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Cuvier’s History of the Natural Sciences

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Georges Cuvier

2. The greek world / Le monde grec

5. The Greek Schools

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PYTHAGORAS. From the painting “School of Athens”, a 1511 fresco that adorns the Signature Room at the Vatican. Drawing in pen and brown ink (ca. 1509-1510) by Sanzio Rafaello, known as Raphael (1483-1520) preserved at the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan.

1We have seen that the advance of the human spirit began in India and Egypt; that, by a series of communications established with the latter country, thought took a new impetus on the coasts of Asia Minor; and that from this resulted four great philosophical schools, which political events drew together in Athens.

  • 1 [Socrates, see Lesson 6.]

2Rivalry hastened their progress, and their works, later to be brought together by Socrates1, produced a new philosophical sect, which, by a judicious method that it followed, obtained for science numerous elements of development. But before we tell you of this remarkable epoch, we must explain to you in some detail the works of the great primitive schools that we have just mentioned.

3The Ionian school, the earliest, gave rise to the greatest number of accurate insights into the natural sciences, although its most distinguished members were little advanced in the art of studying nature. It claimed, first, that the stuff of the universe was material (which proves, as we might say in passing, that the Egyptian priests whom Thales visited were still almost entirely unaware of the meaning of the metaphysical doctrines preserved by them in their colleges). This school was engaged in discovering the material stuff that it professed. According to Thales, the founder, this principle was water. Very likely he imbibed this idea in Egypt; but he subjected it to modifications that resulted in a special doctrine. Water, which he considered the primary material that makes up the world, was according to him susceptible to different degrees of density, and at each of these degrees it became a secondary element or stuff. The combination of these elements in their various proportions produced all the bodies in nature. These bodies, the animals, the plants, had a soul, as well as the world as a whole; but Thales did not attach to the word soul the meaning that it has for us; this expression, in his thought, meant only the internal cause of movement.

  • 2 [Anaximander (born in 610 B.C., at Miletus, now in Turkey; died 546/545 B.C.), Greek philosopher o (...)
  • 3 According to some authors, Anaximander [see note 2, above] must have considered the infinite to be (...)

4Anaximander2, a resident of Miletus, as was Thales, and a friend of that philosopher, claimed that the primary stuff was the infinite. Water was only a secondary principle. But it is difficult to determine precisely what he meant by the infinite. One does not understand how the infinite was able to give rise to water. One can only think that he wished to express by this term the idea that unlimited space had existed before matter, for the ancient philosophers all had assumed the eternity of matter3.

5Be that as it may, Anaximander, having assumed water as the secondary principle of nature, claimed that men had originally been fishes, then reptiles, then mammals, and finally, what they are now. We find this philosophy in times closer to our own and even in the 19th century.

  • 4 [Anaximenes of Miletus (fl. c. 545 B.C.), Greek philosopher of nature and one of three thinkers of (...)
  • 5 Later, Diogenes of Apollonia revived this system under a more complete form. [M. de St.-Agy.] [Dio (...)

6Anaximenes of Miletus4, who is thought to have been Anaximander’s friend and disciple, modified, or rather rendered more specific, the doctrine of his master, by substituting air for the infinite. This air-principle, susceptible of different condensations and various combinations, was, according to him, the source of all beings and even of the gods. This system is perhaps the germ for the idea of gases5.

  • 6 [Heracleitus, also spelled Heraclitus (born c. 540 B.C., at Ephesus, in Anatolia; died c. 480), Gr (...)
  • 7 According to Heracleitus [see note 6, above], the world is the work neither of the gods nor of hum (...)

7Heracleitus6, famous for his misanthropy, and who can also be considered as belonging to the Ionian school, claimed that fire was the universal principle; but he may have perhaps considered it rather the source of existence than the material of things. His system seems to bear some resemblance to that of physiologists who have placed the basis of animal life in the heat that is generated by respiration. But these resemblances are so distant that they exist less in the things themselves than in our mind7.

8Yet, none of the early philosophers of the Ionian school raised his ideas above the existence of material bodies: we do not see among them the least distinction between matter and spirit. Also in vain do we search for the idea of creation. They had merely glimpsed the ideas of unity and infinity.

  • 8 [Anaxagoras, see Lesson 4, note 44.]

9Anaxagoras8, the reviver of the Ionian school, had much saner notions than his predecessors on almost all areas of the physical sciences. One might consider his writings as the reservoir of the first seeds of science. He was the first to make a clear distinction between spirit and matter. One might also consider this philosopher the author of the second epoch in the philosophy of Greece, for he was the teacher of Socrates, who adopted his ideas. And it is these ideas, embellished with all the charms of Plato’s style, that are found in the works that, propagated throughout Greece, gave birth to the second philosophic era.

  • 9 [Pythagoras, see Lesson 3, note 5.]
  • 10 [Magna Graecia, Latin meaning “Great Greece,” a group of ancient Greek cities along the coast of s (...)
  • 11 [Polycrates (fl. 6th century B.C.), tyrant (c. 535-522 B.C.) of the island of Samos, in the Aegean (...)
  • 12 [Achaean, any of the ancient Greek people, identified in Homer, along with the Danaoi and the Arge (...)

10The founder of the Italic school, Pythagoras9, was a contemporary of the conqueror Cambyses and of Anaximander, Anaximenes, and Heracleitus; it is said that he had been, like them, a disciple of Thales. But this report is anything but proven. After long travels in Egypt, Magna Graecia10, and perhaps India, he returned to Samos, the country of his origin. Discontented with the changes wrought there by the tyrant Polycrates11, he went to Italy and settled in Crotona, a town that had been constructed a hundred years earlier by a colony of Achaeans12. Here he established a secret society modeled on the sacerdotal caste of Egypt. In order to be a member, one had to submit to a long novitiate, to undergo fastings and various abstinences, and to observe singular practices the object of which was not known exactly. This society was a nest of superstitions and the source of a swarm of fables about the life and thought of Pythagoras. Soon the society was accused of ambitious designs, and on that ground it was broken up. It was not until long after the death of its founder that the society could be restored.

