Anaximander (Anaximandros)

Fragments and Commentary

The First Philosophers of Greece
(London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1898)

Arthur Fairbanks
editor and translator

Hanover Historical Texts Project
Scanned and proofread by Aaron Gulyas, May 1998
Proofread and pages added by Jonathan Perry, March 2001
Proofread and validated by Michael Stewart, June 2013


Fragments of Anaximander
Passages relating to Anaximandros in Aristotle
Passages relating to Anaximandros in the Doxographists
List of Abbreviations


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ANAXIMANDROS of Miletos was a companion or pupil of Thales. According to Apollodoros he was born in the second or third year of the forty-second Olympiad (611-610 B.C.). Of his life little is known; Zeller infers from the statement of Aelian (V.H. iii. 17) to the effect that he led the Milesian colony into Apollonia, that he was a man of influence in Miletos. He was a student of geography and astronomy; and various inventions, such as the sundial, are attributed to him. His book, which was referred to as the first philosophical treatise in Greece, may not have received the title 'περί φυσεως' until after his death. It soon became rare, and Simplicius does not seem to have had access to it.



   1. Arist. Phys. iii. 4; 203 b 13 ff. The words αθάνατον γαρ καί ανωλεθρον and by some the words περιέχειν

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απαντα καί παντα κυβερναν are thought to come from Anaximandros.

   2. In Simpl. Phys. 6 r (24, 19); Dox. 476, it is generally agreed that the following phrase is from Anaximandros: κατα το χρεων· διδοναι γαρ αυτα αλλήλοις τίσιν καί δίκην τἣς άδικίας.1

   Translation.—1. 'Immortal and indestructible,' 'surrounds all and directs all.' 2. '(To that they return when they are destroyed) of necessity; for he says that they suffer punishment and give satisfaction to one another for injustice.'



   Arist. Phys. i. 4; 187 a 12. For some who hold that the real, the underlying substance, is a unity, either one of the three [elements] or something else that is denser than fire and more rarefied than air, teach that other things are generated by condensation and rarefaction. . . . 20. And others believe that existing opposites are separated from the unity, as Anaximandros says, and those also who say that unity and multiplicity exist, as Empedokles and Anaxagoras; for these separate other things from the mixture [μιγμα].2

   Phys. iii. 4; 203 b 7. There is no beginning of the infinite, for in that case it would have an end. But it is without beginning and indestructible, as being a sort of first principle; for it is necessary that whatever comes into existence should have an end, and there is a conclusion of all destruction. Wherefore as we say, there is no first principle of this [i.e. the infinite], but it itself

1. The fragment is discussed at length by Ziegler, Archiv f. d. Gesch. d. Philos. i. (1883) p. 16 ff.

2. Cf. Theophrastos (Dox. 478) under Anaxagoras, infra.

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seems to be the first principle of all other things and to surround all and to direct all, as they say who think that there are no other causes besides the infinite (such as mind, or friendship), but that it itself is divine; for it is immortal and indestructible, as Anaximandros and most of the physicists say.

   Phys. iii. 5; 204 b 22. But it is not possible that infinite matter is one and simple; either, as some say, that it is something different from the elements, from which they are generated, or that it is absolutely one. For there are some who make the infinite of this character, but they do not consider it to be air or water, in order that other things may not be blotted out by the infinite; for these are mutually antagonistic to one another, inasmuch as air is cold, water is moist, and fire hot; if one of these were infinite, the rest would be at once blotted out; but now they say that the infinite is something different from these things, namely, that from which they come.

   Phys. iii. 8; 208 a 8. In order that generation may actually occur, it is not necessary to prove that the infinite should actually be matter that sense can perceive; for it is possible that destruction of one thing is generation of another, provided the all is limited.

   De Coelo iii. 5; 303 b 11. For some say that there is only one underlying substance; and of these some

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say that it is water, some that it is air, some that it is fire, and some that it is more rarefied than water and denser than air; and these last say that being infinite it surrounds all the heavens.

