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Zeno of Elea

This webpage reproduces one of the
Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

Diogenes Laërtius

published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1925

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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(Vol. II) Diogenes Laërtius
Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

Book IX

 p439  Chapter 5

[link to original Greek text] 30 Leucippus was born at Elea, but some say at Abdera and others at Miletus. He was a pupil of Zeno. His views were these. The sum of things  p441 is unlimited, and they all change into one another. The All includes the empty as well as the full. The worlds are formed when atoms fall into the void and are entangled with one another; and from their motion as they increase in bulk arises the substance of the stars. The sun revolves in a larger circle round the moon. The earth rides steadily, being whirled about the centre; its shape is like that of a drum. Leucippus was the first to set up atoms as first principles. Such is a general summary of his views; on particular points they are as follows.

[link to original Greek text] 31 He declares the All to be unlimited, as already stated; but of the All part is full and part empty,2 and these he calls elements. Out of them arise the worlds unlimited in number and into them they are dissolved. This is how the worlds are formed. In a given section many atoms of all manner of shapes are carried from the unlimited into the vast empty space. These collect together and form a single vortex, in which they jostle against each other and, circling round in every possible way, separate off, by like atoms joining like. And, the atoms being so numerous that they can no longer revolve in equilibrium, the light ones pass into the empty space outside, as if they were being winnowed; the remainder keep together and, becoming entangled, go on their circuit together, and form a primary spherical system. [link to original Greek text]32 This parts off like a shell, enclosing within it atoms of all kinds; and, as these are whirled round by virtue of the resistance of the centre, the enclosing shell becomes thinner, the adjacent atoms continually combining when they touch the vortex.  p443 In this way the earth is formed by portions brought to the centre coalescing. And again, even the outer shell grows larger by the influx of atoms from outside, and, as it is carried round in the vortex, adds to itself whatever atoms it touches. And of these some portions are locked together and form a mass, at first damp and miry, but, when they have dried and revolve with the universal vortex, they afterwards take fire and form the substance of the stars.

[link to original Greek text] 33 The orbit of the sun is the outermost, that of the moon nearest to the earth; the orbits of the other heavenly bodies lie between these two. All the stars are set on fire by the speed of their motion; the burning of the sun is also helped by the stars; the moon is only slightly kindled. The sun and the moon are eclipsed <when . . ., but the obliquity of the zodiacal circle is due>3 to the inclination of the earth to the south; the regions of the north are always shrouded in mist, and are extremely cold and frozen. Eclipses of the sun are rare; eclipses of the moon constantly occur, and this because their orbits are unequal. As the world is born, so, too, it grows, decays and perishes, in virtue of some necessity, the nature of which he does <not> specify.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 With the account of Leucippus and Democritus Diels (op. cit. p142) compares Hippolytus, Ref. Haeres. I.12.1‑2 and I.13.1; Aëtius I.3.15, I.18.3, II.1.4, II.2.2, II.7.2, I.3.16; ultimately from Theophrastus, Phys. Opin. Fr. 8.

2 By the "full" is meant matter, atoms; by the "empty," space.

3 So Diels; but see T. L. Heath, Aristarchus p122, note 3, who prefers to supply "the obliquity of the circles of the stars." Cf. also Aët. III.12.1‑2 (Dox. Gr. p377).

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Page updated: 15 Feb 18