  • 13 Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1: 3; Iamblichus [neoplatonic philosopher, born c. 250 in Chalcis, Coele-S (...)

11It is not known if Pythagoras ever wrote anything: no work attributed to him has come down to us. It was in Egypt that he acquired his knowledge of geometry and arithmetic. He is said to have tried to use them in explaining all natural phenomena. He thought that number was the essence of things13; but this part of his doctrine is only imperfectly known; we are only guessing at its nature. Besides, his ideas have been so altered by the men who revived his school that it is difficult to determine which are his and which theirs. We can only suppose that his mysterious theory consisted in valuing all forces or magnitudes according to number in order to render them comparable and susceptible of being calculated. In that case, he would have had the idea that is the present-day basis of mathematical physics.

12According to him, all beings are like even or uneven numbers. The latter were composed of monads or unities, the former were dyads or dualities. It was thought that some resemblance resided in this opinion with the ideas that serve as basis for the theory of definite proportions; this is most assuredly an error.

  • 14 Pythagoras thought that the soul issued from the central fire and was composed of hot and cold eth (...)

13Pythagoras conceived of the universe as a harmonic whole, using as an example the number of the planets, which at that time corresponded exactly with the number of tones in the musical scale. At the center of this harmonic whole, which he compared to a great animal, was the sun, the soul of the world and basis of motion. All other souls, of men, of animals, and even of the gods, emanated from and participated in the nature of this cosmic soul. According to this system, the gods were but animals of a superior order14.

  • 15 [That is, “to each man his due.”]

14Pythagoras carried the language of mathematics into morality. He said that justice was a number divisible by two. It is evident that we have here a figurative expression, by which he meant to indicate the equality of apportionment resulting from distributive justice15. Probably, in many other instances, people have attributed ideas to Pythagoras that he never professed, by taking literally what he had said only figuratively. And, in spite of his eccentricities, we cannot refuse to give credit to the Italic school for having caused philosophy to make important progress: the Ionian school was completely materialist; it had seen in the universe no ruling intelligence; the first Pythagoreans rose above that school in searching for and naming a cause superior to matter.

  • 16 [Alcmeon of Crotona, also spelled Alcmaeon (fl. 6th century B.C.), Greek philosopher and physiolog (...)
  • 17 [Although Aristotle mentioned a duct passing from the ear to the mouth, which must have been the E (...)

15Moreover, the Pythagorean school, founded on mathematics, could not remain long in vagueness; by dint of its fundamental procedure it soon applied itself to observation and experience. In fact, several observers came out of this school not long after. As early as 520 B.C., Alcmeon of Crotona16, a direct disciple of Pythagoras, devoted himself to anatomical research on animals. Because he claimed that goats breathed through their ears, it was thought that he had discovered the Eustachian tubes, through which air penetrates from the back part of the mouth into the inner ear. If so, in the 16th century, these tubes were merely discovered once again17.

16Alcmeon had rather correct ideas about embryology; he claimed that the head of animals was formed first, which is in agreement with the perfectly known fact that, during the first period of fetal life, the head is more voluminous in proportion to the other parts of the body.

17He assumed less correctly that the fetus was nourished through the skin.

18He thought that the seat of the sense of smell was in the brain, and he compared the onset of puberty in man to the onset of flowering in plants.

  • 18 [Chalcidius or Calcidius, 4th century Christian exegete who wrote a commentary on Plato’s Timaeus (...)

19We know the thoughts of this philosopher only through Chalcidius18, a commentator on Plato. In general it is good to be on one’s guard against everything relating to these ancient philosophers who have left no writings; for, that which tradition has preserved is so imprecise that one can almost equally attribute to them the most important discoveries or the most extravagant imaginings.

  • 19 [Timaeus of Locri (born c. 356 B.C., at Tauromenium, Sicily; died c. 260), Greek historian whose w (...)

20Timaeus of Locri19, a student of Pythagoras, is supposed to have written a work on the soul of the world; but he is less known as the author of that work than as interlocutor in the dialogue that Plato entitled with his name.

  • 20 [Ocellus Lucanus (born in the 5th century B.C., at Lucania) a Pythagorean philosopher, perhaps a p (...)

21Ocellus Lucanus20, who was probably younger than the foregoing Pythagoreans, is the presumed author of On the Nature of the Universe, in which he upholds the unity of the world, and its eternity and that of the species. He claims, for the first time, that the world is composed of four elements combined in different ways, a doctrine that reigned in all the schools until the end of the past century. Like Pythagoras, Ocellus considered the gods to be animals of a superior class, and he placed between gods and men intermediate beings called daemons. But he thought the whole of the universe was a supreme divinity.

  • 21 [Empedocles, a Greek philosopher, statesman, poet, religious teacher, and physiologist who argued (...)
  • 22 [Agrigentum, Latin for Agrigento (before 1927 Girgenti, Greek Acragas), the capital of Agrigento p (...)

22This system is attributed by other authors to Empedocles21, who was born at Agrigentum22 about 444 B.C., and composed a didactic poem on nature, of which we have only fragments. In those times, there was no concern about details; every doctrine tended towards a universal explanation.

  • 23 It goes without saying, that chaos is an impossible state of things; for, elective affinities and (...)

23Empedocles said that none of the four elements was particularly primary, as was thought by all the other Pythagoreans, but rather the pre-existent substance was the mixed combination of all the elements – in a word, chaos23.

