Greek Philosophers



Pythagoras was the first to use the name Philosophy, and named himself as a Philosopher. The Greek Philosophy is the oldest one, and it was born by Orfeus in Thrace and Linos in Thebes. The next Philosopher was Mousseos in Athens, who had written about Theogony and the Sphere.

The Philosophy that had started by Pythagoras was named Italian, because the Philosopher was mainly teaching in Italy. The Philosophy that had started by Anaximandrus was named Ionian, because his teacher, Thalis, was from Ionia, Milytos.

Philosophy is divided in three parts: the Natural, the Ethical, and the Dialectic. The ethical Philosophy started with Socrates. For this Philosophy were ten schools:Academic, Kyrinean, Eliac, Megaric, Cynical, Eretris, Dialectic, Peripatitiki, Stoic, and Epicouria.



Alkmeon the Crotonean



approx. 500 B.C.

A Crotonean Pythagorean philosopher, physicist and doctor. He was taught personally but Pythagoras himself, and he is one of the few lucky that got to know the great master and have a close relationship with him. In order to show the limited view of human knowledge he points out early in his book that while Gods have a clear view of the visible and invisible world, people can only suppose and come to conclusions through their observations. It is obvious that in his long lost –except a few extracts- book, he wanted to talk about the visible world, rather than the invisible. As a result his ideas concerned the areas of medicine, physiology and psychology.

Alkmeon was the first to recognize the human brain as the main organ connecting all of the human senses. The difference between humans and animals is that while animals just fell, people can rationalize and understand.

His interest in medicine and physiology led him to express some remarkable ideas concerning health and sickness. He states that health, is harmony of the several forces affecting the body, the equality of rights inside the body of liquid, dry, hot, cold, bitter, sweet etc, but when one of them takes full control, sickness is born. Health is the symmetrical mixture of the different qualities inside us. The living body is a system where the basic forces that it consists of should be equal to their opposites and when that happens, the system works in harmony. Harmony is affected when a force gains power over her normal measures. Sickness is the disharmony created because of that. Healing as a result consists of balancing the disturbed equilibrium.

Alkmeon also tried to give a reasonable explanation of ageing and death of organisms. He explained the course of the body through the time, and towards death, as the consequence of a series of constant internal changes. Each living organism lives a linear course of life, not a circular one, but a straight line towards the end of death.

It is by similar case that he tried to prove the immortality of the soul. If the body is perished duo to his straight limited course, the celestial bodies are immortal because they move in a constant, eternal circle. Taking the sun as the best example of a seemingly endless circular eternal movement, we can understand Alkmeon’s teaching that the soul is immortal, moving constantly like the sun.




525 - 456 B.C.

The "Father of Tragedy," Aeschylus was born in 525 B.C. in the city of Eleusis. Immersed early in the mystic rites of the city and in the worship of the Mother and Earth goddess Demeter, he was once sent as a child to watch grapes ripening in the countryside. According to Aeschylus, when he dozed off, Dionysus appeared to him in a dream and ordered him to write tragedies. The obedient young Aeschylus began a tragedy the next morning and "succeeded very easily."

When Aeschylus first began writing, the theatre had only just begun to evolve. Plays were little more than animated oratorios or choral poetry supplemented with expressive dance. A chorus danced and exchanged dialogue with a single actor who portrayed one or more characters primarily by the use of masks. Most of the action took place in the circular dancing area or "orchestra" which still remained from the old days when drama had been nothing more than a circular dance around a sacred object.

It was a huge leap for drama when Aeschylus introduced the second actor. He also attempted to involve the chorus directly in the action of the play. In Agamemnon, the chorus of Elders quarrels with the queen's lover, and in The Eumenides, a chorus of Furies pursue the grief-stricken Orestes. Aeschylus directed many of his own productions, and according to ancient critics, he is said to have brought the Furies onstage in so realistic a manner that women miscarried in the audience.

Although Aeschylus is said to have written over ninety plays, only seven have survived. His first extant work, The Suppliants, reveals a young Aeschylus still struggling with the problems of choral drama. The tale revolves around the fifty daughers of Danaus who seek refuge in Argos from the attentions of the fifty sons of Aegyptus. His second extant drama, The Persians, recounts the battle of Salamis--in which Aeschylus and his brother actually fought--and deals primarily with the reception of the news at the imperial court. This play contains the first "ghost scene" of extant drama.

In his third surviving play, Prometheus Bound, Aeschylus tackles the myth of Prometheus, the world's first humanitarian. As the play begins, the titan is being fastened against his will to a peak in the Caucasian mountains for giving mankind the gift of fire without the consent of the gods. Prometheus knows Zeus is destined to fall. In fact, he holds the secret of the Olympian's doom--a certain woman that will be his undoing--but Prometheus will not reveal her name. Even amid the fire from heaven that is hurled at him in a frightening climax, Prometheus remains fearless and silent.

In Seven Against Thebes, Aeschylus deals with themes of patricide and incest. He was not, however, willing to settle for the conventional explanation of the "family curse". Instead, Aeschylus delved deeper, suggesting that heredity is nothing more than a predisposition--that the true cause of such "acts of wickedness" is ambition, greed, and a lack of moral fortitude. Thus, eliminating the gods as an excuse for wickedness, Aeschylus demanded that men take responsibility for their actions.

The Oresteia, a trilogy, was performed in 458 BC, less than two years before Aeschylus' death. Once again, he dealt with the tragedy of a royal house, a "hereditary curse" which began in a dim, legendary world in which Tantalus was cast into the pit of Tartarus for revealing to mankind the secrets of the gods. This situation paralleled events in Aeschylus' own life. He was reportedly charged with "impiety" for revealing the Eleusinian mysteries--the secret rites of the city of his birth--to outsiders. It is likely, however, that these charges were politically motivated, and he was not convicted.

Legend has it that Aeschylus met his death when an eagle mistook his bald head for a rock and dropped a tortoise on it. Whatever the cause of his death, his life laid the groundwork the dramatic arts would need to flourish, and by the time of his death, there were two notable successors ready to take his place--Sophocles and Euripides. In addition, Aeschylus left behind two sons who would carry on his dramatic legacy, and one of them, Euphorion, would even claim first prize at the City Dionysia, defeating both Sophocles and Euripides in 431 BC.

Anaximandrus the Milician



611 - 546 B.C.

A famous wise man of Ancient Greece, possibly a pupil of his fellow citizen Thales. According to some ancient writers, Anaximandrus invented the solar clock, using the sun and a shadow to calculate time. As Herodotus mentions that this instrument came to Greece from Babylon, it is a possibility than Anaximandrus perfected it and made it known. It is also said that he mad the first geographical map where Earth was depicted in the shape of a cylinder.

He was the first Greek philosopher who put down his opinions and thoughts written in a book using prose, and the first who inserted the term «Αρχη», the Greek word for principle, a term well used in philosophy ever since. He thought that the “Infinite” was the origin of everything, a vast and interminable primary matter, from which everything comes and to which everything returns. It is said that he once predicted an earthquake in Sparta, and his prediction proved to be correct.


According to the surviving sources on his life, Anaximenes flourished in the mid 6th century BCE and died around 528. He is the third philosopher of the Milesian School of philosophy, so named because like Thales and Anaximander, Anaximenes was an inhabitant of Miletus, in Ionia (ancient Greece). Theophrastus notes that Anaximenes was an associate, and possibly a student, of Anaximander’s.

Anaximenes is best known for his doctrine that air is the source of all things. In this way, he differed with his predecessors like Thales, who held that water is the source of all things, and Anaximander, who thought that all things came from an unspecified boundless stuff.

1. Doctrine of Air

Anaximenes seems to have held that at one time everything was air. Air can be thought of as a kind of neutral stuff that is found everywhere, and is available to participate in physical processes. Natural forces constantly act on the air and transform it into other materials, which came together to form the organized world. In early Greek literature, air is associated with the soul (the breath of life) and Anaximenes may have thought of air as capable of directing its own development, as the soul controls the body (DK13B2 in the Diels-Kranz collection of Presocratic sources). Accordingly, he ascribed to air divine attributes.

2. Doctrine of Change

Given his doctrine that all things are composed of air, Anaximenes suggested an interesting qualitative account of natural change:

[Air] differs in essence in accordance with its rarity or density. When it is thinned it becomes fire, while when it is condensed it becomes wind, then cloud, when still more condensed it becomes water, then earth, then stones. Everything else comes from these. (DK13A5)

Using two contrary processes of rarefaction and condensation, Anaximenes explains how air is part of a series of changes. Fire turns to air, air to wind, wind to cloud, cloud to water, water to earth and earth to stone. Matter can travel this path by being condensed, or the reverse path from stones to fire by being successively more rarefied. Anaximenes provides a crude kind of empirical support by appealing to a simple experiment: if one blows on one’s hand with the mouth relaxed, the air is hot; if one blows with pursed lips, the air is cold (DK13B1). Hence, according to Anaximenes we see that rarity is correlated with heat (as in fire), and density with coldness, (as in the denser stuffs).

Anaximenes was the first recorded thinker who provided a theory of change and supported it with observation. Anaximander had described a sequence of changes that a portion of the boundless underwent to form the different stuffs of the world, but he gave no scientific reason for changes, nor did he describe any mechanism by which they might come about. By contrast, Anaximenes uses a process familiar from everyday experience to account for material change. He also seems to have referred to the process of felting, by which wool is compressed to make felt. This industrial process provides a model of how one stuff can take on new properties when it is compacted.

3. Origin of the Cosmos

Anaximenes, like Anaximander, gives an account of how our world came to be out of previously existing matter. According to Anaximenes, earth was formed from air by a felting process. It began as a flat disk. From evaporations from the earth, fiery bodies arose which came to be the heavenly bodies. The earth floats on a cushion of air. The heavenly bodies, or at least the sun and the moon, seem also to be flat bodies that float on streams of air. On one account, the heavens are like a felt cap that turns around the head. The stars may be fixed to this surface like nails. In another account, the stars are like fiery leaves floating on air (DK13A14). The sun does not travel under the earth but circles around it, and is hidden by the higher parts of the earth at night.

Like Anaximander, Anaximenes uses his principles to account for various natural phenomena. Lightning and thunder result from wind breaking out of clouds; rainbows are the result of the rays of the sun falling on clouds; earthquakes are caused by the cracking of the earth when it dries out after being moistened by rains. He gives an essentially correct account of hail as frozen rainwater.

Most commentators, following Aristotle, understand Anaximenes’ theory of change as presupposing material monism. According to this theory, there is only one substance, (in this case air) from which all existing things are composed. The several stuffs: wind, cloud, water, etc., are only modifications of the real substance that is always and everywhere present. There is no independent evidence to support this interpretation, which seems to require Aristotle’s metaphysical concepts of form and matter, substratum and accident that are too advanced for this period. Anaximenes may have supposed that the ‘stuffs’ simply change into one another in order.

4. Influence on later Philosophy

Anaximenes’ theory of successive change of matter by rarefaction and condensation was influential in later theories. It is developed by Heraclitus (DK22B31), and criticized by Parmenides (DK28B8.23-24, 47-48). Anaximenes’ general theory of how the materials of the world arise is adopted by Anaxagoras(DK59B16), even though the latter has a very different theory of matter. Both Melissus (DK30B8.3) and Plato (Timaeus 49b-c) see Anaximenes’ theory as providing a common-sense explanation of change. Diogenes of Apollonia makes air the basis of his explicitly monistic theory. The Hippocratic treatise On Breaths uses air as the central concept in a theory of diseases. By providing cosmological accounts with a theory of change, Anaximenes separated them from the realm of mere speculation and made them, at least in conception, scientific theories capable of testing.

5. References and Further Reading

There are no monographs on Anaximenes in English. Articles on him are sometimes rather specialized in nature. A number of chapters in books on the Presocratics are helpful.

Barnes, Jonathan. The Presocratic Philosophers. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul (1 vol. edn.), 1982. Ch. 3.

Gives a philosophically rich defense of the standard interpretation of Anaximenes.

Bicknell, P. J. “Anaximenes’ Astronomy.” Acta Classica 12: 53-85.

An interesting reconstruction of the conflicting reports on Anaximenes’ astronomy.

Classen, C. Joachim. “Anaximander and Anaximenes: The Earliest Greek Theories of Change?” Phronesis 22: 89-102.

This article provides a good assessment of one of Anaximenes’ major contributions.

Guthrie, W. K. C. A History of Greek Philosophy. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge U. Pr., 1962. 115-40.

A good introduction to Anaximenes’ thought.

Kirk, G. S., J. E. Raven and M. Schofield. The Presocratic Philosophers. 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983. Ch. 4.

A careful analysis of the texts of Anaximenes.

Wöhrle, Georg. Anaximenes aus Milet. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1993.

This brief edition adds four new testimonies to the evidence about Anaximenes and challenges the standard interpretation. It is useful as a counterbalance to the received view, though I think particular criticisms it makes of that view are wrong.

Anacharsis the Scythian



589 B.C.

A Scythian of royal blood. Driven of his thirst for knowledge, he went to Greece and visited Athens to become a friend of Solon, and to Corinth where he created a bond with Periandrus. Herodotus mentions that during his journey he saw a ceremony in favor of Demeter, goddess of agriculture, and immediately swore to bring this worship to his homeland.

However, on returning to Schythia, he was murdered in his attempt to fulfill his oath, by his brother Saulius. Anaharsis became popular in Greece, where he was considered one of the Seven Sages. Croesus called him in Sardes, while many Greeks studied his maxims, and admired his swift thinking, perception and knowledge of Greek affairs. Out of nine letters he conduct, Cicero translated the fifth.




approx. 4th - 3rd century B.C.

A Cyrenian philosopher who lived during the end of the 4th century BC. Contrary to Aristippus and Theodore, Annikeris believed that real joy is achieved through friendship, community, family, teamplay, and the state, and that the pleasures of common life and social values do top the pleasures one can feel himself.

These teachings opposed the pessimistic ones of Egesia, who led many Alexandrians to suicide, projecting the joy of life and pursuit of happiness inside the community as the most worthy of causes.



Anaxagoras of Clazomenae was an important Presocratic natural philosopher and scientist who lived and taught in Athens for approximately thirty years. He gained notoriety for his materialistic views, particularly his contention that the sun was a fiery rock. This led to charges of impiety, and he was sentenced to death by the Athenian court. He avoided this penalty by leaving Athens, and he spent his remaining years in exile. While Anaxagoras proposed theories on a variety of subjects, he is most noted for two theories. First, he speculated that in the physical world everything contains a portion of everything else. His observation of how nutrition works in animals led him to conclude that in order for the food an animal eats to turn into bone, hair, flesh, and so forth, it must already contain all of those constituents within it. The second theory of significance is Anaxagoras’ postulation of Mind (Nous) as the initiating and governing principle of the cosmos.

Life and Writing

The exact chronology of Anaxagoras is unknown, but most accounts place his dates around 500-428 BCE. Some have argued for dates of c. 534-467 BCE, but the 500-428 time period is the most commonly accepted among scholars. Anaxagoras was born in Ionia in the town of Clazomenae, a lively port city on the coast of present-day Turkey. As such, he is considered to be both the geographical and theoretical successor to the earliest Ionian philosophers, particularly Anaximenes. Eventually, Anaxagoras made his way to Athens and he is often credited with making her the home of Western philosophical and physical speculation. Anaxagoras remained in Athens for some thirty years, according to most accounts, until he was indicted on the charge of impiety and sentenced to death. Rather than endure this penalty, Anaxagoras, with the help of his close friend and student, Pericles, went to Lampsacus, in Asia Minor, where he lived until his death.

Anaxagoras’ trial and sentencing in Athens were motivated by a combination of political and religious concerns. His close association with Pericles left him vulnerable to those who wished to discredit the powerful and controversial student through the teacher. Furthermore, his materialistic beliefs and teachings were quite contrary to the standard orthodoxy of the time, particularly his view that the heavenly bodies were fiery masses of rock whirling around the earth in ether. Such convictions are famously attested to in Plato's Apology when Socrates, accused by Meletus of believing that the sun is stone and the moon is earth, distances himself from such atheistic notions:

My dear Meletus, do you think you are prosecuting Anaxagoras? Are you so contemptuous of the jury and think them so ignorant of letters as not to know that the books of Anaxagoras of Clazomenae are full of those theories, and further, that the young men learn from me what they can buy from time to time for a drachma, at most, in the bookshops, and ridicule Socrates if he pretends that these theories are his own, especially as they are so absurd? (26d)

As with the dates of his birth and death, the chronology of Anaxagoras’ exile and subsequent time in Lampsacus are a bit of a mystery. Some of the historical testimonies indicate that his trial occurred shortly before the Peloponnesian War, around 431 BCE. If this is the case, then Anaxagoras’ time in exile would have lasted no more than a few years. Other records indicate that his trial and exile occurred much earlier, and his time in Lampsacus enabled him to start an influential school where he taught for nearly twenty years. With regard to the persona of Anaxagoras, there are quite a few interesting anecdotes that paint a picture of an ivory tower scientist and philosopher who was extremely detached from the general concerns and practical matters of life. While the stories are possibly fanciful, the consistent image of Anaxagoras presented throughout antiquity is that of a person entirely consumed by the pursuit of knowledge. In fact, he apparently maintained that the opportunity to study the universe was the fundamental reason why it is better to be born than to not exist.

In his Lives of the Philosophers, Diogenes Laertius states that Anaxagoras is among those philosophers who wrote only one book. This work was a treatise on natural philosophy and, as the above quote from the Apology indicates, it was probably not a very long work, since it could be purchased for “a drachma, at most.” Although the book has not survived, it was available until at least the sixth-century CE. While it is impossible to recreate the entire content and order of his work, various ancient sources have provided scholars with enough information to fairly represent Anaxagoras’ philosophy. Noteworthy among these sources are Aristotle, Theophrastus (ca. 372-288 BCE) and Themistius (ca. 317-387 CE). We are primarily indebted, however, to Simplicius (sixth-century CE) for most of our knowledge of, and access to, the fragments of Anaxagoras’ work. Before moving on to the theories of Anaxagoras, it should be noted that there are some rather wide ranging disagreements among scholars today about some of the basic tenets of his philosophy. In fact, within the past twenty years or so, there have been a greater variety of interpretations of Anaxagoras than perhaps any other Presocratic philosopher.

The Structure of Things: A Portion of Everything in Everything

Anaxagoras’ innovative theory of physical nature is encapsulated in the phrase, “a portion of everything in everything.” Its primary expression is found in the following difficult fragment:

And since the portions of both the large and the small are equal in amount, in this way too all things would be in everything; nor can they be separate, but all things have a portion of everything. Since there cannot be a smallest, nothing can be separated or come to be by itself, but as in the beginning now too all things are together. But in all things there are many things, equal in amount, both in the larger and the smaller of the things being separated off.

