Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
26. Rarefaction and Condensation 28. The World Breathes

From Chapter I., The Milesian School

27. Air
The air Anaximenes speaks of includes a good deal that we should not call by the name. In its normal condition, when most evenly distributed, it is invisible, and it then corresponds to our "air"; it is the breath we inhale and the wind that blows. That is why he called it πνεῦμα. On the other hand, the old idea that mist or vapour is condensed air, is still accepted without question. It was Empedokles, we shall see, who first discovered that what we call air was a distinct corporeal substance, and not identical either with vapour or with empty space. In the earlier cosmologists "air" is always a form of vapour, and even darkness is a form of "air." It was Empedokles who cleared up this point too by showing that darkness is a shadow.113

It was natural for Anaximenes to fix upon "air" as the primary substance; for, in the system of Anaximander, it occupied an intermediate place between the two fundamental opposites, the ring of flame and the cold, moist mass within it (§ 19). We know from Plutarch that he fancied air became warmer when rarefied, and colder when condensed. Of this he satisfied himself by a curious experimental proof. When we breathe with our mouths open, the air is warm; when our lips are closed, it is cold.114

Burnet's Notes


113. For the meaning of ἀήρ in Homer, cf. e.g.. Od. viii. 1, ἠέρι καὶ νεφέλῃ κεκαλυμμέναι; and for its survival in Ionic prose, Hippokrates, Περὶ ἀέρων, ὑδάτων, τόπων, 15, ἀήρ τε πολὺς κατέχει τὴν χώρην ἀπὸ τῶν ὑδάτων.. Plato is still conscious of the old meaning; for he makes Timaios say ἀέρος (γένη) τὸ μὲν εὐαγέστατον ἐπίκλην αἰθὴρ καλούμενος, ὁ δὲ θολερώτατος ὁμίχλη καὶ σκότος (Tim. 58 d). For the identification of ἀήρ with darkness, cf. Plut. De prim. frig. 948 e, ὅτι δ' ἀὴρ τὸ πρώτως σκοτεινόν ἐστιν οὐδὲ τοὺς ποιητὰς λέληθεν· ἀέρα γὰρ τὸ σκότος καλοῦσιν. My view has been criticised by Tannery, "Une nouvelle hypothèse sur Anaximandre" (Arch. viii. pp. 443 sqq.), and I have slightly altered my expression of it to meet these criticisms. The point is of fundamental importance for the interpretation of Pythagoreanism.

114. Plut. De prim. frig. 947 f (R. P. 27), where we are told that he used the term τὸ χαλαρόν for the rarefied air.

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