ionian architecture
Sic ergo oportet materia simplex. Haec utique materia simplex quae subjecta est elementi formae, prima materia nominatur.

Marsilio FICINO

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Ionian Physicists
translated by Alison Quayle

Writing had already come a long way from balance sheets when the first philosophy (1) was born in Miletus, a flourishing trading city on the Ionian coast of Asia Minor. Thales, one of the “Seven Sages” of Ancient Greece, was descended from a long line of Phoenician priests and astrologers. The classic absent-minded astronomer (said to have fallen into a well while contemplating the stars (2)), he may have been responsible for the method of creating consciousness, Γνῶθι σεαυτόν gr-flag(3) or “know yourself”, that was adopted so successfully by the Socratic tradition. It was Thales who introduced to public debate the central issue in philosophical thought: how to formulate a coherent, explanatory vision of the world. Launching such an important debate in this rich city in Asia Minor, at the end of the seventh century BCE, a time when communication by sea was particularly frequent, meant creating a kind of knowledge that would spread more or less by itself throughout the Greek trading empire, and would stimulate all kinds of creations, to which we still owe a debt.

As with most of the other philosophers we will discuss here, very little is known of Thales’ life. He is said to have been a teacher at the time of the eclipse in 585 BCE, which he is thought to have predicted (4). He is known to have travelled a great deal, and probably studied in Egypt. Heir to a long astrological tradition, he was an attentive observer and excellent at formalising, and is said to have brought together his own learning and observations in one or more treatises. He established the 365-day year in Greece, and recorded the cycle of the seasons and the timing of the solstices.

Tradition also has it that he described the constellation of Ursa Minor or the Little Bear. In fact he was very interested in meteorological phenomena, which were his inspiration for a model of the Universe in which Water plays the principal role. In this model, the primary element was the water of the river ᾽Ωκεανός gr-flag (ocean). This element was both animate and material: it could be transformed subject to rules imposed by the movement of things, and was a source of life. A simple image resulted, of the Earth floating on the Ocean, and earthquakes (the result of fluctuations in the waterline) were taken as proof of this.

Without being in any way dualist (there was only one substance, and everything else was made from it), Thales’ vision was an animist one (5). Like many pre-Socratic thinkers, he regarded matter as having an intrinsic capacity for movement – for him there was no dissociation between geometry and dynamics. A magnet, or amber which has been rubbed, demonstrated that matter had real motive power, and therefore a primitive kind of life. Since there was no clear distinction between minerals and living beings, the whole Universe was endowed with life (6).

Only two or three sentences can be attributed to Thales, so little is known about the method of reasoning that he introduced, but what is certain is that he was at the head of a line of philosophers that led to Plato and Aristotle, via a complex series of models of the world and of its destiny. He was probably the first to think in geometric terms, and he established the first principles – parallels and the right-angled triangle – on which the Euclidean representation of space is based.

Miletus was a very busy trading centre at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, and Thales’ entourage of disciples (7) and passing travellers had direct contacts with all the centres of non-esoteric teaching. Anaximander is the best-known of Thales’ friends and disciples. What remains of his work is remarkable in more than one respect. Like both Thales and his successor Anaximenes, Anaximander’s aim was to put forward a general, coherent conception of the world, to enable his contemporaries to understand it. His reasoning was based on a line of argument well supported by astronomical observations. Tradition has it that he drew a distinction between the planets – which moved, on our time scale – and the stars, which seemed to be fixed in the heavens. He also refined the models used to predict eclipses, and described the phases of the moon. For him as for Thales, the Earth was at the centre of the Universe, but he attributed this to the particular geometry of this Universe. In a spherical world (8), the constraints of symmetry keep the Earth in the centre by Necessity: “that which cannot be otherwise”. This necessity does away with the need for a support, because the Earth had no reason to go in one direction rather than another:

      The Earth swings free, held in its place by nothing.
      It stays where it is because of its equal distance from everything.
      Its shape is hollow and round, and like a stone pillar.
      We are on one of the surfaces, and the other is on the opposite side. 
                                   DK A11, Hipp. Ref. I. 6 (R. P. 20). 
τὴν δὲ γῆν εἲναι μετέωρον ὑπο μηδενὸς κρατουμὲνην, μἑνουσαν δὲ διὰ τὴν ῟ομοὶαν πἁντων ἀποστασιν
However, Anaximander retained the idea of an absolute orientation, from Top to Bottom, and within a spherical Universe the Earth itself was not a sphere but a truncated column or cylinder, with the radius of the circular base equal to the height. Mankind lived on the upper disk, and the lower disk represented the Antipodes, where other beings were thought to live.

For Anaximander, the nature of matter was such that we are unable to perceive it directly, so his cosmogony was developed with the help of a series of metaphors. His first principle of matter was Άπειρον  gr-flag, apeiron, the Boundless, unlimited both in time and space, and imperceptible (since our senses are limited), though not unnameable. Its visible forms, however, always had contours and borders. Unlike the four elements usually invoked in ancient poems describing the cosmos, and also unlike Thales’ Water, Άπειρον was initially neutral, but could resolve itself into paired states with opposite qualities, typified by pairs such as Cold/Hot or Dry/Wet.

Άπειρον was also infinite in quantity, and thus a source of continuous creation, which obviously implied an infinite number of Universes, of which ours was one example. It seemed that this creation could go on for all eternity, but one of the fragments attributed to Anaximander indicated that in the long run all creation returned to its source, in other words to the Boundless itself.

Anaximander posited a Perpetual Motion within the Boundless, responsible for the spontaneous emergence of the opposite states characteristic of the different kinds of matter. The first separation created the pairing Cold/Hot, which were spatially organised like the trunk of a tree and its bark. (9). Cold was in the centre, and the contact with the surrounding heat created the pairing Wet/Dry, producing four cylindrical layers, a Cold central core (Earth), surrounded by Wet (Water), then Dry (Air) and Hot (Fire), thus corresponding to the four elements which Anaximander’s theory set out to explain. Gradually, Fire dried out Water until only patches were left, between which Earth emerged. This explained the oceans and the dry land.

But the diversification process did not stop there. Set off by eternal motion, the separation of the Earth/ Fire pairing transferred its quota of movement to the paring Air/ Fire. Fire made Water evaporate; Water was taken up by the Air to produce Wind, the force that moved the rings surrounding the cylinder of the Earth. Then, depending on the amount of moisture it passed through, the outer ring, the ring of Fire, split into three rings with a uniform rotation around the Earth. This movement occurred around an axis that differed from that of the Earth by a fixed angle. The rings of Fire were only partly visible from Earth, because their light was hidden by the layer of Air surrounding the Earth, which carried a varying amount of moisture. Only where the Air was rarefied was it possible to see the light of the Fire. The furthest ring away was the Sun, whose light was hot because it was in a region of space that had very little moisture. Day and Night came from the movement of the ring, combined with the fact that its axis was not the same as that of the Earth. The effect of this was that the Sun’s light, visible only through a single round aperture in the surrounding layer of Air, was hidden at night by the mountains of the North (10). The next ring, closer to us and also visible through a single aperture that opened and closed regularly, was that of the Moon. Its light reached Earth cold, because the ring was in a damp region, and the phases of the Moon were explained by the regular gradual opening and closing of the only aperture through which the Moon’s firelight could escape. Finally, closer to us, in a very wet region, was a very large ring surrounded by damp air. As this screen of air was much thinner than the screen separating us from the rings of the Moon or the Sun, its light reached us through thousands of tiny openings which we call stars, but this light was completely chilled by the water in the air forming the screen. Anaximander went as far as to discuss the radius of these rings, according to laws that clearly drew on the same source as those of Pythagorean arithmetic: the diameter of the Sun’s ring was 28 times that of the Earth, that of the Moon 19 times, and it could be conjectured that the diameter of the ring of stars was greater than that of the Earth (11). Finally the diameter of the apertures through which the Light (ἐκπνοή gr_flag) shone was equal to the diameter of the Earth.

