have said that he had met with the work of Anaximander; and the only reason he can have had for mentioning this must be that he found in it some indication which enabled him to fix its date. Now 547/6 is just the year before the fall of Sardis, and we may perhaps conjecture that Anaximander mentioned what his age had been at the time of that event. We know from Xenophanes that the question, "How old were you when the Mede appeared?" was considered an interesting one in those days. At all events, Anaximander was apparently a generation younger than Thales.

Like his predecessor, he distinguished himself by certain practical inventions. Some writers credited him with that of the gnomon; but that can hardly be correct. Herodotus tells us this instrument came from Babylon, and Thales must have used it to determine the solstices and equinoxes. Anaximander was also the first to construct a map, and Eratosthenes said this was the map elaborated by Hecataeus. No doubt it was intended to be of service to Milesian enterprise in the Black Sea. Anaximander himself conducted a colony to Apollonia, and his fellow-citizens erected a statue to him.

13. Theophrastus on Anaximander's Theory of the Primary Substance

Nearly all we know of Anaximander's system is derived in the last resort from Theophrastus, who certainly knew his book. He seems once at least to have quoted Anaximander's own words, and he criticized his style. Here are the remains of what he said of him in the First Book:

Anaximander of Miletus, son of Praxiades, a fellow-citizen and associate of Thales, said that the material cause and first element of things was the Infinite, he being the first to introduce this name of the material cause. He says it is neither water nor any other of the so-called elements, but a substance different from them which is infinite, from which arise all the heavens and the worlds within them. -- Phys. Op. fr. 2 (Dox. p. 476; R. P. 16).

He says that this is "eternal and ageless," and that it "encompasses all the worlds." -- Hipp. Ref. i. 6 (R. P. I7 a).

And into that from which things take their rise they pass away once more, "as is meet; for they make reparation and satisfaction to one another for their injustice according to the ordering of time," as he says in these somewhat poetical terms. -- Phys. Op. fr. 2 (R. P. 16).

And besides this, there was an eternal motion, in which was brought about the origin of the worlds. -- Hipp. Ref. i. 6 (R. P. I7 a).

He did not ascribe the origin of things to any alteration in matter, but said that the oppositions in the substratum, which was a boundless body, were separated out. -- Simpl. Phys. p. 150, 20 (R. P. 18).

14. The Primary Substance is Not One of the Elements

Anaximander taught, then, that there was an eternal, indestructible something out of which everything arises, and into which everything returns; a boundless stock from which the waste of existence is continually made good. That is only the natural development of the thought we have ascribed to Thales, and there can be no doubt that Anaximander at least formulated it distinctly. Indeed, we can still follow to some extent the reasoning which led him to do so. Thales had regarded water as the most likely thing to be that of which all others are forms; Anaximander appears to have asked how the primary substance could be one of these particular things. His argument seems to be preserved by Aristotle, who has the following passage in his discussion of the Infinite:

Further, there cannot be a single, simple body which is infinite, either, as some hold, one distinct from the elements, which they then derive from it, or without this qualification. For there are some who make this (i.e. a body distinct from the elements) the infinite, and not air or water, in order that the other things may not be destroyed by their infinity. They are in opposition one to another -- air is cold, water moist, and fire hot -- and therefore, if any one of them were infinite, the rest would have ceased to be by this time. Accordingly they say that what is infinite is something other than the elements, and from it the elements arise. -- Arist. Phys. G, 5. 204 b 22 (R. P. 16 b).

It is clear that Anaximander is here contrasted with Thales and with Anaximenes. Nor is there any reason to doubt that the account given of his reasoning is substantially correct, though the form is Aristotle's own, and in particular the "elements" are an anachronism. Anaximander started, it would seem, from the strife between the opposites which go to make up the world; the warm was opposed to the cold, the dry to the wet. These were at war, and any predominance of one over the other was an "injustice" for which they must make reparation to one another at the appointed time. If Thales had been right in saying that water was the fundamental reality, it would not be easy to see how anything else could ever have existed. One side of the opposition, the cold and moist, would have had its way unchecked, and the warm and dry would have been driven from the field long ago. We must, then, have something not itself one of the warring opposites, something more primitive, out of which they arise, and into which they once more pass away. That Anaximander called this something by the name of phusis is the natural interpretation of what Theophrastus says; the current statement that the term archê was introduced by him appears to be due to a misunderstanding. We have seen that, when Aristotle used the term in discussing Thales, he meant what is called the "material cause," and it is hard to believe that it means anything else here.