  • 24 [The cochlea, at least that of mammals, was known to Empedocles (see note 21, above) and Gabriello (...)

24But this philosopher did better than devote himself to speculations; he observed nature in its details, as Alcmeon had done before him. He perceived the analogy between the egg of an animal and the seed of a plant; he discovered the amnion; and one might assume, from a surviving line of his poetry, that he had also discovered the cochlea of the ear, a discovery that became unquestionable only after very delicate observations made in the 16th century24.

25Empedocles made useful applications of the knowledge he gathered: he made his country more salubrious by preventing standing water. It is said that he also got rid of epidemic influences by closing an opening in a rock through which noxious vapors were spreading into the atmosphere.

  • 25 [Epicharmus of Cos (born c. 530 B.C., died c. 440 B.C.), Greek poet who, according to the Suda lex (...)

26Epicharmus of Cos25, who seems to have been highly esteemed by the ancients, wrote about medicine, morals, and the physical sciences, works that have not come down to us. But his comedies furnish some details upon various plants and fishes, and other alimentary substances used in his time. However, the date and place of his birth are not known for certain.

27Such, then, gentlemen, are the philosophers of the Italic school who applied their mental activity to the sciences. This school led a tormented existence; the secret societies that it formed brought about grave troubles in certain towns; the people rose up against the school and nearly all its members perished. But Pythagorean doctrine survived until the time of Plato, who adopted a part of it for composing his philosophical system.

  • 26 [Xenophanes (born probably c. 560 B.C., at Colophon, Ionia; died probably c. 478), Greek poet, rel (...)
  • 27 A few years ago, Monsieur V. Cousin, an eloquent philosopher, collected them [the poems of Xenopha (...)

28Parallel with the Pythagorean school rose the Eleatic school, thus named because its founder, Xenophanes26, who came from Colophon, a city in Asia Minor, about the year 536 went to live at Elea or Velia, which belonged to Sicily. Xenophanes revealed his doctrine in a poem about nature, of which we have only a few fragments27. His system is more metaphysical than physical; it is based on absolute unity: it is an idealistic pantheism having some resemblance to the German philosophy known as the Philosophy of nature. Xenophanes is the first who attacked, in Greece, popular anthropomorphism; he included divinity itself in his absolute unity, and explained the multiplicity of mutable things by apparently taking water and earth as principle elements.

  • 28 [Parmenides (born c. 515 B.C.), Greek philosopher of Elea in southern Italy who founded Eleaticism (...)
  • 29 Sextus, Adversus Mathematicos, 7: 3. Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1: 5. Diogenes Laërtius, 9: 22. [M. d (...)
  • 30 [In his poem on nature (see note 28, above), Parmenides held that the multiplicity of existing thi (...)

29Parmenides of Elea28, his direct disciple, developed this system with more precision. According to him, reason alone recognizes reality and truth; the senses, on the other hand, witness only misleading appearance. From this results a twofold system of knowledge, that of true notion and that of apparent knowledge, the first being based on reason, the second on the senses29. The poem by Parmenides30 on nature in which these two systems were explained has not come down to us complete; according to the surviving fragments, we know more about the first system than the second. In the first, the author starts with the idea of pure being, which he identifies with thought and knowledge. He concludes that non-being cannot be possible; that every existing thing is one and identical; that whatever exists had no beginning; that it is invariable, indivisible; that it fills space entirely and is limited only by itself; and, consequently, all change, all movement, is merely appearance.

30This doctrine has the greatest resemblance with certain opinions professed in our day by priests in India, who designate by a special name the so-called illusion in our mind regarding the outside world.

31But Parmenides claimed that this illusion was subject to fixed laws, in such a way that it was possible to use the variations in this illusion as a basis for reasoning, just as if they were realities. Thus, the Eleatic school came close to entering upon the method of observation and widening the domain of the sciences, but it gave itself over to vague speculations and did not follow this route strewn with riches. It assumed two world-essences, fire or light, and cold or earth. Fire was the essence of life and movement; earth was the inert essence against which fire ceaselessly struggled. From the combat between these two principles resulted all living beings.

  • 31 [Zeno of Elea (born c. 495 B.C., died c. 430 B.C.), Greek philosopher and mathematician, whom Aris (...)

32The sophist Zeno31 was a friend and disciple of Parmenides.

33It was in fact in the school of the Eleatics that the dialectic would be born: not being based on observation, their doctrine needed, in order to uphold it, very subtle reasoning and a great ability in the art of linking ideas. But in their hands this art degenerated very soon and its object was singularly altered; it was used equally for proving the truth and sustaining the false. In this way, quite ingenious men succeeded, after many an effort, in obscuring what was clear and casting doubt on what was certain. They even went so far as to deny change and the possibility of change, by means of arguments that, moreover, were often difficult to refute.

34About 460 B.C., Parmenides and Zeno traveled to Athens. There they applied themselves to demonstrating through reason the absurdity of the philosophy of empirical realism. The Ionian Anaxagoras arrived in Athens shortly afterwards; as a consequence, Socrates, who was ten years old then, and whom we shall touch on later, could have received lessons from these three philosophers.

  • 32 [Leucippus (fl. 5th century B.C., probably at Miletus, on the west coast of Asia Minor), Greek phi (...)

35Leucippus32, the founder of the Atomist school, was their contemporary and perhaps also the disciple of Parmenides. But he professed a doctrine diametrically opposed to theirs. Struck by the falsity of the Eleatic speculations, he rushed into the contrary excess and fell into a pure materialism. He rejected both the intelligent unity of Xenophanes and Parmenides, the all which is neither material nor immaterial, and the Italic school’s theory of numbers. Atoms, or indivisible molecules, and the void alone were assumed in his system; he even deprived atoms of the properties previously allowed them, and accorded them only movement and form.

