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astronomy, natural philosophy.

There were at least two Anaximanders, both citizens of Miletus: the elder, who was born about 610 b.c. and who is said to have died shortly after 547/546 b.c. (i.e., in 546/545 B. C., the year of the fall of Sardis), and the younger, who is said to have been a historian, the author of Interpretation of Pythagorean Symbols, who lived toward the end of the fifth century b.c. We are concerned here with the older Anaximander. Of him we possess only one verbatim quotation, which is difficult to interpret with certainty, and several reports by later authors. Most of this indirect evidence, however, cannot be taken at its face value because it ultimately goes back to Theophrastus, who, like his teacher Aristotle, had the tendency to see and interpret the doctrines of pre-Aristotelian philosophers in the light of the problems, the terminology, and the positive doctrines of Aristotle’s philosophy. Needless to say, the later doxographical reports also contain mistakes of their own making; and, in the case of the astronomical and mathematical data, later authors transferred the knowledge of what to them were abvious notions to the heroes of early Greek thought. Thus, for example, Anaximander is credited with the discovery of the equinoxes and of the obliquity of the ecliptic, attributions that are anachronistic and that contradict other notions that he is said to have held.

Fortunately, for Anaximander we possess information from a different tradition, the geographical. Thus, we know that he drew a map of the inhabited world and that he wrote a book in which he tried to explain the present state of the earth and of its inhabitants, expecially the human race. For this purpose he advanced a cosmogony. According to Anaximander, at any given time there are an infinite number of worlds that have been separated off from the infinite, τòʾάπειρον, which is the source and reservoir of all things. These worlds come into being, and when they perish, they are reabsorbed into the infinite, Which surrounds them and is eternal and ageless. Our world came into being when a mass of material was separated off from the infinite; a rotatory motion in a vortex caused the heavy materials to concentrate at the center, while masses of fire surrounded by air went to the periphery and later constituted the heavenly bodies. The sun and the moon are annular bodies constitutd of fair surrounded by a mass of air. This mass of air has pipelike passages through which the light produced by the fire inside escapes, and this is the light the earth receives. In this way Anaximander perhaps accounted for the different shapes of the moon’s face and also for eclipses. The earth, at the center of this world, has the shape of a rather flat cylinder. Animals originated from inanimate matter, by the action of the sun on water, and men originated from fish.

What is significant in all this is that Anaximander tried to explain all these different phenomena as the result of one law that rules everything; and it is this law that is preserved in the only verbatim quotation from Anaximander that we possess (here paraphrased); All things pass away into that from which they took their origin, the infinite, as it is necessary; for they make reparation to one another for their injustice in the fixed order of time. The extent and exact meaning of this quotation are controversial, but there can be no question that here we have an impersonal law according to which all occurrences in the universe are explained. This all-inclusive, immanent law of nature is Anaximander’s lasting contribution to human thought.


The ancient sources are collected in H. Diels and W. Kranz, eds., Die Fragrnente der Vorsokratiker, 6th ed., I (Berlin, 1951). 81–90.

Modern works dealing with Anaximander are J. Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy, 4th ed. (London, 1930). pp. 50–71; H. Cherniss, Aristotle’s Criticism of Presocratic Philosophy (Baltimore, 1935). Passim: and “The Characteristics and Effects of Presocratic Philosophy,” in Journal of the History of Ideas, 12 (1951), 319–345; D. R. Dicks, “Solsytices, Equinoxes, and the Presocratics,” in Journal of Hellenic Studies, 86 (1966), 26–40; F. Dirlmeier, “Der Satz des Anaximandros von Milet,” in Rheinisches Museum. 87 (1938), 376–382; W.A. Heidel, “The ΔINH in Anaximenes and Anaximander,” in Classical Philology, 1 (1906), 279–282; “On Anaximander,” ibid., 7 (1912), 212–234; “On Certain Fragments of the Pre-Socraties,” in Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 48 (1913), 681–734, esp. 682–691; and “Anaximander’s Book, the Earliest Known Geographical Treatise,” ibid., 56 (1921), 237–288; C.H. Kahn, Anaximander and the Origins of Greek Cosmology (New York, 1960); G.S. Kirk and J.E., Raven, The Presocratic Philosophers (Cambridge, 1957), pp. 99–142; A. Maddalena, Ionici, lestimonianze e frammenti (Florence, 1963), pp. 76–157; J. B. McDiarmid,” Theophrastus on the Presocratic Causes,” in Harvard Studies in Classical philology, 61 (1953), 85–156; R. Mondolfo. L’infinito nel pensiero dell’antichità classica (Florence, 1956), pp. 188 ff.; and in his edition of E. Zeller’s Philosophic der Griechen, La filosofia dei greci nel suo sviluppo storico, II (Florence, 1938), 135–205; and E. Zeller, Die Philosophic der Griechen, W. Nestle, ed., I (Leipzig, 1923), 270–315.

Additional bibliographies may be found in the works by Kahn and Maddalena cited above.

L. TarÁn

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The Greek natural philosopher and astronomer Anaximander (ca. 610-ca. 546 B.C.) attempted to explain the origins of the universe through his theory of the apeiron.

Born in Miletus, Anaximander was the son of Praxiades. According to tradition, he was a pupil of the Greek philosopher Thales. Anaximander is said to have taken part in the founding of Apollonia on the Black Sea and to have traveled to Sparta. His book, On Nature, a title given by Alexandrian scholars to many works of its type, was still in use some 2 centuries after his death.