15. Aristotle's Account of the Theory

It was natural for Aristotle to regard this theory as an anticipation or presentiment of his own doctrine of "indeterminate matter," and that he should sometimes express the views of Anaximander in terms of the later theory of "elements." He knew that the Boundless was a body, though in his own system there was no room for anything corporeal prior to the elements; so he had to speak of it as a boundless body "alongside of" or "distinct from" the elements (para ta stoicheia). So far as I know no one has doubted that, when he uses this phrase, he is referring to Anaximander.

In a number of other places Aristotle speaks of someone who held the primary substance to be something "intermediate between" the elements or between two of them. Nearly all the Greek commentators referred this to Anaximander also, but most modem writers refuse to follow them. It is, no doubt, easy to show that Anaximander himself cannot have said anything of the sort, but that is no real objection. Aristotle puts things in his own way regardless of historical considerations, and it is difficult to see that it is more of an anachronism to call the Boundless "intermediate between the elements" than to say that it is "distinct from the elements." Indeed, if once we introduce the elements at all, the former description is the more adequate of the two. At any rate, if we refuse to understand these passages as referring to Anaximander, we shall have to say that Aristotle paid a great deal of attention to someone whose very name has been lost, and who not only agreed with some of Anaximander's views, but also used some of his most characteristic expressions. We may add that in one or two places Aristotle certainly seems to identify the "intermediate" with the something "distinct from" the elements.

There is even one passage in which he speaks of Anaximander's Boundless as a "mixture," though his words may perhaps admit of another interpretation. But this is of no consequence for our interpretation of Anaximander. It is certain that he cannot have said anything about "elements," which no one thought of before Empedocles, and no one could think of before Parmenides. The question has only been mentioned because it has given rise to a lengthy controversy, and because it throws light on the historical value of Aristotle's statements. From the point of view of his own system, these may be justified; but we shall have to remember in other cases that, when he seems to attribute an idea to some earlier thinker, we are not bound to take what he says in an historical sense.

16. The Primary Substance is Infinite

Anaximander's reason for conceiving the primary substance as boundless was, no doubt, as indicated by Aristotle, "that becoming might not fail." It is not clear, however, that these words are his own, though the doxographers speak as if they were. It is enough for us that Theophrastus, who had seen his book, attributed the thought to him. And certainly his view of the world would bring home to him the need of a boundless stock of matter. The "opposites" are, we have seen, at war with one another, and their strife is marked by "unjust" encroachments on either side. The warm commits "injustice" in summer, the cold in winter, and this would lead in the long run to the destruction of everything but the Boundless itself, if there were not an inexhaustible supply of it from which opposites might continually be separated out afresh. We must picture, then, an endless mass, which is not any one of the opposites we know, stretching out without limit on every side of the world we live in. This mass is a body, out of which our world once emerged, and into which it will one day be absorbed again.

17. The Innumerable Worlds

We are told that Anaximander believed there were "innumerable worlds in the Boundless," and we have to decide between the interpretation that, though all the worlds are perishable, there are an unlimited number of them in existence at the same time, and Zeller's view that a new world never comes into existence till the old one has passed away, so that there is never more than one world at a time. As this point is of fundamental importance, it will be necessary to examine the evidence carefully.

In the first place, the, doxographical tradition proves that Theophrastus discussed the views of all the early philosophers as to whether there was one world or an infinite number, and there can be no doubt that, when he ascribed "innumerable worlds" to the Atomists, he meant coexistent and not successive worlds. Now, if he had classed two such different views under one head, he would have been careful to point out in what respect they differed, and there is no trace of any such distinction. On the contrary, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Archelaus, Xenophanes, Diogenes, Leucippus, Democritus, and Epicurus are all mentioned together as holding the doctrine of "innumerable worlds" on every side of this one, and the only distinction is that, while Epicurus made the distances between these worlds unequal, Anaximander said all the worlds were equidistant. Zeller rejected this evidence on the ground that we can have no confidence in a writer who attributes "innumerable worlds" to Anaximenes, Archelaus, and Xenophanes. With regard to the first two, I hope to show that the statement is correct, and that it is at least intelligible in the case of the last. In any case, the passage comes from Aetius, and there is no reason for doubting that it is derived from Theophrastus, though the name of Epicurus has been added later. This is confirmed by what Simplicius says:

Those who assumed innumerable worlds, e.g. Anaximander, Leucippus, Democritus, and, at a later date, Epicurus, held that they came into being and passed away ad infinitum, some always coming into being and others passing away.