36The color of bodies, their consistency, their specific temperature –in a word, all their properties– were, according to him, the result of the form and relative disposition of atoms. The eternal circle of the destruction and the reproduction of beings had no other cause than the motion of atoms; the soul itself was merely an aggregation of atoms combined in a particular way.

  • 33 [Democritus of Abdera (born c. 460 B.C., died c. 370), Greek philosopher, a central figure in the (...)

37The most famous follower of Leucippus is Democritus of Abdera33, who is attributed with a mocking spirit, contrary to that of Heracleitus. Some say he was born in 494 or 490 B.C., others in 470 or 460. He died very old, in 399, the same year as Socrates. He developed the philosophy of atoms. In order to prove their existence, he pointed to the impossibility of a division of matter to infinity. Leucippus thought atoms had only difference of form; Democritus allows them also motion varying in a specific way. He distinguishes between direct or primary motion, oblique motion or motion derived from reaction, and motion in a vortex. From these divers motions of the different atoms all worlds come into being. The soul is composed of round atoms of fire. As a consistent atomist he maintained that objects make an impression on our senses by means of corpuscles emanating from these objects and having the same shape as the objects. From this impression come sensation and idea.

38As I have said, Alcmeon had dissected certain animals; but Democritus is really the first that we can call a comparative anatomist. He assiduously studied the organization of a great number of animals, and by the diversity of such organization, he explained the variety of their habits and ways.

39Democritus knew about bile ducts and the role that bile played in digestion. He searched for the source of mania and believed he had discovered it in changes in the viscera of the abdomen, an opinion that was sustained down to our own time.

40Democritus was not properly appreciated by his compatriots. Often wandering among tombs, probably looking for osteological bits, he was considered by the Abderans to be mentally alienated, and they summoned Hippocrates to look after him; but this great man thought Democritus was anything but a fool and declared him the wisest and most learned of men.

41The Italic and Eleatic sects are but derivations from that of Thales and the three resemble each other in several regards. But the atomist sect has its own distinctly separate character.

42The four great philosophical sects I have just spoken to you about contributed in highly unequal ways to the progress of the natural sciences. The idealism and pantheism of the Eleatics were much less favorable to them than the mathematical method of the Pythagoreans, and still less favorable than the atomists’ materialism and observation.

  • 34 [Aesculapius, see Lesson 4, note 19.]
  • 35 [Gnidos or Cnidus, ancient Greek city on the Carian Chersonese, on the southwest coast of Anatolia (...)

43The medical cult that existed side by side with these philosophical schools, and which borrowed from all of them because of its practical spirit, was much more ancient than they. Since time immemorial, it perpetuated itself in the family of the Asclepiades, whose origin goes back in a series of myths to Aesculapius34. As early as the siege of Troy, we find medicine being practiced by the son of Aesculapius. Homer, who himself was perhaps a member of the Asclepiades, shows evidence of rather precise medical knowledge in the judgment he expresses about the wounds of the heroes in the Iliad. The Asclepiades officiated in most of the temples consecrated to Aesculapius. The most famous of these temples were at Cos and Gnidos35. The sick from everywhere were received there; they underwent certain religious practices; note was made of the symptoms they showed upon arrival and the effect of the medications administered to them. The sick that had been cured at a distance from these temples often sent as an ex-voto [votive offering] the account of their suffering and their return to health. Perfectly complete nosographies were the result, which singularly contributed to the improvement of medicine.

  • 36 [Hippocrates (born c. 460 B.C., on the island of Cos, Greece; died c. 377, at Larissa, Thessaly), (...)

44It is in one of these enormous collections, carried on during nearly eight hundred years, that Hippocrates36 delved when around 400 B.C. he wrote his works: his works are a résumé of all previous observations; and that is why they contain so many medical truths.

  • 37 [On Fractures by Hippocrates (c. 400 B.C.), a treatise on the nature and treatment of bone fractur (...)
  • 38 [Miltiades, the Younger (born c. 554 B.C., at Athens; died probably 489 B.C., Athens), Athenian ge (...)

45But it must be said that works bearing Hippocrates’s name were not written by one man. It is generally believed that three physicians named Hippocrates, and from the same family, labored at them successively. This opinion is founded on the differences in style and on some contradictions in the various essays known under the name of Hippocrates. The book on Fractures37 is attributed to the first Hippocrates, who lived in the time of Miltiades38, 500 B.C., and who consequently came before Herodotus and was the first writer in prose. The most celebrated of the three Hippocrateses was a contemporary of Socrates and Plato, who mention him often with praise, and lived for 110 years. He is, along with Democritus, who was also a centenarian, of all the famous men of his time the one who had the longest career. I shall not bring up his writings now, seeing that they belong to the second philosophical era. I shall treat of his writings at the same time as Plato’s.

46But before starting on the second philosophical epoch, we are going to look at the works of Anaxagoras, who ties the school of Thales to that of Socrates, of which Anaxagoras was the master.

  • 39 [Clazomenae, ancient Ionian Greek city, located about 20 miles west of Izmir (Smyrna) in modern Tu (...)
  • 40 [Pericles (born c. 495 B.C., at Athens; died 429, Athens), Athenian statesman largely responsible (...)
  • 41 [Lampsacus, ancient Greek city on the Asiatic shore of the Hellespont, best known for its wines, a (...)

47Anaxagoras, born 500 B.C., came to Athens from Clazomenae39 at the time of the Persian conquest of the Greek colonies in Asia Minor. He was intimately associated with Pericles40, who was about his age, and shared with him the unpopularity that arose against that clever ruler. Himself accused of hostility towards religion by the persecutors of Pericles, he was obliged to withdraw to Lampsacus41 where he died at the age of 72 in 428 B.C.