Anaximander was concerned with the origin of things. He found an explanation, having abandoned with Thales the old mythological cosmogonies, in his theory of the apeiron (the infinite)—that is, the universe is boundless and formless but is constituted of a single primary substance out of which all individual phenomena arise. This concept is similar in some respects to the "abyss" found in Eastern cosmogonies. Connected with the process of genesis and dissolution is dikeμ, or justice, which works inexorably through the ages. Individual existences commit injustice against each other simply by coming into being and thereby lessening each other's viability, but atonement is made when dissolution comes to the transgressor in its turn.

The earth, in Anaximander's scheme, is shaped like a cylinder and floats at the center of the universe. There would therefore be no reason for it to fall in one direction or another. He believed that the earth was originally covered with water, it dried in part, and man sprang from aquatic forms which had moved onto the drier parts and adapted themselves to the new conditions. The stars, in his bold theory, were really parts of a great outer fire surrounding the compressed air that encircled the earth and they could be glimpsed through holes or vents in that atmosphere.

Anaximander was credited in antiquity with having introduced the gnomon (a sundial with a vertical needle) into Greece, with which he was able to determine the equinoxes. He is also reputed to have been the first Greek to draw a map of the inhabited earth and to teach a doctrine of organic evolution. Although it is difficult to assess his contribution properly because of the defective information about Greek philosophy before Plato, he appears as a boldly imaginative thinker who broke with the mythological explanations of the universe found in the Greek poetic and religious tradition in favor of explanations based on logical premises.

Further Reading

Selected passages from the fragments of Anaximander, with English translation and commentary, are in G.S. Kirk and J.E. Raven, The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts (1962). Among the specialized studies of Anaximander, Charles H. Kahn, Anaximander and the Origins of Greek Cosmology (1960), is noteworthy. There are excellent discussions of Anaximander in John Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy (1892; 4th ed. 1930), and Kathleen Freeman, The Pre-Socratic Philosophers (1946; 2d ed. 1959). Albin Lesky, A History of Greek Literature (1958; new ed. 1963; trans. 1966), is also useful.

Additional Sources

Gnagy, Allan S., Thalaes, Anaximandros, Anaximenaes, Athaena: Exantas, 1991. □

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610-Circa 545 b.c.e.

Astronomer and philosopher


Historical Record. Thought to have been a pupil of Thales, Anaximander of Miletus wrote treatises on geography, astronomy, and cosmology. However, only one sentence of his writings survives, so the writings of later scholars form the primary source of information about his discoveries. Anaximander is credited with having drawn the first map of the world. One hundred years later, the historian Herodotus found it simplistic and amusing:

It makes me smile to see how many people have made circular pictures of the earth, and how not a single one has done it sensibly! They all make the river Okeanos run around the earth as neatly as if were drawn with a compass, and make Asia and Europe equal in size!

If Anaximander’s map fit this description, its shape owed less to exploration and actual measurement than to a scientific desire for order and symmetry.

Evolution. Anaximander believed the world derived from a source called the apeiron (unlimited). His notions about the origin of animal and human life, though fanciful, bear an uncanny resemblance to modern evolutionary theories. Later writers report his claim that people must have originally been born from non-human creatures, on the ground that human (unlike animal) offspring require a long period of nursing and care in order to survive. If they had originally been born into the world from (and as) human beings, he reasoned, the species would have perished in the first generation. On this assumption, he argued that in the beginning, fishlike creatures arose from warm water and earth. Human beings grew inside them, enclosed like embryos, and remained within their protective envelopes until they reached the age of puberty. Then “the fishlike creatures burst apart and men and women who were now able to feed and take care of themselves stepped forth” onto dry land.


Charles H. Kahn, Anaximander and the Origins of Greek Cosmology (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960).

Paul Seligman, TheApeiron of Anaximander: A Study in the Origin and Function of Metaphysical Ideas (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1962).

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Anaximander (ənăk´sĬmăn´dər), c.611–c.547 BC, Greek philosopher, b. Miletus; pupil of Thales. He made the first attempt to offer a detailed explanation of all aspects of nature. Anaximander argued that since there are so many different sorts of things, they must all have originated from something less differentiated than water, and this primary source, the boundless or the indefinite (apeiron), had always existed, filled all space, and, by its constant motion, separated opposites out from itself, e.g., hot and cold, moist and dry. These opposites interact by encroaching on one another and thus repay one another's "injustice." The result is a plurality of worlds that successively decay and return to the indefinite. The notion of the indefinite and its processes prefigured the later conception of the indestructibility of matter. Anaximander also had a theory of the relation of earth to the heavenly bodies, important in the history of astronomy. His view that man achieved his physical state by adaptation to environment, that life had evolved from moisture, and that man developed from fish, anticipates the theory of evolution.

See studies by P. Selegman (1974), C. H. Kahn (3d ed. 1994), and C. Rovelli (tr. 2011).

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Anaximander (611–c.547 bc) Greek philosopher, student of Thales. Anaximander's lasting reputation is based on his notion of apeiron (Gr. infinite), a non-perceivable substance which he regarded as the primary source material of the natural world. His ideas are regarded as the precursor of a modern conception of the indestructibility of matter. He also anticipated the theory of evolution and is said to have made the first map of the Earth, which he conceived of as a self-supporting immobile cylindrical object at the centre of the universe.

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