Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
129. The Portions 131. "All Things Together"

From Chapter VI., Anaxagoras of Klazomenai

130. Seeds
The difference, then, between the theory of Anaxagoras and that of Empedokles is this. Empedokles had taught that, if you divide the various things which make up this world, and in particular the parts of the body, such as flesh, bones, and the like, far enough, you come to the four "roots" or elements, which are, accordingly, the ultimate reality. Anaxagoras held that, however far you may divide any of these things--and they are infinitely divisible--you never come to a part so small that it does not contain portions of all the opposites. On the other hand, everything can pass into everything else just because the "seeds," as he called them, of each form of matter contain a portion of everything, that is, of all the opposites, though in different proportions. If we are to use the word "element" at all it is these seeds that are the elements in the system of Anaxagoras..

Aristotle expresses this by saying that Anaxagoras regards the ὁμοιομερῆ as στοιχεῖα.48 We have seen that the term στοιχεῖον is of later date than Anaxagoras, and it is natural to suppose that the word ὁμοιομερῆ is also only Aristotle's name for the "seeds." In his own system, the ὁμοιομερῆ are intermediate between the elements (στοιχεῖα), of which they are composed, and the organs (ὄργανα), which are composed of them. The heart cannot be divided into hearts, but the parts of flesh are flesh. That being so, Aristotle's statement is quite intelligible from his own point of view, but there is no reason for supposing that Anaxagoras expressed himself in that particular way. All we are entitled to infer is that he said the "seeds," which he substituted. for the "roots" of Empedokles; were not the opposites, in a state of separation, but each contained a portion of them all. If Anaxagoras had used the term "homoeomeries" himself, it would be very strange that Simplicius should quote no fragment containing it.

The difference between the two systems may also be regarded from another point of view. Anaxagoras was not obliged by his theory to regard the elements of Empedokles as primary, a view to which there were obvious objections, especially in the case of earth. He explained them in quite another way. Though everything has a portion of everything in it, things appear to be that of which there is most in them (fr. 12 sub fin.). We may say, then, that Air is that in which there is most cold, Fire that in which there is most heat, and so on, without giving up the view that there is a portion of cold in the fire and a portion of heat in the air.49 The great masses which Empedokles had taken for elements are really vast collections of all manner of "seeds." Each of them is, in fact, a πανσπερμία.50

Burnet's Notes


48. Arist. De gen. corr, A, 1, 34 a 18, 6 ὁ μὲν γὰρ (Anaxagoras) τὰ ὁμοιομερῆ στοιχεῖα τίθησιν, οἷον ὀστοῦν καὶ σάρκα καὶ μυελόν, καὶ τῶν ἄλλων ὧν ἑκάστῳ συνώνυμον τὸ μέρος ἐστίν.. This was, of course, repeated by Theophrastos and the doxographers; but it is to be noted that Aetios, supposing as he does that Anaxagoras himself used the term, gives it an entirely wrong meaning. He says that the ὁμοιομέρειαι were so called from the likeness of the particles of the τροφή to those of the body (Dox. 279 a 21 ; R. P. 155 f). Lucretius, i. 830 sqq. (R. P. 155 f) has a similar account of the matter, derived from Epicurean sources. Obviously, it cannot be reconciled with what Aristotle says.

49. Cf. above, p. 263.

50. Arist. De gen. corr. A, 1. 314 a 29. The word πανσπερμία was used by Demokritos (Arist. De an. A, 2. 404 a 8 ; R. P. 200), and it occurs in the Περὶ διαίτης (loc. cit.). It seems natural to suppose that it was used by Anaxagoras himself, as he used the term σπέρματα. Much difficulty has been caused by the apparent inclusion of Water and Fire among the ὁμοιομερῆ in Arist. Met. A, 3. 984 a 11 (R. P. 150 a). Bonitz understands the words καθάπερ ὕδωρ ἢ πῦρ to mean "as we have just seen that Fire and Water do in the system of Empedokles." In any case, καθάπερ goes closely with οὕτω, and the general sense is that Anaxagoras applies to the ὁμοιομερῆ what is really true of the στοιχεῖα. It would be better to delete the comma after πῦρ and add one after φησι, for συγκρίσει καὶ διακρίσει μόνον is explanatory of οὕτω . . . . καθάπερ.. In the next sentence, I read ἁπλῶς for ἄλλως with Zeller (Arch. ii. 261). See alto Arist. De caelo, Γ, 3. 302 b 1 (R. P. 150 a), where the matter is very clearly put.

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