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Anaxagoras (500-428 BC)

Anaxagoras. A Greek philosopher, of Clazomenae in Asia Minor, born about B.C. 500. Sprung from a noble family, but wishing to devote himself entirely to science, he gave up his property to his kinsmen, and removed to Athens, where he lived in intimacy with the most distinguished men--above all with Pericles. Shortly before the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War he was charged by the political opponents of Pericles with impiety, i.e. with denying the gods recognized by the State; and, though acquitted through his friend's influence, he felt compelled to emigrate to Lampsacus, where he died soon after, aged seventy-two. He not only had the honour of giving philosophy a home at Athens, where it went on flourishing for quite a thousand years, but he was the first philosopher who, by the side of the material principle, introduced a spiritual, which gives the other life and form. He laid down his doctrine in a work "On Nature" in the Ionic dialect, of which only fragments are preserved. Like Parmenides, he denied the existence of birth or death; the two processes were rather to be described as a mingling and unmingling. The ultimate elements of combination are indivisible, imperishable primordia of infinite number, and differing in shape, colour, and taste, called by himself "seeds of things," and by later writers (from an expression of Aristotle) homoiomereia, i. e. particles of like kind with each other and with the whole that is made up of them. At first these lay mingled without order; but the divine spirit--nous, pure, passionless reason--set the unarranged matter into motion, and thereby created out of chaos an orderly world. This movement, proceeding from the centre, works on forever, penetrating farther and farther the infinite mass. But the application of the spiritual principle was rather indicated than fully carried out by Anaxagoras: he himself commonly explains phenomena by physical causes, and only when he cannot find these, falls back on the action of divine reason.

This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Nov 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks

Anaxagoras, a Greek philosopher, was born at Clazomenae in Ionia about the year B. C. 499. His father, Hegesibulus, left him in the possession of considerable property, but as he intended to devote his life to higher ends, he gave it up to his relatives as something which ought not to engage his attention. He is said to have gone to Athens at the age of twenty, during the contest of the Greeks with Persia, and to have lived and taught in that city for a period of thirty years. He became here the intimate friend and teacher of the most eminent men of the time, such as Euripides and Pericles; but while he thus gained the friendship and admiration of the most enlightened Athenians, the majority, uneasy at being disturbed in their hereditary superstitions, soon found reasons for complaint. The principal cause of hostility towards him must, however, be looked for in the following circumstance. As he was a friend of Pericles, the party which was dissatisfied with his administration seized upon the disposition of the people towards the philosopher as a favourable opportunity for striking a blow at the great statesman. Anaxagoras, therefore, was accused of impiety. His trial and its results are matters of the greatest uncertainty on account of the different statements of the ancients themselves (Diog. Laert. ii. 12, &c.; Plut. Pericl. 32, Nicias, 23). It seems probable, however, that Anaxagoras was accused twice, once on the ground of impiety, and a second time on that of partiality to Persia. In the first case it was only owing to the influence and eloquence of Pericles that he was not put to death; but he was sentenced to pay a fine of five talents and to quit Athens. The philosopher now went to Lampsacus, and it seems to have been during his absence that the second charge of medismos was brought against him, in consequence of which he was condemned to death. He is said to have received the intelligence of his sentence with a smile, and to have died at Lampsacus at the age of seventy-two. The inhabitants of this place honoured Anaxagoras not only during his lifetime, but after his death also. (Diog. Laert. ii. c. 3; Dict. of Ant. s. v. Anaxagoreia.)
  Diogenes Laertius, Cicero, and other writers, call Anaxagoras a disciple of Anaximenes; but this statement is not only connected with some chronological difficulties, but is not quite in accordance with the accounts of other writers. Thus much, however, is certain, that Anaxagoras struck into a new path, and was dissatisfied with the systems of his predecessors, the Ionic philosophers. It is he who laid the foundation of the Attic philosophy, and who stated the problem which his successors laboured to solve. The Ionic philosophers had endeavoured to explain nature and its various phenomena by regarding matter in its different forms and modifications as the cause of all things. Anaxagoras, on the other hand, conceived the necessity of seeking a higher cause, independent of matter, and this cause he considered to be nous, that is, mind, thought, or intelligence. This nous, however, is not the creator of the world, but merely that which originally arranged the world and gave motion to it; for, according to the axiom that out of nothing nothing can come, he supposed the existence of matter from all eternity, though, before the nous was exercised upon it, it was in a chaotic confusion. In this original chaos there was an infinite number of homogeneous parts (homoiomere) as well as heterogeneous ones. The nous united the former and separated from them what was heterogeneous, and out of this process arose the things we see in this world. This union and separation, however, were made in such a manner, that each thing contains in itself parts of other things or heterogeneous elements, and is what it is, only on account of the preponderance of certain homogeneous parts which constitute its character. The nous, which thus regulated and formed the material world, is itself also cognoscent, and consequently the principle of all cognition: it alone can see truth and the essence of things, while our senses are imperfect and often lead us into error. Anaxagoras explained his dualistic system in a work which is now lost, and we know it only from such fragments as are quoted from it by later writers, as Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Diogenes Laertius, Cicero, and others.