48Anaxagoras was the first to make a clear distinction between spirit and matter, divinity and mankind, and mind and body. Before Anaxagoras, philosophers had considered motion as inherent in matter, or, like the Eleatics, had considered bodies to be only pure illusions. He assumed the reality of matter and of spirit; he attributed to the latter the power of ordering and governing the former. These principles are those of natural theology, which is the basis of all religions in Europe; they constitute a clearly pronounced theism. Therefore, nothing is further from the truth than the accusation of atheism leveled against Anaxagoras and which was the cause of his being condemned to death.

  • 42 [Lucretius, see Lesson 11, note 5.]

49This philosopher did not claim the essence of things to be either water or fire – or even the combining of the four elements, as was thought by Empedocles and Ocellus of Lucania, and after them, all natural philosophers and modern chemists up until the end of the 18th century. Rather, he thought that various kinds of matter existed; each one of these kinds was formed of particles that resembled each other and the matter they composed. Thus, gold was composed of particles of gold; iron, particles of iron. It would seem from the particular objections expressed by the ancients against the philosophy of homoeomeries, or composing particles, that Anaxagoras was not well understood: Lucretius42, for example, asked if it was reasonable to claim that a man is composed of little men, a tree of little trees. These questions are absurd nonsense, for Anaxagoras did not intend his doctrine to include complex bodies, and, applied to simple bodies it is perfectly rational.

50None of the writings of the first Greek theist are extant.

51We have only some apothegms, which are the epitome of his opinions. For example: Nothing comes into being from nothing, all things exist in all things, and all things can produce all things. By these general propositions he probably meant that matter is eternal and that all bodies were composed of the same elements, combined in different proportions.

52Anaxagoras was often a poor observer but it was always from observation that he demanded the reason for facts. Thus, a ram was born at Athens with only one horn; the people looked upon this as a prodigy, and indeed, in accordance with the prejudices of all ancient peoples, as a presage of disastrous events. Anaxagoras dissected the animal and showed that the peculiar conformation of its bones and cranium was the sole cause of the so-called prodigy that had frightened the Athenians.

53He was less successful in other instances, for it is said that he believed that weasels brought forth their young through the mouth, and ibises and crows through the beak.

  • 43 [Mount Athos, a mountain in northern Greece (maximum elevation 2,033 m), site of a semiautonomous (...)
  • 44 [Battle of Aegospotami (405 B.C.), naval victory of Sparta over Athens, final battle of the Pelopo (...)
  • 45 Why not? I am in agreement with Anaxagoras here. Many scholars share this opinion. I would even sa (...)

54Also he had only very inaccurate ideas about the heavens. When a meteorite of very great bulk fell upon Mount Athos43 before the battle of Aegospotami44, he concluded that the vault of heaven that is apparent to us is made up of rocks like the one that had been found. He thought that the moon and planets were inhabited45, and that the sun was a flaming mass of metal. The sun being at that time a popular god, this latter opinion was what brought about his being condemned for atheism.

55Anaxagoras was the master and precursor of Socrates, who in turn gave a more rational direction to philosophy and exerted through his ironic method a great influence on the advance of the natural sciences, although he did not especially cultivate them.

56At the beginning of the next meeting, I shall treat of Socrates. After that, we shall examine the works of the different sects that came out of his school.

Notes

1 [Socrates, see Lesson 6.]

2 [Anaximander (born in 610 B.C., at Miletus, now in Turkey; died 546/545 B.C.), 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.]

3 According to some authors, Anaximander [see note 2, above] must have considered the infinite to be some intermediate thing between water and air. According to Anaximander, the perpetual changes in things cannot take place except in the infinite; pairs of opposites detach themselves in a continual movement from, and return ceaselessly to, the infinite. In this way sky and earth exist, regarding which Anaximander conducted extensive research. In the infinite, everything is subject to change; but the infinite is unchangeable. This doctrine was close to that of his contemporary Pherecydes of Syros [fl. c. 550 B.C., Greek mythographer and cosmogonist traditionally associated with the Seven Wise Men of Greece (especially Thales)]. Anaximander and Pherecydes are the first two philosophers who have written. (Aristotle, Physics, and Simplicius, Commentaries [see Lesson 1, note 36; Simplicius, On Epictetus’ [trad. by Brennan Tad & Brittain Charles], London: Duckworth; Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002, 2 vols (vol. 1: Handbook 1-26, 184 p.; vol. 2: Handbook 27-53, 240 p.)].) [M. de St.-Agy.]

4 [Anaximenes of Miletus (fl. c. 545 B.C.), Greek philosopher of nature and one of three thinkers of Miletus traditionally considered to be the first philosophers in the Western world. Of the other two, Thales held that water is the basic building block of all matter, whereas Anaximander chose to call the essential substance “the unlimited.”]

5 Later, Diogenes of Apollonia revived this system under a more complete form. [M. de St.-Agy.] [Diogenes of Apollonia (fl. 5th century B.C.), a Greek philosopher remembered for his cosmology and for his efforts to synthesize ancient views and new discoveries.]

6 [Heracleitus, also spelled Heraclitus (born c. 540 B.C., at Ephesus, in Anatolia; died c. 480), Greek philosopher remembered for his cosmology, in which fire forms the basic material principle of an orderly universe. Little is known about his life, and the one book he apparently wrote is lost. His views survive in the short fragments quoted and attributed to him by later authors.]

