Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
92. The Heavenly Bodies 94. The Goddess

From Chapter IV., Parmenides of Elea

93. The Stephanae
Now it is quite unjustifiable to regard these "bands" as spheres. The word στέφαναι can mean "rims" or "brims" or anything of that sort,49 but it seems incredible that it should be used of spheres. It does not appear, either, that the solid circle which surrounds all the crowns is to be regarded as spherical. The expression "like a wall" would be highly inappropriate in that case.50 We seem, then, to be face to face with something like the "wheels" of Anaximander, and it is highly probable that Pythagoras adopted the theory from him.. Nor is evidence lacking that the Pythagoreans did regard the heavenly bodies in this way. In Plato's Myth of Er, which is certainly Pythagorean in its general character, we do not hear of spheres, but of the "lips" of concentric whorls fitted into one another like a nest of boxes .51 In the Timaeus there are no spheres either, but bands or strips crossing each other at an angle.52 Lastly, in the Homeric Hymn to Ares, which seems to have been composed under Pythagorean influence, the word used for the orbit of the planet is ἄντυξ, which must mean "rim."53

The fact is, there is no evidence that any one ever adopted the theory of celestial spheres, till Aristotle turned the geometrical construction which Eudoxos had set up as a hypothesis "to save appearances" (σῴζειν τὰ φαινόμενα) [/189] into real things.54 At this date, spheres would not have served to explain anything that could not be explained more simply without them.

We are next told that these "bands" encircle one another or are folded over one another, and that they are made of the rare and the dense element. We also learn that between them are "mixed bands" made up of light and darkness. Now it is to be observed, in the first place, that light and darkness are exactly the same thing as the rare and the dense, and it looks as if there was some confusion here. It may be doubted whether these statements are based on anything else than fr. 12, which might certainly be interpreted to mean that between the bands of fire there were bands of night with a portion of fire in them. That may be right; but I think it rather more natural to understand the passage as saying that the narrower circles are surrounded by wider circles of night, and that each has its portion of fire rushing in the midst of it. These last words would then be a simple repetition of the statement that the narrower circles are filled with unmixed fire,55 and we should have a fairly exact description of the "wheels" of Anaximander.

Burnet's Notes


49. As Diels points out, στεφάνη in Homer is used of a golden band in the hair (Σ 597) or the brim of a helmet (Η 12). It may be added that it was used technically of the figure contained between two concentric circles (Proclus, in Eucl. 1. p. 163, i2). It always means something annular.

50. It must be remembered that τεῖχος is a city-wall or fortification, and that Euripides uses στεφάνη for a city-wall (Hec. 910). Heath's remark (p. 69) that "certainly Parmenides' All was spherical" is irrelevant. We have nothing to do with his own views here.

51. Rep. x. 616 d 5, καθάπερ οἱ κάδοι οἱ εἰς ἀλλήλους ἁρμόττοντες; e 1, κύκλους ἄνωθεν τὰ χείλη φαίνοντας (σφονδύλους)

52. Tim. 36 b 6, ταύτην οὖν τὴν σύστασιν πᾶσαν διπλῆν κατὰ μῆκος σκίσας, μέσην πρὸς μέσην ἑκατέραν ἀλλήλαις οἷον χεῖ (the letter Χ) προσβαλὼν κατέκαμπψεν εἰς ἓν κύκλῳ

53. Hymn to Ares, 6:

                    πυραυγέα κύκλον ἑλίσσων
αἰθέρος ἑπταπόροις ἐνὶ τείρεσιν, ἔνθα σε πῶλοι
ζαφλεγέες τριτάτης ὑπὲρ ἄντυγος αἰὲν ἔχουσι.

So, in allusion to an essentially Pythagorean view, Proclus says to the planet Venus (h. iv. 17):

εἴτε καὶ ἑπτὰ κύκλων ὑπὲρ ἄντυγας αἰθερα ναίεις.

54. On the concentric spheres of Eudoxos, see Heath, pp. 193 sqq.

55. Such a repetition (παλινδρομία) is characteristic of all Greek style, but the repetition at the end of the period generally adds a new touch to the statement at the opening. The new touch is here given in the word ἵεται. I do not press this interpretation, but it seems to me much simpler than that of Diels, who has to take "night" as equivalent to "earth," since he identifies it with the στερεόν.

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