This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited Oct 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks

Hylozoism (Gr., hyle, matter + zoe, life)
The doctrine according to which all matter possesses life.
  There is a certain hylozoism which is only a childish, inexperienced way of looking on nature. We are naturally inclined to interpret other existences after what we know of ourselves, and so it is that children give life and soul to everything. The result of this personification of nature in primitive races has also been called animism. It is a poetical view of the world. We should therefore not be surprised that the first school of philosophers in Greece, the Ionians, conceived of the universe as animated throughout and full of gods: empsychon kai daimonon plere (Diog. Laer., I, 27). With the progress of thought a more scientific view of nature prevailed. First obscurely by Anaxagoras, then clearly by Plato and Aristotle, matter and mind were separated and their mutual relations delineated. Hylozoism in its primitive form disappeared. But, with the second successor of Aristotle, Strato of Lampsacus, another kind of hylozoism, clearly materialistic, came into existence. Strato, while repudiating the mechanicism of the Atomists, nevertheless, in common with them, held bodies to be the only reality and explained life as a property of matter. In the Stoic doctrine also bodies alone are a reality. Bodies are made up of two principles, a passive principle, matter, and an active principle, form; but form itself is corporeal. It is warm vapour (pneuma), or fire, yet fire distinct from the element of this name; it is primitive fashioning fire (pyr technikon), God. In order to form the world a part of it changed itself into the elements, fire, air, water, earth, and constituted the body of the world, while another part retained its original shape, and in that shape confronts the first as form or soul. This was pure materialism.
  But a wave of religious mysticism and pantheism was preparing to sweep from the East over the Graeco-Roman world and dislodge matter from the throne it had usurped. Under this influence the later Peripatetics, the Neo-Pythagoreans and especially the Neo-Platonic school of Alexandria, while accepting the Stoic concept of the world-soul, reversed the relative importance of its terms, considered the soul as a spiritual principle emanating from God, and gave matter the inferior rank, if not as altogether evil, at least as most imperfect. Indeed matter was hardly a reality at all; the activities and perfections of material beings proceeded from a distinct principle, the soul. The universe was an immense organism. Everything was animated; and, though life was in itself distinct from matter, it was in fact imparted to all material beings. This was Pantheistic hylozoism. It survived in the medieval Jewish and Arabian philosophy, and reappeared in Christian countries with the nature philosophers of the Renaissance, Paracelsus, Cardanus, Giordano Bruno, etc. But at the Renaissance it did not come alone. For, under the influence of the enthusiastic return to the study of nature, of the revival of classic literatures with their mythology full of gods and goddesses, and of the sensualism which then invaded morals, the two other forms of hylozoism, the naive and the materialistic, reappeared also, and the three were combined in different proportions by the several writers. In a less degree, even such thinkers as Richard Cudworth and Henry More, the Cambridge Platonists, yielded to it, when they devised their hypothesis of a "plastic nature", or a sort of inferior soul, which caused the processes of life in organic beings and directed in a purpose-like manner the activity of physical nature.
  After Descartes's bold attempt to resolve into motion the operations of physical life, which deprived the word life of much of its meaning and put matter in sharp contrast with the higher life of thought, the concept life was for a while set aside, and speculation for the most part dealt with matter as opposed to mind. Yet, in a different form, it was the same problem over again, viz, the determination of the limits of matter and of its relation to spirit. To this problem Spinoza offered a solution, which, combining materialistic with pantheistic hylozoism, held the balance even between matter and mind by reducing both to the rank of mere attributes of the one infinite substance. Leibniz, resolving matter into spirit, looked on bodies as aggregates of simple unextended substances or monads, endowed with elementary perception and will. On the contrary, a group of French writers in the eighteenth century, Diderot, Cabanis, Robinet, etc., adhered to a dynamico-materialistic view of the world which recalls that of Strato.
  In the nineteenth century the progress of the biological sciences again called attention to physical life. Descartes's mechanicism was generally discarded. On the other hand, the craving of reason for unity, which has here characteristically embodied itself in the theory of evolution, tends to consider the world of life?and the world of mind as well?as a mere extension of the world of matter. But then life must be conceived as fundamentally contained in all matter, as one of its essential properties. Thus has hylozoism been revived by some thinkers as a postulate of science. Literally taken, it would be materialism, and in that sense is indefatigably advocated by E. Hackel, who identifies mind with organization and life, and life with energy, which he makes a property of the atoms. Matter is for him the only reality. He, moreover, imagines ether to be the primitive substance, a part of which, as was the case with the primitive fire of the Stoics, transformed itself through condensation into inert mass, while another part of it subsists as ether and constitutes the active principle, spirit. Very few thinkers, however, would commit themselves to such a doctrine. But many scientists use it as a postulate without ever inquiring into its meta-physical implications. Those who have inquired have commonly agreed that at least mental life can by no means be resolved into matter. Consequently they have modified the concept matter itself, and described matter and mind, after the view already set forth by Spinoza, as two manifestations, or two aspects, of one and the same reality. This reality may be declared different in itself from both matter and mind, and unknowable (H. Spencer); or it may be declared identical with both matter and mind, which are respectively its outer and inner sides (Fechner, Lotze, Wundt, etc.). In either case, hylozoism has passed into psycho-physical parallelism with tendencies towards either materialism or idealism.
From what has been said, then, it follows that it would be an error to see in hylozoism a mere doctrine of physical life; for instance, the affirmation of spontaneous generation. Physical life may, in the abstract, be separated from mental life and treated independently of it. But in reality the separation does not hold, and hylozoism has always extended its conclusions to mental life as well. Even naive hylozoism did not stop at granting life to nature, it also endowed nature with soul. Pantheistic hylozoism started with the very concept of mental life. These two forms no longer count in science. On the latter, since it is of pantheistic origin; see PANTHEISM, GOD, EMANATIONISM.
  Scientific hylozoism is a protest against a mechanical view of the world. But, like mechanicism, it pretends to apply the same pattern to all beings alike, to make of them all one uniform series. Its outcome is monism, materialistic, idealistic, or parallelistic, according as the series is conceived after the pattern of matter, or of mind, or of some reality combining both. It therefore falls under the criticisms proper to these forms of monism. As a matter of fact, life is not found in all beings; some are destitute of it, and, among those in which it is found, plants possess merely vegetal life, while animals have also the powers of sense, and man the powers of sense and reason. In an age which boasts of trusting experience alone, it is surprising that this fact should be so readily overlooked. True, we crave for unity and continuity in our knowledge and its object; but unity should not be procured at the cost of evident diversity. Or rather, since this craving for unity is nothing else than the voice of reason, it ought indeed to be satisfied; but they err who seek in the world itself this perfect unity which is to be found only in its Cause, God. (See also MATTER, LIFE, SOUL, TELEOLOGY, MONISM, MATERIALISM.)