It is practically certain that this too comes from Theophrastus through Alexander.

We come next to a very important statement which Cicero has copied from Philodemus, the author of the Epicurean treatise on Religion found at Herculaneum, or perhaps from the immediate source of that work. "Anaximander's opinion was," he makes Velleius say, "that there were gods who came into being, rising and passing away at long intervals, and that these were the innumerable worlds "; and this must clearly be taken along with the statement of Aetius that, according to Anaximander, the "innumerable heavens" were gods. Now it is much more natural to understand the "long intervals" as intervals of space than as intervals of time; and, if that is right, we have a perfect agreement among our authorities.

It may be added that it is very unnatural to understand the statement that the Boundless "encompasses all the worlds" of worlds succeeding one another in time; for on this view there is at a given time only one world to "encompass." Moreover, the argument mentioned by Aristotle that, if what is outside the heavens is infinite, body must be infinite, and there must be innumerable worlds, can only be understood in one sense, and is certainly intended to represent the reasoning of the Milesians; for they were the only cosmologists who held there was a boundless body outside the heavens. Lastly, we happen to know that Petron, one of the earliest Pythagoreans, held there were just one hundred and eighty-three worlds arranged in a triangle, which shows at least that the doctrine of a plurality of worlds was much older than the Atomists.

18. "Eternal Motion" and the Dinê

The doxographers say it was the "eternal motion" that brought into being "all the heavens and all the worlds within them." We have seen (§ VIII) that this is probably only the Aristotelian way of putting the thing, and that we must not identify the primordial motion of the Boundless with any purely mundane movement such as the diurnal revolution. That would be quite inconsistent, moreover, with the doctrine of innumerable worlds, each of which has, presumably, its own center and its own diurnal revolution. As to the true nature of this motion, we have no definite statement, but the term "separating off" (apokrisis) rather suggests some process of shaking and sifting as in a riddle or sieve. That is given in Plato's Timaeus as the Pythagorean doctrine, and the Pythagoreans followed Anaximander pretty closely in their cosmology (§ 54). The school of Abdera, as will be shown (§ 179), attributed a motion of the same kind to their atoms, and they too were mainly dependent on the Milesians for the details of their system. This, however, must remain a conjecture in the absence of express testimony.

When, however, we come to the motion of the world once it has been "separated off," we are on safer ground. It is certain that one of the chief features of early cosmology is the part played in it by the analogy of an eddy in water or in wind, a dinê (or dinos), and there seems to be little doubt that we are entitled to regard this as the doctrine of Anaximander and Anaximenes. It would arise very naturally in the minds of thinkers who started with water as the primary substance and ended with "air," and it would account admirably for the position of earth and water in the center and fire at the circumference, with "air" between them. Heavy things tend to the center of a vortex and light things are forced out to the periphery. It is to be observed that there is no question of a sphere in revolution at this date; what we have to picture is rotary motion in a plane or planes more or less inclined to the earth's surface. It is in favor of the conjecture given above as to the nature of the primordial motion that it provides a satisfactory dynamical explanation of the formation of the dinê, and we shall find once more (§ 180) that the Atomists held precisely this view of its origin.

19. Origin of the Heavenly Bodies

The doxographers also give us some indications of the process by which the different parts of the world arose from the Boundless. The following statement comes ultimately from Theophrastus :

He says that something capable of begetting hot and cold out of the eternal was separated off at the origin of this world. From this arose a sphere of flame which fitted close round the air surrounding the earth as the bark round a tree. When this had been torn off and shut up in certain rings, the sun, moon and stars came into existence. -- Ps.-Plut. Strom. fr. 2 (R. P. 19).

