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Empedocles, the Eccentric Philosopher

by May 16, 2022

By Jocelyn Hitchcock, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Empedocles, born c. 490 BCE in Akragas, Sicily, is perhaps one of the more eccentric pre-Socratic philosophers. He himself claimed other-worldly powers, is credited by Aristotle as the inventor of rhetoric, and is thought to have originated the cosmogonic theory of the four elements: fire, air, water, and earth.
Temple in Akragas
The temple of Hera at Akragas, built when Empedocles was a young man, c. 470 BC.
Empedocles’ Personal Life
While relatively little is known about Empedocles’ personal life, we do know he was born to a wealthy family who was involved in the overthrow of the Akragas tyrant in 470 BC.
Diogenes relates the ambiguity regarding exactly of whom Empedocles was a student. He offered the following options: that he was a student of Pythagoras himself, that he was a student of the Pythagorean school under the instruction of Huppasus and Brontinus, or that he could have originally been under the influence of Xenophanes and later “fell in with the Pythagoreans.” All of this confusion is due to the fact that Empedocles promoted his poetry at the start and the Pythagorean school had a law to admit no Epic poet. Indeed, he is generally considered the last Greek philosopher to have recorded his ideas in verse.
Papyrus fragment
A piece of the Strasbourg Empedocles papyrus in the Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire, Strasbourg
Empedocles himself had one pupil mentioned, Gorgias, and his travels to the Peloponnese, Attica, and Thurii were mentioned by authors such as Timaeus and Dicaearchus.
Empedocles’ Philosophy
Empedocles’ philosophy and teachings are taken from the remaining fragments of his epics ‘On Nature’ and ‘Purifications.’ The core of Empedocles’ philosophy relied on the notion that all things are transformed and manipulated between the four worldly elements of fire, air, water, and earth, and that nothing is destroyed and nothing is created new. He believed that everything in the universe was made of these four root elements and was conscious.
Illustration of Empedocles
Empedocles as portrayed in the Nuremberg Chronicle
Combined with this attempt to simplify and organize the world, Empedocles’ doctrine promoted the idea that love was the unseen force holding things together, while strife was the force by which things were pulled apart. Love and Strife, then, were the ways in which the four elements were able to interact and mix together.
Empedocles’ philosophy about the universe was in response to the contemporary Eleatic School which was founded by Parmenides in southern Italy. The Eleatic School promoted the idea that “all is one” in the universe and everything existed in a single entity. Empedocles pushed back a little by saying all is composed of the same four elements. While this concept is similar at the root of the argument, it did differ enough to constitute a separate philosophical school.
Empedocles' philosophy
Empedocles cosmic cycle is based on the conflict between love and strife
Empedocles’ Science
Even though the line between Empedocles’ philosophy and Empedocles’ science is blurred to say the least, he did undertake what we would even recognize today as “scientific testing.”
Empedocles was (unsurprisingly) not very thorough. He did, though, prove that air was not empty space by using a clepsydra, which is a water clock or any timepiece by which time is measured by the regulated flow of liquid into or out from a vessel, and where the amount is then measured. He did this by filling the clepsydra with water while covering the hole at the top. This allowed for his element of air to be an active ‘ingredient’ in comparison with earth, water, and fire – all tangible and manipulative elements.
Water clock
Illustration of a water clock (clepsydra)
Another theory of Empedocles comes down to us through Aristotle in De Sensu. Empedocles thought that the light from the sun passed through intermediary space before being processed by our eyes, moving through space by whatever force. Indeed, Empedocles is credited with the first comprehensive theory of light and vision.
But perhaps one of the more advanced undertakings of Empedocles gives us what is thought to be the earliest extant attempt to discern the origin of species. He introduces zoogony, or generations of animals, in his attempts to explain the origin and development of biological life as a coming together and unfolding of birth. He uses examples of wild animals, humans, and plants as his proofs. This theory is strongly in line with his overarching philosophy of things in strife and things in love. Indeed, we see what Empedocles thought was the practical application of such rules.
Illustration of the Philosopher
Empedocles (of Acagras in Sicily) was a philosopher and poet: one of the most important of the philosophers working before Socrates (the Presocratics)
Empedocles’ Death and Legacy
Empedocles’ death is the stuff of legends, as he was mythologized by ancient writers. One story of which is where he died by throwing himself into Mount Etna, allowing him to turn into an immortal god. Another includes Empedocles being removed from the earth and his exact age at death is disputed anywhere between age 60 and age 109.
Further descriptions of Empedocles and his ideas are recorded by Aristotle, Diogenes, Pliny, and Horace’s Ars Poetica. Aristotle called him the father of rhetoric and Lucretius speaks of him with enthusiasm, and evidently viewed him as his model. Much later his death is at the center of a 1826 play by Friedrich Holderlin, ‘Tod des Empedokles,’ and Matthew Arnold’s 1852 poem titled ‘Empedocles on Etna.’ While this eccentric philosopher may not be a household name today, he was clearly very influential in the ancient world and thus deserves our attention.

