Bellows or Lightning? A Curious Terminology Explained

  • Dirk L. Couprie
Part of the Astrophysics and Space Science Library book series (ASSL, volume 374)


Anaximander’s image of celestial wheels is in itself clear: it visualizes the circular orbits of the celestial bodies, and it explains why these bodies turn in circles around the earth, as well as why they do not fall on earth, as we have seen in Chap. 8. In the same chapter, we saw that the openings in the celestial wheels, through which we see the fire inside, are designated by the words στόμιον (“mouth-like opening”), πόρος (“opening through which something can pass,” “way out”), and ἐκπνοή (“outbreathing”). These fire-breathing, mouth-like openings are what we see as the celestial bodies. The combination of these two images (wheels and mouths) in itself is already rather surprising and, one might say, daring. All the same, next to the image of a mouth breathing out the fire that is inside the celestial wheel, in the doxography on Anaximander, yet another image is used twice that apparently has the intention to explain the same phenomenon of how we see the light of the celestial bodies. This image has aroused much discussion and, as I show, much confusion as well. It concerns a rather technical question, namely, the translation of a curious expression: πϱηστῆρος αὐλός. In this chapter, I explain why its usual translation is wrong, and defend another translation. My argument is that it does not so much concern an image to elucidate how we see the light of the celestial bodies, as a characterization of this light itself on the analogy of a meteorological phenomenon. At the end of this chapter, it will also be possible to elucidate why Anaximander could have chosen the image of outbreathing mouth-like openings.


Celestial Body Technical Question Meteorological Phenomenon Lunar Eclipse Heavenly Body 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dirk L. Couprie
    • 1
  1. 1.MaastrichtNetherlands

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