This cosmology also aimed to answer our questions about natural phenomena closer to us. The Air, imprisoned in thick layers of vapour, could cause explosions and tear the black walls that surrounded it, explaining the explosive noise and the bright zigzag appearance of the tear at the moment when thunder occurs (the brightness resulting from the contrast between the clarity of the Air inside and the darkness of the walls). Winds were the result of the movement of blocks of air with a varying moisture content, and rain occurred when this moisture collected and formed droplets.

But Anaximander’s biological model was just as original. He adopted from Thales the primordial role of water, suggesting that living beings were born out of the primitive ocean when it was evaporated by the Fire of the Sun. The first animals were aquatic, and covered with scales like fish, but as the Earth emerged these beings began to climb onto the dry land. There, their scales dried out and cracked, and they could only survive for a brief moment. Humans shared the common origin of all mammals and were thus descended from fish. And although the diversification of other species might have come about via other routes, it was clear that the origin suggested for our own kind was the only one that made sense. Unlike other animals, humans need to be breast fed for a very long time, during which they are unable to take care of themselves. If we were to imagine humans appearing directly in their present form, without a mother able to breastfeed them, they would die at a very early stage and would not exist today. Hence the idea that they must be born of different parents, able to bring up the human offspring until it was old enough to look after itself.

Of course we must avoid falling into the usual trap of an illusory “precursor”, but we cannot fail to be struck by the penetration of Anaximander’s views, and the internal consistency of the model he put forward. Precisely because of this consistency, some obscurities and problems stand out. One of these, emphasised by his pupil Anaximenes, concerns his choice of first principle: Άπειρον could not be sufficient in itself because it was necessary to add a principle of emergence to produce the forms observed in nature. Emergence was caused by movement, which therefore became a first principle itself. Struck by the existence of movement – we will see later how many different solutions have been put forward for this problem – Anaximenes retained few of his master’s conclusions, and visualised the Boundless as eternal and permanent, but under constant agitation. This gave him the idea that it must be a very light fluid, which he identified as Air (12). The primacy of one element over the others meant that the spherical symmetry of the Universe was lost, and he was obliged to suppose, as Thales had done, that the Earth was supported by something. In this new cosmogony the Earth appeared as a flat disc, floating on the moving Air (which was, once again, responsible for earthquakes) and lit by the shining disc of the Sun’s fire. It was movement that prevented the Earth from sinking into the Infinity of the Universe, because obviously the Air would be too light to support it by itself.

Movement and change were therefore the two governing principles of the Universe. These intrinsic principles acted on the Air via the processes of condensation and rarefaction, which produced both quantitative and qualitative changes. Rarefied Air became Fire, and condensed Air became the wind, clouds and Water; but Water could condense further to form the Earth and the heaviest and hardest rocks. Density (a word which did not yet exist) was therefore associated with the notion of heat, which was itself connected to movement.

condensation <=> condensation <=> rarefaction
Earth               Water                     Air                Fire
Cold <———––> Wet <———––> Dry <————> Hot
Heavy     Light      Immobile        Viscous       Fluid       Intangible

The processes of condensation and rarefaction gave rise to quantitative changes as well as the qualitative changes already described. Cold thus divided into three distinct phases: solid, liquid and vapour, as ice, water and water vapour. The origin for all these transformations was Air, which was on the border between Cold and Heat.

Anaximenes then looked for a rational way to connect movement and change, using the properties observed during condensation and rarefaction. The Sun was typical of these functional relationships. The solar disc was made up of an Earth-type element, but it was subject to such rapid internal movements that the process of rarefaction had changed it into Fire. As an illustration Anaximenes made the following comparison. When we blow with our mouth almost closed, the flow of air is observed to be cold, because the opening is too small to allow the blown air to move very much. In contrast, when we breathe out or blow with our mouth wide open, this allows the air to move a great deal, and we notice that it is hot.