We see from this that, when a portion of the Boundless was separated off from the rest to form a world, it first differentiated itself into the two opposites, hot and cold. The hot appears as flame surrounding the cold; the cold, as earth with air surrounding it. We are not told here how the cold was differentiated into earth, water and air, but there is a passage in Aristotle's Meteorology which throws some light on the question. After discussing the views of the "theologians" regarding the sea, he says :

But those who are wiser in the wisdom of men give an origin for the sea. At first, they say, all the terrestrial region was moist; and, as it was dried up by the sun, the portion of it that evaporated produced the winds and the turnings back of the sun and moon while the portion left behind was the sea. So they think the sea is becoming smaller by being dried up, and that at last it will all be dry. -- Meteor, B, I. 353 b 5.

And the same absurdity arises for those who say the earth too was at first moist, and that, when the region of the world about the earth was heated by the sun, air was produced and the whole heavens were increased, and that it (the air) produced winds and caused its (the sun's) turnings back. -- Ib. 2. 355 a 21 (R. P. 20 a).

In his commentary on the passage, Alexander says this was the view of Anaximander and Diogenes, and cites Theophrastus as his authority for the statement. This is confirmed by Anaximander's theory of the sea as given by the doxographers (§ 20). We conclude, then, that after the first separation of the hot and the cold by the dinê, the heat of the flame turned part of the moist, cold interior of the world into air or vapor -- it is all one at this date -- and that the expansion of this mist broke up the flame itself into rings. We shall come back to these rings presently, but we must look first at what we are told of the earth.

20. Earth and Sea

The origin of earth and sea from the moist, cold matter which was "separated off" in the beginning is thus described:

The sea is what is left of the original moisture. The fire has dried up most of it and turned the rest salt by scorching it. -- Aet. iii. 16, I (R. P. 20 a).

He says that the earth is cylindrical in form, and that its depth is as a third part of its breadth. -- Ps.-Plut. Strom. fr. 2 (R. P. ib.).

The earth swings free, held in its place by nothing. It stays where it is because of its equal distance from everything. Its shape is hollow and round, and like a stone pillar. We are on one of the surfaces, and the other is on the opposite side. -- Hipp. Ref. I. 6 (R. P. 20).

Adopting for a moment the popular theory of "elements," we see that Anaximander put fire on one side as the hot and dry, and all the rest on the other as the cold, which is also moist. This may explain how Aristotle came to speak of the Boundless as intermediate between fire and water. And we have seen also that the moist element was partly turned into "air" or vapor by the fire, which explains how Aristotle could say the Boundless was something between fire and air, or between air and water.

The moist, cold interior of the world is not, in fact, water. It is always called "the moist" or "the moist state." That is because it has to be still further differentiated under the influence of heat into earth, water, and vapor. The gradual drying up of the water by the fire is a good example of what Anaximander meant by "injustice."

Thales had said that the earth floated on the water, but Anaximander realized that it was freely suspended in space (meteôros) and did not require any support. Aristotle has preserved the argument he used. The earth is equally distant from the circumference of the vortex in every direction, and there is no reason for it to move up or down or sideways. The doctrine of innumerable worlds was inconsistent with the existence of an absolute up and down in the universe, so the argument is quite sound. The central position of the earth is due to the dinê; for the greater masses tend to the center of an eddy. There is good evidence that Anaximander made the earth share in the rotary movement. It is not, however, a sphere, so we must not speak of an axial revolution. The shape given to the earth by Anaximander is easily explained if we adopt the view that the world is a system of rotating rings. It is just a solid ring in the middle of the vortex.

21. The Heavenly Bodies

We have seen that the flame which had been forced to the circumference of the vortex was broken up into rings by the pressure of expanding vapor produced by its own heat. I give the statements of Hippolytus and Aetius as to the formation of the heavenly bodies from these rings.

The heavenly bodies are a wheel of fire, separated off from the fire of the world, and surrounded by air. And there are breathing-holes, certain pipe-like passages, at which the heavenly bodies show themselves. That is why, when the breathing-holes are stopped, eclipses take place. And the moon appears now to wax and now to wane because of the stopping and opening of the passages. The wheel of the sun is 27 times the size of (the earth, while that of) the moon is 18 times as large. The sun is the highest of all, and lowest are the wheels of the stars. -- Hipp. Ref. i. 6 (R. P. 20).

