Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
20. Earth and Sea 22. Animals

From Chapter I., The Milesian School

21. The Heavenly Bodies
We have seen that the flame which had been forced to the circumference of the vortex was broken up into rings by the pressure of expanding vapour produced by its own heat. I give the statements of Hippolytos and Aetios as to the formation of the heavenly bodies from these rings.

The heavenly bodies are a wheel of fire, separated off from the fire of the world, and surrounded by air. And there are breathing-holes, certain pipe-like passages, at which the heavenly bodies show themselves. That is why, when the breathing-holes are stopped, eclipses take place. And the moon appears now to wax and now to wane because of the stopping and opening of the passages. The wheel of the sun is 27 times the size of (the earth, while that of) the moon is 18 times as large.93 The sun is the highest of all, and lowest are the wheels of the stars. —Hipp. Ref. i. 6 (R. P. 20).

The heavenly bodies were hoop-like compressions of air, full of fire, breathing out flames at a certain point through orifices.Aet. ii. 13, 7 (R. P. 19 a).
The sun was a wheel 28 times the size of the earth, like a chariot-wheel with the felloe hollow, full of fire, showing the fire at a certain point through an orifice, as through the nozzle of a pair of bellows.—Aet. ii. 20, i (R. P. 19 a).
The sun was equal to the earth, but the wheel from which it breathes out and by which it is carried round was 27 times the size of the earth.—Aet. ii. 21, 1.
The sun was eclipsed when the orifice of the fire's breathing-hole was stopped.—Aet. ii. 24., 2.
The moon was a wheel 19 times the size of the earth, like a chariot-wheel with its felloe hollow and full of fire like that of the sun, lying oblique also like it, with one breathing-hole like the nozzle of a pair of bellows. [It is eclipsed because of the turnings of the wheel.]94 —Aet. ii. 25, 1.
The moon was eclipsed when the orifice of the wheel was stopped.—Aet. ii. 29, 1.
(Thunder and lightning, etc.) were all caused by the blast of the wind. When it is shut up in a thick cloud and bursts forth with violence, then the tearing of the cloud makes the noise, and the rift gives the appearance of a flash in contrast with the blackness of the cloud.—Aet. iii. 3, 1.
Wind was a current of air (i.e. vapour), which arose when its finest and moistest particles were stirred or melted by the sun.—Aet. iii. 7, 1.

There is a curious variation in the figures given for the size of the wheels of the heavenly bodies, and it seems most likely that 18 and 27 refer to their inner, while 19 and 28 refer to their outer circumference. We may, perhaps, infer that the wheels of the "stars" were nine times the size of the earth; for the numbers 9, 18, 27 play a considerable part in primitive cosmogonies.95 We do not see the wheels of fire as complete circles; for the vapour or mist which formed them encloses the fire, and forms an outer ring except at one point of their circumference, through which the fire escapes, and that is the heavenly body we actually see.96 It is possible that the theory of "wheels" was suggested by the Milky Way. If we ask how it is that the wheels of air can make the fire invisible to us without becoming visible themselves, the answer is that such is the property of what the Greeks at this date called "air." For instance, when a Homeric hero is made invisible by being clothed in "air," we can see right through both the "air" and the hero.97 It should be added that lightning is explained in much the same way as the heavenly bodies. It, too, was fire breaking through condensed air, in this case storm clouds. It seems probable that this was really the origin of the theory, and that Anaximander explained the heavenly bodies on the analogy of lightning, not vice versa. It must be remembered that meteorology and astronomy were still undifferentiated,98 and that the theory of "wheels" or rings is a natural inference from the idea of the vortex.

So far we seem to be justified, by the authority of Theophrastos, in going; and, if that is so, certain further inferences seem to be inevitable. In the first place, Anaximander had shaken himself free of the old idea that the heavens are a solid vault. There is nothing to prevent us from seeing right out into the Boundless, and it is hard to think that Anaximander did not believe he did. The traditional cosmos has given place to a much grander scheme, that of innumerable vortices in a boundless mass, which is neither water nor air. In that case, it is difficult to resist the belief that what we call the fixed stars were identified with the "innumerable worlds" which were also "gods." It would follow that the diurnal revolution is only apparent; for the stars are at unequal distances from us, and can have no rotation in common. It must, then, be due to the rotation of the cylindrical earth in twenty-four hours. We have seen that the earth certainly shared in the rotation of the δίνη. That gets rid of one difficulty, the wheel of the "stars," which is between the earth and the moon; for the fixed stars could not be explained by a "wheel" at all; a sphere would be required. What, then, are the "stars" which are accounted for by this inner wheel? I venture to suggest that they are the morning and the evening stars, which, we have seen (p. 23, n. 1), were not recognised yet as a single luminary. In other words, I believe that Anaximander regarded the fixed stars as stationary, each rotating in its own vortex. No doubt this involves us in a difficulty regarding the rotation of the sun and the moon. It follows from the nature of the vortex that they must rotate in the same direction as the earth, and, on the assumption just made, that must be from west to east, and it must be a slower rotation than that of the earth, which is inconsistent with the fact that the circumference of a vortex rotates more rapidly than the centre. That, however, is a difficulty which all the Ionian cosmologists down to Demokritos had to face. Holding, as they did, that the whole rotation was in the same direction, they had to say that what we call the greatest velocities were the least. The moon, for instance, did not rotate so rapidly as the sun, since the sun more nearly keeps up with the fixed stars.99 That Anaximander failed to observe this difficulty is not surprising, if we remember that he was the first to attack the problem. It is not immediately obvious that the centre of the vortex must have a slower motion than the circumference. This serves to explain the origin of the theory that the heavenly bodies have a rotation of their own in the opposite direction to the diurnal revolution which we shall see reason for attributing to Pythagoras (§ 54).

Burnet's Notes


93. I assume with Diels (Dox. p. 56o) that something has fallen out of the text, but I have made the moon's circle 18 and not 19 times as large, as agreeing better with the other figure, 27. See p. 68, n. 1.

94. There is clearly some confusion here, as Anaximander's real account of lunar eclipses is given in the next extract. There is also some doubt about the reading. Both Plutarch and Eusebios (P.E. xv. 26, 1) have ἐπιστροφάς, so the τροπάς of Stob. may be neglected, especially as the codex Sambuci had στροφάς. It looks as if this were a stray reference to the theory of Herakleitos that eclipses were due to a στροφή or ἐπιστροφή of the σκάφη (§ 71). In any case, the passage cannot be relied on in support of the meaning given to τροπαί by Zeller and Heath (p. 63, n. 2).

95. See Tannery, Science hellène, p. 91; Diels, "Ueber Anaximanders Kosmos" (Arch. x. pp. 231 sqq.).

96. The true meaning of this doctrine was first explained by Diels (Dox. pp. 25 sqq.). The flames issue per magni circum spiracula mundi, as Lucretius has it (vi. 493). The πρηστῆρος αὐλός, to which these are compared, is simply the mouthpiece of the smith's bellows, a sense the word πρηστήρ has in Apollonios of Rhodes (iv. 776), and has nothing to do with the meteorological phenomenon of the same name (see Chap: III. § 71), except that the Greek sailors very likely named the fiery waterspout after the familiar instrument. It is not necessary now to discuss the earlier interpretations of the phrase.

97. This is not so strange a view as might appear. An island or a rock in the offing may disappear completely when shrouded in mist (ἀήρ), and we seem to see the sky beyond it.

98. See above, p. 27.

99. Lucretius, v. 619 sqq.

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