Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
21. The Heavenly Bodies 23. The Life of Anaximenes

From Chapter I., The Milesian School

22. Animals
We have, in any case, seen enough to show us that the speculations of Anaximander about the world were of an extremely daring character. We come now to the crowning audacity of all, his theory of the origin of living creatures. The Theophrastean account of this has been well preserved by the doxographers:

Living creatures arose from the moist element as it was evaporated by the sun. Man was like another animal, namely, a fish, in the beginning.—Hipp. Ref. i. 6 (R. P. 22 a).
The first animals were produced in the moisture, each enclosed in a prickly bark. As they advanced in age, they came out upon the drier part. When the bark broke off,100 they survived for a short time.101—Aet. v. 19, 4 (R. P. 22).
Further, he says that originally man was born from animals of another species. His reason is that while other animals quickly find food by themselves, man alone requires a lengthy period of suckling. Hence, had he been originally as he is now, he would never have survived.—Ps.-Plut. Strom. fr. 2 (R. P. ib.).
He declares that at first human beings arose in the inside of fishes, and after having been reared like sharks,102 and become capable of protecting themselves, they were finally cast ashore and took to land.—Plut. Symp. Quaest. 730 f (R. P. ib.).

The importance of these statements has sometimes been overrated and still more often underestimated. Anaximander has been called a precursor of Darwin by some, while others have treated the whole thing as a mythological survival. It is therefore important to notice that this is one of the rare cases where we have not merely a placitum, but an indication of the observations on which it was based. It is clear from this that Anaximander had an idea of what is meant by adaptation to environment and survival of the fittest, and that he saw the higher mammals could not represent the original type of animal. For this he looked to the sea, and he naturally fixed upon those fishes which present the closest analogy to the mammalia. The statements of Aristotle about the galeus levis were shown by Johannes Müller to be more accurate than those of later naturalists, and we now see that these observations were already made by Anaximander. The way in which the shark nourishes its young furnished him with the very thing he required to explain the survival of the earliest animals.103

Burnet's Notes


100. This is to be understood in the light of what we are told about γαλεοί below. Cf. Arist. Hist. An. Z, l0. 565 a 25, τοῖς μὲν οὖν σκυλίοις, οὓς καλοῦσί τινες νεβρίας γαλεούς, ὅταν περιρραγῇ καὶ ἐκπέσῃ τὸ ὄστρακον, γίνονται οἱ νεοττοί.

101. The true reading is ἐπ' ὀλίγον χρόνον μεταβιῶναι, the omission of χρόνον by Diels in Vors.1 and Vors.2 being apparently a slip. In the Index to Dox., Diels s.v. μεταβιοῦν says "mutare vitam [cf. μεταδιαιτᾶν]," and I followed him in my first edition. Heidel well compares Archelaos, ap. Hipp. Ref. i. 9, 5 (of the first animals) ἦν δὲ ὀλιγοχρόνια.

102. Reading ὥσπερ οἱ γαλεοί for ὥσπερ οἱ παλαιοί with Doehner, who compares Plut. De soll. anim. 982 a, where the φιλόστοργον of the shark is described.

103. On Aristotle and the galeus levis, see Johannes Müller, "Ueber den glatten Hai des Aristoteles" (K. Preuss. Akad., 1842), to which my attention was directed by my colleague, Professor D'Arcy Thompson. The precise point of the words τρεφόμενοι ὥσπερ οἱ γαλεοί appears from Arist. Hist. An. Z, l0. 565 b 1, οἱ δὲ καλούμενοι λεῖοι τῶν γαλεῶν τὰ μὲν ᾠὰ ἴσχουσι μεταξὺ τῶν ὑστερῶν ὁμοίως τοῖς σκυλίοις, περιστάντα δὲ ταῦτα εἰς ἑκατέραν τὴν δικρόαν τῆς ὑστέρας καταβαίνει, καὶ τὰ ζῷα γίνεται τὸν ὀμφαλὸν ἔχοντα πρὸς τῇ ὑστέρᾳ, ὥστε ἀναλισκομένων τῶν ᾠ ῶν ὁμοίως δοκεῖν ἔχειν τὸ ἔμβρυον τοῖς τετράποσιν. It is not necessary to suppose that Anaximander referred to the further phenomenon described by Aristotle, who more than once says that all the γαλεοί except the ἀκανθίας "send out their young and take them back again" (ἐξαφιᾶσι καὶ δέχονται εἰς ἑαυτοὺς τοὺς νεοττούς, ib. 565 b 23), for which compare also Ael. i. 17; Plut. De amore prolis 494 c ; De soll. anim. 982 a. The placenta and umbilical cord described by Johannes Müller will account sufficiently for all he says.

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