There was a constant movement back and forth between the various processes of condensation and rarefaction. The invisible Air became visible through condensation, first as mist and then as water, but when water was heated it became Air again and even Fire. The first forms were the result of condensation, so the Earth floated on the Air thanks to the fact that its large surface offered resistance to the movement of the Air, in the same way as the wind pushes boats by the sail. But the Sun, the Moon and the Stars were produced from the Earth by rarefaction: mist evaporating from the surface of the Earth’s disc became the Fire that formed the stars, which were flat discs able to move extremely quickly, giving them their fiery nature. So the slowing of this movement should make them change in the opposite direction (13), cooling until they became frozen rocks from which no light would ever escape. This meant that there were probably a great many invisible celestial objects formed from stars that had gone through the whole heating and cooling cycle. All these stars floated in the air like leaves in the wind and disappeared either behind distant mountains or behind clouds (perhaps explaining the phases of the Moon).

The rest of Anaximenes’ cosmogony is fairly close to Anaximander’s. He refined somewhat Anaximander’s explanation of earthquakes (due to the alternation of drought and rain (14)), thunder and lightning, and finally rainbows, which were explained by the fact that the Sun’s rays were halted by the darkest clouds, and collected there. The part nearest the Sun was red because it received heat from it, and the subsequent colours appeared according to the decrease in temperature (a concept which obviously did not exist at the time).

The Milesian school proper ends with Anaximenes, because in 494 BCE Miletus was taken and sacked by the Persians. The destruction of the city was doubtless partly responsible for spreading the knowledge and methods of Thales’ school further afield, and among those who inherited this philosophy was Anaxagoras, a native of Clazomenae, another city in Ionia. He went to teach in Athens, and died at Lampsakos in 428 BCE. By this time, Ionian physics had defined both its major themes and the conjectural method that made it possible to produce coherent models of the Universe. Whatever element or principle was chosen as the basis of a cosmology, whether Water, Άπειρον  gr_flag, or Air, the world could only be conceived as formed from a single type of substance, able to take on different states via the appropriate transformations. Movement was part of this, as an intrinsic quality of this eminently changeable matter, and this first, monist vision of the Universe can be regarded as animist (15). Anaxagoras was to introduce a new distinction into this way of thinking by proposing a dualist world, in which a careful distinction is made between matter and certain qualities that are perceived as intrinsically immaterial (16). This new approach was to be developed in two very different directions, by Socrates and Plato on the one hand, and on the other by Aristotle. This dualist vision, adopted by revealed religions and commented in thousands of works, is implicit throughout our modern thought. Anaxagoras’ cosmogony is close to that of Anaximander on many points and I will not go over it again. What differentiates them, apart from the dualism already mentioned, is the introduction of a method of reasoning that led directly to the experimental method (see "A Western Imbroglio").

For Anaxagoras, the Universe was divided into two types of objects, Mind (Νοῦς gr-flag, nous, spirit) and matter (῾Υλη gr-flag, ulè). Matter was infinitely divisible, and whatever degree of division was considered it still possessed all the qualities that could be present in the matter when perceived in its macroscopic state. In particular, there was no distinction between organic and inorganic. Different material objects could be distinguished only by how much of each quality they had– mainly pairs of opposites: hot/cold, wet/dry, and all similar pairings that could be detected by the sense organs. Despite an obvious paradoxical implication, it was possible to define the “seeds” of every kind of matter (17), infinite in number, infinitely divisible and unchangeable. Furthermore, nothing of what is could cease to be, nor could anything come into existence:

το γαρ εόν ουκ έστι το μη ουκ είναι gr-flag(18).