   Meteor. 2; 355 a 21. It is natural that this very thing should be unintelligible to those who say that at first when the earth was moist and the universe including the earth was warmed by the sun, then air was formed and the whole heavens were dried, and this produced the winds and made the heavens revolve.1

   Metaph. xii. 2; 1069 b 18. So not only is it very properly admitted that all things are generated from not-being, but also that they all come from being:—potentially from being, actually from not-being; and this is the unity of Anaxagoras (for this is better than to say that all things exist together [ομοὓ πάντα]), and it is the mixture [μιγμα] of Empedokles and Anaximandros.



   (Theophrastos, Dox. 477) Simpl. Phys. 6 r; 24, 26. Among those who say that the first principle is one and movable and infinite, is Anaximandros of Miletos, son of Praxiades, pupil and successor of Thales. He said that the first principle and element of all things is infinite, and he was the first to apply this word to

1. Cf. Theophrastos Dox. 494, infra, p. 12.

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the first principle; and he says that it is neither water nor any other one of the things called elements, but the infinite is something of a different nature, from which came all the heavens and the worlds in them; and from what source things arise, to that they return of necessity when they are destroyed; for he says that they suffer punishment and give satisfaction1 to one another for injustice according to the order of time, putting it in rather poetical language. Evidently when he sees the four elements changing into one another, he does not deem it right to make any one of these the underlying substance, but something else besides them. And he does not think that things come into being by change in the nature of the element, but by the separation of the opposites which the eternal motion causes. On this account Aristotle compares him with Anaxagoras.

   Simpl. Phys. 6 v; 27, 23; Dox. 478. The translation is given under Anaxagoras, infra.

   Alex. in Meteor. 91 r (vol. i. 268 Id.), Dox. 494. Some of the physicists say that the sea is what is left of the first moisture;2 for when the region about the earth was moist, the upper part of the moisture was evaporated by the sun, and from it came the winds and the revolutions of the sun and moon, since these made their revolutions by reason of the vapours and exhalations, and revolved in those regions where they found an abundance of them. What is left of this moisture in the hollow places is the sea; so it diminishes in quantity, being evaporated gradually by the sun, and finally it will be completely dried up. Theophrastos says that Anaximandros and Diogenes were of this opinion.

1. Archiv f. d. Geschichte d. Phil. i. p. 16 sqq.

2. Aet. iii. 16; Dox. 381.

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   Hipp. Phil. 6; Dox. 559. Anaximandros was a pupil of Thales. He was a Milesian, son of Praxiades. He said that the first principle of things is of the nature of the infinite, and from this the heavens and the worlds in them arise. And this (first principle) is eternal and does not grow old, and it surrounds all the worlds. He says of time that in it generation and being and destruction are determined. He said that the first principle and the element of beings is the infinite, a word which he was the earliest to apply to the first principle. Besides this, motion is eternal, and as a result of it the heavens arise. The earth is a heavenly body, controlled by no other power, and keeping its position because it is the same distance from all things; the form of it is curved, cylindrical like a stone column;1 it has two faces, one of these is the ground beneath our feet, and the other is opposite to it. The stars are a circle2 of fire, separated from the fire about the world, and surrounded by air. There are certain breathing-holes like the holes of a flute through which we see the stars; so that when the holes are stopped up, there are eclipses. The moon is sometimes full and sometimes in other phases as these holes are stopped up or open. The circle of the sun is twenty-seven times that of the moon, and the sun is higher than the moon, but the circles of the fixed stars are lower.3 Animals come into being through vapours raised by the sun. Man, however, came into being from another animal, namely the fish, for at first he was like a fish. Winds are due to a separation of the lightest vapours and the motion of the masses of these vapours; and moisture comes from

1. Aet. iii. 10 Dox. 376. Cf. Plut. Strom. 2; Dox. 579.

2. κυκλος, the circle or wheel in which the stars are set, and in which they revolve. The circle of the moon is farther from the earth, and last comes the circle of the sun.

3. Cf. Aet. ii. 15-25, infra.

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the vapour raised by the sun1 from them;2 and lightning occurs when a wind falls upon clouds and separates them. Anaximandros was born in the third year of the forty-second Olympiad.

