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Bill Thayer

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

Book II

 p131  Chapter 1
Anaximander1 (611‑546 B.C.)

[link to original Greek text] Anaximander, the son of Praxiades, was a native of Miletus. He laid down as his principle and element that which is unlimited without defining it as air or water or anything else. He held that the parts undergo change, but the whole is unchangeable; that the earth, which is of spherical shape, lies in the midst, occupying the place of a centre; that the moon, shining with borrowed light, derives its illumination from the sun; further, that the sun is as large as the earth and consists of the purest fire.2

He was the first inventor of the gnomon and set it up for a sundial in Lacedaemon,​3 as is stated by Favorinus in his Miscellaneous History, in order to mark the solstices and the equinoxes; he also constructed clocks to tell the time. [link to original Greek text] He was the first to draw on a map the outline of land and sea, and he constructed a globe as well.

His exposition of his doctrines took the form of a summary which no doubt came into the hands, among others, of Apollodorus of Athens. He says in his Chronology that in the second year of the 58th p133Olympiad​4 Anaximander was sixty-four, and that he died not long afterwards. Thus he flourished almost at the same time as Polycrates the tyrant of Samos.​5 There is a story that the boys laughed at his singing, and that, when he heard of it, he rejoined, "Then to please the boys I must improve my singing."

There is another Anaximander, also of Miletus, a historian who wrote in the Ionic dialect.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 With this Life Diels (Dox. Gr. p133) compares Hippolytus (Ref. Haer. I.6), Plutarch (Strom. 2), Aëtius, I.3.3; III.11.1; III.10.2; II.11.5; II.20.1; II.24.2; II.29.1; II.21.1; III.15.6; V.19.4, which go back to Theophrastus, Phys. Opin. Fr. 2.

2 These astronomical discoveries belong properly to Anaxagoras.

3 But see Herodotus II.109, who makes the Babylonians the inventors.

4 547‑546 B.C.

5 There is a chronological difficulty in this statement of Diogenes, for Polycrates of Samos died in 522. The difficulty, however, disappears if the statement be taken to refer not to Anaximander but to Pythagoras.

Thayer's Note: Polycrates seized power in Samos in 540 or thereabouts. I've been unable to discover his age at the time, but he must surely have been at least twenty, and thus born when Anaximander was 37 or even younger; to which we add Diogenes' qualifier, "almost" (πη μάλιστα). There is thus no chronological difficulty.

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Page updated: 3 Apr 18