7 According to Heracleitus [see note 6, above], the world is the work neither of the gods nor of humans, it is an everlasting fire that is lit and extinguished according to a certain order. He seems to have deduced from these fundamental ideas the following opinions: (1) the perpetual variation or flowing of things, which is the basis of life, also; (2) the formation and dissolution of all things by fire, the ascending and descending movements, the evaporation and burning of the world; (3) the cause of all changes through discord and concord, and through their opposition according to fixed and immutable laws; (4) that the basis of all force is also that of thought or the primitive thinking force. The whole world is full of souls and daemons that participate in fire. The dry soul is the best. By studying, the soul, because of its relationship with divine reason, recognizes the universal and the real. In this system, which has come down to us but only imperfectly, and from which Plato, the Stoics, and Aenesidemus [born 1st century B.C., at Knossos, Crete; philosopher and dialectician of the Greek Academy who revived the Pyrrhonian principle of “suspended judgment” as a practical solution to the vexing and “insoluble” problem of knowledge] drew a great number of consequences, Heracleitus included several ideas that were new and remarkable for his time, which he applied even to politics and morals. [M. de St.-Agy.]

8 [Anaxagoras, see Lesson 4, note 44.]

9 [Pythagoras, see Lesson 3, note 5.]

10 [Magna Graecia, Latin meaning “Great Greece,” a group of ancient Greek cities along the coast of southern Italy; the people of this region were known to the Greeks as Italiotai and to the Romans as Graeci. The site of extensive trade and commerce, Magna Graecia was the seat of the Pythagorean and Eleatic systems of philosophy.]

11 [Polycrates (fl. 6th century B.C.), tyrant (c. 535-522 B.C.) of the island of Samos, in the Aegean Sea, who established Samian naval supremacy in the eastern Aegean and strove for control of the archipelago and mainland towns of Ionia.]

12 [Achaean, any of the ancient Greek people, identified in Homer, along with the Danaoi and the Argeioi, as the Greeks who besieged Troy. Their area as described by Homer – the mainland and western isles of Greece, Crete, Rhodes, and adjacent isles, except the Cyclades – is precisely that covered by the activities of the Mycenaeans in the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries B.C., as revealed by archaeology. From this and other evidence, some authorities have identified the Achaeans with the Mycenaeans.]

13 Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1: 3; Iamblichus [neoplatonic philosopher, born c. 250 in Chalcis, Coele-Syria; died c. 330], De vita Pythagorica [see Iamblichus, On the Pythagorean life [translated, with notes and introduction by Clark Gillian], Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1989, xxi + 122 p.] [M. de St.-Agy.]

14 Pythagoras thought that the soul issued from the central fire and was composed of hot and cold ether, susceptible of being united to any body, but obliged by fate to go through a certain series of bodies. This doctrine of the migration of souls, which was borrowed from the Egyptians, was not yet ennobled by any ideas on morality. [M. de St.-Agy.]

15 [That is, “to each man his due.”]

16 [Alcmeon of Crotona, also spelled Alcmaeon (fl. 6th century B.C.), Greek philosopher and physiologist of the academy at Croton (now Crotona, southern Italy), the first person recorded to have practiced dissection of human bodies for research purposes. He may also have been the first to attempt vivisection. Alcmaeon inferred that the brain was the center of intelligence and that the soul was the source of life. Applying the Pythagorean principle of cosmic harmony between pairs of contraries, he posited that health consists in the isonomy (equilibrium) of the body’s component contraries (e.g., dry-humid, warmcold, sweet-bitter), thus anticipating Hippocrates’ similar teaching.]

17 [Although Aristotle mentioned a duct passing from the ear to the mouth, which must have been the Eustachian tube, this discovery, wrongly attributed to Alcmeon, was not confirmed until the 16th century by Giovanni Filippo Ingrassias (born 1510, Palermo; died 6 November 1580, Palermo), Andreas Vesalius (born 1514, at Brussels; died 1564, on the Greek island of Zante), and Bartholomaeus Eustachius (born 1524, at San Severino Marche, Italy; died 1574, Rome). See Cole (Francis Joseph), A History of Comparative Anatomy, from Aristotle to the Eighteenth Century, London: Macmillan and Co Ltd, 1949, viii + 524 p.]

18 [Chalcidius or Calcidius, 4th century Christian exegete who wrote a commentary on Plato’s Timaeus (see Boeft (Jan den), Calcidius on demons, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1977, ix + 70 p.), which exerted an important influence on the medieval interpretation of the latter work.]

19 [Timaeus of Locri (born c. 356 B.C., at Tauromenium, Sicily; died c. 260), Greek historian whose writings shaped the tradition of western Mediterranean history (Timaeus of Locri, De natura mundi et animae. Überlieferung, Testimonia, Text, und Übersetzung [uit het Grieks] von Walter Marg [transl. into German by Marg Walter], Leiden: Brill, 1972, IX + 151 p.]

20 [Ocellus Lucanus (born in the 5th century B.C., at Lucania) a Pythagorean philosopher, perhaps a pupil of Pythagoras himself. The only one of his alleged works that is extant is a short treatise in four chapters in the Ionic dialect generally known as On the Nature of the Universe (see Ocellus Lucanus, On the nature of the universe. Taurus, the Platonic philosopher, On the eternity of the world. Julius Firmicus Maternus Of the thema mundi; in which the positions of the stars at the commencement of the several mundane periods is given [translated by Taylor Thomas], London: Printed for the translator, 1831, xi + 96 p.) It maintains the doctrine that the universe is uncreated and eternal; that to its three great divisions correspond the three kinds of beings – gods, men and demons; and, finally, that the human race with all its institutions (the family, marriage and the like) must be eternal. It advocates an ascetic mode of life with a view to the perfect reproduction of the race and its training in all that is noble and beautiful.]