Seneca in Exile

by February 27, 2022

Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC – AD 65), Lucius Annaeus Seneca was a (very rich) Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, and dramatist. He was born in Cordoba in Hispania, and raised in Rome, where he was trained in rhetoric and philosophy (mostly with teachers from the short-lived School of the Sextii, which combined Stoicism with Pythagoreanism).
Interestingly, Seneca’s life and fame really began with his exile. Miriam Griffin says in her biography of Seneca that “the evidence for Seneca’s life before his exile in 41 is so slight, and the potential interest of these years, for social history as well as for biography, is so great that few writers on Seneca have resisted the temptation to eke out knowledge with imagination.”
But what about his exile? It all began when Claudius became emperor in 41 AD. The new empress Messalina accused Seneca of adultery with Julia Livilla, sister to Caligula and Agrippina. Whether the affair actually took place or not is unknown. Indeed, many are dubious of the accusation because Messalina had clear political motives for getting rid of Julia Livilla and her supporters. Seneca was sentenced to death by the Senate, but fortunately for both us and Seneca, Claudius commuted the sentence to mere exile.
Consequently, Seneca spent the next eight years on the island of Corsica, where he wrote two of his earliest surviving works: Consolation to Helvia and Consolation to Polybius. The former was to his poor mother who mourned his exile as if it were his death, and being the good son he was, he tried to console her about the shocking turn of events. The latter, while also a consolation letter, is more known for its flattery of the emperor, which Seneca wrote in the hope that Claudius would recall him from exile.
1669 edition of Seneca’s Consolations
This finally came to fruition when Agrippina married her uncle Claudius in 49 AD. Through her influence Seneca was allowed to return to Rome, where he gained the praetorship and was given the additional and very important role as tutor to Agrippina’s son, the future emperor Nero.
From AD 54 to 62, Seneca acted as Nero’s advisor, and was appointed suffect consul in 56. Seneca’s influence was said to have been especially strong in the first year, and subsequently Tacitus and Cassius Dio suggest that Nero’s early rule was quite competent. Sadly this did not last.
Ironically, Seneca ensured the exile of consul Publius Suillius Rufus in 58 AD after Sullius had made a series of public attacks on Seneca. In response, Seneca prosecuted Sullius for corruption and half of his estate was confiscated and he was sent into exile.
Seneca’s story does not end well. In AD 65, Gaius Calpurnius Piso, conspired to assassinate Nero, and somehow Seneca was implicated as complicite. While it is unlikely he was involved, Nero nonetheless ordered Seneca to kill himself.
The Death of Seneca, Manuel Domínguez Sánchez
The Death of Seneca, Manuel Domínguez Sánchez, 1871
Seneca choose a traditional suicide of bleeding to death. Both Cassius Dio and Tacitus wrote accounts of the event. Cassius Dio, who wished to emphasize the relentlessness of Nero, focused on how Seneca had attended to his last-minute letters before following the tradition of severing his veins, while Tacitius romanticized the events, writing:
He was then carried into a bath, with the steam of which he was suffocated, and he was burnt without any of the usual funeral rites. So he had directed in a codicil of his will, even when in the height of his wealth and power he was thinking of life’s close.” 
However he died, it was considered a truly stoic death.

