Anaxagoras bigraphy, stories - Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher

Anaxagoras : biography

c. 500 BC – 428 BC

Anaxagoras ( "lord of the assembly"; c. 510 – 428 BC) was a Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. Born in Clazomenae in Asia Minor, Anaxagoras was the first philosopher to bring philosophy from Ionia to Athens. He attempted to give a scientific account of eclipses, meteors, rainbows, and the sun, which he described as a fiery mass larger than the Peloponnese. According to Diogenes Laertius and Plutarch, he fled to Lampsacus due to a backlash against his pupil Pericles.

Anaxagoras is famous for introducing the cosmological concept of Nous (mind), as an ordering force. He regarded material substance as an infinite multitude of imperishable primary elements, referring all generation and disappearance to mixture and separation, respectively.


Anaxagoras appears to have had some amount of property and prospects of political influence in his native town of Clazomenae in Asia Minor. However, he supposedly surrendered both of these out of a fear that they would hinder his search for knowledge. Valerius Maximus preserves a different tradition: Anaxagoras, coming home from a long voyage, found his property in ruin, and said: "If this had not perished, I would have." A sentence, denoted by Maximus, as being "possessed of sought-after wisdom!"Val. Max., VIII, 7, ext., 5: Qui, cum e diutina peregrinatione patriam repetisset possessionesque desertas vidisset, "non essem – inquit "ego salvus, nisi istae perissent." Vocem petitae sapientiae compotem! Although a Greek, he may have been a soldier of the Persian army when Clazomenae was suppressed during the Ionian Revolt.

In early manhood (c. 464–461 BC) he went to Athens, which was rapidly becoming the centre of Greek culture. There he is said to have remained for thirty years. Pericles learned to love and admire him, and the poet Euripides derived from him an enthusiasm for science and humanity.

Anaxagoras brought philosophy and the spirit of scientific inquiry from Ionia to Athens. His observations of the celestial bodies and the fall of meteorites led him to form new theories of the universal order. He attempted to give a scientific account of eclipses, meteors, rainbows, and the sun, which he described as a mass of blazing metal, larger than the Peloponnese. He was the first to explain that the moon shines due to reflected light from the sun. He also said that the moon had mountains and believed that it was inhabited. The heavenly bodies, he asserted, were masses of stone torn from the earth and ignited by rapid rotation. He explained that, though both sun and the stars were fiery stones, we do not feel the heat of the stars because of their enormous distance from earth. He thought that the earth is flat and floats supported by ‘strong’ air under it and disturbances in this air sometimes causes earthquakes.Burnet J. (1892) Early Greek Philosophy A. & C. Black, London, , and subsequent editions, 2003 edition published by Kessinger, Whitefish, Montana, ISBN 0-7661-2826-1 These speculations made him vulnerable in Athens to a charge of impiety. Diogenes Laertius reports the story that he was prosecuted by Cleon for impiety, but Plutarch says that Pericles sent his former tutor, Anaxagoras, to Lampsacus for his own safety after the Athenians began to blame him for the Peloponnesian war.

About 450 BC, according to Laertius, Pericles spoke in defense of Anaxagoras at his trial.A.E. Taylor, "On the date of the trial of Anaxagoras" Classical Quarterly 11 (1917), pp 81–87. Even so, Anaxagoras was forced to retire from Athens to Lampsacus in Troad (c. 434–433 BC). He died there in around the year 428 BC. Citizens of Lampsacus erected an altar to Mind and Truth in his memory, and observed the anniversary of his death for many years.

Anaxagoras wrote a book of philosophy, but only fragments of the first part of this have survived, through preservation in work of Simplicius of Cilicia in the sixth century AD.