These two definitions of matter did away with most of the contradictions of discontinuity, or those caused by the emergence of forms. But this came down to stating that in reality there was nothing new under the sun. There was therefore no change in quality, but only in quantity; and our senses, which only perceive the quantitative, could be taken in by the limits of their perception, so that through our opinions (Δόξαι gr-flag, doxai) we projected these limits onto the real world.

Anaxagoras’ Mind is an immaterial concept, clearly different from the material Ψυχή gr-flag (soul, psyche) of mainstream Milesian thought that came before it and from the contemporary thought of the atomists. In his cosmology it was the initial motive force. However, except for the first stage, where Anaximander was obliged to invoke Perpetual Motion, and in its present state, in living beings, Mind was little used in the structure of Anaxagoras’ universe; its dynamics were fairly similar to the mechanics proposed by Anaximenes, without Mind being regarded as the final cause that plans the World (19). Mind (Νοῦς gr-flag, spirit), separating itself from the All (Πᾶν gr-flag, pan, totality), at one point set off a vortex motion (Περιχώρησις gr-flag, choregraphy, as in a vortex) that gradually spread through the Universe, and was still spreading today. The Air and the Ether (20) (a kind of rarefied Air, highly mobile and similar to Fire) separated out according to their qualities, in a schema that is very similar to that devised by Anaximenes, but with the Ether playing the role that Anaximenes assigned to Fire.

               All other things partake in a portion of everything, 
               while Νοῦς is infinite and self-ruled, and is mixed with
               nothing, but is alone, itself by itself [singular]. 
               For if it were not by itself, 
               but were mixed with anything 
               else, it would partake 
               in all things if it were mixed with 
               any; for in everything there is a portion 
               of everything, as has been said by me in what goes before, 
               and the things mixed with it 
               would hinder it, so that it would have power(κρατεῖν) 
               over nothing in the same 
               way that it has now being 
               alone by itself (μόνον ἐόντα ἐφ᾽ ἑαυτοῦ). 
               For it is the thinnest of all things 
               and the purest, and it has 
               all knowledge about everything 
               and the greatest strength(ισχύς); 
               and Νοῦς has power(κρατεῖν) over all things, 
               both greater and smaller, that have life [here,ψυχή]. 
               And Νοῦς had power over the whole revolution, 
               so that it began to revolve in the beginning. 
               And it began to revolve first from a small beginning
               but the revolution now extends 
               over a larger space, and will extend 
               over a larger still. 
               And all the things that are mingled together 
               and separated off and distinguished 
               are all known by Νοῦς. And Νοῦς set in order all things
               that were to be, and 
               all things that were and are not 
               now and that are, and this revolution in which 
               now revolve the stars and the sun and the moon, 
               and the air and the aether that are separated off. 
               And this revolution caused the separating off, and 
               the rare is separated off from the dense, the 
               warm from the cold, the light from the dark, and the dry 
               from the moist. And there are 
               many portions (μοῖραι) (21) in 
               many things. But no thing is altogether separated off 
               nor distinguished from anything else 
               except Νοῦς. And all Νοῦς              
               is alike, both the 
               greater and the smaller; while 
               nothing else is like anything else, but each 
               single thing is and was most manifestly 
               those things of which it has most in it. R. P. 15