The Arche: Elements of Life in Early Greek Philosophy

by February 19, 2022

by Zoe Grabow
It’s one of the earliest concepts in Greek philosophy.
The arche was first conceived of over 2,500 years ago. While it is hardly scientific, it is still relevant to how we perceive our existence today. It is an elemental life force from which all things emerge, and essentially early philosophy’s answer to the question of what is the true “beginning” of things. It was a major area of concern for the Pre-Socratic philosophers, who spent lot of effort deciding which element was deserving enough to be called the arche and why. The concept of the arche is deeply linked to monism, the belief that all of the universe is made of a single element. Different Pre-Socratics each came to their own conclusions about what exactly this fundamental substance could be. Let’s have a look…
Thales of Miletus
Thales of Miletus, the earliest Greek philosopher, thought the arche to be water, since many things float in water. This was a particularly compelling point, as in ancient times land was believed to float in water as well. Though since disproven, the idea of water as arche was nevertheless intuitive; a certain degree of moisture is always present in food, the air, and ourselves. Life cannot exist without it.
Thales of Miletus
Thales of Miletus
Anaximenes identified air as the arche. Air, he stated, could be modified to create water through condensation, fire through rarefication, and (somewhat less credibly) even earth and stone through further condensation. Given that people breathe much more often than during other voluntary activities—and that people die the fastest when deprived of air—their inextricable link to the substance they breathe informs this choice of arche. Air is essential to life, making it a natural pick for philosophers trying to find the most basic life-giving principle.
That many species breathe air is indisputable, and breathing could be understood as the most basic activity of living. Breathing makes consciousness possible, makes energy, eating, drinking water, and hygienic activities possible. If we rest the world only on human shoulders, this might be the most fitting arche selection
Taking a different approach from Thales (his teacher) and Anaximenes (his student), Anaximander argued that the arche was the apeiron: often translated as indefinite, or as humans understand it, the great unknown. Water could not work, he claimed, because it could not produce fire, its opposite element. Extrapolating this to the other elements, he found that no element could work in creating its opposite in a world where all four were present. Therefore, for his first principle Anaximander turned to the great unknown, from which humans originate and where eventually they will return.
Anaximander’s wisdom comes in endorsing an arche that is difficult to prove or disprove, by virtue of the unknown contained in the great unknown. Humans’ lack of knowledge regarding existence before birth and after death make this quite a palatable theory. One thrills at all of the possibilities: reincarnation, naturalism (the belief that humans return to a state of nothingness when they die), or the religious concept of heaven, among countless others. Life limits people’s observations, and any experience outside the lifespan can be argued for but not proven. By identifying the arche as the indefinite, Anaximander ascribed to the world the following qualities: temporal, changeable, and vast, much like the human lifespan. Yet the indefinite seems to reach beyond humanity, as well—little can escape the unknown—and is objective enough to nominate the best, widest-reaching arche choice of the Milesians.
Mosaic of Anaximander
Mosaic of Anaximander
A Different Approach
Each of these ideas is compelling, but they all have their limitations. Perhaps the problem is not with the concept of the arche, but with a strict understanding of monism. Yet a different approach is possible. The key is understanding that priority monism argues that the world is the sum of its parts; each part is dependent on other parts and the overall whole. Fire, water, earth, air, the unknown: any combination of these is present in everyday living. Fire and water mean food, which nourishes in a way it could not if these elements were acting separately. Add water to earth and plants grow. Combine the unknown with any element in a scientific experiment, and with luck and skill new knowledge is revealed.
Each combination is stronger and has more variation than a singular use, and is at its most powerful with all parts acting simultaneously. Thales, Anaximenes, and Anaximander may be ancient philosophers, but their ideas can still be experienced today through simple appreciation of the elements and the unknown—and how all these enhance lives, especially in combination.

