Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
170. Opposition to Anaxagoras 172. Theophrastus on the Atomic Theory

From Chapter IX., Leukippos of Miletos

171. Leucippus and Democritus
WE have seen §§ 31, 122) that the school of Miletos did not come to an end with Anaximenes, and it is a striking fact that the man who gave the most complete answer to the question first asked by Thales was a Milesian.1

It is true that the very existence of Leukippos has been called in question. Epicurus is reported to have said there never was such a philosopher, and the same thing has been maintained in quite recent times.2 On the other hand, Aristotle and Theophrastos certainly made him the originator of the atomic theory, and they can hardly have been mistaken on such a point. Aristotle was specially interested in Demokritos, and his native Stageiros is not very far from Abdera, the seat of the Atomist school.

The question is intimately bound up with that of the date of Demokritos, who said that he himself was a young man in the old age of Anaxagoras, a statement which makes it unlikely that he founded his school at Abdera much before 420 B.C., the date given by Apollodoros for his floruit.3 Now Theophrastos stated that Diogenes of Apollonia borrowed some of his views from Anaxagoras and some from Leukippos,4 which must mean that there were traces of the atomic theory in his work. Further, Diogenes is parodied in the Clouds of Aristophanes, which was produced in 423 B.C., from which it follows that the work of Leukippos must have become known before that date. What that work was, Theophrastos also tells us. It was the Great Diakosmos usually attributed to Demokritos.5 This means further that what were known later as the works of Demokritos were really the writings of the school of Abdera, and included, as was natural, the works of its founder. They formed, in fact, a corpus like that which has come down to us under the name of Hippokrates, and it was no more possible to distinguish the authors of the different treatises in the one case than it is in the other.

Theophrastos found Leukippos described as an Eleate in some authorities, and, if we may trust analogy, that means he had settled at Elea.6 It is possible that his emigration was connected with the revolution at Miletos in 450-49 B.C.7 In any case, Theophrastos says distinctly that he had been a member of the school of Parmenides, and his words suggest that the founder of that school was then still at its head.8 He may quite well have been so, if we accept Plato's chronology.9 Theophrastos also appears to have said that Leukippos "heard" Zeno, which is very credible. We shall see, at any rate, that the influence of Zeno on his thinking is unmistakable.10

The relations of Leukippos to Empedokles and Anaxagoras are more difficult to determine. It has become part of the case for the historical reality of Leukippos to say that there are traces of atomism in the systems of these men; but the case is strong enough without that assumption. The chief argument for the view that Leukippos influenced Empedokles is that drawn from the doctrine of "pores"; but we have seen that this originated with Alkmaion, and it is therefore more probable that Leukippos derived it from Empedokles.11 Nor is it at all probable that Anaxagoras knew anything of the theory of Leukippos. It is true that he denied the existence of the void; but it does not follow that any one had already maintained that doctrine in the atomist sense. The early Pythagoreans had spoken of a void too, though they had confused it with atmospheric air; and the experiments of Anaxagoras with the klepsydra and the inflated skins would only have had any point if they were directed against the Pythagorean theory.12 If he had really wished to refute Leukippos, he would have had to use arguments of a very different kind.

Burnet's Notes


1. Theophrastos said he was an Eleate or a Milesian (R. P. 185), while Diogenes (ix. 30) says he was an Eleate or, according to some, an Abderite. These statements are just like the discrepancies about the native cities of Pythagoreans already noted (Chap. VII. p. 283, n. 1). Diogenes adds that, according to others, Leukippos was a Melian, which is a common confusion. Aetios (i. 7. i) calls Diagoras of Melos a Milesian (cf. Dox.. p. 14). Demokritos was called by some a Milesian (Diog. ix. 34; R. P. 186) for the same reason that Leukippos is called an Eleate. We may also compare the doubt as to whether Herodotos called himself a Halikarnassian or a Thourian.

2. Diog. x. 13 (R. P. 185 b), ἀλλ' οὐδὲ Λεύκιππόν τινα γεγενῆσθαί φησι φιλόσοφον οὔτε αὐτὸς (SC. Ἐπίκουρος) οὔτε Ἕμαρχος. This led E. Rohde to maintain that Leukippos never existed (Kl. Schr. i. 205), but this is to make too much of a characteristic Epicurean sally. I suggest that Epicurus said something like Λεύκιππον οὐδ' εἰ γέγονεν οἶδα, which would be idiomatic Greek for "I (purposely) ignore him," "I decline to discuss him." (Cf. e.g. Dem. De cor. § 70 Σέρριον δὲ καὶ Δορίσκον καὶ τὴν Πεπαρήθου πόρθησιν . . . οὐδ' εἰ γέγονεν οἶδα.) That would be just like Epicurus.

3. Diog. ix. 41 (R. P. 187). As Diels says, the statement suggests that Anaxagoras was dead when Demokritos wrote. It is probable, too, that this is what made Apollodoros fix his floruit just forty years after that of Anaxagoras (Jacoby, p. 290). We cannot make much of the statement of Demokritos that he wrote the Μικρὸς διάκοσμος 750 years after the fall of Troy; for we cannot tell what era he used (Jacoby, p. 292).

4. Theophr. ap. Simpl. Phys. p. 25, 1 (R. P. 206 a).

5. This was stated by Thrasylos in his list of the tetralogies in which he arranged the works of Demokritos, as he did those of Plato. He gives Tetr. iii. thus: (1) Μέγας διάκοσμος (ὃν οἱ περὶ Θεόφραστον Λευκίππου φασὶν εἶναι); (2) Μικρὸς διάκοσμος; (3) Κοσμογραφίη; (4) Περὶ τῶν πλανήτων. The two διάκοσμοι would only be distinguished as μέγας and μικρός when they came to be included in the same corpus. A quotation from the περὶ νοῦ of Leukippos is preserved in Stob. 1. 16o. The phrase ἐν τοῖς Λευκίππου καλουμένοις λόγοις in M.X.G. 980 a 8 seems to refer to Arist. De gen. corr. A, 8. 325 a 24, Λεύκιππος δ' ἔχειν ᾠήθη λόγους κτλ.. Cf. Chap. II. p. 126, n. 1.

6. See above, p. 330, n. 1.

7. Cf. [Xen.] Ἀθ. πολ.. 3, 11. The date is fixed by C.I.A. i. 22 a.

8. Theophr. ap. Simpl. Phys. p. 28, 4 (R. P, 185). Note the difference of case in κοινωνήσας Παρμενίδῃ τῆς φιλοσοφίας and κοινωνήσας τῆς Ἀναξιμένους φιλοσοφίας, which is the phrase used by Theophrastos of Anaxagoras (p. 253, n. 2). The dative seems to imply a personal relationship. It is quite inadmissible to render "was familiar with the doctrine of Parmenides," as is done in Gomperz, Greek Thinkers, vol. i. p. 345.

9. See § 84.

10. Cf. Diog. ix. 30, οὗτος ἤκουσε Ζήνωνος (R. P. 185 b); and Hipp. Ref. i. 12, 1, Λεύκιππος . . . Ζήνωνος ἑταῖρος.

11. See above, Chap. V. p. 194, n. 3.

12. See above, Chap. V1. § 131; and Chap. VIl. § 145.

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