Early Life & Death
Most of what is known about Anaximander is from the written works of philosophers such as Aristotle, his student Theophrastus, philosophy compiler Aëtius, theologian and antipope Saint Hippolytus of Rome, and Neoplatonist Greek philosopher Simplicius.
Anaximander was said to be born around 610 B.C., in the ancient Greek city of Miletus, to Praxiades. His mother's name is unknown. Miletus, which is now located in Turkey, was a prosperous city in Ancient Greece back in that era.
Greek mathematician and astronomer Thales, whom Aristotle had regarded as the first philosopher in Greek history, was born in Miletus, about 16 years before Anaximander's birth. Hence, many historians consider them blood relatives.
Whether Anaximander was a student of Thales or not is still debated. Some sources suggest that he was one of Thales's first students. He was highly influenced by Thales's philosophies, especially the theory that everything has been derived from water.
The first pure mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras was said to be Anaximander's student.
Anaximander died in 546 B.C.E. in Miletus.
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Not much of Anaximander's work could be preserved. Hence, an exact timeline of his work is unavailable.
Unfortunately, his philosophies and theories were almost forgotten till the time Plato rose to prominence.
His successor Theophrastus and a lot of demographers, too, were unable to throw light on which of Anaximander's works had been preserved.
Most of Anaximander's works have been reviewed by philosophers and scientists. They are still recognized as the foundation of ancient geography, cartography, astronomy, and several other fields. The works also provide the basic concept of the evolution of the world and explain its structure.
Anaximander expanded his teacher Thales's philosophical explanations of the creation of the universe and rejected the mythological explanation of various natural phenomena.
In addition to Thales and his theories, Anaximander, to an extent, was influenced by the Greek mythical tradition.
According to Themistius, a 4th-century Byzantine rhetorician, he was the first popular Greek to publish works on nature. It was hence concluded that his writings must have been among the first in the form of prose.
One such document was a philosophical work (poem) titled 'On Nature.' However, only a portion of the work is available today.
The poem is of immense significance even to this day, as most of Anaximander's works are said to have been derived from it.
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The poem states that a single concept regulates the world and the cosmos. It also explains the existence of an indefinite principle that forms the basis of the Earth's organization.
Anaximander had also postulated theories in astronomy, biology, geography, and geometry.
According to 3rd-century Roman rhetorician Aelian, Anaximander was a leader of the Milesian colony in the ancient Greek city of Apollonia.
One established fact about Anaximander is that he followed Monism, or the belief that a single concept or principle is behind the formation of the universe. He wrote about astronomy, geography, and the nature of things.
The summaries and reconstructions of the documents about Anaximander, as provided by ancient philosophers, regard Anaximander and Thales as the founders of the Milesian school of pre-Socratic philosophy.
The documents credit Anaximander for inventing the “gnomon,” the shadow-casting rod of a sundial, which showed the equinoxes and solstices, along with the hours of the day.
Creation of the First Map
Anaximander is known to have drawn the first world map, which has evolved since then. It is regarded as one of his greatest contributions to the fields of geography and cartography. His original drawing was later modified by Milesian author Hecataeus.
Even though Anaximander's original drawing of the world map lacked details, its utility in studying geography cannot be denied.
He might have created the map to improve navigation between the Miletus colonies and other colonies around the Mediterranean and Black seas. The two-dimensional representation of the world encouraged other colonies to join the Ionian city-states.
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Anaximander had applied his theories about the structure of the Earth while creating the map. He also used the observations and experiences of those who had traveled outside Greece.
The original map no longer exists.
Anaximander may have also erected a celestial globe.
The Origin & Evolution of the Universe
Anaximander introduced the cosmological theory that centered on the theme of his abstract concept ''apeiron,'' a Greek word meaning "unlimited, indefinite, infinite, and boundless.'' The theory explained how a constant, infinite, and ultimate reality called ''arche,'' or the primordial substance “apeiron,” something that never ages or decays, continually produces fresh material, which forms the basis of everything.
His concept of the origin of the universe could have been influenced by the original theory of chaos.
The theory of chaos explained that the world might have originated because of the motion that separated opposites such as hot and cold or wet and dry. He also believed that the world was not eternal and would eventually be destroyed so that a new world could begin.
Anaximander believed that the world's first creatures originated from evaporation, in a more humid environment. He also believed that they eventually evolved to advanced forms and spread to drier areas.
He believed that humans might have evolved from another form of life, such as a fish-like creature, and may have then evolved to their current structure.
He believed that animal babies are independent since the time they are born, while human babies are not. Hence, he stated that humans may have come from animals.
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The Solar System
Anaximander believed that the heavenly bodies were never aligned on a single great celestial hemisphere. He said that heavenly bodies such as the Sun, the Moon, and the stars are positioned at different distances from the Earth.
He established the fact that the Moon, and not the Sun, is closer to the Earth. However, he miscalculated the distance between the stars and the Earth as less than that between the Moon and the Earth.
He believed that the Earth has three fire rings around it, one each for the Sun, the Moon, and the stars. He said the fire rings are invisible to us, unlike the vents or holes through which light can pass.
He considered the holes responsible for the Moon's phases and for solar eclipses.
Anaximander imagined the Sun and the Moon as hollow fire-filled rings.
Anaximander modified Thales's theory regarding the structure of the Earth and presented it productively, giving it a practical angle. He believed in the theory that described the Earth as a deep disk-like structure.
Anaximander agreed with Thales's theory that stated life exists only on one side of the disk, and it is unknown what exists on the other side. He also established the fact that the Earth's depth is a third of its width.
However, he did not support the part of Thales's theory that suggested that the Earth floats on an infinite ocean of water that supports the planet.
Anaximander believed that the Earth is not supported by anything underneath and floats in the center of infinity. He stated that since the Earth is positioned at an equal distance from all the other parts of the universe, it is likely to be stable at a point, without any support.
This theory became the basis of Newton's law of gravity, introduced centuries later. Moreover, this intellectual leap that stated that the Earth has no support beneath, became the inspiration for astronomers Aristarchus and Nicolaus Copernicus, who established the fact that the Sun is the center of the solar system.
Anaximander also believed that the world we live in has evolved with time and did not always exist. He opined that the world would be destroyed at a certain point in time.
Like Thales, who professed a logical and scientific reason behind various natural phenomena or calamities such as earthquakes, he refused to believe that these phenomena are the results of the actions of angry Greek Gods.
Anaximander, too, followed Thales's theory while explaining the phenomena of lightning and storms. He said that disturbances in the air cause storms, while clouds produce thunder when they collide.
He said that the evaporation of water due to the Sun’s heat causes rain. He also expressed concern that the process might cause all the water that exists on the Earth to evaporate and thus spell the end of life.