A New Way In to Plato’s Republic…

by July 23, 2021

By Angie Hobbs, Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield
I grew up reading Ladybird books in the 1960s and 1970s, and feel a deep affection for them (and indeed still possess – and use – quite a few on British flora and fauna). So when I was asked if I wanted to write one for the new Ladybird Expert series, I leaped at the chance.
Choosing a topic was easy: in my role promoting the public (and my own!) understanding of philosophy, I have in recent years found myself turning more and more to Plato’s Republic to elucidate topics of urgent current concern. There is so much to learn from, for example, Plato’s brilliant and incisive analysis of how a democracy can be subverted to tyranny by a cynical and opportunistic demagogue, or his scathing exposé of sophists and their peddling of ‘alternative facts’. Deciding on the structure was also easy. The Ladybird Expert format is strict: precisely 24 pages of text (in a font which allows for ca. 270–290 words per page) and accompanying illustrations.
One of the UK’s classic Ladybird children’s books
Plato is a superb teacher. Starting with the fundamental questions, ‘Why should I be just? What’s in it for me?’, he guides us seamlessly through the ethical and political ramifications and shows how they can be answered only by exploring their roots in psychology, epistemology, metaphysics and aesthetics. All I had to do was trust the basic structure of The Republic itself, add a couple of introductory pages on Plato’s life, times and work, plus a conclusion on the abiding influence of The Republic in a wide variety of fields and its acute relevance for us today.
That was where the easy part ended. The Republic is an immensely rich, densely argued and in places very difficult dialogue, and I had to tick many boxes. My introduction needed to be clear, concise and engaging; I also wanted not just to summarize but also to raise questions for the reader to ponder – after all, Plato never writes in his own voice, but employs the dialogue form because he wants his readers to think for themselves. The summarizing was perhaps the hardest aspect of all. I once wrote a 90,000- word book on Plato called Plato and the Hero, and much of it was on The Republic. Condensing what I wanted to say to around 5,500 words was often painful: not just slicing away excess flesh but cutting into bone. I was counting not only words but characters and spaces, and was able to exceed the suggested word length simply by dint of using shorter words.
The 24 illustrations were also a challenge, although I loved collaborating with the immensely gifted and imaginative Angelo Rinaldi. I had to come up with the idea for each one, and I then worked closely with Angelo on details of design and colour. In fact, when being forced to cut out yet another metaphysical argument became too painful, I found solace in researching hairstyles or Pamphylian armour (for the Myth of Er) or what exact dyes were available in fifth-century Athens (when the dialogue is set, although Plato wrote it in the fourth century).
Another classic Ladybird book on Ancient Greece
I have always been interested in art, but coming up with ways to depict or suggest some of the philosophical subjects was not easy, particularly the perfect and eternal Forms (such as the Form of the Good), which cannot be apprehended by the senses. But I found that if I was cunning I could use the images not simply to convey atmosphere but to smuggle in additional information that there had not been room to include in the text.
I learned a lot. Although I have studied and written about The Republic for many years, I had not known much about how it was physically composed, copied and distributed around the Greek world (in the following century it appears in the great library in Alexandria); nor had I been fully aware of just how many individuals, disciplines and art forms it has influenced. The film The Matrix, for example, adapts the Simile of the Cave in its disturbing portrayal of humans unknowingly trapped in a fake reality.
All the evidence pointed to what I had long felt myself. Despite the fact that most of us find some of the proposals put forward by the character of Socrates too extreme – such as the abolition of the nuclear family amongst the Guardian class and, indeed, the totalitarian nature of the ideally just state in general – Plato nevertheless asks absolutely the right questions, and his devastating analysis of the moral and political ills of his day is still only too pertinent.
Furthermore, in moving away from a theory of justice conceived in terms of external actions towards a notion of justice as internal psychic harmony, he gives us one of the truly seminal turning-points in Western thought, and one which Freud acknowledges as fundamental to his own work. We may well profoundly disagree with some features of the ideal state that Socrates outlines, but The Republic remains a treasure trove and each new generation will be able to find much in it to illuminate the challenges it faces.
Originally published in ARGO: A Hellenic Review, Issue 10, 2019, Edited by Dr Daisy Dunn for the Hellenic Society
Angie Hobbs can be heard on the BBC podcast, “In Our Time” discussing Marcus Aurelius HERE and will also be speaking at our Symposium in August

