On Diogenes Laertius’s Biography of Anaximander

Diogenes Laertius’s biography of Anaximander begins Book II and it is one of the shortest biographies in the Lives.

Anaximander was a native of Miletus. Unlike Thales (who was his teacher) he affirmed that the “infinite” or “unbounded” (to apeiron) was the first principle and element. He held that the whole was unchangeable and that the earth resided within the center as a sphere in an orbit however he claimed that the gods (or stars) and the moon were illumined by a fire of the sun, and that the sun must not be smaller than the earth. He was a builder of clocks and globes, as well as the first to construct a map delineating land and water (he is sometimes known as the “map-maker”) and he was said to have invented the gnomon which he used to predict solstices and equinoxes in Lacedaemon.

He flourished during the reign of the tyrant Polycrates of Samos.


For this reading I used the ‘Compact Edition’ of the Lives of the Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertes translated by Pamela Mensch and edited by James Miller.

In the preface to the Compact Edition the editors note: “Our common goal has been to make Lives as accessible as possible to English-speaking readers -and at the same time to convey some of the essential strangeness of what philosophy once was, in hopes that readers may wonder anew at what philosophy might yet become” (xiii).

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