This was how the Earth and the Stars were created. But Anaxagoras introduced some further details here, saying that the movement threw out the solidified masses like a centrifuge, flinging them into the Air and even into the Ether with a force that was beyond our understanding, so that the heavens were made up of a large number of solids kept up in the air (μετέωρον gr-flag, meteore, in mid-air) by the speed of the motion. These celestial objects fell back to earth when the movement slowed, and this was the origin of the aerolites that sometimes crash into the surface of our planet.
Anaxagoras then explained the properties of the stars by their respective positions in hotter or cooler areas of the Air and the Ether, and indicated that the Moon caused solar eclipses by coming between the Sun and the Earth. The Moon received its light from the Sun. As with his predecessors, Anaxagoras imagined that the Earth emerged when the Sun’s heat evaporated the water that had originally covered the entire surface of the planet. The most important concept introduced by Anaxagoras was Mind (Νοῦς gr_flag), contrasted with the Soul (Ψυχή gr_flag), which his predecessors still regarded as material. Νοῦς  was the property that gave humankind the ability to reason, and distinguished humans (at least quantitatively) from animals. Just at the point, then, when Anaxagoras starts to consider the properties of life, we come back to an analysis of the organised structure of the Universe, and particularly the part of it that has life and thought. Animal life came from seeds that fall from the sky – here Anaxagoras goes back to the aquatic origin of living beings invoked by Thales, since the seed falls from the sky with the rain – and thence from reproduction as we now know it. In the same way the rain brought plant seeds that took root and prospered by sending out suckers or by cuttings being made. All life was capable of showing the spirit that animated it, but this was only easily observable in humankind, or at least in some human beings. Anaxagoras’ biology was more detailed than that of his predecessors, and pointed to the existence of a symbolism associated with the male/ female pairing: males, who inherit the seed, are carried on the right side, and females, the ground in which the seed is sown, on the left (22).

The heirs of Milesian physics include many other philosophers, and I shall only mention Archelaus, whose family probably came from Miletus, and who was a pupil of Anaxagoras. He taught Ionian physics at Athens and he has the honour of having taught it to Socrates, who handed it on to posterity.


