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THE LIVES AND OPINIONS OF EMINENT PHILOSOPHERS

BY DIOGENES LAERTIUS, TRANSLATED BY C.D. YONGE

LIFE OF ANAXAGORAS



I. ANAXAGORAS, the son of Hegesibulus, or Eubulus, was a citizen of Clazomenae. He was a pupil of Anaximenes, and was the first philosopher who attributed mind to matter, beginning his treatise on the subject in the following manner (and the whole treatise is written in a most beautiful and magnificent style): "All things were mixed up together; then Mind came and arranged them all in distinct order." On which account he himself got the same name of Mind. And Timon speaks thus of him in his Silli:

They say too that wise Anaxagoras,
Deserves immortal fame; they call him Mind,
Because, as he doth teach, Mind came in season,
Arranging all which was confus'd before.

II. He was eminent for his noble birth and for his riches, and still more so for his magnanimity, inasmuch as he gave up all his patrimony to his relations; and being blamed by them for his neglect of his estate "Why, then," said he, "do not you take care of it?" And at last he abandoned it entirely, and devoted himself to the contemplation of subjects of natural philosophy, disregarding politics. So that once when some said to him "You have no affection for your country," "Be silent," said he, "for I have the greatest affection for my country," pointing up to heaven.

III. It is said, that at the time of the passage of the Hellespont by Xerxes, he was twenty years old, and that he lived to the age of seventy-two. But Apollodorus, in his Chronicles, says that he flourished in the seventieth Olympiad, and that he died in the first year of the seventy-eighth. And he began to study philosophy at Athens, in the archonship of Callias, being twenty years of age, as Demetrius Phalerius tells us in his Catalogue of the Archons, and they say that he remained at Athens thirty years.

IV. He asserted that the sun was a mass of burning iron, greater than Peloponnesus; (but some attribute this doctrine to Tantalus), and that the moon contained houses, and also hills and ravines: and that the primary elements of everything were similarities of parts; for as we say that gold consists of a quantity of grains combined together, so too is the universe formed of a number of small bodies of similar parts. He further taught that Mind was the principle of motion: and that of bodies the heavy ones, such as the earth, occupied the lower situations; and the light ones, such as fire, occupied the higher places, and that the middle spaces were assigned to water and air. And thus that the sea rested upon the earth, which was broad, the moisture being all evaporated by the sun. And he said that the stars originally moved about in irregular confusion, so that at first the pole star, which is continually visible, always appeared in the zenith, but that afterwards it acquired a certain declination. And that the milky way was a reflection of the light of the sun when the stars did not appear. The comets he considered to be a concourse of planets emitting rays: and the shooting stars he thought were sparks as it were leaping from the firmament. The winds he thought were caused by the rarification of the atmosphere, which was produced by the sun. Thunder, he said, was produced by the collision of the clouds; and lightning by the rubbing together of the clouds. Earthquakes, he said, were produced by the return of the air into the earth. All animals he considered were originally generated out of moisture, and heat, and earthy particles: and subsequently from one another. And males he considered were derived from those on the right hand, and females from those on the left.

V. They say, also, that he predicted a fall of the stones which fell near Aegospotami, and which he said would fall from the sun: on which account Euripides, who was a disciple of his, said in his Phaethon that the sun was a golden clod of earth. He went once to Olympia wrapped in a leathern cloak as if it were going to rain; and it did rain. And they say that he once replied to a man who asked him whether the mountains at Lampsacus would ever become sea, "Yes, if time lasts long enough."

VI. Being once asked for what end he had been born, he said, "For the contemplation of the sun, and moon, and heaven." A man once said to him, "You have lost the Athenians;" "No," said he, "they have lost me." When he beheld the tomb of Mausolus, he said, "A costly tomb is an image of a petrified estate." And he comforted a man who was grieving because he was dying in a foreign land, by telling him, "The descent to hell is the same from every place."

VII. He appears to have been the first person (according to the account given by Favorinus in his Universal History), who said that the Poem of Homer was composed in praise of virtue and justice: and Metro, of Lampsacus, who was a friend of his, adopted this opinion, and advocated it energetically, and Metrodorus was the first who seriously studied the natural philosophy developed in the writings of the great poet.

VIII. Anaxagoras was also the first man who ever wrote a work in prose; and Silenus, in the first book of his Histories, says, that in the archonship of Lysanias a large stone fell from heaven; and that in reference to this event Anaxagoras said, that the whole heaven was composed of stones, and that by its rapid revolutions they were all held together; and when those revolutions get slower, they fall down.

IX. Of his trial there are different accounts given. For Sotion, in his Succession of the Philosophers, says, that he was persecuted for impiety by Cleon because he said that the sun was a fiery ball of iron. And though Pericles, who had been his pupil, defended him, he was, nevertheless, fined five talents and banished. But Satyrus, in his Lives, says that it was Thucydides by whom he was impeached, as Thucydides was of the opposite party to Pericles; and that he was prosecuted not only for impiety, but also for Medison*; and that he was condemned to death in his absence. And when news was brought him of two misfortunes--his condemnation, and the death of his children; concerning the condemnation he said, "Nature has long since condemned both them and me." But about his children, he said, "I knew that I had become the father of mortals." Some, however, attribute this saying to Solon, and others to Xenophon. And Demetrius Phalereus, in his treatise on Old Age, says that Anaxagoras buried them with his own hands. But Hermippus, in his Lives, says that he was thrown into prison for the purpose of being put to death: but that Pericles came forward and inquired if any one brought any accusation against him respecting his course of life. And as no one alleged anything against him: "I then," said he, "am his disciple: do not you then be led away by calumnies to put this man to death; but be guided by me, and release him." And he was released. But, as he was indignant at the insult which had been offered to him, he left the city.

But Hieronymus, in the second book of his Miscellaneous Commentaries, says that Pericles produced him before the court, tottering and emaciated by disease, so that he was released rather out of pity, than by any deliberate decision on the merits of his case. And thus much may be said about his trial. Some people have fancied that he was very hostile to Democritus, because he did not succeed in getting admission to him for the purposes of conversation.

X. And at last, having gone to Lampsacus, he died in that city. And it is said, that when the governors of the city asked him what he would like to have done for him, he replied, "That they would allow the children to play every year during the month in which he died." And this custom is kept up even now. And when he was dead, the citizens of Lampsacus buried him with great honours, and wrote this epitaph on him:

Here Anaxagoras lies, who reached of truth
The farthest bounds in heavenly speculations.

We ourselves also have written an epigram on him:

Wise Anaxagoras did call the sun
A mass of glowing iron; and for this
Death was to be his fate. But Pericles
Then saved his friend; but afterwards he died
A victim of a weak philosophy.

XI. There were also three other people of the name of Anaxagoras; none of whom combined all kinds of knowledge; But one was an orator and a pupil of Isocrates; another was a statuary, who is mentioned by Antigonus; another is a grammarian, a pupil of Zenodotus.










Scanned and edited for Peithô's Web from The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, by Diogenes Laertius, Literally translated by C.D. Yonge. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853. Footnotes have been converted to endnotes. Some, but not all, of Yonge's spellings of ancient names have been updated.

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