It should be pointed out that it is rather difficult to determine what exactly Anaxagoras meant by “things.” It is tempting to view this as a theory of matter, but this would be misguided as it tends to apply later Aristotelian categories and interpretations onto Anaxagoras. At times, the term “seeds” has been utilized but it would seem that many scholars today prefer the neutral term “stuffs” to depict this notion. In any case, this rather complex theory is best understood as Anaxagoras’ attempt to reconcile his perceptions of the world with an influential argument (presented some time earlier by Parmenides) about how reality must be conceived.

a. The Challenge of Parmenides

According to Parmenides, whatever is, is (being) and whatever is not, is not (nonbeing). As a result, whatever constitutes the nature of reality must always “have been” since nothing can come into being from nothing. Furthermore, reality must always “be” since being (what is) cannot become nonbeing (what is not). This argument led Parmenides to a monistic and static conception of reality. As such, the world of changing particulars is deceptive, despite appearances to the contrary. Anaxagoras appears to accept this argument of Parmenides as the following statement indicates: “The Greeks are wrong to accept coming to be and perishing, for nothing comes to be, nor does it perish.”  Anaxagoras could not, however, square the thesis of radical monism with his experience of a world that seems to admit plurality and change. In fact, if all of the theses of Parmenides are correct, there is no possibility of science because all empirically gathered data is misleading. Therefore, the challenge for Anaxagoras and other post-Parmenidian philosophers was to present a proper account of nature while maintaining the demand that the stuff that constitutes reality can neither come into being from nothing nor pass away into nonbeing.

b. Empedocles' Theory

Empedocles was a contemporary of Anaxagoras and, while the historical records are inconclusive, it is possible that the latter was partially reacting to the theory of the former in the development of his own views. In response to Parmenides, Empedocles maintained that the four elements—earth, air, fire, water—were the constituents or “roots” of all matter. These four roots cannot come into being, be destroyed or admit any change. Therefore, apart from the fact that there are four, they are essentially identical to the “one” of Parmenides. The roots mix together in various proportions to account for all the things in the world that we suppose to be real, such as apples, horses, etc. As an apple dissolves, it does not collapse into nonbeing, rather the mixture that has accounted for the apparent apple of our senses has simply been rearranged. Apples, and other “mortal things,” as Empedocles called them, do not actually come to be, nor are they actually destroyed. This is simply the way humans like to talk about entities which appear to exist but do not.

Anaxagoras’ relationship to Empedocles is difficult to discern, but it is possible that he was not satisfied with Empedocles’ response to Parmenides and the Eliatics. On Aristotle’s interpretation, Anaxagoras maintained that the pluralism of Empedocles unduly singled out certain substances as primary and others as secondary. According to Anaxagoras, the testimony of our senses maintains that hair or flesh exist as assuredly as earth, air, water or fire. In fact, all of the infinite numbers of substances are as real as the root substances. Therefore, under this interpretation the key problem for Anaxagoras is that under Empedocles'’ theory it would be possible to divide a hair into smaller and smaller pieces until it was no longer hair, but a composite of the root substances. As such, this would no longer satisfy the requirement that a definite substance cannot pass into nonbeing. According to other interpretations, however, some of the textual evidence from Anaxagoras seems to suggest that he treated some “things” (ala Empedocles) as more basic and primary than others. In any case, the theoretical distinctions between the two philosophers are somewhat unclear. Despite these difficulties, it is clear that Anaxagoras proposes a theory of things that is distinct from Empedocles while encountering the challenges of Parmenides.

c. The Lesson of Nutrition

While there is some recent scholarly debate about this, Anaxagoras’ contention that all things have a portion of everything may have had its genesis in the phenomenon of nutrition. He observed among animals that the food that is used to nourish develops into flesh, hair, etc. For this to be the case, Anaxagoras believed that rice, for instance, must contain within it the substances hair and flesh. Again, this is in keeping with the notion that definite substances cannot arise from nothing: “For how can hair come to be from not hair or flesh from not flesh?”. Moreover, not only does a piece of rice contain hair and flesh, it in fact contains the entirety of all the infinite amount of stuffs (a portion of everything). But how is this possible?

d. The Divisibility of “Stuffs”

To understand how it is possible for there to be a portion of everything in everything, it is necessary to develop Anaxagoras’ contention that stuff is infinitely divisible. In practical terms, this can be explained by continuing with the example of the rice kernel. For Anaxagoras, if one were to begin dividing it into smaller and smaller portions there would be no point at which the rice would no longer exist. Each infinitesimally small piece could be divided into another, and each piece would continue to contain rice, as well as hair, flesh and a portion of everything else. Prior to Anaxagoras, Zeno, a disciple of Parmenides, argued against the notion that matter could be divided at all, let alone infinitely. Apparently, Zeno had about forty reduction ad absurdum attacks on pluralism, four of which are known to us. For our purposes, it is not necessary to delve into these arguments, but a key assumption that arises from Zeno is the contention that a plurality of things would make the notion of magnitude meaningless. For Zeno, if an infinite division of things were possible then the following paradox would arise. The divisions would conceivably be so small that they would have no magnitude at all. At the same time, things would have to be considered infinitely large in order to be able to be infinitely divided. While the scholarly evidence is not conclusive, it seems quite possible that Anaxagoras was replying to Zeno as he developed his notion of infinite divisibility.

As the following fragment indicates, Anaxagoras did not consider the consequence that Zeno presented to be problematic: “For of the small there is no smallest, but always a smaller (for what is cannot not be). But also of the large there is always a larger, and it is equal in amount to the small. But in relation to itself, each is both large and small”. According to some interpreters, what is remarkable about this fragment, and others similar to it, is that it indicates the extent to which Anaxagoras grasped the notion of infinity. As W.K.C. Guthrie points out, “Anaxagoras’ reply shows an understanding of the meaning of infinity which no Greek before him had attained: things are indeed infinite in quantity and at the same time infinitely small, but they can go on becoming smaller to infinity without thereby becoming mere points without magnitude” (289). Other interpretations are somewhat less charitable toward Anaxagoras’ grasp of infinity, however, and point out that he may not have been conceptualizing about the notion of mathematical infinity when speaking about divisibility.


In any case, as strange as it may appear to modern eyes, Anaxagoras’ unique and subtle theory accomplished what it set out to do. It satisfied the Parmenidian demand that nothing can come into or out of being and it accounted for the plurality and change that constitutes our world of experience. A difficult question remains for Anaxagoras’ theory, however.

e. Why is Something What It Is?

If, according to Anaxagoras, everything contains a portion of everything, then what makes something (rice, for instance) what it is? Anaxagoras does not provide a clear response to this question, but an answer is alluded to in his claim that “each single thing is and was most plainly those things of which it contains most.”  Presumably, this can be taken to mean that each constituent of matter also has a part of matter that is predominant in it. Commentators from Aristotle onward have struggled to make sense of this notion, but it is perhaps Guthrie’s interpretation that is most helpful: “Everything contains a portion of everything else, and a large piece of something contains as many portions as a small piece of it, though they differ in size; but every substance does not contain all the infinite number of substances in equal proportions” (291). As such, a substance like rice, while containing everything, contains a higher proportion of white, hardness, etc. than a substance like wood. Simply stated, rice contains more stuff that makes it rice than wood or any other substance. Presumably, rice also contains higher proportions of flesh and hair than wood does. This would explain why, from Anaxagoras’ perspective, an animal can become nourished by rice by not by wood.

Anaxagoras’ theory of nature is quite innovative and complex, but unfortunately his fragments do not provide us with very many details as to how things work on a micro level. He does, however, provide us with a macro level explanation for the origins of the world as we experience it. It is to his cosmogony that we now turn our attention.

3. The Origins of the Cosmos

Anaxagoras’ theory of the origins of the world is reminiscent of the cosmogonies that had been previously developed in the Ionion tradition, particularly through Anaximenes and Anaximander. The traditional theories generally depict an original unity which begins to become separated off into a series of opposites. Anaxagoras maintained many of the key elements of these theories, however he also updated these cosmogonies, most notably through the introduction of a causal agent (Mind or nous) that is the initiator of the origination process.

Prior to the beginning of world as we know it everything was combined together in such a unified manner that there were no qualities or individual substances that could be discerned. “All things were together, unlimited in both amount and smallness.”  As such, reality was like the Parmenidian whole, except this whole contained all the primary matters or “seeds,” which are represented in the following passages through a series of opposites:

But before these things separated off, when [or, since] all things were together, not even any color was manifest, for the mixture of all things prevented it—the wet and the dry, the hot and the cold, the bright and the dark, there being also much earth in the mixture and seeds unlimited in amount, in no way like one another. For none of the other things are alike either, the one to the other. Since this is so, it is necessary to suppose that all things were in the whole. The things in the single cosmos are not separate from one another, nor are they split apart with an axe, either the hot from the cold or the cold from the hot.

At some point, the unity is spurred into a vortex motion at a force and a speed “of nothing now found among humans, but altogether many times as fast”. This motion begins the separation and it is “air and aether” that are the first constituents of matter to become distinct. Again, this is not to be seen in Empedoclean terms to indicate that air and ether are primary elements They are simply a part of the infinite constituents of matter represented by the phrase “mixture and seeds.” As the air and ether became separated off, all other elements become manifest in this mixture as well: “From these things as they are being separated off, earth is being compounded; for water is being separated off out of the clouds, earth out of water, and out of the earthy stones are being compounded by the cold, and these [i.e., stones] move further out than the water.

Therefore, the origin of the world is depicted through this process of motion and separation from the unified mixture. As mentioned above, in answering the “how” of cosmogony, Anaxagoras is fairly traditional in his theory. In proposing an initiator or causal explanation for the origins of the process, however, Anaxagoras separates himself from his predecessors.

4. Mind (nous)

a. The Role of Mind

According to Anaxagoras, the agent responsible for the rotation and separation of the primordial mixture is Mind or nous: “And when Mind began to cause motion, separating off proceeded to occur from all that was moved, and all that Mind moved was separated apart, and as things were being moved and separated apart, the rotation caused much more separating apart to occur”.  As is previously mentioned, it is rather significant that Anaxagoras postulates an explanation for the movement of the cosmos, something that prior cosmogonies did not provide. But how is this explanation to be understood? From the passage above, one may infer that Mind serves simply as the initial cause for the motion, and once the rotation is occurring, the momentum sets everything else into place. In this instance it is tempting to assign a rather deistic function to Mind. In other passages, however, Mind is depicted as “ruling” the rotation and setting everything in order as well as having supreme power and knowledge of all things. In this case it is tempting to characterize Mind in theistic terms. Both of these temptations should be avoided, for Anaxagoras remained fully naturalistic in his philosophy. In fact, the uniqueness of Anaxagoras is that he proposed a rationalistic governing principle that remained free from the mythical or theological characteristics of prior cosmogonies. His philosophical successors, particularly Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, are very excited to find in Anaxagoras a unifying cosmic principle which does not allude to the whims of the gods. They hope to find in him an extension of this principle into a purpose-driven explanation for the universe. Alas, they are all disappointed that Anaxagoras makes no attempt to develop his theory of Mind in such a way.

What Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were hoping to discover in Anaxagoras was not simply an account of how the cosmos originated (an efficient cause), but an explanation for why and for what purpose the cosmos was initiated (a final cause). Their initial excitement about his theory is replaced by disillusionment in the fact that Anaxagoras does not venture beyond mechanistic explanatory principles and offer an account for how Mind has ordered everything for the best. For example, in the Phaedo, Socrates discusses how he followed Anaxagoras’ argument with great joy, and thought that he had found, “a teacher about the cause of things after my own heart” (97d). Socrates’ joy is rather short-lived: “This wonderful hope was dashed as I went on reading and saw that the man made no use of Mind, nor gave it any responsibility for the management of things, but mentioned as causes air and ether and water and many other strange things” (98b). Similarly, Aristotle calls Anaxagoras a sober and original thinker, yet chastises him for using Mind as a deus ex machina to account for the creation of the world: “When he cannot explain why something is necessarily as it is, he drags in Mind, but otherwise hew will use anything rather than Mind to explain a particular phenomenon” (Metaphysics, 985a18). Despite the fact that Anaxagoras did not pursue matters as far as his teleologically-minded successors would have liked, his theory of Mind served as an impetus toward the development of cosmological systems that speculated on final causes. On the flip side, Anaxagoras’ lack of conjecture into the non-mechanistic forces in the world also served as an inspiration to the more materialistic cosmological systems that followed.

b. The Nature of Mind

Thus far, we have examined the role of Mind in the development of the world. But what exactly is Mind, according to Anaxagoras? Based on the evidence in the fragments, this is a rather difficult question to answer, for Mind appears to have contradictory properties. In one small fragment, for example, Anaxagoras claims that mind is the sole exception to the principle that there is a portion of everything in everything, yet this claim is immediately followed by the counter claim, “but Mind is in some things too”.  Elsewhere, Anaxagoras emphasizes the autonomy and separateness of Mind:


The rest have a portion of everything, but Mind is unlimited and self-ruled and is mixed with no thing, but is alone and by itself. For if it were not by itself but were mixed with something else, it would have a share of all things, if it were mixed with anything. For in everything there is a portion of everything, as I have said before. And the things mixed together with it would hinder it so that it would rule nothing in the same way as it does being alone and by itself. For it is the finest of all things and the purest, and it has all judgment about everything and the greatest power.

He goes on to say, however, that Mind “is very much even now where all other things are too, in the surrounding multitude and in things that have come together in the process of separating and in things that have separated off”.

Most commentators maintain that Anaxagoras is committed to a dualism of some sort with his theory of Mind. But his Mind/matter dualism is such that both constituents appear to be corporeal in nature. Mind is material, but it is distinguished from the rest of matter in that it is finer, purer and it appears to act freely. This theory is best understood by considering Anaxagoras’ contention that plants possess minds. It is the mind of a plant which enables it to seek nourishment and grow, but this dynamic agent in a plant is not distinct from the plant itself. This would have been a common biological view for the time, but where Anaxagoras is novel is that he extends the workings of “mind” at the level of plants and animals into a cosmic principle which governs all things. The Mind of the cosmos is a dynamic governing principle which is imminent to the entire natural system while still maintaining its transcendental determining power. From Anaxagoras’ perspective it appears to be a principle which is both natural and divine.

Other Theories

Anaxagoras’ theory of things and his postulation of Mind as a cosmic principle are the most important and unique aspects of his philosophy. A few other theories are worth mentioning, though it should be pointed out that many of them are probably not original and our primary knowledge of these views arises from second-hand sources.

As a natural scientist and philosopher of his day, Anaxagoras would have been particularly concerned with the subjects of astronomy and meteorology and he made some significant contributions in these areas. It was mentioned above that his outlook on the heavenly bodies played a part in his condemnation in Athens. His beliefs about the earth, moon and sun are clearly articulated in the following lengthy quote from Hippolytus, a source from the late second century CE:

The earth [according to Anaxagoras] is flat in shape. It stays up because of its size, because there is no void, and because the air, which is very resistant, supports the earth, which rests on it. Now we turn to the liquids on the earth: The sea existed all along, but the water in it became the way it is because it suffered evaporation, and it is also added to from the rivers which flow into it. Rivers originate from rains and also from subterranean water; for the earth is hollow and has water in its hollows. The Nile rises in the summer because water is carried down into it from the snow in the north. The sun, the moon, and all the heavenly bodies are red-hot stones which have been snatched up by the rotation of the aether. Below the heavenly bodies there exist certain bodies which revolve along with the sun and the moon and are invisible….The moon is below the sun, closer to us. The sun is larger than the Peloponnesus. The moon does not shine with its own light, but receives its light from the sun…. Eclipses of the moon occur when the earth cuts off the light, and sometimes when the bodies below the moon cut off the light. Eclipses of the sun take place at new moon, when the moon cuts off the light…. Anaxagoras was the first to describe the circumstances under which eclipses occur and the way light is reflected by the moon. He said that the moon is made of earth and has plains and gullies on it. The Milky Way is the light of those stars which are not lit up by the sun. (A Refutation of All Heresies, 1, epitome, 3)

A key advantage of Anaxagoras’ belief that the heavenly bodies were simply stone masses was that it enabled him to provide an account of meteorites as bodies that occasionally become dislodged from the cosmic vortex and plummet to earth. Plutarch attests that Anaxagoras was credited with predicting the fall of a meteorite in 467 BCE, but it is unclear from the historical attestations whether Anaxagoras’ theory predated or was prompted by the event.

Along with his contributions in Astronomy and Meteorology, Anaxagoras proposed a theory of sensation that works on the principle of difference. The assumption behind Anaxagoras’ theory is that there is some sort of qualitative change that occurs with any sensation or perception. When a cold hand touches a hot object the agent will only experience the sensation of heat because her hand is cold and the hot object has brought about some sort of change. Therefore, in order for this change (the sensation) to occur, it is necessary that unlike things interact with each other, i.e., hot with cold, light with dark. If like things interact—hot with hot, for example—then no change occurs and there is no sensation. Perception works the same way as our sense of touch. Humans are able to see better during the daytime because our eyes are generally dark. Furthermore, perception works the same way as touch for Anaxagoras in that there is a physical interaction with the perceiver and the object perceived. Since a sensation requires an encounter with an opposite, Anaxagoras also maintained that every sensory act is accompanied by some sort of irritation. As Theophrastus notes, “Anaxagoras comes to this conclusion because bright colors are excessively loud noises are irritating, and it is impossible to bear them very long” (On Sense Perception, 27). Anaxagoras theory of sensation and perception is in direct opposition to Empedocles who maintained that perception could be accounted for by an action between like objects.

A couple of final speculations that are worth mentioning pertain to the science of biology. It has already been noted that Anaxagoras believes plants to have minds along with animals and humans. What places humans in a higher category of intelligence, however, is the fact that we were equipped with hands, for it is through these unique instruments that we are able to handle and manipulate objects. Finally, Anaxagoras proposed an hypothesis on how the sex of an infant is determined. If the sperm comes from the right testicle it will attach itself to the right side of the womb and the baby will be a male. If the sperm comes from the left testicle it will attach itself to the left side of the womb and the baby will be a female.

References and Further Reading

Barnes, Jonathan. The Presocratic Philosophers. New York, NY: Routledge, 1996.

Furley, David. Anaxagoras, “Plato and Naming of Parts.” Presocratic Philosophy. Eds. Victor Caston and Daniel W. Graham. Burlington VT: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2002. 119-126.

Gershenson, Daniel E. and Greenberg, Daniel A. Anaxagoras and the Birth of Physics. New York: Blaisdell Publishing Company, 1964. [It should be pointed out that scholars have been rather critical of this work, but it is a rather helpful reference for sources on Anaxagoras.]

Graham, Daniel, “The Postulates of Anaxagoras”, Apeiron 27 (1994), pp.77-121.

Guthrie, W.K.C. A History of Greek Philosophy. Vol. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965.

Kirk, G.S., Raven, J.E. and Schofield, M. The Presocratic Philosophers. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

McKirahan, Richard D. Philosophy Before Socrates. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1994.

Schofield, Malcolm. An Essay on Anaxagoras. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Sider, David. The Fragments of Anaxagoras. 2nd ed. revised. Sankt Augustin: Academia Verlag, 2005

Taylor, C.C.W. “Anaxagoras and the Atomists.” From the Beginning to Plato: Routledge History of Philosophy, Vol. I. Ed. C.C.W. Taylor. New York, NY: Routledge, 1997. 208-243.




444 - 366 B.C.

A well known philosopher of ancient Greece, Antisthenes was born in Athens, son of an Athenian and a woman from Thrace. Contemporary to Plato, although older, he was a student of Gorgias and a friend and faithful admirer of Socrates. After the death of his great tutor, he founded an academy near Cynosarges Gymnasium. It is from that name that his students were named Cynicals and their movement Cynism. A famous pupil was Diogenis of Sinope.

Socrates admired him for his abstinent and ascetic way of life. In his conversations he tried to falsify the definition Socrates gave to general concepts. He fought against the Platonic theory of ideas, and believed that the only real concepts are the ones we feel using our senses (aesthetic teaching, aesthisi= the greek word for senses).

General concepts according to Antisthenes do not exist (“I see a horse, but I cannot see the “horseness”). By this he concludes that we cannot give to a subject a different meaning other than what makes its identity to be such (eg, gold is gold rather than gold is yellow, mortal is mortal rather than a man is mortal)

That is why Antisthenes rejected the definition of the primary characteristics. These teachings were willingly adopted by the Cynicals, leading them to the effort of making themselves totally independent of human needs, reducing their personal needs to the least, exercising to endure every discomfort and considering pleasure as the ultimate evil.



540 – 468 B.C.


