Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
175. The Void 177. Relation to Ionic Cosmology

From Chapter IX., Leukippos of Miletos

176. Cosmology
It might seem a hopeless task to disentangle the cosmology of Leukippos from that of Demokritos, with which it is generally identified; but that very fact affords a valuable clue. No one later than Theophrastos was able to distinguish their doctrines, and it follows that all definite statements about Leukippos in later writers must, in the long run, go back to him. If we follow this up, we shall be able to give a fairly clear account of the system, and we shall even come across some views which are peculiar to Leukippos and were not adopted by Demokritos.25

The fuller of the doxographies in Diogenes, which comes from an epitome of Theophrastos,26 is as follows:

He says that the All is infinite, and that it is part full, and part empty. These (the full and the empty), he says, are the elements. From them arise innumerable worlds and are resolved into them. The worlds come into being thus. There were borne along by "abscission from the infinite" many bodies of all sorts of figures "into a mighty void," and they being gathered together produce a single vortex. In it, as they came into collision with one another and were whirled round in all manner of ways, those which were alike were separated apart and came to their likes. But, as they were no longer able to revolve in equilibrium owing to their multitude, those of them that were fine went out to the external void, as if passed through a sieve; the rest stayed together, and becoming entangled with one another, ran down together, and made a first spherical structure. This was in substance like a membrane or skin containing in itself all kinds of bodies. And, as these bodies were borne round in a vortex, in virtue of the resistance of the middle, the surrounding membrane became thin, as the contiguous bodies kept flowing together from contact with the vortex. And in this way the earth came into being, those things which had been borne towards the middle abiding there. Moreover, the containing membrane was increased by the further separating out of bodies from outside; and, being itself carried round in a vortex, it further got possession of all with which it had come in contact. Some of these becoming entangled, produce a structure, which was at first moist and muddy; but, when they had been dried and were revolving along with the vortex of the whole, they were then ignited and produced the substance of the heavenly bodies.The circle of the sun is the outermost, that of the moon is nearest to the earth, and those of the others are between these. And all the heavenly bodies are ignited because of the swiftness of their motion; while the sun is also ignited by the stars. But the moon only receives a small portion of fire. The sun and the moon are eclipsed . . . (And the obliquity of the zodiac is produced) by the earth being inclined towards the south; and the northern parts of it have constant snow and are cold and frozen. And the sun is eclipsed rarely, and the moon continually, because their circles are unequal. And just as there are comings into being of the world, so there are growths and decays and passings away in virtue of a certain necessity, of the nature of which he gives no clear account.

As it comes substantially from Theophrastos, this passage is good evidence for the cosmology of Leukippos, and it is confirmed by certain Epicurean extracts from the Great Diakosmos.27 These, however, give a specially Epicurean turn to some of the doctrines, and must therefore be used with caution.

Burnet's Notes


25. Cf. Zeller, " Zu Leukippos " (Arch. xv. p. 138).

26. Diog. ix. 31 sqq. (R. P. 197, 197 c). This passage deals expressly with Lenkippos, not with Demokritos or even "Leukippos and Demokritos." For the distinction between the "summary" and "detailed " doxographies in Diogenes, see Note on Sources, § 15.

27. See Aet. i. 4 (Dox. p. 289 ; Vors. 54 A 24 ; Usener, Epicurea, fr. 308). Epicurus himself in the second epistle (Diog. x. 88 : Usener, p. 37, 7) quotes the phrase ἀποτομὴν ἔχουσα ἀπὸ τοῦ ἀπείρου.

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