On God, An Extract from ‘How To Keep An Open Mind’

by June 8, 2021

Text by Pyrrhonist philosopher Sextus Empiricus (c. 160 – c. 210 AD) translated by Richard Bett, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Since most people have declared that god is a most active cause, let’s first examine god, with this preface—that following ordinary life without opinions, we say that there are gods and we worship gods and we say that they show providence; it’s against the rashness of the dogmatists that we say the following things.
[Note: ordinary Greek religion recognized a huge number of different gods, often at odds with one another. But philosophers, even if they recognized numerous distinct divine beings, tended to conceive of the divine as united in a single character and a single purpose. Hence it makes sense that Sextus uses the plural “gods” in speaking of his adherence to ordinary religion, but the singular when discussing dogmatic views.]
When we conceive objects, we ought to conceive their being—for example, whether they are bodies or incorporeal. But also their forms; no one could conceive a horse without first having learned the form of a horse. Also, what is conceived ought to be conceived as somewhere.
Well, since some of the dogmatists say that god is a body, others that he is incorporeal; and some that he is human in form, others not; and some that he is in a place, others not; and of those who say he is in a place, some say this is within the universe, some outside it; how are we going to be able to gain a conception of god, if we don’t have any agreement on his being, or his form, or a place he occupies?
God the Father, by Guercino
They should first agree on a common view, that god is such-and-such; only then, after giving us an outline of him, should they expect us to gain a conception of god. As long as they are in unresolved dispute, we don’t have from them any agreement on what we are to conceive.
But they say, once you have conceived something imperishable and blessed, consider that to be god. But this is silly. The person who doesn’t know Dion [note: often used as the name of an arbitrary person, like our Jane or John Doe] cannot conceive of his attributes, either, as those of Dion; in the same way, since we do not know the being of god, we also won’t be able to learn or conceive his attributes.
And aside from that, they should tell us what “blessed” is—is it what acts according to virtue and shows providence toward those things ranked below it, or is it what is inactive and neither has any trouble itself nor produces any for others? [Note: These are the Stoic and Epicurean conceptions of god respectively.] In fact, since they are in an unresolved dispute about this too, they have made us unable to conceive what’s blessed, and therefore also god.
But even allowing that god is conceived, it is necessary to suspend judgment on whether he exists or does not exist (as far as the dogmatists are concerned). That god exists is not clear on its face. If he came to our attention all by himself, the dogmatists would be of one voice on what he is, and of what kind, and where; but the unresolved dispute has made him seem to us to be unclear and in need of a demonstration.
Depiction of Sextus Empiricus.

Well, the person who demonstrates that there is a god demonstrates this either by means of something clear on its face or by means of something unclear. And there’s no way it can be by something clear on its face; for if what demonstrates that there is a god was clear on its face, then since what is demonstrated is conceived in relation to what does the demonstrating, and for that reason is grasped together with it, as we established, it will also be clear on its face that there is a god—that will be grasped together with what demonstrates it, which is clear on its face. [Note in reference to ‘as we have established’: this can be found in the discussion of demonstration in book II, which I have not included. But the very same point is made about signs at II.125; see n.5 in chapter 4. (The argument is just as fishy here.)]

