Anaximander (of Miletus)

Greek natural philosopher believed the earth was a cylinder poised in space

Background

Anaximander was a student of Thales of Miletus, and a philosopher with many interests. There is little known about his life, we can even get an idea about his appearance, there is a decapitated statue that has been found at the market-place of Miletus and that bears his name

The Seed

“A germ, pregnant with hot and cold, was separated off from the eternal, whereupon out of this germ a sphere of fire grew around the vapour that surrounds the earth, like a bark round a tree.” Diels-Kranz collection of Presocratic sources The idea was that the earth came from a seed which came from boundless nature, the sphere of fire is said to have fallen apart into several rings, and this event was the origin of the sun, moon, and stars.

The Cosmos

Anaximander made three statements about the earth 1. celestial bodies make full circles and pass also beneath the earth 2. that the earth is cylindrical floating free and unsupported in space 3. celestial bodies lie behind one another The first of these statements was a daring move, as it is not possible to observe this but he would have seen the stars surrounding the pole star rotate in a circle around this star. The idea that the earth is cylindrical sounds strange, until you realised that he believed the world in general was flat but curved at the horizon. The idea that celestial bodies lie behind one another was another giant intellectual step as it creates the idea of space. Observation makes it look like the stars are all at the same distance from the earth on a heavenly vault like stars projected on the roof of a planetarium.

Chariot Wheels

He believed that the order of the celestial bodies was the stars then the moon followed by the sun. This sounds strange at first, as it contradicts observation of star occultation, when the moon moves in front of stars. Anaximander overcame this issue by the idea that the heavenly bodies like the sun travel in a circle like chariot wheels, the rays of light from the sun were similar to the spokes of the wheel.

Map of the World

Anaximander was the first to map the known world, the map was circular. The map has been lost but we can get an idea of it by description being passed on. It was split in two with Europe on one side Asia on the other, with Delph, Greece in the middle. To the north were the cold countries where mythical people lived. The south was the hot countries of the black burnt people.

A Great Man

He was the first Greek to use a sundial or solar gnomon (shadow-chaser), with this device he recorder the dates of the solstices (shortest days of the year) and the equinoxes (where night and day are equal in length). He also suggested that man came from the animals and stated that man needed a long time to get to the current form. Anaximander was a map maker, a biologist and philosopher, all this 2500 years ago.

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