The heavenly bodies were hoop-like compressions of air, fun of fire, breathing out flames at a certain point through orifices. -- Aet. ii. I3, 7 (R. P. 19 a).

The sun was a wheel 28 times the size of the earth, like a chariot-wheel with the felloe hollow, full of fire, showing the fire at a. certain point through an orifice, as through the nozzle of a pair of beflows. -- Aet. ii. 20, 1 (R. P. 19 a).

The sun was equal to the earth, but the wheel from which it breathes out and by which it is carried round was 27 times the size of the earth. -- Aet. ii. 21, 1.

The sun was eclipsed when the orifice of the fire's breathing-hole was stopped. -- Aet. ii. 24, 2.

The moon was a wheel 19 times the size of the earth, like a chariot-wheel with its felloe hollow and full of fire like that of the sun, lying oblique also like it, with one breathing-hole like the nozzle of a pair of bellows. [It is eclipsed because of the turnings of the wheel.] -- Aet. ii. 25, 1.

The moon was eclipsed when the orifice of the wheel was stopped. -- Aet. ii. 29, 1.

(Thunder and lightning, etc.) were all caused by the blast of the wind. When it is shut up in a thick cloud and bursts forth with violence, then the tearing of the cloud makes the noise, and the rift gives the appearance of a flash in contrast with the blackness of the cloud. -- Aet. iii. 3, I.

Wind was a current of air (i.e. vapor), which arose when its finest and moistest particles were stirred or melted by the sun. -- Aet. iii. 7, 1.

There is a curious variation in the figures given for the size of the wheels of the heavenly bodies, and it seems most likely that 18 and 27 refer to their inner, while 19 and 28 refer to their outer circumference. We may, perhaps, infer that the wheels of the "stars" were nine times the size of the earth; for the numbers 9, 18, 27 play a considerable part in primitive cosmogonies. We do not see the wheels of fire as complete circles; for the vapor or mist which formed them encloses the fire, and forms an outer ring except at one point of their circumference, through which the fire escapes, and that is the heavenly body we actually see. It is possible that the theory of "wheels" was suggested by the Milky Way. If we ask how it is that the wheels of air can make the fire invisible to us without becoming visible themselves, the answer is that such is the property of what the Greeks at this date called "air." For instance, when a Homeric hero is made invisible by being clothed in "air," we can see right through both the "air" and the hero. It should be added that lightning is explained in much the same way as the heavenly bodies. It, too, was fire breaking through condensed air, in this case storm clouds. It seems probable that this was really the origin of the theory, and that Anaximander explained the heavenly bodies on the analogy of lightning, not vice versa. It must be remembered that meteorology and astronomy were still undifferentiated, and that the theory of "wheels" or rings is a natural inference from the idea of the vortex.

So far we seem to be justified, by the authority of Theophrastus, in going; and, if that is so, certain further inferences seem to be inevitable. In the first place, Anaximander had shaken himself free of the old idea that the heavens are a solid vault. There is nothing to prevent us from seeing right out into the Boundless, and it is hard to think that Anaximander did not believe he did. The traditional cosmos has given place to a much grander scheme, that of innumerable vortices in a boundless mass, which is neither water nor air. In that case, it is difficult to resist the belief that what we call the fixed stars were identified with the "innumerable worlds" which were also "gods." It would follow that the diurnal revolution is only apparent; for the stars are at unequal distances from us, and can have no rotation in common. It must, then, be due to the rotation of the cylindrical earth in twenty-four hours. We have seen that the earth certainly shared in the rotation of the dinê. That gets rid of one difficulty, the wheel of the "stars," which is between the earth and the moon; for the fixed stars could not be explained by a "wheel" at all; a sphere would be required. What, then, are the "stars" which are accounted for by this inner wheel? I venture to suggest that they are the morning and the evening stars, which, we have seen, were not recognized yet as a single luminary. In other words, I believe that Anaximander regarded the fixed stars as stationary, each rotating in its own vortex. No doubt this involves us in a difficulty regarding the rotation of the sun and the moon. It follows from the nature of the vortex that they must rotate in the same direction as the earth, and, on the assumption just made, that must be from west to east, and it must be a slower rotation than that of the earth, which is inconsistent with the fact that the circumference of a vortex rotates more rapidly than the center. That, however, is a difficulty which all the Ionian cosmologists down to Democritus had to face. Holding, as they did, that the whole rotation was in the same direction, they had to say that what we call the greatest velocities were the least. The moon, for instance, did not rotate so rapidly as the sun, since the sun more nearly keeps up with the fixed stars. That Anaximander failed to observe this difficulty is not surprising, if we remember that he was the first to attack the problem. It is not immediately obvious that the center of the vortex must have a slower motion than the circumference. This serves to explain the origin of the theory that the heavenly bodies have a rotation of their own in the opposite direction to the diurnal revolution which we shall see reason for attributing to Pythagoras (§ 54).