21 [Empedocles, a Greek philosopher, statesman, poet, religious teacher, and physiologist who argued that all matter was composed of four essential ingredients, fire, air, water, and earth, and that nothing either comes into being or is destroyed but that things are merely transformed, depending on the ratio of basic substances, to one another. Nothing remains of the various writings attributed to him other than 400 lines from his poem Peri physeos (“On Nature”) and fewer than 100 verses from his poem Katharmoi (“Purifications”) (The poem of Empedocles [a text and translation in English with an introduction by Inwood Brad; revised edition], Toronto; Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 2001, x + 334 p.) According to modern sources, Empedocles was born c. 490 B.C.; he died 430 in the Peloponnese, Greece.]

22 [Agrigentum, Latin for Agrigento (before 1927 Girgenti, Greek Acragas), the capital of Agrigento provincia, near the southern coast of Sicily, Italy.]

23 It goes without saying, that chaos is an impossible state of things; for, elective affinities and differences in weight have never abandoned matter. [M. de St.-Agy.]

24 [The cochlea, at least that of mammals, was known to Empedocles (see note 21, above) and Gabriello Fallopius (Italian anatomist, born about 1523, at Modena; died 9 October 1562, at Padua), but Eustachius (see note 17, above) was the first to figure it in 1552, although his drawings were not published until 1714 (see Eustachius (Bartholomaeus), Tabulæ anatomicæ. Bartholomæi Eustachii quas eÌtenebris tandem vindicatas et Sanctissimi Domini Clermentis XI. Pont. Max. munificentiâ dono acceptas praefatione, notisque illustravit, ac ipso saae bibliothecae dedicationis dic publici juris fecit Jo. Maria Lancisius, Geneva: Coloniae Allobrogum sumptibus Cramer & Perachon, 1717, XVI + 34 p.)]

25 [Epicharmus of Cos (born c. 530 B.C., died c. 440 B.C.), Greek poet who, according to the Suda lexicon of the 10th century A. D., was the originator of Sicilian (or Dorian) comedy. He was born in a Dorian colony, either Megara Hybaea or Syracuse, both on Sicily, or Cos, one of the Dodecanese islands. He has been credited with more than 50 plays written in the Sicilian dialect; titles of 35 of his works survive, but the remains are scanty (see Ridgeway (William), “Epicharmus”, in The dramas and dramatic dances of non-European races in special reference to the origin of Greek tragedy, with an appendix on the origin of Greek comedy, Cambridge: The University press, 1915, pp. 406-407).]

26 [Xenophanes (born probably c. 560 B.C., at Colophon, Ionia; died probably c. 478), Greek poet, religious thinker, and reputed precursor of the Eleatic school of philosophy, which stressed unity rather than diversity and viewed the separate existences of material things as apparent rather than real.]

27 A few years ago, Monsieur V. Cousin, an eloquent philosopher, collected them [the poems of Xenophanes] and translated them into French. [M. de St.-Agy.] [Victor Cousin (born 28 November 1792, at Paris; died 13 January 1867, at Cannes, France), a French philosopher, educational reformer, and historian whose systematic eclecticism made him one of the best known French thinkers in his time (see Fairbanks (Arthur), The first philosophers of Greece [an edition and translation of the remaining fragments of the pre-Sokratic philosophers, together with a translation of the more important accounts of their opinions contained in the early epitomes of their works by Fairbanks Arthur], London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner and Co ltd, 1898, vii + [2] + 300 p.)]

28 [Parmenides (born c. 515 B.C.), Greek philosopher of Elea in southern Italy who founded Eleaticism, one of the leading pre-Socratic schools of Greek thought. His general teaching has been diligently reconstructed from the few surviving fragments of his principal work, a lengthy three-part verse composition titled On Nature (see Parmenides, The fragments of Parmenides [a critical text with introduction, and translation, the ancient testimonia and a commentary by Coxon A. H.], Assen (Netherlands); Dover (N. H.): Van Gorcum, 1986, vii + 277 p.; Dusapin (Pascal), Semino: chant à six voix (1984-1985): XVIIIe fragment du poeÌme de Parménide [partition], Paris: Salabert, 1997, 21 p.; and note 30, below).]

29 Sextus, Adversus Mathematicos, 7: 3. Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1: 5. Diogenes Laërtius, 9: 22. [M. de St.-Agy.] [Sextus Empiricus (fl. early 3rd century), ancient Greek philosopher-historian who produced the only extant comprehensive account of Greek Skepticism in his Outlines of Pyrrhonism and Against the Ethicists (see Sextus Empiricus, The skeptic way: Sextus Empiricus’s Outlines of Pyrrhonism [translated, with introduction and commentary by Mates Benson], New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, x + 335 p.; Against the ethicists (Adversus mathematicos XI) [translation, commentary, and introduction by Bett Richard], Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, xxxiv + 302 p.; Gegen die Wissenschaftler, Buch 1-6 [aus dem Griechischen übersetzt, eingeleitet und kommentiert von Jürss Fritz], Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2001, 164 p.); for Diogenes Laërtius, see Lesson, 7, note 31]

30 [In his poem on nature (see note 28, above), Parmenides held that the multiplicity of existing things, their changing forms and motion, are but an appearance of a single eternal reality (“Being”), thus giving rise to the Parmenidean principle that “all is one.” From this concept of Being, he went on to say that all claims of change or of non-Being are illogical. Because he introduced the method of basing claims about appearances on a logical concept of Being, he is considered one of the founders of metaphysics.]

