Anaximander was born around 610 BC and died around 546 BC. He was the first person known to have placed the Earth in a very particular way, at the centre of the then known Universe. The amazing difference that he proposed – that there was nothing supporting the Earth. He proposed that it was simply suspended and was held there because it was equidistant from all other celestial bodies. Was this a forerunner to some understanding of gravity or was it the beginnings of mathematical modelling, or born out of a world view that could not conceive of any other shape other than a circle when it came to describing the heavens? What and who influenced his thinking to form such a concept? We only know how Greek civilization thought, from their writings and from those who wrote about their writings. We can also study their art, their coins, buildings, architecture, artifacts, and the layout of their towns and cities.
Pliny, in ‘Natural History 2’, said
“It is said that Anaximander of Miletus first opened the doors of nature”
(“Rerum fores aperuisse, Anaximander Milesius traditur primus” for those Latinists among you)
This quote is actually at the beginning of Carlo Rovelli’s ‘Anaximander’. Rovelli is an astrophysicist, physicist, and forging new paths in cosmology. He says of Anaximander,
“Anaximander ignited a conflict between two profoundly different ways of thinking. On the one hand there was the dominant mythical and religious way of thinking, based in large measure on the existence of certainties that, by their very nature, could not be called into question. On the other hand, there was the new way of looking at the world,based on curiosity, rejection of certainties, and change. This conflict has run through the history of Western civilization, century after century, with alternating outcomes. it is still open.” (Rovelli, C. 2007 Introduction p xviii)
Is Rovelli right about Anaximander? Is he right in saying that there has been a running conflict between two ways of thinking? How much were the next generation of thinkers influenced by Anaximander? How far has his influence reached? Was Aristarchus the next ‘Anaximander’ as well as the first ‘Copernicus’?
These are the questions which are occupying my thoughts at the moment, as I prepare the groundwork for my M.A. dissertation. Anaximander seems to hold a very particular key in Greek thought. I wonder, as I consider his suspended Earth, who did he speak to? Who did he listen to in lectures? Where did he discuss his ideas? How did his ideas become known and to whom did he first disclose them? Who was the greatest influence on his life? Was it as true for him as it generally is for us today, that our greatest influencers are usually those who we remember treated us kindly and took us seriously? What influence for example, did Greek women have on these philosophers? Where are all the women philosophers? We know they were there, and one or two are known. I shall be talking more about them as the months go on. The Greeks were human too, and it is easy to forget that when we look at Greek philosophers, and it is easy to look on them with some kind of celestial etherealness.
Apologies for the long times between posts, I intend to post more regularly from here on…