Aristides was the son of Lysimachus, and a member of a family of moderate fortune. Of his early life, it is only told that he became a follower of the statesman Cleisthenes and sided with the aristocratic party in Athenian politics. He first came to notice as strategos in command of his native tribe Antiochis at the Battle of Marathon, and it was no doubt in consequence of the distinction which he then achieved that he was elected archon for the ensuing year (489—488). In pursuance of a conservative policy which aimed at maintaining Athens as a land power, he was one of the chief opponents of the naval policy proposed by Themistocles.

The conflict between the two leaders ended in the ostracism of Aristides at a date variously given between 485 and 482. It is said that, on this occasion, an illiterate voter, who did not know him, came up to him, and giving him his voting shred, desired him to write upon it the name of Aristides. The latter asked if Aristides had wronged him. "No," was the reply, "and I do not even know him, but it irritates me to hear him everywhere called 'the Just'." Aristides then wrote his own name on the ballot.

Early in 480, Aristides profited by the decree recalling exiles to help in the defense of Athens against Persian invaders, and was elected strategos for the year 480–479. In the Battle of Salamis, he gave loyal support to Themistocles, and crowned the victory by landing Athenian infantry on the island of Psyttaleia and annihilating the Persian garrison stationed there.

In 479, he was re-elected strategos, and given special powers as commander of the Athenian forces at the Battle of Plataea; he is also said to have suppressed a conspiracy among some oligarchic malcontents in the army. He so won the confidence of the Ionian allies that, after revolting from the Spartan admiral Pausanias, they gave him the chief command and left him with absolute discretion in fixing the contributions of the newly formed confederacy, the Delian League. His assessment was universally accepted as equitable, and continued as the basis of taxation for the greater part of the league’s duration.

He continued to hold a predominant position in Athens. At first he seems to have remained on good terms with Themistocles, whom he is said to have helped in outwitting the Spartans over the rebuilding of the walls of Athens.

He is said by some authorities to have died at Athens, by others on a journey to the Black Sea. The date of his death is given by Nepos as 468; at any rate, he lived to witness the ostracism of Themistocles, towards whom he always displayed generosity, but he died before the rise of Pericles. His estate seems to have suffered severely from the Persian invasions, for apparently he did not leave enough money to defray the expenses of his burial, and it is known that his descendants even in the 4th century received state pensions.




approx. 435 - 355 B.C.

He is the Cyrenian founder of the Cyrenian Academy of Philosophy. He came of a wealthy family of Cyrene, and lived around 435-355 BC. Somewhat older than Plato, he first followed Protagoras, whose theory of the senses affected him greatly. Later on he became a student of Socrates, whose teachings however did not change his biotheoretical views. After the death of Socrates he kept on living as a Sophist in Athens among other cities in Greece, and later on he spent some years next to Plato in the palace of Dionysius of Syracuse.

Socrates teachings convinced him that knowledge is only worthy when it succeeds in practical and ethical pursuits.

None of Aristippus’ writings has survived. Diogenes the Laertian mentions only the titles of his essays. His academy work was passed on to his homonym grandson by his daughter Arete who was the one to continue her father’s work to his academy.

He refuses to deal with nothing other than ethic related problems. That is the reason why we find in this philosopher, ideas of main concern ethics and sentimentality.

Aristippus thinks like Heraclitus and claims that the human body, like all things, is subject to constant change. Due to this change the harmony being the natural state of the body is altered, but this can be corrected. Harmony is pleasure; the lack of it means pain. Emotional situations are related to movement, thus slow and easy movement brings pleasure, hard and rapid movement brings pain. Perfect stillness evokes nothing, no pain nor pleasure. Man deserves only pleasure, so the only purpose of will is pleasure. That is how pleasure and virtue are connected, whatever is pleasant is good, while on the contrary everything that causes pain is evil. Everything out of this dipole should be out of concern.

In the question, what is virtue, he answers without hesitation, “virtue is pleasure” thus becoming the founder of hedonism, similar to the eudemonia of Socrates, however Socrates idea is a momentary feeling, rather than a constant state of peace and healthy soul. He has no concern from where pleasure derives. All pleasures are of the same importance, differing only to their intensity. Material pleasure is more intense yet for a small period while ethical pleasures are constant.

According to Aristippus, virtue is nothing but an intense momentary pleasure, as intense as it gets. For one to reach to such pleasure, prudence is needed, this being the Socratic element in his philosophy, giving knowledge its place as a valuable asset, setting one free of superstition, religiousness and vices and providing him with self confidence and certainty. It is of that certainty that the wise dominate to his surrounding environment, and use it according to his will. This is the profile of the wise man for Aristippus and his students, the man who can benefit from life’s beautiful things and the good side of people and situations, without losing control, but keeping it over his vices, without trying to have what one cannot have.

He does not believe in social life, he is an atomist. As the Sophists, he also travels from town to town, living free out of every social and political boundary. He was totally indifferent towards religion, declaring that the wise man should be free of the religious beliefs.


Aristotle (384—322 BCE)

Aristotle is a towering figure in ancient Greek philosophy, making contributions to logic, metaphysics, mathematics, physics, biology, botany, ethics, politics, agriculture, medicine, dance and theatre. He was a student of Plato who in turn studied under Socrates. He was more empirically-minded than Plato or Socrates and is famous for rejecting Plato’s theory of forms.

As a prolific writer and polymath, Aristotle radically transformed most, if not all, areas of knowledge he touched. It is no wonder that Aquinas referred to him simply as “The Philosopher.” In his lifetime, Aristotle wrote as many as 200 treatises, of which only 31 survive. Unfortunately for us, these works are in the form of lecture notes and draft manuscripts never intended for general readership, so they do not demonstrate his reputed polished prose style which attracted many great followers, including the Roman Cicero. Aristotle was the first to classify areas of human knowledge into distinct disciplines such as mathematics, biology, and ethics. Some of these classifications are still used today.

As the father of the field of logic, he was the first to develop a formalized system for reasoning. Aristotle observed that the validity of any argument can be determined by its structure rather than its content. A classic example of a valid argument is his syllogism: All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is mortal. Given the structure of this argument, as long as the premises are true, then the conclusion is also guaranteed to be true. Aristotle’s brand of logic dominated this area of thought until the rise of modern propositional logic and predicate logic 2000 years later.

Aristotle’s emphasis on good reasoning combined with his belief in the scientific method forms the backdrop for most of his work. For example, in his work in ethics and politics, Aristotle identifies the highest good with intellectual virtue; that is, a moral person is one who cultivates certain virtues based on reasoning. And in his work on psychology and the soul, Aristotle distinguishes sense perception from reason, which unifies and interprets the sense perceptions and is the source of all knowledge.

Aristotle famously rejected Plato’s theory of forms, which states that properties such as beauty are abstract universal entities that exist independent of the objects themselves. Instead, he argued that forms are intrinsic to the objects and cannot exist apart from them, and so must be studied in relation to them. However, in discussing art, Aristotle seems to reject this, and instead argues for idealized universal form which artists attempt to capture in their work.

1. Life

Aristotle was born in 384 BCE at Stagirus, a now extinct Greek colony and seaport on the coast of Thrace. His father Nichomachus was court physician to King Amyntas of Macedonia, and from this began Aristotle’s long association with the Macedonian Court, which considerably influenced his life. While he was still a boy his father died. At age 17 his guardian, Proxenus, sent him to Athens, the intellectual center of the world, to complete his education. He joined the Academy and studied under Plato, attending his lectures for a period of twenty years. In the later years of his association with Plato and the Academy he began to lecture on his own account, especially on the subject of rhetoric. At the death of Plato in 347, the pre-eminent ability of Aristotle would seem to have designated him to succeed to the leadership of the Academy. But his divergence from Plato’s teaching was too great to make this possible, and Plato’s nephew Speusippus was chosen instead. At the invitation of his friend Hermeas, ruler of Atarneus and Assos in Mysia, Aristotle left for his court. He stayed three year and, while there, married Pythias, the niece of the King. In later life he was married a second time to a woman named Herpyllis, who bore him a son, Nichomachus. At the end of three years Hermeas was overtaken by the Persians, and Aristotle went to Mytilene. At the invitation of Philip of Macedonia he became the tutor of his 13 year old son Alexander (later world conqueror); he did this for the next five years. Both Philip and Alexander appear to have paid Aristotle high honor, and there were stories that Aristotle was supplied by the Macedonian court, not only with funds for teaching, but also with thousands of slaves to collect specimens for his studies in natural science. These stories are probably false and certainly exaggerated.

Upon the death of Philip, Alexander succeeded to the kingship and prepared for his subsequent conquests. Aristotle’s work being finished, he returned to Athens, which he had not visited since the death of Plato. He found the Platonic school flourishing under Ksenocrates, and Platonism the dominant philosophy of Athens. He thus set up his own school at a place called the Lyceum. When teaching at the Lyceum, Aristotle had a habit of walking about as he discoursed. It was in connection with this that his followers became known in later years as the peripatetics, meaning “to walk about.” For the next thirteen years he devoted his energies to his teaching and composing his philosophical treatises. He is said to have given two kinds of lectures: the more detailed discussions in the morning for an inner circle of advanced students, and the popular discourses in the evening for the general body of lovers of knowledge. At the sudden death of Alexander in 323 BCE., the pro-Macedonian government in Athens was overthrown, and a general reaction occurred against anything Macedonian. A charge of impiety was trumped up against him. To escape prosecution he fled to Chalcis in Euboea so that (Aristotle says) “The Athenians might not have another opportunity of sinning against philosophy as they had already done in the person of Socrates.” In the first year of his residence at Chalcis he complained of a stomach illness and died in 322 BCE.

2. Writings

It is reported that Aristotle’s writings were held by his student Theophrastus, who had succeeded Aristotle in leadership of the Peripatetic School. Theophrastus' library passed to his pupil Neleus. To protect the books from theft, Neleus’ heirs concealed them in a vault, where they were damaged somewhat by dampness, moths and worms. In this hiding place they were discovered about 100 BCE by Apellicon, a rich book lover, and brought to Athens. They were later taken to Rome after the capture of Athens by Sulla in 86 BCE. In Rome they soon attracted the attention of scholars, and the new edition of them gave fresh impetus to the study of Aristotle and of philosophy in general. This collection is the basis of the works of Aristotle that we have today. Strangely, the list of Aristotle’s works given by Diogenes Laertius does not contain any of these treatises. It is possible that Diogenes’ list is that of forgeries compiled at a time when the real works were lost to sight.

The works of Aristotle fall under three headings: (1) dialogues and other works of a popular character; (2) collections of facts and material from scientific treatment; and (3) systematic works. Among his writings of a popular nature the only one which we possess of any consequence is the interesting tract On the Polity of the Athenians. The works on the second group include 200 titles, most in fragments, collected by Aristotle’s school and used as research. Some may have been done at the time of Aristotle’s successor Theophrastus. Included in this group are constitutions of 158 Greek states. The systematic treatises of the third group are marked by a plainness of style, with none of the golden flow of language which the ancients praised in Aristotle. This may be due to the fact that these works were not, in most cases, published by Aristotle himself or during his lifetime, but were edited after his death from unfinished manuscripts. Until Werner Jaeger (1912) it was assumed that Aristotle’s writings presented a systematic account of his views. Jaeger argues for an early, middle and late period (genetic approach), where the early period follows Plato’s theory of forms and soul, the middle rejects Plato, and the later period (which includes most of his treatises) is more empirically oriented. Aristotle’s systematic treatises may be grouped in several divisions:


Categories (10 classifications of terms)

On Interpretation (propositions, truth, modality)

Prior Analytics (syllogistic logic)

Posterior Analytics (scientific method and syllogism)

Topics (rules for effective arguments and debate)

On Sophistical Refutations (informal fallacies)

Physical works

Physics (explains change, motion, void, time)

On the Heavens (structure of heaven, earth, elements)

On Generation (through combining material constituents)

Meteorologics (origin of comets, weather, disasters)

Psychological works

On the Soul (explains faculties, senses, mind, imagination)

On Memory, Reminiscence, Dreams, and Prophesying

Works on natural history

History of Animals (physical/mental qualities, habits)

On the parts of Animals

On the Movement of Animals

On the Progression of Animals

On the Generation of Animals

Minor treatises


Philosophical works

Metaphysics (substance, cause, form, potentiality)

Nicomachean Ethics (soul, happiness, virtue, friendship)

Eudemain Ethics

Magna Moralia

Politics (best states, utopias, constitutions, revolutions)

Rhetoric (elements of forensic and political debate)

Poetics (tragedy, epic poetry)


3. Logic

Aristotle’s writings on the general subject of logic were grouped by the later Peripatetics under the name Organon, or instrument. From their perspective, logic and reasoning was the chief preparatory instrument of scientific investigation. Aristotle himself, however, uses the term “logic” as equivalent to verbal reasoning. The Categories of Aristotle are classifications of individual words (as opposed to sentences or propositions), and include the following ten: substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, situation, condition, action, passion. They seem to be arranged according to the order of the questions we would ask in gaining knowledge of an object. For example, we ask, first, what a thing is, then how great it is, next of what kind it is. Substance is always regarded as the most important of these. Substances are further divided into first and second: first substances are individual objects; second substances are the species in which first substances or individuals in here.

Notions when isolated do not in themselves express either truth or falsehood: it is only with the combination of ideas in a proposition that truth and falsity are possible. The elements of such a proposition are the noun substantive and the verb. The combination of words gives rise to rational speech and thought, conveys a meaning both in its parts and as a whole. Such thought may take many forms, but logic considers only demonstrative forms which express truth and falsehood. The truth or falsity of propositions is determined by their agreement or disagreement with the facts they represent. Thus propositions are either affirmative or negative, each of which again may be either universal or particular or undesignated. A definition, for Aristotle is a statement of the essential character of a subject, and involves both the genus and the difference. To get at a true definition we must find out those qualities within the genus which taken separately are wider than the subject to be defined, but taken together are precisely equal to it. For example, “prime,” “odd,” and “number” are each wider than “triplet” (that is, a collection of any three items, such as three rocks); but taken together they are just equal to it. The genus definition must be formed so that no species is left out. Having determined the genus and species, we must next find the points of similarity in the species separately and then consider the common characteristics of different species. Definitions may be imperfect by (1) being obscure, (2) by being too wide, or (3) by not stating the essential and fundamental attributes. Obscurity may arise from the use of equivocal expressions, of metaphorical phrases, or of eccentric words. The heart of Aristotle’s logic is the syllogism, the classic example of which is as follows: All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is mortal. The syllogistic form of logical argumentation dominated logic for 2,000 years until the rise of modern propositional and predicate logic thanks to Frege, Russell, and others.

4. Metaphysics

Aristotle’s editors gave the name “Metaphysics” to his works on first philosophy, either because they went beyond or followed after his physical investigations. Aristotle begins by sketching the history of philosophy. For Aristotle, philosophy arose historically after basic necessities were secured. It grew out of a feeling of curiosity and wonder, to which religious myth gave only provisional satisfaction. The earliest speculators (i.e. Thales, Anaximenes, Anaximander) were philosophers of nature. The Pythagoreans succeeded these with mathematical abstractions. The level of pure thought was reached partly in the Eleatic philosophers (such as Parmenides) and Anaxagoras, but more completely in the work of Socrates. Socrates’ contribution was the expression of general conceptions in the form of definitions, which he arrived at by induction and analogy. For Aristotle, the subject of metaphysics deals with the first principles of scientific knowledge and the ultimate conditions of all existence. More specifically, it deals with existence in its most fundamental state (i.e. being as being), and the essential attributes of existence. This can be contrasted with mathematics which deals with existence in terms of lines or angles, and not existence as it is in itself. In its universal character, metaphysics superficially resembles dialectics and sophistry. However, it differs from dialectics which is tentative, and it differs from sophistry which is a pretence of knowledge without the reality.

The axioms of science fall under the consideration of the metaphysician insofar as they are properties of all existence. Aristotle argues that there are a handful of universal truths. Against the followers of Heraclitus and Protagoras, Aristotle defends both the laws of contradiction, and that of excluded middle. He does this by showing that their denial is suicidal. Carried out to its logical consequences, the denial of these laws would lead to the sameness of all facts and all assertions. It would also result in an indifference in conduct. As the science of being as being, the leading question of Aristotle’s metaphysics is, What is meant by the real or true substance? Plato tried to solve the same question by positing a universal and invariable element of knowledge and existence — the forms — as the only real permanent besides the changing phenomena of the senses. Aristotle attacks Plato’s theory of the forms on three different grounds.

First, Aristotle argues, forms are powerless to explain changes of things and a thing’s ultimate extinction. Forms are not causes of movement and alteration in the physical objects of sensation. Second, forms are equally incompetent to explain how we arrive at knowledge of particular things. For, to have knowledge of a particular object, it must be knowledge of the substance which is in that things. However, the forms place knowledge outside of particular things. Further, to suppose that we know particular things better by adding on their general conceptions of their forms, is about as absurd as to imagine that we can count numbers better by multiplying them. Finally, if forms were needed to explain our knowledge of particular objects, then forms must be used to explain our knowledge of objects of art; however, Platonists do not recognize such forms. The third ground of attack is that the forms simply cannot explain the existence of particular objects. Plato contends that forms do not exist in the particular objects which partake in the forms. However, that substance of a particular thing cannot be separated from the thing itself. Further, aside from the jargon of “participation,” Plato does not explain the relation between forms and particular things. In reality, it is merely metaphorical to describe the forms as patterns of things; for, what is a genus to one object is a species to a higher class, the same idea will have to be both a form and a particular thing at the same time. Finally, on Plato’s account of the forms, we must imagine an intermediate link between the form and the particular object, and so on ad infinitum: there must always be a “third man” between the individual man and the form of man.

For Aristotle, the form is not something outside the object, but rather in the varied phenomena of sense. Real substance, or true being, is not the abstract form, but rather the concrete individual thing. Unfortunately, Aristotle’s theory of substance is not altogether consistent with itself. In the Categories the notion of substance tends to be nominalistic (that is, substance is a concept we apply to things). In the Metaphysics, though, it frequently inclines towards realism (that is, substance has a real existence in itself). We are also struck by the apparent contradiction in his claims that science deals with universal concepts, and substance is declared to be an individual. In any case, substance is for him a merging of matter into form. The term “matter” is used by Aristotle in four overlapping senses. First, it is the underlying structure of changes, particularly changes of growth and of decay. Secondly, it is the potential which has implicitly the capacity to develop into reality. Thirdly, it is a kind of stuff without specific qualities and so is indeterminate and contingent. Fourthly, it is identical with form when it takes on a form in its actualized and final phase.

The development of potentiality to actuality is one of the most important aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy. It was intended to solve the difficulties which earlier thinkers had raised with reference to the beginnings of existence and the relations of the one and many. The actual vs. potential state of things is explained in terms of the causes which act on things. There are four causes:

Material cause, or the elements out of which an object is created;

Efficient cause, or the means by which it is created;

Formal cause, or the expression of what it is;

Final cause, or the end for which it is.

Take, for example, a bronze statue. Its material cause is the bronze itself. Its efficient cause is the sculptor, insofar as he forces the bronze into shape. The formal cause is the idea of the completed statue. The final cause is the idea of the statue as it prompts the sculptor to act on the bronze. The final cause tends to be the same as the formal cause, and both of these can be subsumed by the efficient cause. Of the four, it is the formal and final which is the most important, and which most truly gives the explanation of an object. The final end (purpose, or teleology) of a thing is realized in the full perfection of the object itself, not in our conception of it. Final cause is thus internal to the nature of the object itself, and not something we subjectively impose on it.

To Aristotle, God is the first of all substances, the necessary first source of movement who is himself unmoved. God is a being with everlasting life, and perfect blessedness, engaged in never-ending contemplation.

