Anaxagoras

, of Clazomene, one of the most eminent of the ancient philosophers, was born in the first year of the seventieth olympiad, B. C. 500, and was a disciple of Anaximenes. He inherited from his parents a patrimony which might have secured him independence and distinction at home; but such was his thirst after knowledge, that, about the twentieth year of his age, he left his country, without taking proper precautions concerning his estate, and went to reside at Athens. Here he diligently applied himself to the study of eloquence and poetry, and was particularly conversant with the works of Homer, whom be admired as the best preceptor, not only in style, but in morals. Engaging afterwards in speculations concerning nature, the fame of the Milesian school induced him to leave | Athens, that he might attend upon the public instructions of Anaximenes. Under him he became acquainted with his doctrines, and those of his predecessors, concerning natural bodies, and the origin of things. So ardently did he engage in these inquiries, that he said concerning himself that he was born to contemplate the heavens. Visiting his native city, he found that, whilst he had been busy in the pursuit of knowledge, his estate had run to waste, anct remarked, that to this ruin he owed his prosperity. One of his fellow-citizens complaining that he, who was so well qualified, both by rank and ability, for public offices, had shown so little regard for his country, he replied, “My first care is for my country,” pointing to heaven. After remaining for some years at Miletus, he returned to Athens, and there taught philosophy in private. Among his pupils were several eminent men, particularly the tragedian Euripides, and the orator and statesman Pericles; to whom some add Socrates and Themistocles.

The reputation which be acquired, at length excited the jealousy and envy of his contemporaries, and brought upon him a cruel persecution. It is generally agreed, that he was thrown into prison, and condemned to death; and that it was with difficulty that Pericles obtained from his judges the milder sentence of fine and banishment; but the nature of the charge alleged against him is variously represented. The most probable account of the matter is, that his offence was, the propagation of new opinions concerning the gods, and particularly, teaching that the sun is an inanimate fiery substance, and consequently not a proper object of worship. As he was indefatigable in his researches into nature, on many occasions he might contradict the vulgar opinions and superstitions. It is related that he ridiculed the Athenian priests, for predicting an unfortunate event from the unusual appearance of a ram which had but one horn; and that, to convince the people that there was nothing unnatural in the affair, he opened the head of the animal, and showed them, that it was so constructed, as necessarily to prevent the growth of the other horn.

After his banishment, Anaxagoras passed the remainder of his days at Lampsacus, where he employed himself in instructing youth, and obtained great respect and influence among the magistrates and citizens. Through his whole life he appears to have supported the character of a true philosopher. Superior to motives of avarice and ambition, | he devoted himself to the pursuits of science, and in the midst of the vicissitudes of fortune, preserved an equal mind. When one of his friends expressed regret on account of his banishment from Athens, he said, “It is not I who have lost the Athenians, but the Athenians who have lost me.” Being asked, just before his death, whether he wished to be carried for interment to Clazomene, his native city, he said, “It is unnecessary; the way to the regions below is every where alike open.” In reply to a message sent him, at that time, by the senate of Lampsacus, requesting him to inform them in what manner they might most acceptably express their respect for his memory after his decease, he said, “By ordaining that the day of my death may be annually kept as a holiday in all the schools of Lampsacus.” His request was complied with, and the custom remained for many centuries. He died about the age of seventy-two years. The inhabitants of Lampsacus expressed their high opinion of his wisdom, by erecting a tomb, with an inscription signifying that his mind explored the paths of truth; and two altars were raised in honour of his memory, one dedicated to Truth, the other to Mind, which latter appellation was given him on account of the doctrine which he taught concerning the origin and formation of nature.

The material world was conceived by Anaxagoras to have originated from a confused mass, consisting of different kinds of particles. Having learned in the Ionic school, that bodies are composed of minute parts, and having observed in different bodies different, and frequently contrary, forms and qualities, he concluded, that the primary particles, of which bodies consist, are of different kinds; and that the peculiar form and properties of each body depend upon the nature of that class of particles, of which it is chiefly composed. A bone, for instance, he conceived to be composed of a great number of bony particles, apiece of gold, of golden particles; and thus he supposed bodies of every kind to be generated from similar particles, and to assume the character of those particles. Notwithstanding the difficulties and absurdities which obviously attend this system, the invention of it was a proof of the author’s ingenuity, who doubtless had recourse to the notion of similar particles, in hopes of obviating the objections which lay against the doctrine of atoms, as he had received it from, Anaxiinenes. | But the most important improvement which Anaxagoras made upon the doctrine of his predecessors, was that of separating, in his system, the active principle in nature from the material mass upon which it acts, and thus introducing a distinct intelligent cause of all things. The similar particles of matter, which he supposed to be the basis of nature, being without life or motion, he concluded that there must have been, from eternity, an intelligent principle, or infinite mind, existing separately from matter, which, having a power of motion within itself, first communicated motion to the material mass, and, by uniting homogeneal particles, produced the various forms of nature.

That Anaxagoras maintained an infinite mind to be the author of all motion and life, is attested by many ancient authorities. Plato expressly asserts, that Anaxagoras taught the existence of “a disposing mind, the cause of all things.Aristotle gives it as his doctrine, that mind is the first principle of all things, pure, simple, and unmixed; that it possesses within itself the united powers of thought and motion; and that it gives motion to the universe, and is the cause of whatever is fair and good. Plutarch confirms this account of the doctrine of Anaxagoras, and shews wherein it differed from that of his predecessors. “The Ionic philosophers,” says he, “who appeared before Anaxagoras, made fortune, or blind necessity, that is, the fortuitous or necessary motion of the particles of matter, the first principle in nature; but Anaxagoras affirmed that a pure mind, perfectly free from all material concretions, governs the universe.” From these and other concurrent testimonies it clearly appears, that Anaxagoras was the first among the Greeks who conceived mind as detached from matter, and as acting upon it with intelligence and design in the formation of the universe. The infinite mind, or deity, which his predecessors had confounded with matter, making them one universe, Anaxagoras conceived to nave a separate and independent existence, and to be simple, pure intelligence, capable of forming the eternal mass of matter according to his pleasure. Thus he assigned an adequate cause for the existence of the visible world.

Several doctrines are ascribed to Anaxagoras, which might seem to indicate no inconsiderable knowledge of na ture: such as, that the wind is produced by the | rarefaction of the air that the rainbow is the effect of the reflection of the solar rays from a thick cloud, placed opposite to it like a mirror; that the moon is an opaque body, enlightened by the sun, and an habitable region, divided into hills, vales, and waters; that the comets are wandering stars; and that the fixed stars are in a region exterior to those of the sun and moon. But the writers who report these particulars have mixed with them such strange absurdities, as weaken the credit of their whole relation. When we are told, that Anaxagoras thought the sun to be a flat circular mass of hot iron, somewhat bigger than the Peloponnesus; and the stars to have been formed from stones whirled from the earth by the violent circumvolution of its surrounding ether, we cannot but suspect that in the course of traditionary report, his opinions must have been ignorantly misconceived, or designedly misrepresented. 1

1

Almost literally from the abridgment of Brucker.- Diogenes Laertius, Gen. Dict. Fenelon’s Lives of the Philosophers.