Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Click here for the text in ancient Greek.]

[image ALT: Faire clic ici pour une page en français.]

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]

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.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]

(Vol. I) Diogenes Laërtius
Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

Book II

 p135  Chapter 3
Anaxagoras1 (500‑428 B.C.)

[link to original Greek text] Anaxagoras, the son of Hegesibulus or Eubulus, was a native of Clazomenae. He was a pupil of Anaximenes, and was the first who set mind above  p137 matter, for at the beginning of his treatise, which is composed in attractive and dignified language, he says, "All things were together; then came Mind and set them in order." This earned for Anaxagoras himself the nickname of Nous or Mind, and Timon in his Silli says of him:2

Then, I ween, there is Anaxagoras, a doughty champion, whom they call Mind, because forsooth his was the mind which suddenly woke up and fitted closely together all that had formerly been in a medley of confusion.

He was eminent for wealth and noble birth, and furthermore for magnanimity, in that he gave up his patrimony to his relations. [link to original Greek text] For, when they accused him of neglecting it, he replied, "Why then do you not look after it?" And at last he went into retirement and engaged in physical investigation without troubling himself about public affairs. When some one inquired, "Have you no concern in your native land?" "Gently," he replied, "I am great concerned with my fatherland," and pointed to the sky.

He is said to have been twenty years old at the invasion of Xerxes and to have lived seventy‑two years. Apollodorus in his Chronology says that he was born in the 70th Olympiad,​3 and died in the first year of the 88th Olympiad.​4 He began to study philosophy at Athens in the archon­ship of Callias​5 when he was twenty; Demetrius of Phalerum states this in his list of archons; and at Athens they say he remained for thirty years.

[link to original Greek text] He declared the sun to be a mass of red‑hot metal and to be larger than the Peloponnesus, though others ascribe this view to Tantalus; he declared that there were dwellings on the moon, and moreover  p139 hills and ravines. He took as his principles the homoeomeries or homogeneous molecules; for just as gold consists of fine particles which are called gold-dust, so he held the whole universe to be compounded of minute bodies having parts homogeneous to themselves. His moving principle was Mind; of bodies, he said, some, like earth, were heavy, occupying the region below, others, light like fire, held the region above, while water and air were intermediate in position. For in this way over the earth, which is flat, the sea sinks down after the moisture has been evaporated by the sun. [link to original Greek text] In the beginning the stars moved in the sky as in a revolving dome, so that the celestial pole which is always visible was vertically overhead; but subsequently the pole took its inclined position. He held the Milky Way to be a reflection of the light of stars which are not shone upon by the sun; comets to be a conjunction of planets which emit flames; shooting-stars to be a sort of sparks thrown off by the air. He held that winds arise when the air is rarefied by the sun's heat; that thunder is a clashing together of the clouds, lightning their violent friction; an earthquake a subsidence of air into the earth.

Animals were produced from moisture, heat, and an earthy substance; later the spirit were propagated by generation from one another, males from the right side, females from the left.

[link to original Greek text] 10 There is a story that he predicted the fall of the meteoric stone at Aegospotami, which he said would fall from the sun.​6 Hence Euripides, who was his pupil, in the Phaëthon calls the sun itself a "golden clod."​7 Furthermore, when he went to Olympia,  p141 he sat down wrapped in a sheep-skin cloak as if it were going to rain; and the rain came. When some one asked him if the hills at Lampsacus would ever become sea, he replied, "Yes, it only needs time." Being asked to what end he had been born, he replied, "To study sun and moon and heavens." To one who inquired, "You miss the society of the Athenians?" his reply was, "Not I, but they miss mine." When he saw the tomb of Mausolus, he said, "A costly tomb is an image of an estate turned into stone."​8 [link to original Greek text] 11 To one who complained that he was dying in a foreign land, his answer was, "The descent to Hades is much the same from whatever place we start."

Favorinus in his Miscellaneous History says Anaxagoras was the first to maintain that Homer in his poems treats of virtue and justice, and that this thesis was defended at greater length by his friend Metrodorus of Lampsacus, who was the first to busy himself with Homer's physical doctrine. Anaxagoras was also the first to publish a book with diagrams.​9 Silenus​10 in the first book of his History gives the archon­ship of Demylus​11 as the date when the meteoric stone fell, [link to original Greek text] 12 and says that Anaxagoras declared the whole firmament to be made of stones; that the  p143 rapidity of rotation caused it to cohere; and that if this were relaxed it would fall.12