John M. Redon, ed.
Transcribed by: Douglas J. Potter
This text is cited July 2004 from The Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent online edition URL below.


Hermotimus, (Hermotimos), of Clazomenae, called by Lucian a Pythagorean, had the reputation, according to Aristotle, of being the first to suggest the idea which Anaxagorasis commonly said to have originated: that mind (nous) was the cause of all things. Accordingly, Sextus Empiricus places him with Hesiod, Parmenides, and Empedocles, as belonging to that class of philosophers who held a dualistic theory of a material and an active principle being together the origin of the universe.
  Other notices that remain of him represent him, like Epimenides and Aristaeus, as a mysterious person, gifted with a supernatural power, by which his soul, apart from the body, wandered from place to place, bringing tidings of distant events in incredibly short spaces of time. At length his enemies burned his body, in the absence of the soul, which put an end to his wanderings. The story is told in Pliny and Lucian. (Plin. H. N. vii. 42; Lucian, Eucom. Musc. 7; Arist. Metaph. i. 3; Sext. Empir. adv. Math. ix., ad Phys. i. 7; Diog. Laert. viii. 5; Denzinger, De Hermotim. Clazomen. Commentatio, Leodii, 1825.)

This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited Nov 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks



Mechanic from the city of Clazomenae in Ionia, who built siege machines and lived in the 5th c. B.C.

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