31 [Zeno of Elea (born c. 495 B.C., died c. 430 B.C.), Greek philosopher and mathematician, whom Aristotle called the inventor of dialectic. He is especially known for his paradoxes that contributed to the development of logical and mathematical rigor and that were insoluble until the development of precise concepts of continuity and infinity (see Grünbaum (Adolf), Modern science and Zeno’s paradoxes [1st ed.], Middletown (Connecticut): Wesleyan University Press, 1967, x + 148 p.; Salmon (Wesley C.), Zeno’s paradoxes [edited by Salmon Wesley C.], Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1970, x + 309 p.)]

32 [Leucippus (fl. 5th century B.C., probably at Miletus, on the west coast of Asia Minor), Greek philosopher credited by Aristotle and by Theophrastus with having originated the theory of atomism. It has been difficult to distinguish his contribution from that of his most famous pupil, Democritus. Only fragments of Leucippus’s writings remain, but two works believed to have been written by him are The Great World System and On the Mind (see Leucippus, The atomists: Leucippus and Democritus. Fragments [a text and translation, with a commentary by Taylor Christopher Charles Whiston], Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999, 308 p.) His theory stated that matter is homogeneous but consists of an infinity of small indivisible particles. These atoms are constantly in motion, and through their collisions and regroupings form various compounds. A cosmos is formed by the collision of atoms that gather together into a “whirl,” and the drum-shaped Earth is located in the center of man’s cosmos.]

33 [Democritus of Abdera (born c. 460 B.C., died c. 370), Greek philosopher, a central figure in the development of the atomic theory of the universe. Knowledge of Democritus’s life is largely limited to untrustworthy tradition: it seems that he was a wealthy citizen of Abdera, in Thrace; that he traveled widely in the East; and that he lived to a great age. According to Diogenes Laërtius [see Lesson 7, note 31], his works numbered 73 (see Diogenes Laertius, Lives of eminent philosophers [with an English translation by Hicks R. D.], London: W. Heinemann; New York: G. P. Putnam’s sons, 1925, 2 vols); only a few hundred fragments have survived, mostly from his treatises on ethics (Cole (Thomas), Democritus and the Sources of Greek Anthropology, Cleveland (Ohio): Press of Western Reserve University, 1967, xii + 225 p.)]

34 [Aesculapius, see Lesson 4, note 19.]

35 [Gnidos or Cnidus, ancient Greek city on the Carian Chersonese, on the southwest coast of Anatolia. The city was an important commercial center, the home of a famous medical school, and the site of the observatory of the astronomer Eudoxus. Cnidus was one of six cities in the Dorian Hexapolis and hosted the Dorian games every four years. The Cnidians claimed they were of Spartan origin.]

36 [Hippocrates (born c. 460 B.C., on the island of Cos, Greece; died c. 377, at Larissa, Thessaly), Greek physician of antiquity who is traditionally regarded as the father of medicine. His name has long been associated with the so-called Hippocratic Oath –certainly not written by him– which in modified form is still often required to be taken by medical students on graduating.]

37 [On Fractures by Hippocrates (c. 400 B.C.), a treatise on the nature and treatment of bone fractures and dislocations, one of the writings that comprise what is now referred to as the Hippocratic Collection (see Hippocrates, The genuine works of Hippocrates [translated from the Greek with a preliminary discourse and annotations by Adams Francis], London: Sydenham Society, 1849, 2 vols).]

38 [Miltiades, the Younger (born c. 554 B.C., at Athens; died probably 489 B.C., Athens), Athenian general who led Athenian forces to victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490.]

39 [Clazomenae, ancient Ionian Greek city, located about 20 miles west of Izmir (Smyrna) in modern Turkey.]

40 [Pericles (born c. 495 B.C., at Athens; died 429, Athens), Athenian statesman largely responsible for the full development, in the later 5th century B.C., of both the Athenian democracy and the Athenian empire, making Athens the political and cultural focus of Greece. His achievements included the construction of the Acropolis, begun in 447.]

41 [Lampsacus, ancient Greek city on the Asiatic shore of the Hellespont, best known for its wines, and the chief seat of the worship of Priapus, a god of procreation and fertility.]

42 [Lucretius, see Lesson 11, note 5.]

43 [Mount Athos, a mountain in northern Greece (maximum elevation 2,033 m), site of a semiautonomous republic of Greek Orthodox monks inhabiting 20 monasteries and dependencies, some of which are larger than the parent monasteries.]

44 [Battle of Aegospotami (405 B.C.), naval victory of Sparta over Athens, final battle of the Peloponnesian War. The fleets of the two Greek rival powers faced each other in the Hellespont for four days without battle, until on the fifth day the Spartans under Lysander (died 395 B.C., at Haliartus, Boeotia), surprised the Athenians in their anchorage off Aegospotami. Conon (died c. 390 B.C.), the Athenian commander, escaped with only 20 of his 180 ships, and the 3,000-4,000 Athenians who were captured were put to death. The victory at Aegospotami enabled Lysander to proceed against Athens itself, forcing the Athenians to surrender in April 404.]

45 Why not? I am in agreement with Anaxagoras here. Many scholars share this opinion. I would even say with Monsieur [Dominique-François-Jean] Arago [born 26 February 1786, at Estagel, Roussillon, France; died 2 October 1853, at Paris] that I do not think it an impossibility that the center of the sun is inhabited; but since animals and plants on our globe vary from one climate to another, it is likely that they will vary even more from one planet to another. [M. de St.-Agy.] [Arago was a French physicist who discovered the principle of the production of magnetism by rotation of a nonmagnetic conductor. He also devised an experiment that proved the wave theory of light and engaged with others in research that led to the discovery of the laws of light polarization.]

Table des illustrations

Légende PYTHAGORAS. From the painting “School of Athens”, a 1511 fresco that adorns the Signature Room at the Vatican. Drawing in pen and brown ink (ca. 1509-1510) by Sanzio Rafaello, known as Raphael (1483-1520) preserved at the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan.
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