Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
58. The Heavenly Bodies 60. Finite or Infinite

From Chapter II., Science and Religion

59. Earth and Water
In fr. 29 Xenophanes says that "all things are earth and water," and Hippolytos has preserved the account given by Theophrastos of the context in which this occurred. It was as follows:

Xenophanes said that a mixture of the earth with the sea is taking place, and that it is being gradually dissolved by the moisture. He says that he has the following proofs of this. Shells are found in midland districts and on hills, and he says that in the quarries at Syracuse has been found the imprint of a fish and of seaweed, at Paros the form of a bayleaf in the depth of the stone, and at Malta flat impressions of all marine animals. These, he says, were produced when all things were formerly mud, and the outlines were dried in the mud. All human beings are destroyed when the earth has been carried down into the sea and turned to mud. This change takes place for all the worlds.—Hipp. Ref. i. 14 (R. P. 103 a).

This is, of course, the theory of Anaximander, and we may perhaps credit him rather than Xenophanes with the observations of fossils.144 Most remarkable of all, however, is the statement that this change applies to "all the worlds." It seems impossible to doubt that Theophrastos attributed a belief in "innumerable worlds" to Xenophanes. As we have seen, Aetios includes him in his list of those who held this doctrine, and Diogenes ascribes it to him also,145 while Hippolytos seems to take it for granted. We shall find, however, that in another connexion he said the World or God was one. If our interpretation of him is correct, there is no great difficulty here. The point is that, so far from being "a sure seat for all things ever," Gaia too is a passing appearance. That belongs to the attack on Hesiod, and if in this connexion Xenophanes spoke, with Anaximander, of "innumerable worlds," while elsewhere he said that God or the World was one, that may be connected with a still better attested contradiction which we have now to examine.

Burnet's Notes


144. There is an interesting note on these in Gomperz's Greek Thinkers (Eng. trans. i. p. 551). I have translated his conjecture φυκῶν instead of the MS. φωκῶν, as this is said to involve a palaeontological impossibility, and impressions of fucoids are found, not indeed in the quarries of Syracuse, but near them. It is said also that there are no marine fossils in Paros, so the MS. reading δάφνης need not be changed to ἀφύης with Gronovius. The fact that the fossil was in the depth of the stone seemed to show that Parian marble was once mud. It was no doubt imaginary.

145. Aet. ii. 1, 2 (Dox. p. 327); Diog. ix. 19 (R. P. 103 c). It is true that this passage of Diogenes comes from the biographical compendium (Dox. p. 168); but it is difficult to doubt the Theophrastean origin of a statement found in Aetios, Hippolytos, and Diogenes.

Created for Peithô's Web from Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, 3rd edition (1920). London: A & C Black Ltd. Burnet's footnotes have been converted to chapter endnotes. Greek unicode text entered with Peithô's Younicoder.
Web design by Larry Clark and RSBoyes (Agathon). Peithô's Web gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Anthony Beavers in the creation of this web edition of Burnet. Please send comments to:
agathon at classicpersuasion