5. Philosophy of Nature

Aristotle sees the universe as a scale lying between the two extremes: form without matter is on one end, and matter without form is on the other end. The passage of matter into form must be shown in its various stages in the world of nature. To do this is the object of Aristotle’s physics, or philosophy of nature. It is important to keep in mind that the passage from form to matter within nature is a movement towards ends or purposes. Everything in nature has its end and function, and nothing is without its purpose. Everywhere we find evidences of design and rational plan. No doctrine of physics can ignore the fundamental notions of motion, space, and time. Motion is the passage of matter into form, and it is of four kinds: (1) motion which affects the substance of a thing, particularly its beginning and its ending; (2) motion which brings about changes in quality; (3) motion which brings about changes in quantity, by increasing it and decreasing it; and (4) motion which brings about locomotion, or change of place. Of these the last is the most fundamental and important.

Aristotle rejects the definition of space as the void. Empty space is an impossibility. Hence, too, he disagrees with the view of Plato and the Pythagoreans that the elements are composed of geometrical figures. Space is defined as the limit of the surrounding body towards what is surrounded. Time is defined as the measure of motion in regard to what is earlier and later. It thus depends for its existence upon motion. If there were no change in the universe, there would be no time. Since it is the measuring or counting of motion, it also depends for its existence on a counting mind. If there were no mind to count, there could be no time. As to the infinite divisibility of space and time, and the paradoxes proposed by Zeno, Aristotle argues that space and time are potentially divisible ad infinitum, but are not actually so divided.

After these preliminaries, Aristotle passes to the main subject of physics, the scale of being. The first thing to notice about this scale is that it is a scale of values. What is higher on the scale of being is of more worth, because the principle of form is more advanced in it. Species on this scale are eternally fixed in their place, and cannot evolve over time. The higher items on the scale are also more organized. Further, the lower items are inorganic and the higher are organic. The principle which gives internal organization to the higher or organic items on the scale of being is life, or what he calls the soul of the organism. Even the human soul is nothing but the organization of the body. Plants are the lowest forms of life on the scale, and their souls contain a nutritive element by which it preserves itself. Animals are above plants on the scale, and their souls contain an appetitive feature which allows them to have sensations, desires, and thus gives them the ability to move. The scale of being proceeds from animals to humans. The human soul shares the nutritive element with plants, and the appetitive element with animals, but also has a rational element which is distinctively our own. The details of the appetitive and rational aspects of the soul are described in the following two sections.

6. The Soul and Psychology

Soul is defined by Aristotle as the perfect expression or realization of a natural body. From this definition it follows that there is a close connection between psychological states, and physiological processes. Body and soul are unified in the same way that wax and an impression stamped on it are unified. Metaphysicians before Aristotle discussed the soul abstractly without any regard to the bodily environment; this, Aristotle believes, was a mistake. At the same time, Aristotle regards the soul or mind not as the product of the physiological conditions of the body, but as the truth of the body — the substance in which only the bodily conditions gain their real meaning.

The soul manifests its activity in certain “faculties” or “parts” which correspond with the stages of biological development, and are the faculties of nutrition (peculiar to plants), that of movement (peculiar to animals), and that of reason (peculiar to humans). These faculties resemble mathematical figures in which the higher includes the lower, and must be understood not as like actual physical parts, but like such aspects as convex and concave which we distinguish in the same line. The mind remains throughout a unity: and it is absurd to speak of it, as Plato did, as desiring with one part and feeling anger with another. Sense perception is a faculty of receiving the forms of outward objects independently of the matter of which they are composed, just as the wax takes on the figure of the seal without the gold or other metal of which the seal is composed. As the subject of impression, perception involves a movement and a kind of qualitative change; but perception is not merely a passive or receptive affection. It in turn acts, and, distinguishing between the qualities of outward things, becomes “a movement of the soul through the medium of the body.”

The objects of the senses may be either (1) special, (such as color is the special object of sight, and sound of hearing), (2) common, or apprehended by several senses in combination (such as motion or figure), or (3) incidental or inferential (such as when from the immediate sensation of white we come to know a person or object which is white). There are five special senses. Of these, touch is the must rudimentary, hearing the most instructive, and sight the most ennobling. The organ in these senses never acts directly , but is affected by some medium such as air. Even touch, which seems to act by actual contact, probably involves some vehicle of communication. For Aristotle, the heart is the common or central sense organ. It recognizes the common qualities which are involved in all particular objects of sensation. It is, first, the sense which brings us a consciousness of sensation. Secondly, in one act before the mind, it holds up the objects of our knowledge and enables us to distinguish between the reports of different senses.

Aristotle defines the imagination as “the movement which results upon an actual sensation.” In other words, it is the process by which an impression of the senses is pictured and retained before the mind, and is accordingly the basis of memory. The representative pictures which it provides form the materials of reason. Illusions and dreams are both alike due to an excitement in the organ of sense similar to that which would be caused by the actual presence of the sensible phenomenon. Memory is defined as the permanent possession of the sensuous picture as a copy which represents the object of which it is a picture. Recollection, or the calling back to mind the residue of memory, depends on the laws which regulate the association of our ideas. We trace the associations by starting with the thought of the object present to us, then considering what is similar, contrary or contiguous.

Reason is the source of the first principles of knowledge. Reason is opposed to the sense insofar as sensations are restricted and individual, and thought is free and universal. Also, while the senses deals with the concrete and material aspect of phenomena, reason deals with the abstract and ideal aspects. But while reason is in itself the source of general ideas, it is so only potentially. For, it arrives at them only by a process of development in which it gradually clothes sense in thought, and unifies and interprets sense-presentations. This work of reason in thinking beings suggests the question: How can immaterial thought come to receive material things? It is only possible in virtue of some community between thought and things. Aristotle recognizes an active reason which makes objects of thought. This is distinguished from passive reason which receives, combines and compares the objects of thought. Active reason makes the world intelligible, and bestows on the materials of knowledge those ideas or categories which make them accessible to thought. This is just as the sun communicates to material objects that light, without which color would be invisible, and sight would have no object. Hence reason is the constant support of an intelligible world. While assigning reason to the soul of humans, Aristotle describes it as coming from without, and almost seems to identify it with God as the eternal and omnipresent thinker. Even in humans, in short, reason realizes something of the essential characteristic of absolute thought — the unity of thought as subject with thought as object.

7. Ethics

Ethics, as viewed by Aristotle, is an attempt to find out our chief end or highest good: an end which he maintains is really final. Though many ends of life are only means to further ends, our aspirations and desires must have some final object or pursuit. Such a chief end is universally called happiness. But people mean such different things by the expression that he finds it necessary to discuss the nature of it for himself. For starters, happiness must be based on human nature, and must begin from the facts of personal experience. Thus, happiness cannot be found in any abstract or ideal notion, like Plato’s self-existing good. It must be something practical and human. It must then be found in the work and life which is unique to humans. But this is neither the vegetative life we share with plants nor the sensitive existence which we share with animals. It follows therefore that true happiness lies in the active life of a rational being or in a perfect realization and outworking of the true soul and self, continued throughout a lifetime.

Aristotle expands his notion of happiness through an analysis of the human soul which structures and animates a living human organism. The parts of the soul are divided as follows:

Calculative — Intellectual Virtue


Appetitive — Moral Virtue


Vegetative — Nutritional Virtue


The human soul has an irrational element which is shared with the animals, and a rational element which is distinctly human. The most primitive irrational element is the vegetative faculty which is responsible for nutrition and growth. An organism which does this well may be said to have a nutritional virtue. The second tier of the soul is the appetitive faculty which is responsible for our emotions and desires (such as joy, grief, hope and fear). This faculty is both rational and irrational. It is irrational since even animals experience desires. However, it is also rational since humans have the distinct ability to control these desires with the help of reason. The human ability to properly control these desires is called moral virtue, and is the focus of morality. Aristotle notes that there is a purely rational part of the soul, the calculative, which is responsible for the human ability to contemplate, reason logically, and formulate scientific principles. The mastery of these abilities is called intellectual virtue.

Aristotle continues by making several general points about the nature of moral virtues (i.e. desire-regulating virtues). First, he argues that the ability to regulate our desires is not instinctive, but learned and is the outcome of both teaching and practice. Second, he notes that if we regulate our desires either too much or too little, then we create problems. As an analogy, Aristotle comments that, either “excess or deficiency of gymnastic exercise is fatal to strength.” Third, he argues that desire-regulating virtues are character traits, and are not to be understood as either emotions or mental faculties.

The core of Aristotle’s account of moral virtue is his doctrine of the mean. According to this doctrine, moral virtues are desire-regulating character traits which are at a mean between more extreme character traits (or vices). For example, in response to the natural emotion of fear, we should develop the virtuous character trait of courage. If we develop an excessive character trait by curbing fear too much, then we are said to be rash, which is a vice. If, on the other extreme, we develop a deficient character trait by curbing fear too little, then we are said to be cowardly, which is also a vice. The virtue of courage, then, lies at the mean between the excessive extreme of rashness, and the deficient extreme of cowardice. Aristotle is quick to point out that the virtuous mean is not a strict mathematical mean between two extremes. For example, if eating 100 apples is too many, and eating zero apples is too little, this does not imply that we should eat 50 apples, which is the mathematical mean. Instead, the mean is rationally determined, based on the relative merits of the situation. That is, it is “as a prudent man would determine it.” He concludes that it is difficult to live the virtuous life primarily because it is often difficult to find the mean between the extremes.

The prominent virtue of this list is high-mindedness, which, as being a kind of ideal self-respect, is regarded as the crown of all the other virtues, depending on them for its existence, and itself in turn tending to intensify their force. The list seems to be more a deduction from the formula than a statement of the facts on which the formula itself depends, and Aristotle accordingly finds language frequently inadequate to express the states of excess or defect which his theory involves (for example in dealing with the virtue of ambition). Throughout the list he insists on the “autonomy of will” as indispensable to virtue: courage for instance is only really worthy of the name when done from a love of honor and duty: munificence again becomes vulgarity when it is not exercised from a love of what is right and beautiful, but for displaying wealth.

Justice is used both in a general and in a special sense. In its general sense it is equivalent to the observance of law. As such it is the same thing as virtue, differing only insofar as virtue exercises the disposition simply in the abstract, and justice applies it in dealings with people. Particular justice displays itself in two forms. First, distributive justice hands out honors and rewards according to the merits of the recipients. Second, corrective justice takes no account of the position of the parties concerned, but simply secures equality between the two by taking away from the advantage of the one and adding it to the disadvantage of the other. Strictly speaking, distributive and corrective justice are more than mere retaliation and reciprocity. However, in concrete situations of civil life, retaliation and reciprocity is an adequate formula since such circumstances involve money, depending on a relation between producer and consumer. Since absolute justice is abstract in nature, in the real world it must be supplemented with equity, which corrects and modifies the laws of justice where it falls short. Thus, morality requires a standard which will not only regulate the inadequacies of absolute justice but be also an idea of moral progress.

This idea of morality is given by the faculty of moral insight. The truly good person is at the same time a person of perfect insight, and a person of perfect insight is also perfectly good. Our idea of the ultimate end of moral action is developed through habitual experience, and this gradually frames itself out of particular perceptions. It is the job of reason to apprehend and organize these particular perceptions. However, moral action is never the result of a mere act of the understanding, nor is it the result of a simple desire which views objects merely as things which produce pain or pleasure. We start with a rational conception of what is advantageous, but this conception is in itself powerless without the natural impulse which will give it strength. The will or purpose implied by morality is thus either reason stimulated to act by desire, or desire guided and controlled by understanding. These factors then motivate the willful action. Freedom of the will is a factor with both virtuous choices and vicious choices. Actions are involuntary only when another person forces our action, or if we are ignorant of important details in actions. Actions are voluntary when the originating cause of action (either virtuous or vicious) lies in ourselves.

Moral weakness of the will results in someone does what is wrong, knowing that it is right, and yet follows his desire against reason. For Aristotle, this condition is not a myth, as Socrates supposed it was. The problem is a matter of conflicting moral principles. Moral action may be represented as a syllogism in which a general principle of morality forms the first (i.e. major) premise, while the particular application is the second (i.e. minor) premise. The conclusion, though, which is arrived at through speculation, is not always carried out in practice. The moral syllogism is not simply a matter of logic, but involves psychological drives and desires. Desires can lead to a minor premise being applied to one rather than another of two major premises existing in the agent’s mind. Animals, on the other hand, cannot be called weak willed or incontinent since such a conflict of principles is not possible with them.

Pleasure is not to be identified with Good. Pleasure is found in the consciousness of free spontaneous action. It is an invisible experience, like vision, and is always present when a perfect organ acts upon a perfect object. Pleasures accordingly differ in kind, varying along with the different value of the functions of which they are the expression. They are determined ultimately by the judgment of “the good person.” Our chief end is the perfect development of our true nature; it thus must be particularly found in the realization of our highest faculty, that is, reason. It is this in fact which constitutes our personality, and we would not be pursuing our own life, but the life of some lower being, if we followed any other aim. Self-love accordingly may be said to be the highest law of morals, because while such self-love may be understood as the selfishness which gratifies a person’s lower nature, it may also be, and is rightly, the love of that higher and rational nature which constitutes each person’s true self. Such a life of thought is further recommended as that which is most pleasant, most self-sufficient, most continuous, and most consonant with our purpose. It is also that which is most akin to the life of God: for God cannot be conceived as practicing the ordinary moral virtues and must therefore find his happiness in contemplation.

Friendship is an indispensable aid in framing for ourselves the higher moral life; if not itself a virtue, it is at least associated with virtue, and it proves itself of service in almost all conditions of our existence. Such results, however, are to be derived not from the worldly friendships of utility or pleasure, but only from those which are founded on virtue. The true friend is in fact a second self, and the true moral value of friendship lies in the fact that the friend presents to us a mirror of good actions, and so intensifies our consciousness and our appreciation of life.

8. Politics

Aristotle does not regard politics as a separate science from ethics, but as the completion, and almost a verification of it. The moral ideal in political administration is only a different aspect of that which also applies to individual happiness. Humans are by nature social beings, and the possession of rational speech (logos) in itself leads us to social union. The state is a development from the family through the village community, an offshoot of the family. Formed originally for the satisfaction of natural wants, it exists afterwards for moral ends and for the promotion of the higher life. The state in fact is no mere local union for the prevention of wrong doing, and the convenience of exchange. It is also no mere institution for the protection of goods and property. It is a genuine moral organization for advancing the development of humans.

The family, which is chronologically prior to the state, involves a series of relations between husband and wife, parent and child, master and slave. Aristotle regards the slave as a piece of live property having no existence except in relation to his master. Slavery is a natural institution because there is a ruling and a subject class among people related to each other as soul to body; however, we must distinguish between those who are slaves by nature, and those who have become slaves merely by war and conquest. Household management involves the acquisition of riches, but must be distinguished from money-making for its own sake. Wealth is everything whose value can be measured by money; but it is the use rather than the possession of commodities which constitutes riches.

Financial exchange first involved bartering. However, with the difficulties of transmission between countries widely separated from each other, money as a currency arose. At first it was merely a specific amount of weighted or measured metal. Afterwards it received a stamp to mark the amount. Demand is the real standard of value. Currency, therefore, is merely a convention which represents the demand; it stands between the producer and the recipient and secures fairness. Usury is an unnatural and reprehensible use of money.

The communal ownership of wives and property as sketched by Plato in the Republic rests on a false conception of political society. For, the state is not a homogeneous unity, as Plato believed, but rather is made up of dissimilar elements. The classification of constitutions is based on the fact that government may be exercised either for the good of the governed or of the governing, and may be either concentrated in one person or shared by a few or by the many. There are thus three true forms of government: monarchy, aristocracy, and constitutional republic. The perverted forms of these are tyranny, oligarchy and democracy. The difference between the last two is not that democracy is a government of the many, and oligarchy of the few; instead, democracy is the state of the poor, and oligarchy of the rich. Considered in the abstract, these six states stand in the following order of preference: monarchy, aristocracy, constitutional republic, democracy, oligarchy, tyranny. But though with a perfect person monarchy would be the highest form of government, the absence of such people puts it practically out of consideration. Similarly, true aristocracy is hardly ever found in its uncorrupted form. It is in the constitution that the good person and the good citizen coincide. Ideal preferences aside, then, the constitutional republic is regarded as the best attainable form of government, especially as it secures that predominance of a large middle class, which is the chief basis of permanence in any state. With the spread of population, democracy is likely to become the general form of government.

Which is the best state is a question that cannot be directly answered. Different races are suited for different forms of government, and the question which meets the politician is not so much what is abstractly the best state, but what is the best state under existing circumstances. Generally, however, the best state will enable anyone to act in the best and live in the happiest manner. To serve this end the ideal state should be neither too great nor too small, but simply self-sufficient. It should occupy a favorable position towards land and sea and consist of citizens gifted with the spirit of the northern nations, and the intelligence of the Asiatic nations. It should further take particular care to exclude from government all those engaged in trade and commerce; “the best state will not make the “working man” a citizen; it should provide support religious worship; it should secure morality through the educational influences of law and early training. Law, for Aristotle, is the outward expression of the moral ideal without the bias of human feeling. It is thus no mere agreement or convention, but a moral force coextensive with all virtue. Since it is universal in its character, it requires modification and adaptation to particular circumstances through equity.

Education should be guided by legislation to make it correspond with the results of psychological analysis, and follow the gradual development of the bodily and mental faculties. Children should during their earliest years be carefully protected from all injurious associations, and be introduced to such amusements as will prepare them for the serious duties of life. Their literary education should begin in their seventh year, and continue to their twenty-first year. This period is divided into two courses of training, one from age seven to puberty, and the other from puberty to age twenty-one. Such education should not be left to private enterprise, but should be undertaken by the state. There are four main branches of education: reading and writing, Gymnastics, music, and painting. They should not be studied to achieve a specific aim, but in the liberal spirit which creates true freemen. Thus, for example, gymnastics should not be pursued by itself exclusively, or it will result in a harsh savage type of character. Painting must not be studied merely to prevent people from being cheated in pictures, but to make them attend to physical beauty. Music must not be studied merely for amusement, but for the moral influence which it exerts on the feelings. Indeed all true education is, as Plato saw, a training of our sympathies so that we may love and hate in a right manner.

9. Art and Poetics

Art is defined by Aristotle as the realization in external form of a true idea, and is traced back to that natural love of imitation which characterizes humans, and to the pleasure which we feel in recognizing likenesses. Art however is not limited to mere copying. It idealizes nature and completes its deficiencies: it seeks to grasp the universal type in the individual phenomenon. The distinction therefore between poetic art and history is not that the one uses meter, and the other does not. The distinction is that while history is limited to what has actually happened, poetry depicts things in their universal character. And, therefore, “poetry is more philosophical and more elevated than history.” Such imitation may represent people either as better or as worse than people usually are, or it may neither go beyond nor fall below the average standard. Comedy is the imitation of the worse examples of humanity, understood however not in the sense of absolute badness, but only in so far as what is low and ignoble enters into what is laughable and comic.

Tragedy, on the other hand, is the representation of a serious or meaningful, rounded or finished, and more or less extended or far-reaching action — a representation which is effected by action and not mere narration. It is fitted by portraying events which excite fear and pity in the mind of the observer to purify or purge these feelings and extend and regulate their sympathy. It is thus a homeopathic curing of the passions. Insofar as art in general universalizes particular events, tragedy, in depicting passionate and critical situations, takes the observer outside the selfish and individual standpoint, and views them in connection with the general lot of human beings. This is similar to Aristotle’s explanation of the use of orgiastic music in the worship of Bacchas and other deities: it affords an outlet for religious fervor and thus steadies one’s religious sentiments.



approx. 445 – 385 B.C.


Of all the writers of "Old Comedy", only one remains. Lost forever are the works of Hionides, Magnes, Ecphantides, Cratinus, Crates, and Eupolis. All the extant comedies of the fifth century B.C. belong to one man--Aristophanes. On his shoulders alone rests the reputation of an entire age of comedy. Fortunately, by most accounts Aristophanes was the greatest comic writer of his day.