22. Animals

We have, in any case, seen enough to show us that the speculations of Anaximander about the world were of an extremely daring character. We come now to the crowning audacity of all, his theory of the origin of living creatures. The Theophrastean account of this has been well preserved by the doxographers:

Living creatures arose from the moist element as it was evaporated by the sun. Man was like another animal, namely, a fish, in the beginning. -- Hipp. Ref. i. 6 (R. P. 22 a).

The first animals were produced in the moisture, each enclosed in a prickly bark. As they advanced in age, they came out upon the drier part. When the bark broke off, they survived for a short time. -- Aet. v. 19, 4 (R. P. 22).

Further, he says that originally man was born from animals of another species. His reason is that while other animals quickly find food by themselves, man alone requires a lengthy period of suckling. Hence, had he been originally as he is now, he would never have survived. -- Ps.-Plut. Strom. fr. 2 (R. P. ib.).

He declares that at first human beings arose in the inside of fishes, and after having been reared like sharks, and become capable of protecting themselves, they were finally cast ashore and took to land. -- Plut. Symp. Quaest. 730 f (R. P. ib.).

The importance of these statements has sometimes been overrated and still more often underestimated. Anaximander has been called a precursor of Darwin by some, while others have treated the whole thing as a mythological survival. It is therefore important to notice that this is one of the rare cases where we have not merely a placitum, but an indication of the observations on which it was based. It is clear from this that Anaximander had an idea of what is meant by adaptation to environment and survival of the fittest, and that he saw the higher mammals could not represent the original type of animal. For this he looked to the sea, and he naturally fixed upon those fishes which present the closest analogy to the mammalia. The statements of Aristotle about the galeus levis were shown by Johannes Müller to be more accurate than those of later naturalists, and we now see that these observations were already made by Anaximander. The way in which the shark nourishes its young furnished him with the very thing he required to explain the survival of the earliest animals.

23. The Life of Anaximenes

Anaximenes of Miletus, son of Eurystratus, was, according to Theophrastus, an "associate" of Anaximander. Apollodorus said, it appears, that he "flourished" about the time of the fall of Sardis (546/5 B.C.), and died in 01. LXIII. (528/525 B.C.). In other words, he was born when Thales "flourished," and "flourished" when Thales died, and this means that Apollodorus had no definite information about his date. He perhaps made him die in the sixty-third Olympiad because that gives just three generations for the Milesian school. We cannot therefore say anything positive as to his date, except that he must have been younger than Anaximander.

24. His Book

Anaximenes wrote a book which survived until the age of literary criticism; for we are told that he used a simple and unpretentious Ionic, very different, we may suppose, from the poetical prose of Anaximander. The speculations of Anaximander were distinguished for their hardihood and breadth; those of Anaximenes are marked by the opposite quality. He appears to have thought out his system carefully, but he rejects the more audacious theories of his predecessor. The result is that, while his view of the world is less like the truth than Anaximander's, it is perhaps more fruitful in ideas that were destined to hold their ground.

25. Theory of the Primary Substances

Anaximenes is one of the philosophers on whom Theophrastus wrote a special monograph; and this gives us an additional guarantee for the trustworthiness of the tradition. The following are the passages which contain the fullest account of the central feature of his system :

Anaximenes of Miletus, son of Eurystratus, who had been an associate of Anaximander, said, like him, that the underlying substance was one and infinite. He did not, however, say it was indeterminate, like Anaximander, but determinate; for he said it was Air. -- Phys. Op. fr. 2 (R. P. 26).

From it, he said, the things that are, and have been, and shall be, the gods and things divine, took their rise, while other things come from its offspring. -- Hipp. Ref. i. 7 (R. P. 28).