Of the trial of Anaxagoras different accounts are given. Sotion in his Succession of the Philosophers says that he was indicted by Cleon on a charge of impiety, because he declared the sun to be a mass of red‑hot metal; that his pupil Pericles defended him, and he was fined five talents and banished. Satyrus in his Lives says that the prosecutor was Thucydides, the opponent of Pericles, and the charge one of treasonable correspondence with Persia as well as of impiety; and that sentence of death was passed on Anaxagoras by default. [link to original Greek text] 13 When news was brought him that he was condemned and his sons were dead, his comment on the sentence was, "Long ago nature condemned both my judges and myself to death"; and on his sons, "I knew that my children were born to die." Some, however, tell this story of Solon, and others of Xenophon. That he buried his sons with his own hands is asserted by Demetrius of Phalerum in his work On Old Age. Hermippus in his Lives says that he was confined in the prison pending his execution; that Pericles came forward and asked the people whether they had any fault to find with him in his own public career; to which they replied that they had not. "Well," he continued, "I am a pupil of Anaxagoras; do not then be carried away by slanders and put him to death. Let me prevail upon you to release him." So he was released; but he could not brook the indignity he had suffered and committed suicide. [link to original Greek text] 14 Hieronymus in the second book of his Scattered Notes states that Pericles brought him into court so weak and wasted from illness that he owed his  p145 acquittal not so much to the merits of his case as to the sympathy of the judges. So much then on the subject of his trial.

He was supposed to have borne Democritus a grudge because he had failed to get into communication with him.​13 At length he retired to Lampsacus and there died. And when the magistrates of the city asked if there was anything he would like done for him, he replied that he would like them to grant an annual holiday to the boys in the month in which he died; and the custom is kept up to this day. [link to original Greek text] 15 So, when he died, the people of Lampsacus gave him honourable burial and placed over his grave the following inscription:14

Here Anaxagoras, who in his quest

Of truth scaled heaven itself, is laid to rest.

I also have written an epigram upon him:​15

The sun's a molten mass,

Quoth Anaxagoras;

This is his crime, his life must pay the price,

Pericles from that fate

Rescued his friend too late;

His spirit crushed, by his own hand he dies.

There have been three other men who bore the name of Anaxagoras [of whom no other writer gives a complete list]. The first was a rhetorician of the school of Isocrates; the second a sculptor, mentioned by Antigonus; the third a grammarian, pupil of Zenodotus.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Diels (Dox. Gr. p137) compares Hippolytus (Ref. Haer. I.8.1‑11); Aëtius, I.3.5; IV.1.3; II.20.6; II.21.3; II.28.5; II.29.7; II.23.2; II.25.9; III.1.5; III.2.2; III.2.9; III.3.4; III.15.14; V.7.4, and Theophrastus, Phys. Opin. Fr. 4. For Anaxagoras as astronomer see Sir T. L. Heath, Aristarchus of Samos, pp78‑85.

2 Fr. 24 D.

3 500‑497 B.C.

4 428 B.C.

5 i.e. 456 B.C.; but possibly the year 480 is meant, when Calliades was archon.

6 This version agrees with Pliny, Nat. Hist. II.149 "celebrant Graeci Anaxagoram Clazomenium Olympiadis septuagesimae octavae secundo anno praedixisse caelestium litterarum scientia quibus diebus saxum casurum esset e sole."

7 Nauck, T. G. F.2, Eur. 783.

8 Anaxagoras, whose death falls in the fifth century, circa 428‑425 B.C., could not possibly have seen the famous Mausoleum erected by Artemisia, the widow of Mausolus, not earlier than 350 B.C. Mausolus ruled over Caria, according to Diodorus, from 377 to 353. The apophthegm is therefore either wrongly attributed to Anaxagoras or, if genuine, must have been uttered on some other occasion.

9 From Plutarch's Life of Nicias, c. 23, and Clement of Alexandria (Strom. I.78, p34 P.), διὰ γραφῆς (for which Diels conjectures <μετὰ> διαγραφῆς) ἐκδοῦναι βιβλίον ἱστοροῦσιν, the inference seems to be that Anaxagoras was credited with diagrams as well as text, διδασκαλία καὶ γραφή. Laertius, if the text is sound, is much too vague; and some translate "was the first to bring out a book written by himself."

10 Silenus of Calatia, who served in the Hannibalic war, wrote a History quoted by Cicero, Livy and Pliny; also a work on Sicily, F. H. G. III.100.

11 We know no archon Demylus. Various dates are suggested by critics; the years of (1) Demotion, archon 470, (2) Lysistratus, 467, (3) Diphilus, 442 B.C. The letters ‑μυλου may not be part of the archon's name but a distinct word, calling the meteor a "millstone," i.e. in size.

12 This version of the story agrees with that of Plutarch in his Life of Lysander, § 12 λέγεται δὲ . . . τοῦ παντός.

13 In IX.34, 35 the statement that Democritus was hostile to Anaxagoras and criticized his doctrines is ascribed to Favorinus, and, as the motive alleged is similar, Favorinus may also be the source of the statement of II.14.

14 Anth. Pal. VII.94.

15 Anth. Pal. VII.95.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 5 Mar 18