By the time Aristophanes began to write his comedies, democracy had already begun to sour for the Athenians. The people were increasingly demoralized by the ongoing conflicts of the Peloponnesian War and the loss of their greatest hero, Pericles, had been taken from them and replaced by unscrupulous politicians such as Cleon and Hyperbolus. It is little wonder, therefore, that Aristophanes laughter is tinged, even from the beginning, with tones of apprehension and grief.

Aristophanes' first two comedies, The Banqueters and The Babylonians have been lost. His first surviving play, The Acharnians, was written in the sixth year of the War and, coincidentally, happens to be the world's first anti-war comedy. Inspired by the suffering of the rural population of Attica, the area surrounding Athens which was exposed to continual invasions, the poet built his plot around a hard headed farmer who, tired of the hostilities, determines to make a private peace with the Spartans. Denounced as a traitor by his fellow citizens and forced to plead for his life, Dicaeopolis turns to the tragic poet Euripides who lends him a whole assortment of tragic stage effects. His collection depleted, Euripides complains, "You miserable man! You are robbing me of an entire tragedy!"

In his next play Aristophanes turned his satirical powers on Cleon, the demagogue who had succeeded Pericles. However, the dictator's power was so great that no actor dared impersonate him, and legend has it that the poet played the role himself, his face smeared with wine dregs in mockery of Cleon's bloated and alcoholic countenance. The people of Athens were quick to recognize their tyrannical leader as the Paphlagonian tanner in The Knights, and although the play had no real political effect, it took first prize at the festival.

Aristophanes barbs, however, were not reserved exclusively for political figures. In fact, he often saved his sharpest attacks for other cultural figures. In The Clouds, he turns his attentions to the great thinker of the day--Socrates. The story revolves around an old man named Strepsiades. Deeply in debt because of his son's gambling and desperate to preserve his fortune, he enrolls in Socrates' Thinking Shop in order to learn how to confute his creditors with logic. What he finds on the first day of training, however, is the great thinker suspended in a basket and contemplating the sun. Only confused by this first lesson, Strepsiades determines to have his son educated instead. The young man responds quickly to Socrates' teachings and is soon able to prove, after beating his father, that he was morally justified in doing so.

In The Wasps, Aristophanes returned to his favorite theme--the deterioration of Athens. In this satire of an overzealous legal system, Philocleon ("Lover of Cleon") becomes so addicted to the courtroom drama that he has to be confined to his house by his son. Desperate to return to the Tribunal where cases are being tried, the old man becomes more and more extravagant in his attempts to escape. At one point, he tries to squeeze through the chimney pretending to be "only smoke". In the end, he is rescued by his fellow jurors who appear, appropriately enough, as a swarm of wasps.

Aristophanes favorite target, however, was another literary figure--the tragic poet Euripides. Already satirized in The Acharnians, Euripides was later to became the subject of two more plays: Thesmophoriazusae (Women at the Festival of Demeter) and The Frogs. In the second of these--set sometime after Euripides' death--Dionysus has become annoyed at the absence of a major dramatist on the stage and resolves to bring Euripides back from the dead. Dressed as Hercules, he braves the underworld, pleading with Pluto to allow Euripides to return with him to Athens. However, there are three tragic poets stuck in Hades, and the great warrior-poet Aeschylus is not convinced that the upstart Euripides is the best choice to return to the world of the living. The literary duel that follows is perhaps one of the most remarkable parodies in dramatic literature.

Aristophanes would return to his political theme of pacifism in Lysistrata. Written twenty-one years into the Peloponnesian War, the play revolves around the women of Athens who finally tire of losing their sons on the battlefield and conspire to deny their husbands sexual intercourse until they make peace with the Spartans. Lysistrata, who leads the revolt, is one of Aristophanes' most completely realized characters. Although the play is light-hearted, it was written out of the poet's grief over the thousands of Athenians who had recently lost their lives in the terrible defeat at Syracuse.

After Lysistrata, Aristophanes seems to have given up on politics. It would be nineteen years before he would again devote an entire play to a political issue, and by that time it had become far too dangerous to launch a direct attack on state policies. Athens had long since been crushed by the Spartans and its liberties had decreased significantly. It was during this turbulent period that Socrates was put to death. Thus Ecclesiazusae (Women in Parliament) and Plutus are far less pointed than the poet's earlier works in their call for a new utopian society. Mercifully, however, Aristophanes would not have to hold his tongue for long. Three years after the production of Plutus, the comic poet passed away, leaving behind approximately forty plays--eleven of which have survived to this day.


Archimedes of Syracuse (287 BC – c. 212 BC) was a Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer. Although few details of his life are known, he is regarded as one of the leading scientists in classical antiquity. Among his advances in physics are the foundations of hydrostatics, statics and an explanation of the principle of the lever. He is credited with designing innovative machines, including siege engines and the screw pump that bears his name. Modern experiments have tested claims that Archimedes designed machines capable of lifting attacking ships out of the water and setting ships on fire using an array of mirrors.

Archimedes is generally considered to be the greatest mathematician of antiquity and one of the greatest of all time. He used the method of exhaustion to calculate the area under the arc of a parabola with the summation of an infinite series, and gave a remarkably accurate approximation of pi. He also defined the spiral bearing his name, formulae for the volumes of surfaces of revolution and an ingenious system for expressing very large numbers.

Archimedes died during the Siege of Syracuse when he was killed by a Roman soldier despite orders that he should not be harmed. Cicero describes visiting the tomb of Archimedes, which was surmounted by a sphere inscribed within a cylinder. Archimedes had proven that the sphere has two thirds of the volume and surface area of the cylinder (including the bases of the latter), and regarded this as the greatest of his mathematical achievements.

Unlike his inventions, the mathematical writings of Archimedes were little known in antiquity. Mathematicians from Alexandria read and quoted him, but the first comprehensive compilation was not made until c. 530 AD by Isidore of Miletus, while commentaries on the works of Archimedes written by Eutocius in the sixth century AD opened them to wider readership for the first time. The relatively few copies of Archimedes' written work that survived through the Middle Ages were an influential source of ideas for scientists during the Renaissance, while the discovery in 1906 of previously unknown works by Archimedes in the Archimedes Palimpsest has provided new insights into how he obtained mathematical results.

Archimedes was born c. 287 BC in the seaport city of Syracuse, Sicily, at that time a self-governing colony in Magna Graecia. The date of birth is based on a statement by the Byzantine Greek historian John Tzetzes that Archimedes lived for 75 years. In The Sand Reckoner, Archimedes gives his father's name as Phidias, an astronomer about whom nothing is known. Plutarch wrote in his Parallel Lives that Archimedes was related to King Hiero II, the ruler of Syracuse. A biography of Archimedes was written by his friend Heracleides but this work has been lost, leaving the details of his life obscure. It is unknown, for instance, whether he ever married or had children. During his youth, Archimedes may have studied in Alexandria, Egypt, where Conon of Samos and Eratosthenes of Cyrene were contemporaries. He referred to Conon of Samos as his friend, while two of his works (The Method of Mechanical Theorems and the Cattle Problem) have introductions addressed to Eratosthenes.

Archimedes died c. 212 BC during the Second Punic War, when Roman forces under General Marcus Claudius Marcellus captured the city of Syracuse after a two-year-long siege. According to the popular account given by Plutarch, Archimedes was contemplating a mathematical diagram when the city was captured. A Roman soldier commanded him to come and meet General Marcellus but he declined, saying that he had to finish working on the problem. The soldier was enraged by this, and killed Archimedes with his sword. Plutarch also gives a lesser-known account of the death of Archimedes which suggests that he may have been killed while attempting to surrender to a Roman soldier. According to this story, Archimedes was carrying mathematical instruments, and was killed because the soldier thought that they were valuable items. General Marcellus was reportedly angered by the death of Archimedes, as he considered him a valuable scientific asset and had ordered that he not be harmed.

A sphere has 2/3 the volume and surface area of its circumscribing cylinder. A sphere and cylinder were placed on the tomb of Archimedes at his request.

The last words attributed to Archimedes are "Do not disturb my circles" (Greek: μη μου τους κύκλους τάραττε), a reference to the circles in the mathematical drawing that he was supposedly studying when disturbed by the Roman soldier. This quote is often given in Latin as "Noli turbare circulos meos," but there is no reliable evidence that Archimedes uttered these words and they do not appear in the account given by Plutarch.

The tomb of Archimedes carried a sculpture illustrating his favorite mathematical proof, consisting of a sphere and a cylinder of the same height and diameter. Archimedes had proven that the volume and surface area of the sphere are two thirds that of the cylinder including its bases. In 75 BC, 137 years after his death, the Roman orator Cicero was serving as quaestor in Sicily. He had heard stories about the tomb of Archimedes, but none of the locals was able to give him the location. Eventually he found the tomb near the Agrigentine gate in Syracuse, in a neglected condition and overgrown with bushes. Cicero had the tomb cleaned up, and was able to see the carving and read some of the verses that had been added as an inscription. A tomb discovered in a hotel courtyard in Syracuse in the early 1960s was claimed to be that of Archimedes, but its location today is unknown.

The standard versions of the life of Archimedes were written long after his death by the historians of Ancient Rome. The account of the siege of Syracuse given by Polybius in his Universal History was written around seventy years after Archimedes' death, and was used subsequently as a source by Plutarch and Livy. It sheds little light on Archimedes as a person, and focuses on the war machines that he is said to have built in order to defend the city.


(fl. 5th C. BCE)

Protagoras of Abdera was one of several fifth century Greek thinkers (including also Gorgias, Hippias, and Prodicus) collectively known as the Older Sophists, a group of traveling teachers or intellectuals who were experts in rhetoric (the science of oratory) and related subjects. Protagoras is known primarily for three claims that man is the measure of all things (which is often interpreted as a sort of radical relativism) that he could make the “worse (or weaker) argument appear the better (or stronger)” and that one could not tell if the gods existed or not. While some ancient sources claim that these positions led to his having been tried for impiety in Athens and his books burned, these stories may well have been later legends. Protagoras’ notion that judgments and knowledge are in some way relative to the person judging or knowing has been very influential, and is still widely discussed in contemporary philosophy.

1. Life

Surprising little is known of Protagoras’ life with any certainty. Our main sources of information concerning Protagoras are:

Plato (427-347 BCE): Protagoras is a leading character in Plato’s dialogue Protagoras and Protagoras’ doctrines are discussed extensively in Plato’s Theaetetus. Plato’s dialogues, however, are a mixture of historical account and artistic license, much in the manner of the comic plays of the period. Moreover, Protagoras died when Plato was quite young and Plato may have depended on not entirely reliable second-hand evidence for his understanding of Protagoras.

Diogenes Laertius (third century CE): Diogenes’ Lives of the Philosophers is probably our single most extensive source for many early Greek philosophers’ works and biographies. Unfortunately, his work was compiled over six hundred years after Protagoras’ death and is an uncritical compilation of materials from a wide variety of sources, some reliable, some not, and many hopelessly garbled

Sextus Empiricus (fl. late 2nd century CE): Sextus Empiricus was a skeptic of the Pyrrhonian school. Sextus wrote several books criticizing the dogmatists (non-skeptics). His treatment of Protagoras is somewhat favorable, but since his purpose is to prove the superiority of Pyrrhonism to all other philosophies, we cannot trust him to be “objective” in a modern sense; moreover, like Diogenes, he wrote several hundred years after Protagoras’ death and may not have had completely reliable sources.

The first step in understanding Protagoras is to define the general category of “sophist,” a term often applied to Protagoras in antiquity. In the fifth century, the term referred mainly to people who were known for their knowledge (for example, Socrates, the seven sages) and those who earned money by teaching advanced pupils (for example, Protagoras, Prodicus) and seemed to be a somewhat neutral term, although sometimes used with pejorative overtones by those who disapproved of the new ideas of the so-called “Sophistic Enlightenment”. By the fourth century the term becomes more specialized, limited to those who taught rhetoric, specifically the ability to speak in assemblies or law courts. Because sophistic skills could promote injustice (demagoguery in assemblies, winning unjust lawsuits) as well as justice (persuading the polis to act correctly, allowing the underprivileged to win justice for themselves), the term “sophist” gradually acquired the negative connotation of cleverness not restrained by ethics. Conventionally, the term “Older Sophist” is restricted to a small number of figures known from the Platonic dialogues (Protagoras, Gorgias, Prodicus, Hippias, Euthydemus, Thrasymachus and sometimes others). Whether these figures actually had some common body of doctrines is uncertain. At times scholars have tended to lump them together in a group, and attribute to them all a combination of religious skepticism, skill in argument, epistemological and moral relativism, and a certain degree of intellectual unscrupulousness. These characteristics, though, were probably more typical of their fourth century followers than of the Older Sophists themselves, who tended to agree with and follow generally accepted moral codes, even while their more abstract speculations undermined the epistemological foundations of traditional morality.

When we separate Protagoras from general portraits of “sophistic”, as most scholars (for example, the ones listed below in the bibliography) recommend, our information about him is relatively sparse. He was born in approximately 490 B. C. E. in the town of Abdera in Thrace and died c. 420 B. C. E. (place unknown). He traveled around Greece earning his living primarily as a teacher and perhaps advisor and lived in Athens for several years, where he associated with Pericles and other rich and influential Athenians. Pericles invited him to write the constitution for the newly founded Athenian colony of Thurii in 444 B. C. E. Many later legends developed around the life of Protagoras which are probably false, including stories concerning his having studied with Democritus, his trial for impiety, the burning of his books, and his flight from Athens.

2. Career

If our knowledge of Protagoras’ life is sparse, our knowledge of his career is vague. Protagoras was probably the first Greek to earn money in higher education and he was notorious for the extremely high fees he charged. His teaching included such general areas as public speaking, criticism of poetry, citizenship, and grammar. His teaching methods seemed to consist primarily of lectures, including model orations, analyses of poems, discussions of the meanings and correct uses of words, and general rules of oratory. His audience consisted mainly of wealthy men, from Athens’ social and commercial elites. The reason for his popularity among this class had to do with specific characteristics of the Athenian legal system.

Athens was an extremely litigious society. Not only were various political and personal rivalries normally carried forward by lawsuits, but one special sort of taxation, known as “liturgies” could result in a procedure known as an “antidosis” (exchange). A liturgy was a public expense (such as providing a ship for the navy or supporting a religious festival) assigned to one of the richest men of the community. If a man thought he had been assigned the liturgy unfairly, because there was a richer man able to undertake it, he could bring a lawsuit either to exchange his property with the other man’s or to shift the burden of the liturgy to the richer man. Since Athenians had to represent themselves in court rather than hiring lawyers, it was essential that rich men learn to speak well in order to defend their property; if they could not do so, they would be at the mercy of anyone who wanted to extort money from them. While this made the teachings of Protagoras extremely valuable, it also led a certain conservative faction (for example, the comic playwright Aristophanes) to distrust him, in the same way that people now might distrust a slick lawyer.

3. Doctrines

Protagoras’ doctrines can be divided into three groups:

Orthoepeia: the study of the correct use of words

Man-measure statement: the notion that knowledge is relative to the knower

Agnosticism: the claim that we cannot know anything about the gods


a. Orthoepeia

Perhaps because the practical side of his teaching was concerned with helping students learn to speak well in the courtroom, Protagoras was interested in “orthoepeia” (the correct use of words). Later sources describe him as one of the first to write on grammar (in the modern sense of syntax) and he seems interested in the correct meaning of words, a specialty often associated with another sophist, Prodicus, as well. In the Protagoras, the Platonic dialogue named after the famous sophist which has both Protagoras and Prodicus as participants, Protagoras is shown interpreting a poem of Simonides, with special concern for the issue of the relationship between the writer’s intent and the literal meanings of the words. This method of interpretation was one which would be especially useful in interpreting laws and other written witnesses (contracts, wills, and so forth) in the courtroom. Unfortunately, we don’t have any actual writings by Protagoras on the topic.

b. Man-Measure Statement

Of the book titles we have attributed to Protagoras, only two, “Truth” (or “Refutations”) and “On the Gods” are probably accurate. Of Protagoras’ works, only a few brief quotations embedded in the works of later authors have survived. (The quotations of and reports about Protagoras below are referred to by their ‘Diels-Kranz,’ or ‘DK’ number, the usual way of referring to such fragments and testimonial. The Diels-Kranz numbering system is explained here.) Of Protagoras’ ipsissima verba (actual words, as opposed to paraphrases), the most famous is the homo-mensura (man-measure) statement (DK80b1): “Of all things the measure is man, of the things that are, that [or "how"] they are, and of things that are not, that [or "how"] they are not.” This precise meaning of this statement, like that of any short extract taken out of context, is far from obvious, although the long discussion of it in Plato’s Theaetetus gives us some sense of how ancient Greek audiences interpreted it. The test case normally used is temperature. If Ms. X. says “it is hot,” then the statement (unless she is lying) is true for her. Another person, Ms. Y, may simultaneously claim “it is cold.” This statement could also be true for her. If Ms. X normally lives in Alaska and Ms. Y in Florida, the same temperature (e. g. 25 Celsius) may seem hot to one and cool to the other. The measure of hotness or coldness is fairly obviously the individual person. One cannot legitimately tell Ms. X she does not feel hot — she is the only person who can accurately report her own perceptions or sensations. In this case, it is indeed impossible to contradict as Protagoras is held to have said (DK80a19). But what if Ms. Y, in claiming it feels cold, suggests that unless the heat is turned on the pipes will freeze? One might suspect that she has a fever and her judgment is unreliable; the measure may still be the individual person, but it is an unreliable one, like a broken ruler or unbalanced scale. In a modern scientific culture, with a predilection for scientific solutions, we would think of consulting a thermometer to determine the objective truth. The Greek response was to look at the more profound philosophical implications.

Even if the case of whether the pipes will freeze can be solved trivially, the problem of it being simultaneously hot and cold to two women remains interesting. If this cannot be resolved by determining that one has a fever, we are presented with evidence that judgments about qualities are subjective. If this is the case though, it has alarming consequences. Abstractions like truth, beauty, justice, and virtue are also qualities and it would seem that Protagoras’ dictum would lead us to conclude that they too are relative to the individual observer, a conclusion which many conservative Athenians found alarming because of its potential social consequences. If good and bad are merely what seem good and bad to the individual observer, then how can one claim that stealing or adultery or impiety or murder are somehow wrong? Moreover, if something can seem both hot and cold (or good and bad) then both claims, that the thing is hot and that the thing is cold, can be argued for equally well. If adultery is both good and bad (good for one person and bad for another), then one can construct equally valid arguments for and against adultery in general or an individual adulterer. What will make a case triumph in court is not some inherent worth of one side, but the persuasive artistry of the orator. And so, Protagoras claims he is able to “make the worse case the better” (DK80b6). The oratorical skills Protagoras taught thus had potential for promoting what most Athenians considered injustice or immorality.

c. Agnosticism

While the pious might wish to look to the gods to provide absolute moral guidance in the relativistic universe of the Sophistic Enlightenment, that certainty also was cast into doubt by philosophic and sophistic thinkers, who pointed out the absurdity and immorality of the conventional epic accounts of the gods. Protagoras’ prose treatise about the gods began “Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not or of what sort they may be. Many things prevent knowledge including the obscurity of the subject and the brevity of human life.” (DK80b4)

4. Social Consequences and Immediate Followers

As a consequence of Protagoras’ agnosticism and relativism, he may have considered that laws (legislative and judicial) were things which evolved gradually by agreement (brought about by debate in democratic assemblies) and thus could be changed by further debate. This position would imply that there was a difference between the laws of nature and the customs of humans. Although Protagoras himself seemed to respect, and even revere the customs of human justice (as a great achievement), some of the younger followers of Protagoras and the other Older Sophists concluded that the arbitrary nature of human laws and customs implies that they can be ignored at will, a position that was held to be one of the causes of the notorious amorality of such figures as Alcibiades.