But it is not clear on its face, as we mentioned; therefore it is not demonstrated by means of something clear on its face. But not by something unclear either. For the unclear thing that has the job of demonstrating that there is a god will be in need of demonstration. If it is said to be demonstrated by something clear on its face, it will no longer be unclear but clear on its face. The unclear thing that has the job of demonstrating it is therefore not demonstrated by something clear on its face.
But not by something unclear either; for the person who says this will fall into an infinite regress—we’ll always be asking for a demonstration of the unclear point brought up as a demonstration of the one offered the previous time.
Therefore it cannot be demonstrated that there is a god from something else. But if it’s neither clear on its face by itself, nor is it demonstrated by something else, we will not be in a position to grasp whether there is a god.
There is also this to be said. The person who says that there is a god says either that he has providence for the things in the universe, or that he does not; and if he does have providence, it’s either for everything or for just some things. But if he had providence for everything, there wouldn’t be anything bad or any flaw in the universe; yet they say that everything is full of flaws; therefore god won’t be said to have providence for everything.
Painting of god, author unknown
But if he has providence for just some things, why does he have providence for these things and not those? For either he both wants and is able to have providence for everything; or he wants to but is not able to; or he is able to but doesn’t want to; or he neither wants nor is able to. But if he both wanted to and was able to, he would have providence for everything; but he doesn’t have providence for everything, given what was just said; therefore it’s not that he both wants and is able to have providence for everything.
If he wants to but is not able to, he is weaker than what causes him to be unable to have providence for the things he doesn’t have providence for; but it goes against the conception of god for him to be weaker than anything. If he can have providence for everything, but doesn’t want to, he must be considered to be malicious. And if he neither wants to nor can, he is both malicious and weak; but people who say that about god are impious. Therefore god does not have providence for the things in the universe.
Source: Wikimedia
But if he doesn’t show providence for anything, and he doesn’t do any work or accomplish anything, one will not be able to say how it is grasped that there is a god, seeing that he is neither apparent by himself nor is grasped by means of some accomplishments. For these reasons too, therefore, we are not in a position to grasp whether there is a god.
From these points we reckon that those who say with full commitment that there is a god are probably forced into impiety. If they say that he has providence for everything, they will be saying that god is a cause of bad things, while if they say that he has providence for just some things, or even for nothing, they will be forced to say that god is either malicious or weak—and people who say these things are quite clearly impious.
This extract from the book “How to Keep An Open Mind” (Princeton University Press, 2021) was published with the permission of the author.

Hesiod and Anaximander In Comparison

by March 26, 2021

Written by Nicholaos Jones, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

Ancient Greek philosophy begins in Miletus, an illustrious Greek colony along the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea. Before the Milesian philosophers, however, there were the mythic poets. The history of ancient Greek philosophy is, in some sense, a history of breaking with the strategy these poets use to explain why things are they way they are.

Homer (c. 750 BCE) is the best known of the mythic poets. For purposes of comparison with the Milesians, however, Hesiod (c. 700 BCE) is more relevant. Hesiod’s Theogony offers an account for the origin of the gods—from the beginning of the world, through various battles among the gods, to the rise of Zeus and the birth of Zeus’ children. The explanatory strategy is genealogical.

First there is Chasm, a yawning gap or void space.

Chaos, by George Frederic Watts, around 1875

Earth appears as a flat disk within this gap, and the underworld appears beneath as an enclosed space to contain the roots of what might grow upon the surface. Love appears as well, a procreative force responsible for generating offspring from parents.

Bosch’s Creation of the World, by Wolfe von Lenkiewicz

Then Chasm and Earth undergo parthenogenesis, reproduction without fertilization. From Chasm come Gloom and Night. From Earth, at first, comes Sky; then, soon after, Hills and Sea. Love’s intervention prompts incestuous union between Chasm and Night, begetting Brightness and Day. Earth and Sky give birth to the encircling Ocean and the brute, uncontrollable titanic forces that shape the land contained therein.

