Anaximander | by Ancient Philosophers


Anaximander | by Ancient Philosophers

Diogenes Laertius says that Anaximander was 64 years old in 547/6 BCE, and this dating agrees with the ancient reports that say that Anaximander was a pupil or follower of Thales.

He was said to have been the first person to construct a map of the world, to have set up a gnomon at Sparta, and to have predicted an earthquake.

Anaximander makes the originating stuff of the cosmos something indefinite or boundless (Apeiron in Greek; later the word can also mean “infinite”):

This indefinite stuff is moving, directive of other things, and eternal; thus it qualifies as divine.

The Apeiron gives rise to something productive of hot and cold, but Anaximander does not say what this “something productive of hot and cold” is:

The hot takes the form of fire, the origin of the sun and the other heavenly bodies; while the cold is a dark mist that can be transformed into air and earth.

Both air and earth are originally moist, but become drier because of the fire.

In the first changes from the originating Apeiron, Anaximander postulates substantial opposites (the hot, the cold) that act on one another and that are in turn the generating stuffs for the sensible world.

The reciprocal action of the opposites is the subject of the only direct quotation we have from Anaximander (and the extent of the quotation is disputed by scholars).

Here he stresses that changes in the world are not capricious, but are ordered;

with the mention of justice and retribution he affirms that there are law-like forces guaranteeing the orderly processes of change between opposites.

Anaximander also had theories about the natures of the heavenly bodies and why the earth remains fixed where it is.

He made claims about meteorological phenomena, and about the origins of living things, including human beings.

1. Of those who declared that the Archē is one, moving and Apeiron,

Anaximander . . . said that the Apeiron was the Archē and element of things that are, and he was the first to introduce this name for the Archē [that is, he was the first to call the Archē - Apeiron].

(In addition he said that motion is eternal, in which it occurs that the heavens come to be.)

He says that the Archē is neither water nor any of the other things called elements, but some other nature which is Apeiron, out of which come to be all the heavens and the worlds in them.

The things that are perish into the things from which they come to be, according to necessity, for they pay penalty and retribution to each other for their injustice in accordance with the ordering of time, as he says in rather poetical language.

(Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics)

2. He says that the archē is neither water nor any of the other things called elements, but some nature which is Apeiron, out of which come to be all the heavens and the worlds in them.

This is eternal and ageless and surrounds all the worlds. . . .

In addition he said that motion is eternal, in which it occurs that the heavens come to be.

(Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies)

3. This [the infinite, Apeiron] does not have an archē,

but this seems to be the archē of the rest, and to contain all things and steer all things, as all declare who do not fashion other causes aside from the infinite [the Apeiron] . . .

... and this is the divine. For it is deathless and indestructible,
as Anaximander and most of the natural philosophers say.

(Aristotle, Physics)

4. He declares that what arose from the eternal and is productive of [or, “capable of giving birth to”] hot and cold was separated off at the coming to be of this cosmos, and a kind of sphere of flame from this grew around the dark mist about the earth like bark about a tree.

When it was broken off and enclosed in certain circles, the sun, moon, and stars came to be.

(Pseudo-Plutarch, Miscellanies)

5. Anaximander says that the Sun is equal to the Earth, and the circle where it has its vent and on which it is carried is 27 times <the size> of the earth.


6. Anaximander says that the Stars are borne by the circles and spheres on which each one is mounted.


7. The Earth is aloft and is not supported by anything.
It stays at rest because its distance from all things is equal.

The earth’s shape is curved, round, like a stone column.
We walk on one of the surfaces and the other one is set opposite.

The stars come to be as a circle of fire separated off from the fire in the cosmos and enclosed by dark mist. There are vents, certain tube-like passages at which the stars appear. For this reason, eclipses occur when the vents are blocked.

The Moon appears sometimes waxing, sometimes waning as the passages are blocked or opened.

The circle of the Sun is 27 times <that of the earth and> that of the Moon <18 times>,
and the Sun is highest, and the circles of the fixed stars are lowest.

Winds occur when the finest vapours of dark mist are separated off and collect together and then are set in motion.

Rain results from the vapour arising from the earth under the influence of the sun.
Lightning occurs whenever wind escapes and splits the clouds apart.

(Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies)

8. Anaximander says that these [thunder, lightning, thunderbolts, waterspouts, and hurricanes] all result from wind:

For whenever it [wind] is enclosed in a thick cloud and forcibly escapes because it is so fine and light, then the bursting [of the cloud] creates the noise and the splitting creates the flash against the blackness of the cloud.


9. Some, like Anaximander . . . declare that the Earth stays at rest because of equality:

For it is no more fitting for what is situated at the centre and is equally far from the extremes to move up rather than down or sideways. And it is impossible for it to move in opposite directions at the same time. Therefore, it stays at rest of necessity.

(Aristotle, On the Heavens)

10. Anaximander says that the first animals were produced in moisture, enclosed in thorny barks.

When their age advanced they came out onto the drier part, their bark broke off, and they lived a different mode of life for a short time.


11. He also declares that in the beginning humans were born from animals of a different kind,

since other animals quickly manage on their own, and humans alone require lengthy nursing.
For this reason they would not have survived if they had been like this at the beginning.

(Pseudo-Plutarch, Opinions)

12. Anaximander . . . believed that there arose from heated water and earth either fish or animals very like fish. In these, humans grew and were kept inside as embryos up to puberty. Then finally they burst, and men and women came forth already able to nourish themselves.

(Censorinus, On the Day of Birth)