Protagoras himself was a fairly traditional and upright moralist. He may have viewed his form of relativism as essentially democratic — allowing people to revise unjust or obsolete laws, defend themselves in court, free themselves from false certainties — but he may equally well have considered rhetoric a way in which the elite could counter the tendencies towards mass rule in the assemblies. Our evidence on this matter is unfortunately minimal.

The consequences of the radical skepticism of the sophistic enlightenment appeared, at least to Plato and Aristophanes, among others, as far from benign. In Aristophanes’ play, the Clouds, a teacher of rhetoric (called Socrates, but with doctrines based to a great degree on those of the Sophists, and possibly directed specifically at Protagoras or his followers) teaches that the gods don’t exist, moral values are not fixed, and how to make the weaker argument appear the stronger. The result is moral chaos — the main characters (Strepsiades and his son Pheidippides) in Clouds are portrayed as learning clever tricks to enable them to cheat their creditors and eventually abandoning all sense of conventional morality (illustrated by Pheidippides beating his father on stage and threatening to beat his mother). Although no one accused Protagoras himself of being anything other than honest — even Plato, who disapproved of his philosophical positions, portrays him as generous, courteous, and upright — his techniques were adopted by various unscrupulous characters in the following generation, giving sophistry the bad name it still has for clever (but fallacious) verbal trickery.

5. Influence

Protagoras’ influence on the history of philosophy has been significant. Historically, it was in response to Protagoras and his fellow sophists that Plato began the search for transcendent forms or knowledge which could somehow anchor moral judgment. Along with the other Older Sophists and Socrates, Protagoras was part of a shift in philosophical focus from the earlier Presocratic tradition of natural philosophy to an interest in human philosophy. He emphasized how human subjectivity determines the way we understand, or even construct, our world, a position which is still an essential part of the modern philosophic tradition.



Athenian military commander, statesman, and one of the main architects of the Athenian Empire.

Themistocles was born in a village named Phrearrhioi as the son of a man named Neocles. His mother was a non-Athenian from Thrace or Caria. According to Themistocles' biographer Plutarch of Chaeronea, the young man "was of a vehement and impetuous nature, of a quick apprehension, and a strong and aspiring bent for action and great affairs", but this is probably nothing but a retro projection. In Antiquity, it was widely believed that great statesmen already showed their qualities when they were still young. It is only when Themistocles obtained the office of archon in 493/492 BCE that he becomes "visible" for us. After his tenure of this office, he became member of the Areopagus, the influential council of former magistrates.

In those years, Athens was involved in two major foreign conflicts. The most important seemed to be the war with the island Aegina, which could threaten Athenian commerce as it was situated opposite the port of Athens, Phaleron. The other conflict was with the Persian empire in the east. In the third quarter of the sixth century, the Persian king Cyrus the Great (559-530) had conquered the Greek cities of Asia Minor, but in 499, they had revolted against king Darius I the Great (522-486), and Athens had briefly supported the rebels.

When Themistocles was archon, the Persians were restoring order, and it was rumored that the Persians would one day invade Europe to punish the Athenians. The Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus, writing half a century later, believed that Darius wanted revenge. In 492, the great king sent his relative Mardonius to conquer Macedonia, and in 490, his generals Datis and Artaphernes conquered the Aegean islands. After this, they wanted to bring back Hippias, the former tyrant of Athens, to his native city, but they were defeated by the Athenian general Miltiades near Marathon (on 10 September or 12 August 490). According to later sources, one of the Athenian vice-commanders was Themistocles. It may be true, but it is more likely that the story was inspired by Themistocles' later successes against the same enemy.

It seems that by now, Themistocles already was a controversial politician. The Athenian democracy appears to have been in some state of turmoil and in six successive years, as many politicians were ostracized, including Xanthippus (the father of Pericles) and Aristides (surnamed "the Just"). There is additional, archaeological evidence for these ostracisms in the form of a great many potsherds, excavated at the Athenian agora, mentioning several well-known political leaders. Among them, Themistocles figures prominently. We do not know why he was so controversial, but it may be that his policies, which were later considered to be radical, were already leading to critical questions. On the other hand, he was not ostracized.

In the year 483/482, a vein of silver was discovered near Laurion, east of Athens. Under normal circumstances, the state would have given every citizen a sum of money and would have leased out the mining rights. Themistocles, however, proposed to use the money to build warships. The war between Athens and Aegina had already lasted several years, and Themistocles argued that the Athenian ships were no match for the larger fleet of the enemy.

The Athenian People's Assembly (ecclesia) accepted this argument, but many must have seen through the proposal. In the east, the Persian king Darius had been succeeded by his son Xerxes, who had ordered a full-scale expedition against the "Yaunâ", the Greeks. His engineers were already digging a canal through the Athos (text), and it was easy to understand that Xerxes wanted to use a very large fleet to support his army during the invasion of Greece. Themistocles' shipbuilding program was directed against Persia, not Aegina.

But there's more to this than meets the eye. The obvious lesson of Marathon had been that the Persians could be defeated by heavily-armed infantry (the hoplites). Not everyone could buy armor, and most Greek infantry units were, consequently, dominated by more or less rich men. Building a navy meant that the Athenians wanted to employ poor people as rowers. Themistocles' policy, therefore, meant the radicalization of the democracy. He also laid the foundations of what was to become a naval empire.

Many traditional politicians must have objected to the shipbuilding policy, which was revolutionary, but they knew that there was no alternative: if Xerxes needed to dig a canal for his fleet, he needed many ships, and if he needed many ships, he wanted to support a very large army. The Persian king had understood the lesson of Marathon too: the Greek infantry could only be defeated with a very large numerical superiority.

There were many other Greek politicians who understood what was about to happen, and in the autumn of 481, they organized a congress in Corinth to prepare for the war against the invaders. It is at this stage that Themistocles convinced the Athenians that they had to prepare for the evacuation of their city. Our main source, the Histories by Herodotus, suggests that the city was evacuated much later, but an inscription found at Troezen suggests otherwise. The stela contains the text of a decision by the People's Assembly that the Athenians must leave their homes, settle their families in Troezen, recall the exiles (a/o Aristides and Xanthippus), and fight against the Persian invader. The navy was sent to two places: Artemisium and Salamis. The decree was proposed by Themistocles.

Artemisium and Salamis are the exact locations where the Greeks fought against the Persians in the autumn of 480, and several scholars have found this suspicious. Besides, the letters of the inscriptions clearly belong to a later date and several formulas are unusual for the first quarter of the fifth century. However, although the inscription must be dated in c.300 BCE, the main text is probably authentic, and proves that Themistocles foresaw that the Greek armies would be unable to prevent the Persian invasion, and  knew that the only place to defeat the Persians was at sea - near Artemisium and Salamis.

At about the same time -king Xerxes had already reached Sardes in Lydia- the Greeks sent envoys to the oracle of Delphi, asking advise from the god. At first, Apollo suggested the Greeks to flee to the edges of the earth, but on Themistocles' request the god advised them to rely upon "a wooden wall", i.e., the navy. A brief Greek expedition to the north in the spring of 480, to check if it was possible to defend Greece at Tempe, was soon aborted.

In the summer, the Persians finally invaded Greece and defeated the Spartan infantry that guarded Thermopylae. At the same time, the Persians found the Greek navy on its way near Artemisium. Its admiral was Eurybiades, the commander of the small Spartan flotilla. However, the Athenians had manned 127 galleys and it was natural that the real Greek commander was Themistocles. When the Persian fleet arrived at the opposite shore, Eurybiades wanted to retreat, but Themistocles -who wanted to counter the Persian offensive before it reached Athens- bribed him to stay. For two days, the Persians and Greeks fought, but on the third day, the invaders repelled the defenders. The Greeks would have had to evacuate their position anyhow, because Thermopylae had fallen and the Persian cavalry might attack them in the rear.

After the fall of Thermopylae and the evacuation of Artemisium, Athens was lost. Defending the city in Boeotia would have been an act of gallant irresponsibility, because the superior Persian numbers would have outmatched the brave Greek soldiers. The only hope for Athens and for Greece was to prevent Xerxes to keep this large army, and this was only possible by destroying the Persian transport fleet. Lack of food would force the invader to return. Unfortunately, the Greeks had failed to do so at Artemisium, and the invaders easily reached Athens. However, the Greek navy was still more or less intact and had occupied the island Salamis, opposite the Athenian port at Phaleron.

Herodotus tells about talks among the Greek admirals, but his reports are confused. One of his claims is that the others wanted to sail away and Themistocles had to blackmail them. If the other Greeks would leave Salamis, the Athenians would give up the struggle, take their families on board and sail to Italy with their navy of 200 vessels. The result of this blackmail was, according to Herodotus, that everyone agreed to stay. This is not very likely, because the Greek position at Salamis was excellent.

Another story is that the admirals became scared when they saw the approaching enemy fleet. Again: unlikely, because they had already seen the Persians at Artemisium. Herodotus says that Themistocles understood that the others would only fight if the Persians attacked them - but why should they enter the shallow and narrow bay? Therefore, Themistocles sent a messenger to inform Xerxes that if he wanted an easy victory, he should attack immediately, because the Greeks were to leave the island at dawn. Xerxes swallowed the bait, and ordered his fleet to enter the bay under cover of an almost moonless night. At dawn of 29 September 480, however, the Persian navy suddenly found itself under attack; since the bay was narrow, their superior numbers meant nothing, and they were forced to retreat.

The reality of the stratagem of the informer has been doubted by several historians. Yet, the story is also told in the tragedy The Persians by the playwright Aeschylus, written only a couple of years after the naval battle. It is possible that it is true.

However this may be, "Salamis" meant the end of the Persian offensive. The navy was damaged and at the same time, Babylon was restless. We know the names of two rebel kings in Babylon: Bêl-šimânni and Šamaš-eriba, and although they had revolted in 484, there is evidence that Xerxes intervened in 479 (Arrian of Nicomedia, Anabasis, 7.17.2). This explains why the Persians were unable to continue their offensive after Salamis.

It should be stressed that from a Persian perspective, the "Greek war" was not yet lost after Salamis. On the contrary. Xerxes had won a naval victory off Artemisium and had won a battle at Thermopylae. He had added Thessaly and Boeotia to the Persian empire and had captured Athens. In spite of the losses at Salamis, Xerxes could truthfully state in his Daiva inscription that he ruled "all the Yaunâ, those who dwell on this side of the sea and those who dwell across the sea".

Themistocles was now at the zenith of his fame. Next year, his decline started. There was no need for a naval policy anymore: the Persians had recalled many troops, and what remained was defeated by the Spartan general Pausanias at Plataea in the summer of 479. The commander of the Athenian regiment was Aristides. Nor was Themistocles present when the Greek navy attacked the remains of the Persian fleet at Mycale; here, the commander was Xanthippus. (Both men had been recalled from ostracism by Themistocles.)

Still, Themistocles was an influential man, and in the winter of 479/478, he visited Sparta as a guest of honor. His hosts soon regretted their hospitality. There were persistent rumors that the Athenians were building new walls, but Themistocles told the Spartan authorities that he was unaware of this project. The Spartans believed him, not knowing that Themistocles was just trying to gain time. In the end, however, he admitted that the Athenians had indeed fortified their city, and that the Spartans, who had commanded the Athenians during the war against Xerxes, now had to treat their former subjects as their equals.

Themistocles' role in the 470's is unclear, but he played a role in the founding of Piraeus as Athens' new harbor, and it is certain that the Athenians thought he was becoming too powerful. Therefore, he was ostracized and settled in Argos, where -in spite of his exile still an Athenian nationalist- he continued an anti-Spartan policy, until the Spartans informed the Athenians that Themistocles was negotiating with king Xerxes. This was probably untrue, but the Athenians converted the ostracism into a death sentence, and the Argives extradited him.

Themistocles was able to escape, but where did he have to go? In the end, he choose Persia. After all, it was believed in Greece that he had wanted to betray Athens to the Persians, and perhaps the great king believed this strange rumor too. So, Themistocles settled in Magnesia in Asia Minor. Our sources are unclear about the name of the Persian king who offered asylum. It may have been Xerxes himself, in which case the Athenian arrived in the first half of the 460's; or it may have been Xerxes' son Artaxerxes, who succeeded to the throne in 465.

In 459, Themistocles died, sixty-five years old. His tomb was still visible on the market of Magnesia in the second century CE. It is possible that the man who had saved Greece and had laid the foundations of the Athenian democratic sea-empire was forced to commit suicide. As proponent of a radical democracy, he was succeeded by Pericles, the son of Xanthippus.

Zeno of Citium

(333 BC-264 BC)

was a Hellenistic philosopher from Citium, Cyprus. Zeno was the son of a merchant and a student of Crates of Thebes, the most famous Cynic living at that time in Greece.

Zeno was, himself, a merchant until the age of 42, when he started the Stoic school of philosophy. Named for his teaching platform, the Painted Porch ("stoa" is Greek for "porch"), his teachings were the beginning of Stoicism.

Stoicism is a school of philosophy founded (308 BCE) in Athens by Zeno of Citium (Cyprus). It teaches self-control and detachment from distracting emotions, sometimes interpreted as an indifference to pleasure or pain. This allows one to be a clear thinker, levelheaded and unbiased. In practice, Stoicism is intended to imbue an individual with virtue, wisdom, and integrity of character. Students are encouraged to help those in need, knowing that those who can, should. Stoicism also teaches psychological independence from society, regarding it as an unruly and often unreasonable entity.

Virtue, reason, and natural law are prime directives. By mastering passions and emotions, it is possible to overcome the discord of the outside world and find peace within oneself. Stoicism holds that passion distorts truth, and that the pursuit of truth is virtuous. Greek philosophers such as Cleanthes, Chrysippus, and later Roman thinkers such as Cicero, Seneca the Younger, Marcus Aurelius, Cato the Elder, Cato the Younger, and Epictetus are associated with Stoicism. In Cicero's case, it should be emphasized that while he shared many of the moral tenets of Stoicism, he was not a Stoic himself but an eclectic. Stoic philosophy is usually contrasted with Epicureanism.

Stoicism first appeared in Athens in the Hellenistic period around 301 BCE and was introduced by Zeno of Citium. He taught in the famous stoa poikile (the painted porch) from which his philosophy got its name. Central to his teachings was the law of morality being the same as nature. During its initial phase it was generally seen as a back-to-nature movement critical of superstitions and taboos. The philosophical detachment also encompassed pain and misfortune, good or bad experiences, as well as life or death. Zeno often challenged prohibitions, traditions and customs. Another tenet was the emphasis placed on love for all other beings.

Zeno preached that "man conquers the world by conquering himself". He lectured his students on the value of apatheia, which he explained to be "the absence of passion". Only by controlling one's emotion and physical desire, he argued, could we develop wisdom and the ability to apply thereof. By developing an indifference to pain and pleasure through meditation, the practicing Stoic will develop a wisdom stemming from suppressing the influence of passions, and ultimately, will attain wisdom. He is the inventor of the concept of Kathekon.

Zeno died around 264 BC. La‘rtius reports about his death: "As he left the school, he tripped, fell and broke a toe. Hitting the ground with his hand, he cited words of Niobe: "I am coming, why do you call me thus?". Since the Stoic sage was expected to always do what was appropriate (kathekon) and Zeno was very old at the time, he felt it appropriate to die and consequently strangled himself.

During his lifetime, Zeno received appreciation for his philosophical and pedagogical teachings. Amongst other things, Zeno has been honored with the golden crown, and a tomb was built in honor of his moral influence on the youth of his era. The Zeno crater on the Moon is named in his honor.

Diogenis of Apollonia

(5th cn. B. C. E.)

Diogenes of Apollonia is often considered to be the last of the Presocratic Greek philosophers, although it is more than likely that Democritus was still active after the death of Diogenes. Diogenes’ main importance in the history of philosophy is that he synthesized the earlier Ionic monism of Anaximenes and Heraclitus with the pluralism of Empedocles and Anaxagoras. Diogenes serves as a sort of culminating point for Presocratic philosophy, uniting its differing tendencies toward emphasizing the absolute indivisibility or identity of reality with the equally absolute multiplicity of differing beings. Just as for Heraclitus, the truth for Diogenes was that one self-identical thing is all different things. By abiding by the Presocratic natural law that out of nothing comes nothing and into nothing, nothing goes, Diogenes proposed a definition of nature that identified it with life and explicitly affirmed that it is generated from itself. Diogenes’ main idea was that nature, the entire universe, is an indivisibly infinite, eternally living, and continuously moving substance he called, following Anaximenes, air. All the natural changes occurring throughout the universe—the various forms, the incalculable multiplicity the singular being takes—are one substance, air, under various modes. Air is also intelligent. Indeed, air is intelligence, or noesis in the Ancient Greek. Noesis is the purely intuitive, rational thinking that expresses and sustains all cosmic processes. As the self-causal power of rational, intuitive intelligence, air is also a god. When defining air solely as an atmospheric condition, as we do today, and in relation to the three other main elements, namely, fire, water, and earth, Diogenes’ air becomes the soul of singular beings. The soul is the source of every living thing’s sensitive ability to live, know, and thus also affect and be affected by other singular beings. The soul is also the way the absolute cosmic air identifies itself through a number of living differentiations as the means by which living creatures exhibit their differing degrees of temperature and density.  Through the soul, air is sometimes rarer or more condensed, and likewise sometimes hotter or cooler. The soul is the life-principle that, when mixed with and operating through other aerated forms like blood and veins, allows for the living functions of all singular beings to remain self-sustaining until the necessary process of decomposition affects them. Such decomposition, however, is just another means for nature’s processes to continue to function insofar as each decomposed being is the simultaneous site for the next modification that air will engender and express through itself. Ultimately, for Diogenes, the essence of all reality, identified as intelligent and divine air, is that it is both nature and life, as nature and life are identical as one absolute substance.

The exact chronology of the life of Diogenes of Apollonia is unknown, but most accounts place the date of his acme somewhere around 460-430 BCE.  It was once believed that he was from the Cretan city of Apollonia, but it is now thought that the Apollonia of which he was a citizen was the Milesian colony on the Pontus that was actually founded by the Presocratic philosopher Anaximander, and which is today the Bulgarian Black Sea resort town of Sozopol. It is also thought Diogenes lived for some time in Athens and that while there, he became so unpopular (being thought an atheist) that his life was in danger. Further proof of Diogenes’ probable residence in Athens is the parody we find of him in Aristophanes’ The Clouds, even though it is Socrates who is portrayed as holding Diogenes’ views. Diogenes Laertius writes, “Diogenes, son of Apollothemis, an Apolloniate, a physicist and a man of exceptional repute. He was a pupil of Anaximenes, as Antisthenes says. His period was that of Anaxagoras” (IX, 57). Theophrastus also mentions that Diogenes of Apollonia was ‘almost the youngest’ of the physical philosophers. It has been persuasively put forward that Diogenes Laertius was more than likely confused when he wrote that Diogenes of Apollonia was a pupil of Anaximenes, considering the agreed upon earliness and geographic location of Diogenes by most commentators. Like Anaximenes, however, Diogenes held that the fundamental substance of nature is air, but it is highly unlikely he could have studied with him. On the other hand, the view that Diogenes flourished in roughly the same period as Anaxagoras is uncontroversial.

There has been much debate over whether Diogenes wrote a single book or even as many as four. Only fragments of Diogenes’ work survive. A majority of the fragments that we have of Diogenes’ work come from Simplicius’ commentaries on Aristotle’s Physics and On the Heavens. Simplicius writes.

Since the generality of enquirers say that Diogenes of Apollonia made air the primary element, similarly to Anaximenes, while Nicolaus in his theological investigation relates that Diogenes declared the material principle to be between fire and air…, it must be realized that several books were written by this Diogenes (as he himself mentioned in On Nature, where he says that he had spoken also against the physicists—whom he calls ‘sophists’—and written a Meteorology, in which he also says he spoke about the material principle, as well as On the Nature of Man); in the On Nature, at least, which alone of his works came into my hands, he proposes a manifold demonstration that in the material principle posited by him is much intelligence.