"Just as," he said, "our soul, being air, holds us together, so do breath and air encompass the whole world." -- Aet. i. 3, 4 (R. P. 24).

And the form of the air is as follows. Where it is most even, it is invisible to our sight; but cold and heat, moisture and motion, make it visible. It is always in motion; for, if it were not, it would not change so much as it does. -- Hipp. Ref. i. 7 (R. P. 28).

It differs in different substances in virtue of its rarefaction and condensation. -- Phys. Op. fr. 2 (R. P. 26).

When it is dilated so as to be rarer, it becomes fire; while winds, on the other hand, are condensed Air. Cloud is formed from Air by felting; and this, still further condensed, becomes water. Water, condensed still more, turns to earth; and when condensed as much as it can be, to stones. -- Hipp. Ref. i. 7 (R. P. 28).

26. Rarefaction and Condensation

At first, this looks like a falling off from the more refined doctrine of Anaximander to a cruder view; but this is not really the case. On the contrary, the introduction of rarefaction and condensation into the theory is a notable advance. In fact, it makes the Milesian cosmology consistent for the first time; since a theory which explains everything as a form of a single substance is clearly bound to regard all differences as quantitative. The only way to save the unity of the primary substance is to say that all diversities are due to the presence of more or less of it in a given space. And when once this step has been taken, it is no longer necessary to make the primary substance something "distinct from the elements," to use Aristotle's inaccurate but convenient phrase; it may just as well be one of them.

27. Air

The air Anaximenes speaks of includes a good deal that we should not call by the name. In its normal condition, when most evenly distributed, it is invisible, and it then corresponds to our "air"; it is the breath we inhale and the wind that blows. That is why he called it pneuma. On the other hand, the old idea that mist or vapor is condensed air, is still accepted without question. It was Empedocles, we shall see, who first discovered that what we call air was a distinct corporeal substance, and not identical either with vapor or with empty space. In the earlier cosmologists "air" is always a form of vapor, and even darkness is a form of "air." It was Empedocles who cleared up this point too by showing that darkness is a shadow.

It was natural for Anaximenes to fix upon "air" as the primary substance; for, in the system of Anaximander, it occupied an intermediate place between the two fundamental opposites, the ring of flame and the cold, moist mass within it (§ 19). We know from Plutarch that he fancied air became warmer when rarefied, and colder when condensed. Of this he satisfied himself by a curious experimental proof. When we breathe with our mouths open, the air is warm; when our lips are closed, it is cold.

28. The World Breathes

This argument brings us to an important point in the theory, which is attested by the single fragment that has come down to us. "Just as our soul, being air, holds us together, so do breath and air encompass the whole world." The primary substance bears the same relation to the life of the world as to that of man. Now this was the Pythagorean view; and it is also an early instance of the argument from the microcosm to the macrocosm, and so marks the beginning of an interest in physiological matters.

29. The Parts of the World

We turn now to the doxographical tradition concerning the formation of the world and its parts:

He says that, as the air was felted, the earth first came into being. It is very broad and is accordingly supported by the air. -- Ps.-Plut. Strom. fr. 3 (R. P. 25).

In the same way the sun and the moon and the other heavenly bodies, which are of a fiery nature, are supported by the air because of their breadth. The heavenly bodies were produced from the earth by moisture rising from it. When this is rarefied, fire comes into being, and the stars are composed of the fire thus raised aloft. There were also bodies of earthy substance in the region of the stars, revolving along with them. And he says that the heavenly bodies do not move under the earth, as others suppose, but round it, as a cap turns round our head. The sun is hidden from sight, not because it goes under the earth, but because it is concealed by the higher parts of the earth, and because its distance from us becomes greater. The stars give no heat because of the greatness of their distance. -- Hipp. Ref. i. 7, 4-6 (R. P. 28).

Winds are produced when air is condensed and rushes along under propulsion; but when it is concentrated and thickened still more, clouds are generated; and, lastly, it turns to water. -- Hipp. Ref. i. 7, 7 (Dox. p. 561).

The stars [are fixed like nails in the crystalline vault of the heavens, but some say they] are fiery leaves, like paintings. -- Aet. ii. 14, 3 (Dox. p. 344).

They do not go under the earth, but turn round it. -- Ib. 16, 6 (Dox. p. 348).

