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Ancient Greek literature. Philosophical prose


 

 


Anaximander



Greek philosopher

born 610 bc, Miletus [now in Turkey]
died 546/545 bc

Main
Greek philosopher often called the founder of astronomy, the first thinker to develop a cosmology, or systematic philosophical view of the world.

Anaximander is thought to have been a pupil of Thales of Miletus. Evidence exists that he wrote treatises on geography, astronomy, and cosmology that survived for several centuries, and that he made a map of the known world. As a rationalist he prized symmetry and introduced geometry and mathematical proportions into his efforts to map the heavens. Thus, his theories departed from earlier, more mystical conceptions of the universe and prefigured the achievements of later astronomers.

Only one sentence of Anaximander’s writings survives, however, so that reports from later writers form the primary record of his discoveries. That sentence describes the emergence of particular substances such as water or fire in metaphors drawn from human society, in which injustices are penalized. For example, neither hot nor cold prevails permanently, but each “pays reparations” in order to keep a balance between them.

Anaximander derived the world from a nonperceptible substance called the apeiron (“unlimited”). This state preceded the “separation” into contrasting qualities, such as hot and cold, wet and dry, and thus represents the primitive unity of all phenomena. Anaximander subscribed to the philosophical view that unity could definitely be found behind all multiplicity. A novel element in Anaximander’s theory was his rejection of the older notion that the Earth was somehow suspended or supported from elsewhere in the heavens; instead, he asserted that the Earth remained in its unsupported position at the centre of the universe because it had no reason to move in any direction and therefore was at rest.
 

 
 
 
 
 

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