The debate is over whether On Nature is the one book that Diogenes wrote and which covered many different yet nevertheless interrelated topics (such as man, meteorology, and the Sophists), or that On Nature, On the Nature of Man, Meteorologia, and Against the Sophists were four separate works. Diels, the early German collator of the Presocratic fragments, preferred the former option (DK 64B9), while commentators like Burnet (EGP 353) prefer the latter view. It also entirely possible that Simplicius was either confused or misinformed in his reading of Diogenes because of the fact that the quotations of Diogenes’ work, which he himself provides, contain discussions, for example, on the nature of man, which should have been impossible if indeed he only had a copy of On Nature in his possession. At the same time, we have evidence from a work of the medical author Galen that a certain Diogenes wrote a treatise that dealt with a number of diseases and their causes and remedies. It is probable that this was Diogenes of Apollonia because we have other reports from Galen (and Theophrastus) that Diogenes held views about diagnosing a patient by analyzing his tongue and general complexion. This evidence, along with his discussions regarding anatomy and the function of veins, leads to the probability that Diogenes was a professional doctor of some sort who could have produced a technical medical treatise. Another interesting piece of evidence that suggests Diogenes could have been a doctor is the methodological claim he makes regarding his own form of writing, and which sounds very similar to what is said in the beginning of some of the more philosophical works in the Hippocratic corpus. Diogenes Laertius says that this was the first line of Diogenes’ book: “It is my opinion that the author, at the beginning of any account, should make his principle or starting-point indisputable, and his explanation simple and dignified”.  Such a no-nonsense approach to writing was often championed by the early medical thinkers.




4th century B.C.

Greek scientist, philosopher and an important Pythagorean mathematician from Tarentum in southern Italy. He is considered the founder of mathematical mechanics along with the most important researcher of acoustics in ancient Greece.

He was an active member of the political life. Thanks to his knowledge, ethics and personal virtues, his fellow citizens admired him so much that they chose him to be the governor of Tarentum seven times (although the city law did not allow one to rule more than one year. Aristotle and Aristoxenus wrote about his life and writings, while his dear friend Plato found in Archytas a supporter during his persecution by Dionysus of Syracuse. Plato himself used the results of Archytas’ research in his mathematical works, and there is strong belief than Eukleides himself used the proof Archytas wrote in his 8th book “of the Elements”.

Tradition has him to have constructed a wooden pigeon flying around using compressed air.

Archytas, who was a second generation student of Pythagoras (the Greek philosopher who pointed out the importance of numbers as tools to interpret everything around us) tried to combine practical observation with Pythagorean theory. In geometry he solved the so called “delian problem” (doubling the cube) using semi-cylinders to a 3d model. Archytas must have took active part in the Pythagorean research of spaces. He tried to define their relativity in all three genes of ancient Greek music.

The fame of Archytas as a scientist and mathematician is mostly due to his achievements in geometry, acoustics, and music theory, rather than his idealistic explanations of human relationship and nature of society according to the Pythagorean theory of numbers.




6th century B.C

One of the Seven Sages of Ancient Greece, he was born in Priene of Ionia. A benefactor with no concern of making profit, a friend of justice, he defended the hard done in courts for free, and without being asked to. After his hometown was conquered by the Persians, and his fellow citizens left the town taking everything they had worth of something, Bias left without taking anything with him, although he was a man of great wealth. When people asked him why, he quoted the legendary “All I have, is what I bring along with me”.

Plutarch, Aristotle, Stovaios, Diogenis among others, referred to the wisdom of Bias, one that could be considered coming out of a deep knowledge about man and the problems that one faces. Only a few of his maxims and writings have survived through time, among those an extract of a lyrical poem he wrote.




3rd century B.C.

Diogenes the Laertian gives us information of this philosopher’s life. As Bion himself told to King Antigonus of Macedonia, he came from an area near Vorysthenes river. His father was a former slave, merchant of salt fish, and after some custom office concerning offence, Bion was sold as a slave along with his family. His new owner, an orator liked him so much that he made him the sole inheritor of his property.

After his owner died, Bion gave away his inheritance and settled in Athens, where he joined the Cynicals, after studying to the Platonic academy, next to Crates. A few years later he abandoned the Cynics and attended Theodore the Atheist, of the Cyrenian Academy. Later on he abandoned once more his new teacher, to join Theophrastus. According to Diogenes the Laertian, Bion taught philosophy in Rhodes for a while.

He was never a systematic philosopher. He was ironic towards philosophy, music and geometry. He was fond of making a joke out of everything with his witty sayings, thus he is considered a predecessor of Lucianus. He combined the ideas of the Cynicals and the Cyrenians, presenting a kind of cynical-hedonistic philosophy. His dogma stated that man should enjoy all kinds of pleasures, when life and circumstance allow him to do so, along with facing the needs of life with patience and austerity. Eratosthenes claimed that Bion was the first who put on philosophy a flowery dress. Bion gave birth to a new kind of literature, Diatribe, the modern word is discourse, in ancient writings was a combination of rhetorical speech and dialogue, teaching through pleasure.

Diogenes Laertius

(3rd C. CE)

Diogenes Laertius, native of Laerte in Cilicia, was a biographer of ancient Greek philosophers. His Lives of the Philosophers (Philosophoi Biol), in ten books, is still extant and is an important source of information on the development of Greek philosophy. The period when he lived is not exactly known, but it is supposed to have been during the reigns of Septimius Severus and Caracalla. Because of his long and fairly sympathetic account of Epicurus, some think that Diogenes belonged to the Epicurean School, but this is not clear. He expresses his admiration for many philosophers, but his own allegiances, if any, are not stated.

He divides all the Greek philosophers into two classes: those of the Ionic and those of the Italic school. He derives the first from Anaximander, the second from Pythagoras. After Socrates, he divides the Ionian philosophers into three branches: (a) Plato and the Academics, down to Clitomachus; (b) the Cynics, down to Chrysippus; (c) Aristotle and Theophrastus. The series of Italic philosophers consists, after Pythagoras, of the following: Telanges, Xenophanes, Parmenides, Zeno of Elea, Leucippus, Democritus, and others down to Epicurus. The first seven books are devoted to the Ionic philosophers; the last three treat of the Italic school.

The work of Diogenes is a crude contribution towards the history of philosophy. It contains a brief account of the lives, doctrines, and sayings of most persons who have been called philosophers; and though the author is limited in his philosophical abilities and assessment of the various schools, the book is valuable as a collection of facts, which we could not have learned from any other source, and is entertaining as a sort of pot-pourri on the subject. Diogenes also includes samples of his own wretched poetry about the philosophers he discusses.

Diogenes is generally as reliable as whatever source he happens to be copying from at that moment. Especially when Diogenes is setting down amusing or scandalous stories about the lives and deaths of various philosophers which are supposed to serve as fitting illustrations of their thought, the reader should be wary. The article on Epicurus, however, is quite valuable, since it contains some original letters of that philosopher, which comprise a summary of the Epicurean doctrines.




470 or 460 - approx. 370 B.C.

A grand philosopher of Ancient Greece. He invented the atomic theory, (or he was appointed by his tutor Lefkippus to configure it and broaden its effect in all aspects of the physical world). He managed to prove this theory scientifically, thus making it possible for the Science of Physics to evolve. He was born in Abdera, being the son of an extremely wealthy father. His share, 100 talants, a vast amount of money for the time, he spent it in long journeys to satisfy his scientific curiosity. Among other countries, he visited Egypt, Babylon, Arabia, Ethiopia. He stayed for a while in Athens, where he watched Socrates’ conversations, although they didn’t get the chance to know each other. He had no ambition, and he preferred laying low. He mentions “I came to Athens, and nobody knew of me”. On returning to Abdera he lived a solitary life, writing, researching and teaching. He was most passionate with science, declaring that it was more important to him to find the reason behind a phenomenon than be given the throne of Persia.

All of his writings are in the Ionian dialect and involve all aspects of human knowledge: mathematics, physics, medicine, ethics, poetry, music, agriculture, painting, aesthetics, grammar, the art of war etc. He claimed that while the universe was eternal, incorruptible and unchangeable, however it was not “simple” but complex, meaning that it consists of multiple small pieces of matter, the atoms, interacting with each other, creating “movement”.

Infinite numbers of atoms spin in the infinite space, like dust in the air, and as they interact with each other they create infinite world “he called it the Great Decoration”, one of which is Earth. Everything happens due to necessity, and with mechanical accuracy. Democritus clearly explains how the stars are born and even states that the soul is created by atoms of special kind, that are pulled into the body through the air, giving a material and mechanical aspect of the emotional life. From his “Ethics” 230 extracts are saved, most in a form of maxims. Two thousand years later Bacon and Gaussanti brought Democritus to the scientific surface once more, and only during the 18th century AC the importance of his philosophy was acknowledged, and eventually led to understanding the physical laws of sound, light, heat, and eventually the modern atomic theory.

The life of the wise Abderian is surrounded by the fog of legend and mystery, and many remarkable scenes are mentioned concerning the last years of his life, one of which is meeting with the famous Ippokrates and having a memorable chat. Critics doubt these biographical data, however one trait no one doubts of, is that Democritus laughed a lot, understanding the triviality of everything people considered as serious and important in front of the magnificence of the world surrounding them. His fellow citizens worshipped him as a God and after dying in full age the build a copper statue to honor him.


(c. 280-207 B.C.E.)

Chrysippus was among the most influential philosophers of the Hellenistic period. He is usually thought of as the most important influence on Stoicism. A later Stoic catchphrase ran, “If Chrysippus had not existed, neither would the Stoa.” (Lives 292). Carneades, the fourth Chair of the New Academy, modified the phrase to, “If Chrysippus had not existed, neither would I.” (Lives 438) Chrysippus defended and developed an empiricist epistemology and psychology. He offered important alternatives to the metaphysical theories of Aristotle and Plato, defending a thoroughgoing materialist ontology. His views concerning freedom and determinism continue to generate interest, and he is thought to have endorsed a form of compatibilism countenancing both freedom of the will and a deterministic cosmos. His work in logic was considerable, as he developed, as an alternative to the logic of Aristotle, a kind of propositional logic. As an ethicist, he maintained that the life of human happiness and the life of virtue are one and the same. He seems to have thought virtue is best understood as related essentially, if not entirely reducible, to wisdom. And he thought wisdom derives especially from the study of natural philosophy. That Chrysippus would take wisdom to derive primarily from the study of natural philosophy may be explained, in part, by his conviction that the cosmos exists in accordance with proper ends.

Chrysippus was born in Soli, near what is today known as Mersin, Turkey. He died in the 143rd Olympiad at the age of seventy-three (living c. 280-207 B.C.E.). Diogenes Laertius, in his Lives of the Philosophers, reports that before becoming a student of Cleanthes, Chrysippus used to practice as a long-distance runner (287 B.C.E.). He was a master dialectician. Most people thought, according to Diogenes Laertius, that if the gods took to dialectic, they would adopt no other system than that of Chrysippus (289 B.C.E.). Cleanthes had succeeded Zeno, who had founded the school at the Stoa Poikilê in 262 B.C.E. Chrysippus, having taught outside the school for a number of years, returned to succeed his former teacher in 230 B.C.E. Stoicism continued to flourish after his death, as the work begun by early Stoics was continued in the era of Panaetius and Posidonius, and later into the Roman Imperial period by thinkers such as Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.


(c.380—c.320 BCE)

As a follower of Democritus, Anaxarchus developed the skeptical tendencies within Democritus’ thought. Although our information on him is extremely sketchy, he is a pivotal figure connecting the atomism of Democritus to the skepticism of Pyrrho, if ancient philosophical genealogies can be trusted. He allegedly abolished the criterion of truth by likening our experiences to those of dreamers and madmen. Renowned for his contentment, he earned the title “the happiness man” (ho eudaimonikos). Like Pyrrho, this contentment was based on an indifference to the value of things around him. But unlike Pyrrho, this indifference did not manifest itself in a detachment from worldly affairs. Instead, he was an advisor to Alexander the Great and actively pursued the objects of his desires, often spurning conventional values.

Anaxarchus was a close companion of Alexander the Great, and he reportedly accompanied Pyrrho on Alexander’s expedition to India. Apparently, Indian philosophers rebuked Anaxarchus for “fawning on kings,” and it was this rebuke that led Pyrrho to withdraw from worldly affairs. Also, unlike Pyrrho, Anaxarchus was fond of luxury. Nevertheless, he was famed for his impassivity and ability to be happy under any circumstances. This impassivity is the subject of many of the anecdotes about him, most dramatically in the widely-circulated story of his death: he was able to pay no attention to his torment as he was being pounded to death in a mortar at the orders of a tyrant he had insulted. (Zeno of Elea, however, is also said to have died in this manner, so the story is somewhat suspect.)


No philosophical works of Anaxarchus survived. We have only two “fragments” (that is, direct quotations) from his oeuvre, and few reports concerning his philosophical positions or the arguments for them. Most of our information on Anaxarchus comes in the form of colorful anecdotes, contained in much later sources, concerning his interactions with Alexander and Pyrrho. These stories are often false, being composed to make some (supposedly) humorous or edifying point.

Relying on dubious anecdotes in order to reconstruct someone’s philosophy is obviously less than ideal, but it is not hopeless, because these bogus tales were often composed in order to provide fitting and amusing illustrations of a philosophical point or position of the figure in question, and so they can be used as evidence for a person’s philosophy. For example, Plutarch reports that Anaxarchus told Alexander that there are an infinite number of worlds, causing Alexander to despair that he had not yet conquered even one (Plutarch, Tranq. 466D). This conversation almost certainly never took place. Instead, it was invented to make a neat little point about the insatiability of ambition. That is to say, even Alexander, the most powerful man in the world, could not attain all that he desired, and if this is so, wouldn’t you be better off in adapting your desires to the world, rather than engaging in vain striving in order to bend the world to your boundless desires? Nonetheless, that there is an infinite number of worlds is a thesis characteristic only of the atomists in antiquity, and so this anecdote gives us evidence that Anaxarchus was regarded as an atomist, since putting this remark in the mouth of e.g., an Aristotelian, who believes that only one world exists, would make no sense. Still, because of our sources, any conclusions concerning Anaxarchus’ philosophy will of necessity be sketchy and tentative.

Anaxarchus was accused of abolishing the criterion of truth because he likened things to painted scenery and said they resemble the experiences of dreamers and madmen (Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors 7 87-8). This suggests that the things that we take ourselves to be acquainted with in ordinary experience, such as trees and rocks, are merely representations, like painted scenery, not the objects themselves at all. Furthermore, these experiences cannot be relied upon to get us at the truth: we are in no better position than are dreamers and madmen, people whose experiences are paradigmatically false (or at least untrustworthy).

The above points are only Anaxarchus’ epistemological conclusions, not the grounds for them. At least two different reconstructions of Anaxarchus’ reasoning can be given. In the first (in Hankinson (1995) 54-5), Anaxarchus is offering an argument from skeptical hypothesis. Such arguments from skeptical hypotheses proceed in the following way: you start by proposing some skeptical hypothesis—for instance, that you are a brain in a vat or that the world was created exactly five minutes ago. You then argue that you do not know whether or not this skeptical hypothesis holds—typically, because your situation under the skeptical hypothesis would be indistinguishable, as far as you can tell, from the situation you ordinarily think obtains. Then various skeptical inferences are drawn from this—since you do not know that the skeptical hypothesis does not hold, you are unjustified, for instance, in trusting the evidence of the senses or of your memory. On this reconstruction, Anaxarchus’ analogies operate as skeptical hypotheses. The two-dimensional surfaces of painted scenery delusively convey just the same sort of impression of a three-dimensional world as do our regular sense-impressions. But because we cannot distinguish between the delusive impressions produced by stage-paintings and the (supposedly) veridical impressions our senses normally convey, we cannot know whether the skeptical hypothesis holds, and so we should not trust the evidence of the senses. Likewise, the impressions we receive in sleep, or that madmen receive, are indistinguishable from ordinary sense-impressions—but if so, we cannot trust the senses. If this is right, Anaxarchus’ argument is an exciting anticipation of the most famous argument from skeptical hypothesis, Descartes’ dreaming argument in the Meditations against the trustworthiness of the senses. In the second reconstruction, the analogies are vivid illustrations of our epistemic predicament, but are not themselves the basis for Anaxarchus’ skeptical conclusions. Instead, he draws from his Democritean heritage. Democritus says that we know nothing genuine about objects in the external world, only about the effects that they have on our bodies (Against the Professors 7 136, DK 68 B 7). For instance, we are not really acquainted with some portion of honey in itself, we are familiar only with the way this honey makes us have certain visual sensations as atoms streaming off of it impinge upon our eyes, gustatory sensations as the soothing round atoms of the honey pleasingly and sweetly roll around on our tongues, etc. Furthermore, the information conveyed by our senses about these objects is systematically misleading. The same object may appear yellow to one person, and grey to a person with color blindness: but both sensory reports are false, since qualities like yellowness, grayness, and sweetness are not really present in the objects themselves at all. As Democritus famously puts it: “by convention sweet, by convention bitter, by convention hot, by convention cold, by convention color: in reality atoms and the void”.

As a result, the senses give only “bastard” knowledge. And this makes Democritus conclude that attaining knowledge of the world is very difficult, perhaps impossible. Although its exact extent is controversial, there is doubtless a heavy skeptical strain in Democritus. This strain is developed further by some of his followers, such as Metrodorus, who was allegedly Anaxarchus’ teacher. Apparently he thinks that Socrates was being too optimistic when he said that the one thing he knows is that he knows nothing; Metrodorus asserts that we know nothing, not even that we know nothing (Against the Professors 7 88). Anaxarchus is another member of this group: because of the unreliability of the senses, we are no better off than dreamers and madmen when it comes to our access to truths about the world, and so, there is no criterion whereby we can distinguish what is the case from what is not.




approx. 400 - 325 B.C.

A cynical philosopher, the basic representative of cynical philosophy. He was born in Sinope and came as a young man in Athens to study next to Antisthenes, founder of the cynical philosophy. He lived his live between Athens and Corinth, the last being the place of his death, in full age, in 323BC.

Diogenes the Laertian conducted a long catalogue of Diogenes’ works, out of which nothing was salvaged though. He collected maxims, anecdotes and details of the life of this great cynic, many of which however might be the fantasies of his later admirers. Diogenes led a very austere life and the Athenians loved him for his wits and intelligence, and his readiness to answer every question he was asked. He was loved also for the harsh and merciless criticizing the society of his time. He discussed only about ethical and social problems, while his teachings was rebellious and subversive, against the existing order of his time.

Diogenes sought for a radical change and transformation of society and the corrupt human nature. People, he said, have been made out of noble metal, alloyed however by circumstance. So it has to be once more melt and molded, for man to become once more a godly figure. To achieve this one has to study his own self, and understand human nature. This is how he will achieve maximum happiness. One of his basic beliefs, like Rousseau some thousand years later, was that man should return to nature.

Diogenes taught that nature supplied man with everything necessary for life, and it was man who created artificial and unnecessary needs and desires which often lead us to cunning and corruption. Natural and austere way of life is incomparably superior to the life we call civilized, a constant hunt of false pleasures, even worse than that of animals.

Tradition says that Diogenes lived inside a big jar, using his dogs as guardians to prove that even a house was something unnecessary.


