The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers

By Werner Jaeger | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
THE TELEOLOGICAL THINKERS: ANAXAGORAS AND DIOGENES

NOT all the men who carry on the Milesian tradition come from regions outside Ionia; several come from Ionia itself, though not from Miletus. By far the most important of these is Anaxagoras of Clazomenae. He is more closely akin to the original spirit of the philosophy of nature than Empedocles; he has preserved its rational character in a purer form and has not contaminated it with alien elements drawn from religion. Anaxagoras is the pure scholar; there is nothing of the fiery soul of the poet and prophet in his more limited nature. Empedocles is said to have ended his life by leaping into the crater of Mount Etna; one can hardly imagine any such legend growing up about Anaxagoras. But in its very limitations his mind is more unified and consistent, and reaches full flower in his theoretical explanations of natural phenomena. Empedocles was constantly involved in the religious and political public life of his native Sicilian town. Anaxagoras spent his critical decades as a resident alien in Athens, far from his home in Asia Minor. There is even an anecdote which presents him as one of the first cosmopolitans.1 On being reproached with neglecting his duties to his country and fellow-citizens he is reputed to have said, 'Watch your tongue, for I care very much for my country'. pointing up to the sky. At the time of Euripides there is no reason why such an incident should not actually have occurred. Of course, this cannot mean that Anaxagoras was trying to say that the abode of the soul is in God, as Empedocles might have done.2 Any such religious sense of being a stranger in this world is utterly remote from his sober turn of mind. When the man who holds the sun to be a mere glowing stone feels more at home in the heavens than in his own normal earthly surroundings, it is because he has found the real content of his life and all his satisfaction in dealing constantly with nature, particularly with the heavenly phenomena.

It is not easy to form an idea of Anaxagoras' views on nature in general; for the remaining fragments of his prose work, which at the time of his Athenian sojourn was an inexpensive

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