The sun is fiery. -- Ib. 20, 2 (Dox. p. 348).

It is broad like a leaf. -- Ib. 22, I (Dox. p. 352).

The heavenly bodies turn back in their courses owing to the resistance of compressed air. -- Ib. 23, I (Dox. p. 352).

The moon is of fire. -- Ib. 25, 2 (Dox. p. 356).

Anaximenes explained lightning like Anaximander, adding as an illustration what happens in the case of the sea, which flashes when divided by the oars. -- Ib. iii. 3, 2 (Dox. p. 368).

Hail is produced when water freezes in falling; snow, when there is some air imprisoned in the water. -- Aet. iii. 4, I (Dox. p. 370).

The rainbow is produced when the beams of the sun fall on thick condensed air. Hence the anterior part of it seems red, being burnt by the sun's rays, while the other part is dark, owing to the predominance of moisture. And he says that a rainbow is produced at night by the moon, but not often, because there is not constantly a full moon, and because the moon's light is weaker than that of the sun. -- Schol. Arat. (Dox. p. 231).

The earth was like a table in shape. -- Aet. iii. 10, 3 (Dox. p. 377).

The cause of earthquakes was the dryness and moisture of the earth, occasioned by droughts and heavy rains respectively. -- Ib. 15, 3 (Dox. p. 379).

We have seen that Anaximenes was justified in going back to Thales in regard to the nature of primary substance; but the effect upon the details of his cosmology was unfortunate. The earth is once more imagined as a table-like disc floating on the air. The sun, moon, and stars are also fiery discs which float on the air "like leaves"; an idea naturally suggested by the "eddy" (dinê). It follows that the heavenly bodies cannot go under the earth at night, as Anaximander must have held, but only round it laterally like a cap or a millstone. This view is also mentioned in Aristotle's Meteorology, where the elevation of the northern parts of the earth, which makes it possible for the heavenly bodies to be hidden from sight, is referred to. This is only meant to explain why the stars outside the Arctic circle appear to rise and set, and the explanation is fairly adequate if we remember that the world is regarded as rotating in a plane. It is quite inconsistent with the theory of a celestial sphere.

The earthy bodies, which circulate among the planets, are doubtless intended to account for eclipses and the phases of the moon.

30. Innumerable Worlds

As might be expected, there is much the same difficulty about the "innumerable worlds" ascribed to Anaximenes as there is about those of Anaximander. The evidence, however, is far less satisfactory. Cicero says that Anaximenes regarded air as a god, and adds that it came into being. That cannot be right. Air, as the primary substance, is certainly eternal, and it is quite likely that Anaximenes called it "divine," as Anaximander did the Boundless; but it is certain that he also spoke of gods who came into being and passed away. These arose, he said, from the air. This is expressly stated by Hippolytus, and also by St. Augustine. These gods are probably to be explained like Anaximander's. Simplicius, indeed, takes another view; but he may have been misled by a Stoic authority.

31. Influence of Anaximenes

It is not easy for us to realize that, in the eyes of his contemporaries, and for long after, Anaximenes was a much more important figure than Anaximander. And yet the fact is certain. We shall see that Pythagoras, though he followed Anaximander in his account of the heavenly bodies, was far more indebted to Anaximenes for his general theory of the world (§ 53). We shall see further that when, at a later date, science revived once more in Ionia, it was "the philosophy of Anaximenes" to which it attached itself (§ 122). Anaxagoras adopted many of his most characteristic views (§ 135), and so did the Atomists. Diogenes of Apollonia went back to the central doctrine of Anaximenes, and made Air the primary substance, though he also tried to combine it with the theories of Anaxagoras (§ 188). We shall come to all this later; but it seemed desirable to point out at once that Anaximenes marks the culminating point of the line of thought which started with Thales, and to show how the "philosophy of Anaximenes" came to mean the Milesian doctrine as a whole. This it can only have done because it was really the work of a school, of which Anaximenes was the last distinguished representative, and because his contribution to it was one that completed the system he had inherited from his predecessors. That the theory of rarefaction and condensation was really such a completion of the Milesian system, we have seen (§ 26), and it need only be added that a clear realization of this fact will be the best clue at once to the understanding of the Milesian cosmology itself and to that of the systems which followed it. In the main, it is from Anaximenes they all start.