(fl. 427 BCE)

Thrasymachus of Chalcedon is one of several “older sophists” (including Antiphon, Critias, Hippias, Gorgias, and Protagoras) who became famous in Athens during the fifth century BCE. We know that Thrasymachus was born in Chalcedon, a colony of Megara in Bithynia, and that he had distinguished himself as a teacher of rhetoric and speechwriter in Athens by the year 427. Beyond this, relatively little is known about his life and works. Thrasymachus’ lasting importance is due to his memorable place in the first book of Plato‘s Republic. Although it is not quite clear whether the views Plato attributes to Thrasymachus are indeed the views the historical person held, Thrasymachus’ critique of justice has been of considerable importance, and seems to represent moral and political views that are representative of the Sophistic Enlightenment in late fifth century Athens.

The precise years of Thrasymachus’ birth and death are hard to determine. According to Dionysius, he is younger than Lysias, who Dionysius falsely believed to be born in 459 BCE. Aristotle places him between Tisias and Theodorus, but he does not list any precise dates. Cicero mentions Thrasymachus several times in connection with Gorgias and seems to imply that Gorgias and Thrasymachus were contemporaries. A precise reference date for Thrasymachus’ life is provided by Aristophanes, who makes fun of him in his first play Banqueters. That play was performed in 427, and we can conclude therefore that he must have been teaching in Athens for several years before that. One of the surviving fragments of Thrasymachus’ writing (Diels-Kranz Numbering System 85b2) contains a reference to Archelaos, who was King of Macedonia from 413-399 BCE. We thus can conclude that Thrasymachus was most active during the last three decades of the fifth century.

Dionysios the Alikarnasseus

Coming soon ...


Coming soon ...




approx. 490 B.C.

A great philosopher from Akragantas in Sicily. He believed as Anaxagoras and Heraclitus in the evolution of beings, making himself a predecessor of Darwin. He studied the visible universe and nature, and his observations are similar to modern Physics and Astronomy. A lot is said about his life, and he is depicted as a wizard, sorcered, enchanter, controlling winds, healing patients and raising the dead. It is even said that he ascented to God in front of a great crowd.

Another legend has him falling inside the Aetna volcano, in his attempt to know its mysteries. Son of the ruler Meton, he brought democracy after the death of his father. His contemporaries glorified him, and he had a magnificent temple built in his honor by his fellow citizens. He wrote essays about politics, medicine, history. His main work however, was the “Of Nature”, 5000 lines long, where he poetically depicts his theories about the creation of the universe and the origin of life. 450 lines of this work has survived to our day.




approx. 342 - 271 B.C.

He was born in Samos, his parents being Athenians land owners. A distinguished philosopher, he settled in Athens and founded his own school of Philosophy. He stated that the basic principle of everything is matter, and beyond matter there is nothing but the Void. According to this materialistic theory, the only ultimate commodity is pleasure, not of momentary nature, but continuous, and the ultimate evil was pain, creating two poles around which the lives of mortal people are spinning. That is the reason why a man should prefer the spiritual over the physical pleasure as they last longer.


Coming soon ...




approx. 7th - 6th century B.C.

A theologist and famous for producing miracles in the Archaic Greece, a legend as he is depicted in all the information we have about him. He was born and raised in Faestos of Crete, and he appears to have lived up to 150 to 300 years. In Athens he was a known friend of Solon. He prepared the people of Athens for the legislation changes of Solon regarding worship and grief. He is said to have visited Athens for a second time ten years before the Persian invasion, foretelling the Persian attack, while a third invitation during the Peloponnesian War by Nikias is recorded after Delphi’s recommendation. People of Argos showed his grave to visitor, claiming that he took his body from the Spartans who killed him during their war with the Knossians, while the Spartans also claimed that they were the ones to have Epimenides’grave.

Some of the supernatural powers accounted to Epimenides were sleeping inside a cave for 50 years, being able to withstand lack of food, roam outside of his body and that he was resurrected more than once. He managed to relieve Athens from the Cylon Disgrace by letting black and white sheep and ordering their sacrifices at the first place they stood.

All these elements classify Epimenides to the religious-practical-spiritual movement that took over the greek cities after the epics reached their peak. This was the time that folk ancestral wisdom was combined with an enthusiastic religiousness whose representatives, Aristeas, Avaris, Epimenides and many more set themselves under the protection of Apollo, the father of the cities and genes.

This tradition is characteristically depicted at the Sages’ maxims –Epimenides was considered one of the Seven Sages- , and is considered similar to the shamanic religious cults.

But it was the practical spirit that prevailed in addition to the folk ethical tradition of the broadened Greek society, giving a universal explanation of this philosophical current, ending to Orpheus and Pythagoras.

Tradition stated that Epimenides was the son of the nymph Valti, favored by the gods, wise and with vast knowledge of the divine affairs.




530 -  440 B.C.

A philosopher and comedy writer, born in the island of Kos. He moved at a young age in Megara of Sicily, Syracuse following. There he found Gelon and Ieron, two educated and music loving tyrants, who supported theatrical and musical festival to the great theater they had built. This played a major part in Epicharmos’ genius shining. Syracusians loved him and honored him by a statue. He was not involved in politics as it was the regime who had protected him, nor he satirized political situations like Aristophanes.

What he satirized was the human flaws, stupidity being number one, the faults that happen in every social class. He was the first to satirize the drunk on stage. He implemented all his comedies with philosophical ideas, influenced by the Pythagorean school, commenting on ethics and metaphysical matters of the soul, the world etc. 36 to 52 comedies are accounted to him, and he was a major beneficial influence to Euripides. Plato thought he was the greatest of comedians. Unfortunately only extracts of his comedies were saved.


Coming soon ...


Coming soon ...




approx. 406 - 355 B.C.

The greatest of the mathematics and astronomers of the time of Plato, Eudoxos of Knidos (400-350 BC approximately). He broadened the theory of numbers beyond the Pythagorean tradition by proving the existence of irregular substances, and inventing methods of calculating curved surfaces. Moreover, with the homocentric sphere system he invented, he gave the first well documented explanation of the planets movement, and presenting yet once more the persistence of ancient Greek to the perfection of the sphere. He was the one applying geometry to the science of astronomy, and the one to outline the fact that there should be interaction between theory and observation, a basic principle to astronomy ever since.

He studies mathematics and medicine to a school with a reputation similar to that of Hippocrates (the greatest doctor of ancient Greece). A rich doctor, impressed by his abilities, sponsored him to go to Athens and study at Plato’s academy. He lived in Egypt for 18 months, during the reign of Nectanevo the First. In Heliopolis (nowadays a suburb of Cairo) he was initiated into the Egyptian wisdom, including astronomy. It was there that he wrote “8 years”, his first important work, probably after studying Venus. Later on he travelled to Propontis Sea teaching, and then returned to Athens where he became a well known legislator.

Eudoxos made two important contributions to mathematics, one being the theory of analogy, and the other the theory of depletion, both attributed to Eudoxos by Proklos and Archimedes. It might be that the theory of axioms of Eukleides was first induced by Eudoxos.

It is often said that it was Aristarchos of Samos who first calculated the distance between Earth from the Moon and the Sun, but there is a possibility that it was Eudoxos who found it. He gave a solution to another astronomical problem, explaining mathematically the phenomenal movement of the Sun, Moon, and the five known planets, by defining each one’s distance from Earth, order being Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

He created a model of 27 spheres, placing on the external sphere every stable star so as to consider their daily movement, and building a model of connected spheres for each one of the celestial bodies, 3 for the sun, 3 for the moon, 4 for each of the remaining planets, each sphere with the desired pitch and velocity.

After his death, at around 350 BC, mathematic science was led to new frontiers due to his contribution, His idea that a normal circular movement can explain all celestial movement survived until the 17th century AD.


Coming soon ...




490 - 430 B.C.

A greek philosopher of the Eleatic school, a pupil of Parmenides, a fanatic of the idea that every movement was just an illusion, as it can’t have a start and it cannot reach an ending point as it has to come through infinite middle points, and due to its relativity, moving cannot end, Aristotle and Engels were among those who tried to prove the sayings of Xenon, whom Aristotle called father of dialectics due to his extreme theories. He tried to free the Eleans from the tyranny of Nearchus, and for that he was sentenced to death by torturing, being hit in a mortar until he died.

Zynon stoinkos

Coming soon ...




3rd century B.C.

A hedonic philosopher of the Cyrenaic Academy founded by Aristippus. He along with Annikeris studied next to Paraibatus, and later he taught in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy the First who banned him from teaching because he led many people to suicide with his ideas. This is why he was named the one who convinces people to death.

Hegesias thought that pleasure is impossible because along with our actions, luck plays a great role in achieving it. He motivated his followers into voluntarily leaving this world, in order to be freed from the earthly problems, a freedom that according to the philosopher is the greatest joy of all. This is the only thing a man can achieve, the state of feeling nothing, not pain nor sorrow.

Ptolemy was forced to banish him from Alexandria. Hegesias wrote a book named “the one who cannot suffer life anymore”, which refers to the sorrows of human life.




approx. 540 - approx. 475 B.C.

One of the youngest Ionian philosophers, known as “the dark one” due to his pessimistic style, along with “the one that cries” contrary to the always joyful Democritus. He took part in the political struggles of his hometown, committed to the aristocrats. His elitism made him express an endless hatred toward the “demos”, the common people, and those who supported democratic movements. This contempt made him turn against many contemporary and earlier philosophers. However he is considered one of the deepest thinkers of the ancient world, and it is fair to say that modern science considers him, along with Democritus, one of the forefathers of physical science and the atomic age.

Opposite to the Eleatics who spoke about the eternal stillness of everything, he believed in the constant movement and change of the universe, nothing remains as it was, everything alters each passing moment. Everything that is created is the effect of a struggle between two opposing forces, and that is what brings harmony. Without this struggle, life would not exist. That is why he states that war of the elements, is the ”father of everything”, wherever hot prevails , there is movement and conscience, whereas excess of cold means death and stillness. There has been plenty of light shed on the dark theories of the Ephesians’ philosopher.


Coming soon ...


Coming soon ...




approx. 640 - 546 B.C.

One of the seven Sages of the ancient Greek world. After getting rich by the salt trade, he visited Egypt bringing back home the use of what was called the “Egyptian Fractures”. He calculated the height of the great Pyramids using their shadows on the ground, and found the reason of the yearly Nile floods. He discovered the attraction of several light objects to electrum ( the first observation of static electricity, where it owes its name too). Thales foretold the Sun Eclipse of the 28th of May 585 BC, and he is considered as the founder of Theoretical Geometry. He believed that water was the origin of everything.


Coming soon ...


Coming soon ...


Coming soon ...


Coming soon ...


Coming soon ...


Coming soon ...




6th century B.C.

One of the Seven Sages of Ancient Greece, tyrant of Lindus on the island of Rhodes. He lived and prospered during the 6th century BC, and he is accounted with many maxims, although many of those are said to belong to other philosophers too. Some of these are “Moderation is good”, “It is the mind that makes the ruler” etc.


Coming soon ...

Kratis the cynical

Coming soon ...

Kratis the platonic

Coming soon ...


Coming soon ...


Coming soon ...


Coming soon ...




3rd century B.C.

An eristic philosopher from Eretria, founder of the Eretrian school, (approximately 339 BC to 265 BC) During a military expedition in Megara he attended the lessons of Stilpon, of the Megaric school of philosophy, and was later related to the Helian school founded by Faedon. He became the leader of this school later on, moving it to Eretria and giving it the name of this city. Menedemus left no written works, and that is why his beliefs and role to the eristic movement cannot be evaluated with certainty, and the various info that the ancient biographers give us, add to this lack of knowledge. It is fair to say though, that the influences he had by the Megaric and Helian schools of philosophy, offspring of the Socratic teaching most probably made his ideas turn to rules and ethics.


Coming soon ...




7th century B.C.

A Greek philosopher who lived at the time of Solon, from Hena, Lakonia. He replaced Periandrus, the tyrant of Corinth in the Seven Sages catalogue as Plato says. This happened due to the disapproval of tyranny that people of the 4th century BC demonstrated. However, his name is missing to the official Seven Sages catalogue created by Demetrius of Faliro (along with a corpus of their maxims he collected). It is said that the Delphi Oracle praised the wisdom of Meson.


Coming soon ...




6th century B.C.

A Greek philosopher, founder of the Eleatic School of philosophy. He was born in the third or fourth decade of the 6th century BC in Kolophon. When the Persians conquered Ionia in 546BC he left his hometown and for many years he roamed the greek cities as a poet and rhapsode, to finally settle in Elea, an Ionian colony in Italy. His work is lost, and it is only by small fragments of his work “Of nature”, en educational poem, and the sayings of Aristotle and Theofrastus, that we know what he believed. Xenophanes gave philosophy a purely religious scent, criticizing with boldness the polytheistic religion of Greeks, raised a strong voice against it, and attacked passionately the ethical principles and superstitions of the greek mythology.

His main reason of exasperation was that mythology had made humanlike gods, with all the vices of mortal people. For him God was one, the One, the great Eye, the great Ear, ruling without some purpose using all his intellect. As this Godly perception is incorruptible and still, he has no need moving from one place to the other, as he is ever-present. This single divinity of Xenophanes, identifies with the universe itself, so we can call this kind of monotheism a




approx. 430 - 354 B.C.

A famous philosopher, historian, writer and general, student of Socrates. After the Persian monarch Cyrus was defeated in Kunaxa by Artaxerxes, he led after an epic struggle 10000 greek mercenaries to Byzantium. Athenians accused him of being Spartan friendly, so after being forced to exile, he settled in Corinthos. Some years later he returned and died in Athens. His works full of high thinking, are historical, political, practical and philosophical nature.




approx. 540 - 450  B.C.

A famous greek philosopher of the Eleatic school, a friend of Xenophanes, he had connections to the Pythagoreans. Theofrastus mentions that his father was Pyres, and from Plato we learn that Parmenides came to Athens when he was 65 years old, and that had young Socrates in his company (at the time 14-16 years old). From these we can assume than he was born around 520BC and that it was around 455 that he came to Athens. In a dialogue by the name of Parmenides, Plato refers to Parmenides with great respect, when Aristotle was a firm opposite to his theories, as to the theories of the Eleatic school at its whole. Only some extracts were saved from what is considered the only written work of his, “Of nature”, written in 6 syllabus lyrics and in the Ionian dialect.


Coming soon ...


Coming soon ...


Coming soon ...




approx. 640 - 560 B.C.

A great Athenian legislator, philosopher and poet. Solon belonged to a rich and aristocratic family, the Codrids, and his father’s name was Eksikestides. From a young boy he was raised and educated in a harmonious environment. After suffering the loss of his property and wealth, he turned to trade and travelled to Egypt and Asia Minor and took benefit of his journeys, which lasted decades, to study a number of foreign civilizations, their laws and political and social life. This knowledge he used when the time was right, for the rebuilding the social and political status of his hometown, thus becoming the greatest man of his time.

Solon won the trust and admiration of the public initially as a poet, affecting, advising, encouraging and exciting Athenians with his passionate lyrics. After diagnosing that the troubles and disputes of the Athenian society was nothing than a struggle of the lower and upper classes, in 594 BC he was elected ruler of ultimate authority, to solve the social problems that the city of Athens endured. He managed to relieve the oppressed citizens and brought equality to the state by applying just laws, relieving debts, freeing slaves, lifting mortgage from owing estates, and banning personal slavery of people who owed money and of their families’. Moreover he applied different currency policy and many law reformations

Solon is considered one of the Seven Sages of Ancient Greece.


Coming soon ...


Coming soon ...


Coming soon ...




470 - 399 B.C.

One of the wisest men of the ancient times, he was born in Athens in 470 BC, son of Sofroniskos, a sculptor and midwife Fainarete from Alopece. After trying to follow his father’s profession, he devoted himself to philosophy, teaching in the streets by talking with people of every class and profession, about ethical, religious, social and political matters.

His conversational ability, elegance and spiritual originality, combined with a perfectly ethical character, attracted young aristocrats. Contrary to his contemporary sophists, Socrates did not accept money for his lessons. During the Peloponnesian war he fought with greatest bravery in Potidaia, Delium, and Amphipolis, honoring his hometown and saving the life of Alkiviades. He opposed the illegal voting ending to the death of the nine generals of Athens who after winning in Arginouses, left their dead to the sea due to a bad storm. After Athens was defeated he refused to obey the order of the thirty tyrants to bring Leon of Salamis to Athens in order to be executed.

Socrates had many enemies because he opposed the theories of several sophists, and he criticized the faults of the Athenian democracy, especially the random selection of the state heads. Aristophanes being one of them, he thought of him as a sophist, responsible for the misdeeds of the town. As a result he was accused of disrespect to the laws and the gods by Anytus, a politician, poet Mellitus and orator Lycon, as well as corrupting the youth. Although he could escape conviction by commiting to an apology or begging the judges’ mercy, not only did he refuse, but even when he was found guilty of the charges he courageously declared unable to stop teaching young people, as it was the gods’ will. This proud stance of Socrates made the judges even more angry, and even those who had found him innocent at start, voted for his death.

Socrates due to the delay of the execution, stayed 30 days imprisoned, where his friends and students visited him, begging him to save himself by escaping, an act he refused considering it as unethical, Thus he drank the conium in extraordinary peace and divine ecstacy, not ceasing to discuss philosophy even the day he eventually died. It was not long before the Athenians felt sorry for the death of the wise man, and honored his memory in many ways. It is said that in a tragedy of Euripides, everyone burst in tears upon listening to lyrics speaking of the death of the wisest, the best of Greeks.

Everyone agrees of the character of the philosopher. Far from being the perfect example of Greek beauty, he was ugly and of poor appearance, however special for his kindness, wits, originality, humor and according to Plato, he was the wisest, the fairest and most perfect of Greeks.

He did not leave written documents, and it is by writings of Plato, Xenophon and Aristotle that all the info about Socrates come from. Xenophon characterizes Socrates as a great society reformer, and Plato as a great ethics teacher. His philosophy, based on dialectics, is human centered and as Cicero quotes, he brought philosophy from the Heavens to Earth.




320 - 230 B.C.

A Greek Sceptic, philosopher and writer. Timon worked as a dancer in his youth, due to his poverty, to earn a living. Later on he studied at the side of Stilpon and Pyrron. His lectures brought him money and fame, leading to his retirement in 275 BC, when he left Athens and started writing. Only extracts are saved out of his works, including tragedies, satirical dramas, comedies, poems and “silloi”, sarcastic attacks against dogmatic philosophers.




6th century B.C.

An ancient philosopher, born in Syros, where he founded a philosophical academy, one of his students being Pythagoras. He wrote “Of the nature of Gods”, and considered as origins of everything Zeus, the air, time and earth, and believed in reincarnation. He died at a very late age.




approx 475 B.C.

A philosopher of the Pythagorean academy, Philolaus was born either in Taranta, or according to Diogenes the Laertian, in Crotone of southern Italy. During the unrest following the death of Pythagoras, Philolaus escaped first in Lefkania and then to Theba in Greece. Later he returned in Italy, where there is a possibility that he was the teacher of another great philosopher, Archytas.

Philolaus was taught the famous Pythagorean theory of numbers and pointed the importance of numerical sums. He was particularly interest into number ten, a sum of the first 4 numbers, known as “tetraktys”. Spefsippus, the heir of Plato in the Platonic academy is said to having the tetraktys dogma imported by a Philolaus’ book.

Only extracts however are saved out of his work, along with the belief that he was the first organizing the Pythagorean theory into a method.

Hilon the Lakedemonian



6th century B.C.

One of the Seven Sages of Ancient Greece, Hilon was the son of Damagetus, and lived during the 6th century BC. In 566 BC he served as a state overseer (Greek world “ephoros”) to give prestige to this government position. It might be possible that he quoted the famous “know your self” and “never exaggerate” maxims, carved on the wall of the Apollo Temple in Delphi. Tradition mentions that he died of joy when he hugged his son after winning in the Olympics. A few of his maxims was saved to our days, and a small collection was presented only at the beginning of the 20th century.


Coming soon ...


For any objection you have concerning the texts or the photographs, please contact with us.