1: Forgive me the deliberate – but I hope not pedantic – use of Greek in some of the expressions I quote. I could have avoided it, certainly, but the world is increasingly invaded by terms, and ways of acting and speaking, that are connected with a certain kind of Anglo-American thought (in a way that is so “natural” that nobody would dream of calling it erudite or pedantic), and which bear witness to a remarkable economic dominance. Because of this, I wanted to give an explicit reminder both of the necessarily gratuitous character of languages and of their intrinsic beauty, and above all to ensure that the untranslatable connotations that words bring with them are not lost. It is necessary to speak in a different voice, even at the risk of a certain awkwardness. That throughout this text, to which I have returned in the context of our E-seminar, the causeries du jeudi, I want the reader to be aware of the very fundamental reasons why I lay such emphasis on the semantic dimension of our world.
To pre-empt the obvious criticism that could be made (and I shall return to this), I am well aware that I shall often be guilty of conceptual anachronisms.
Finally, we will see that after the growing success of Plato’s proposition of idealities and Aristotle’s finalist dualism, this particular flowering of thought was to result in a thousand years of silence. (back to the text)
2: As reported by Diogenes Laertius. I shall give a reference to each of the sources that have inspired me as we come to them. Here we refer to what is unfortunately the only work of reference, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker by Hermann Diels, who brought together not only the fragments that still remain, but also numerous ancient commentaries on these fragments. The anthology with anecdotes by Diogenes Laertius is also a very useful source to consult, especially Book X which contains a study of the later philosophers and especially the longest known fragments from Epicurus. [The translation from Anaximenes is here by John Burnet, from DK B12 ](back to the text)
3: If we get that far, I shall go into the particular role played by introspection, a reflection within oneself, in our way of perceiving the world and consciousness. (back to the text)
4: We know the precise date of this eclipse, because Herodotus’ account relates that it brought the war between the Medians and the Lydians to an end. Terror-struck in the midst of battle at the sight of the darkening sky, both sides laid down their arms (Tintin’s adventures show how current this image still is). It was known at the time that eclipses always coincided with the new moon, and the hypothesis that the moon was responsible had no doubt already been put forward. (back to the text)
5: We should probably say "animating" rather than animist, which has a particular religious connotation. (back to the text)
6: The soul, ψυχή gr-flag (psyche), is the motive force in this life. The choice of water as the primary element is a direct result of the relationship between what is alive (and dependant on water) and what moves. All souls taken together could be described as a God, the only motive power, as Xenophanes conjectured. (back to the text)
7: It is traditional to speak of "disciples", but the way in which the "schools" were organised is not very clear. It is quite possible that they just consisted of groups such as friends and their children, in a world in which nine people out of ten were slaves, and in which the patricians formed a sufficiently homogeneous class to have quickly given birth to the notion of democracy (it is often forgotten that this happened in a world that relied on the work of slaves). (back to the text)
8: Anaximander did not limit himself to written models, but also constructed a sphere to study its geometric properties. He is thought to have drawn the first map of the world, and the Gnomon (Γνωμών), the central arithmetical figure in the Pythagorean tradition, is also attributed to him. (back to the text)
9: Φησὶ δὲ τὸ ἐκ τοῦ ἀιδίου γόνιμον θερμοῦ τε καὶ ψυχροῦ κατὰ τὴν γένεσιν τούδε του κόσμου ἀποκριθῆναι καὶ τινα εκ τούτου φλογός σφαίραν περιφυήναι τώι περί τὴν γῆν ἀέρι ὡς τῶι δένδρωι φλοιόν  gr-flag. (DK 12 A10). (back to  the text)
10: Eclipses are explained by the regular reappearance of masses of Air which hide the opening. (back to the text)
11: 27+1; 18+1; 9+1 (back to the text)
12: This effectively ascribes a specific quality to the Boundless. In contrast, by definition Anaximander’s Άπειρον had no specific quality, being infinite in quantity and in quality. Anaximenes’ choice of air, similar to breath (πνεῦμα gr-flag, as the primary element, meant it could easily play the role of a motive force in living things, and in its most mobile form could be identified with the Soul. (back to the text)
13: The Moon moves much more slowly than the Sun because its cycle is 28 days rather than 24 hours, and consequently it is much colder and less bright than the Sun. (back to the text)
14: This becomes clear when we look at the cracks that appear when the hot sun dries out ground that has recently been flooded. And since water and heat are involved, earthquakes are observed more often after periods of heavy rain. ( back to the text)
15: Once again, "animating" would no doubt be a better description, because we are so imbued with the dualist culture that when we use the adjective “animist” there is most often a connotation that separates mind, which has movement, from matter, which is heir to form. We could also speak of panpsychism, provided we specify that appearance is a simple quality of just one kind of matter . (back to the text)
16: The language used is mostly concerned with distinguishing between what belongs to the category of “matter” and what is outside it. As for us with the word “mind” (which, in a symmetrical fashion, draws on the vocabulary of matter), Anaxagoras was obliged to define mind using material words by employing roundabout expressions about immateriality, which led to a great many problems of interpretation and apparent inconsistencies. I stress this point because, conversely, we are so imbued with a culture of the mind (seen as non-material) that we have quite forgotten its material basis, and the difficulty of its birth, at a time when no doubt we should be going back to the initial question of matter, form and substance. (back to the text)
17: These “seeds” are what Aristotle called homomers. ( back to the text)
18: Fragment 3 says: "Nor is there a least of what is small, but there is always a smaller; for it cannot be that what is should cease to be by being cut. But there is also always something greater than what is great, and it is equal to the small in amount, and, compared with itself, each thing is both great and small. " J. Burnet. (back to the text)
19: This is the point that was to come under criticism from Plato and Aristotle, whose description of the world was resolutely dualist. Aristotle analysed down to the smallest detail the consequences implied by the postulated existence of a mind dominating the causes of phenomena. (back to the text)
20: The Ether that appears here has had anything but an ephemeral life, because right up until the early 20th Century physicists used its mysterious properties to explain paradoxes thrown up by the asymmetry of electro-magnetic phenomena. (back to the text)
21: Strictly speaking, limbs, parts, fragments, portions, etc., but it was the underlying qualities that were important for Anaxagoras. (back to the text)
22: This is a typically Pythagorean source of inspiration, as we will see later. I should also mention the whole culture which saw women as playing a sinister (sinistra means left in Latin) – or harmful role. (back to the text)


Second chapter: The Pythagoreans