The Discovery of Space: Anaximander’s Cosmology

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


At first sight, Anaximander’s cosmology looks like an eccentric vision sprung from a bizarre mind. Anaximander imagined the celestial bodies as huge rings, or more precisely, chariot wheels, consisting of opaque air-like (ἀεϱοειδής) stuff. Inside such a wheel (within its felloe), and invisible to us, fire is burning. The wheels have holes, through which we see the fire inside, and this is what we call the sun, the moon, or a star (DK 12A11, DK 12A18, DK 12A21, DK12A22, and (Turba Philosophorum, ed. Ruska: 109, not in DK)). Illustrative for the astonishment evoked by these images is, for instance, the desperate commentary of a French scholar: “Les idées d’Anaximandre sont tellement bizarres qu’on hésite à les reproduire” (Boquet 1925: 35). In a handbook on the history of astronomy, a Dutch author writes: “What he said about sun, moon, and stars (…) is rather obscure” (Pannekoek 1961: 98–99). Even an authoritative scholar like Charles Kahn doubts whether here authentic Anaximandrian images are at stake, and he suggests that they look like the style of a Hellenistic popularizer (1994: 87). And Dicks, the author of a standard work on early Greek astronomy, speaks about Anaximander’s primitive astronomical ideas and peculiar notions (1959: 309, n. 1, see also 1970: 45–46).


Celestial Body Solar Eclipse Full Circle Lunar Eclipse World Picture 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

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

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