Chaos, The Genesis, by Ivan Aivazovsky, 1841

 The titans, in time, beget the gods and goddesses. The divinities, in turn, intervene within the realm of mortals, enacting their whimsical and capricious wills.

Hesiod’s account is not scientific, in our sense of scientific. But it is systematic, because each begotten individual has its own powers and its own domain of rule. It is also explanatory; these powers account for phenomena such as earthquakes (Poseidon shaking the earth below the sea) and storms (Zeus hurling thunderbolts).

Mythical depiction, artist unknown

The history of ancient Greek philosophy is, in some sense, a history of breaking with Hesiod’s explanatory strategy. The first Greek philosopher whose writing we actually have is the Milesian Anaximander (610 BCE – 546 BCE).

Anaximander offers an account of the origins of the world that illustrates a new style of explanation—a philosophical, and perhaps even scientific, style. Unlike Hesiod, Anaximander does not invoke interactions among divine entities. Instead, he restricts himself to interactions among natural processes.

Wood-inlay image representing chaos magnum, the “great gulf” (Luke 16:26), in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo, Italy. By Giovan Francesco Capoferri, based on a design by Lorenzo Lotto.

Anaximander calls the original state of the world apeiron. This he defines as a primordial stuff that secretes, or separates out, polarities such as hot and cold. These powers, unlike the primordial stuff, are definite and bounded. Because each one has a definite identity that excludes its contrary, these powers are thereby bounded (or limited) by its opposite. The apeiron, in contrast, excludes nothing and therefore has no definite identity or function.

After the apeiron secretes the contraries, it steers (kubernein) them into a structured order—akin to the way a pilot steers a ship in a specific direction, or a leader steers a group into a team. The result is a muddy nucleus surrounded by a layer of air and, further out, a shell of fire. When this structured mass bursts, the fire separates into a series of concentric rings of flame. The outermost ring is the sun; the middle, the moon; the inner rings, stars. Air surrounds the rings, making them mostly invisible. But the air contains holes. Fire from the outermost ring of the sun passes through the largest of these holes, separating the muddy nucleus into earth and sea. The holes also move, and their motion explains the regular appearance and disappearance of the celestial bodies.

Anaximander’s cosmogony retains significant parallels with Hesiod’s. According to Hesiod, creation proceeds from Chasm to Gaia, then onward to opposing powers which beget the separation of the celestial and terrestrial realms, and from there the structures of the earth. Although Anaximander abandons Hesiod’s mythological posits, he retains the general structure of Hesiod’s explanatory sequence, conceptualizing creation as proceeding from the apeiron to the separation of air from earth, onward to rings of fire and their separation into heavenly bodies, and finally to the separation of air from sea.

Despite this general similarity, there are significant dissimilarities of detail. For example, according to Hesiod, Chasm is dark, surrounds its creation, and persists within the creation. By contrast, according to Anaximander, the apeiron is none of these. Hesiod also conceptualizes three basic forces—Chasm, Gaia, and Eros. By contrast, Anaximander replaces Chasm with boundless, yet orderly, erotic attraction (Eros).

Moreover, Hesiod presents his account as authoritative because it comes from the Muses. Anaximander’s account, by contrast, derives its authority from the capacity of others to follow his reasoning, to assent or demur from the intelligibility of his conclusions without regard for divine inspiration.

We are prone nowadays to treat scientific inquiry as radically different from mythology. Comparing Hesiod and Anaximander reveals intimations of these differences. Hesiod grounds his inquiries upon private inspiration, and his explanations appeal to divine action. Anaximander, by contrast, grounds his inquiries upon public reason, and his explanations appeal to impersonal forces. Yet comparing Hesiod and Anaximander also reveals that Anaximander’s scientific approach is continuous with Hesiod’s mythological approach. Anaximander’s explanatory concerns closely resemble Hesiod’s, and the structure of Anaximander’s explanations imitates the structure of Hesiod’s. This is, perhaps, some reason for treating scientific inquiry as mythology matured rather than mythology abandoned.