Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
123. Anaxagoras at Athens 125. Writings

From Chapter VI., Anaxagoras of Klazomenai

124. The Trial
It is clear that, if we adopt the chronology of Demetrios of Phaleron, the trial of Anaxagoras must be placed early in the political career of Perikles.21 That is the tradition preserved by Satyros, who says that the accuser was Thoukydides, son of Melesias, and that the charge was impiety and Medism.22 As Thoukydides was ostracised in 443 B.C., that would make it probable that the trial of Anaxagoras took place about 450 B.C., and would bring it into connexion with the ostracism of the other teacher of Perikles, Damon.23 If that is so, we understand at once why Plato never makes Sokrates meet with Anaxagoras. He had handed his school over to Archelaos before Sokrates was old enough to take an interest in scientific theories.24 We do learn from Plato, however, what the charge of impiety was based on. It was that Anaxagoras taught the sun was a red-hot stone, and the moon earth,25 and we shall see that he certainly did hold these views (§ 133). For the rest, the most likely account is that he was got out of prison and sent away by Perikles.26 We know that such things were possible at Athens.

Driven from his adopted home, Anaxagoras naturally went back to Ionia, where at least he would be free to teach what he pleased. He settled at Lampsakos, a colony of Miletos, and we shall see reason to believe that he founded a school there. If so, he must have lived at Lampsakos for some time before his death.27 The Lampsakenes erected an altar to his memory in their market-place, dedicated to Mind and Truth; and the anniversary of his death was long kept as a holiday for school-children, it was said at his own request.28

Burnet's Notes


21. The trial of Anaxagoras is generally referred to the period just before the Peloponnesian War. That is how it was represented by Ephoros (reproduced by Diod. xii. 38), and the same account is followed by Plutarch (V. Per. 32). The pragmatic character of the chronology of Ephoros is, however, sufficiently established, and we cannot infer anything from it. Sotion, who made Kleon the accuser, must also have assumed a late date for the trial.

22. Diog. ii. 12, Σάτυρος δ' ἐν τοῖς Βίοις ὑπὸ Θουκυδίδου φησὶν εἰσαχθῆναι τὴν δίκην, ἀντιπολιτευομένου τῷ Περικλεῖ· καὶ οὐ μόνον ἀσεβείας ἀλλὰ καὶ μηδισμοῦ· καὶ ἀπόντα καταδικασθῆναι θανάτῳ..

23. This would be in complete agreement with the statement that Anaxagoras lived thirty years at Athens (p. 251 ). For the ostracism of Damon, see p. 255, n. 2.

24. The well-known passage of the Phaedo (97 b 8 sqq.) distinctly implies that Anaxagoras had left Athens when Sokrates was still quite young. He hears of his doctrine only at second-hand (from Archelaos?) and he at once procures the book of Anaxagoras and reads it. If Anaxagoras had still been at Athens, it would have been a simple matter for Sokrates to seek him out and question him, and it would have made an excellent subject for a Platonic dialogue. The fact that Plato does make Sokrates meet Parmenides and Zeno and does not make him meet Anaxagoras is clearly significant.

25. Apol. 26 d.

26. Plut. Nic. 23 (R. P. 148 c). Cf. Per. 32 (R. P. 148).

27. See the account of Archelaos in Chap. X. § 191.

28. The oldest authority for the honours paid to Anaxagoras is Alkidamas, the pupil of Gorgias, who said these were still kept up in his own time. Arist. Rhet. B, 23. 1398 b 15.

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