   Plut. Strom. 2; Dox. 579. Anaximandros, the companion of Thales, says that the infinite is the sole cause of all generation and destruction, and from it the heavens were separated, and similarly all the worlds, which are infinite in number. And he declared that destruction and, far earlier, generation have taken place since an indefinite time, since all things are involved in a cycle. He says that the earth is a cylinder in form, and that its depth is one-third of its breadth. And he says that at the beginning of this world something [τι Diels] productive of heat and cold from the eternal being was separated therefrom, and a sort of sphere of this flame surrounded the air about the earth, as bark surrounds a tree; then this sphere was broken into parts and defined into distinct circles, and thus arose the sun and the moon and the stars. Farther he says that at the beginning man was generated from all sorts of animals, since all the rest can quickly get food for themselves, but man alone requires careful feeding for a long time; such a being at the beginning could not have preserved his existence. Such is the teaching of Anaximandros.

   Herm. I. G. P. 10; Dox. 653. His compatriot Anaximandros says that the first principle is older than water and is eternal motion; in this all things come into being, and all things perish.

   Aet. Plac. i. 3: Dox. 277. Anaximandros of Miletos, son of Praxiades, says that the first principle of things is the infinite; for from this all things come, and all

1. Aet. iii. 6; Dox. 374.    2. Cf. Aet. iii. 3; Dox. 367.

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things perish and return to this.1 Accordingly, an infinite number of worlds have been generated and have perished again and returned to their source. So he calls it infinite, in order that the generation which takes place may not lessen it. But be fails to say what the infinite is, whether it is air or water or earth or some other thing. He fails to show what matter is, and simply calls it the active cause. For the infinite is nothing else but matter; and matter cannot be energy, unless an active agent is its substance. 7; 302. Anaximandros declared that the infinite heavens are gods.

   Aet. ii. 1; Dox. 327. Anaximandros (et al.): Infinite worlds exist in the infinite in every cycle; Dox. 329, and these worlds are equally distant from each other. 4; 331. The world is perishable. 11; 340. Anaximandros: The heavens arise from a mixture of heat and cold. 13; 342. The stars are wheel-shaped masses of air, full of fire, breathing out flames from pores in different parts. 15; 345. Anaximandros et al.: The sun has the highest position of all, the moon is next in order, and beneath it are the fixed stars and the planets. 16; 345. The stars are carried on by the circles and the spheres in which each one moves. 20; 348. The circle of the sun is twenty-eight times as large as the earth, like a chariot wheel, having a hollow centre and this full of fire, shining in every part, and sending out fire through a narrow opening like the air from a flute. 21; 351. The sun is equal in size to the earth, but the circle from which it sends forth its exhalations, and by which it is borne through the heavens, is twenty-seven times as large as the earth. 24; 354. An eclipse takes place when the outlet for the fiery exhalations is closed. 25; 355. The circle of the moon is nineteen times as large

1. Epiphan. iii 2; Dox. 589.

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as the earth, and like the circle of the sun is full of fire; and eclipses are due to the revolutions of the wheel; for it is like a chariot wheel, hollow inside, and the centre of it is full of fire, but there is only one exit for the fire. 28; 358. The moon shines by its own light. 29; 359. The moon is eclipsed when the hole in the wheel is stopped.

   Aet. iii. 3; Dox. 367. Anaximandros said that lightning is due to wind; for when it is surrounded and pressed together by a thick cloud and so driven out by reason of its lightness and rarefaction, then the breaking makes a noise, while the separation makes a rift of brightness in the darkness of the cloud.

   Aet. iv. 3; Dox. 387. Anaximandros et al. The soul is like air in its nature.

   Aet. v. 19; Dox. 430. Anaximandros said that the first animals were generated in the moisture, and were covered with a prickly skin; and as they grew older, they became drier, and after the skin broke off from them, they lived for a little while.

   Cic. de Nat. Deor. i. 10; Dox. 531. It was the opinion of Anaximandros that gods have a beginning, at long intervals rising and setting, and that they are the innumerable worlds. But who of us can think of god except as immortal?



Simp. Phys. = Simplicii in Aristotelis physicarum libros qua ores edidit H. Diels, Berlin 1882.

Simp. Cael. = Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle's De caelo.

Dox. = Diels, Doxographi Graeci, Berlin 1879.


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