On Diogenes Laertius’s Biography of Anaximenes

Anaximenes hailed from Miletus and was a student of Anaximander (according to Diogenes Laertius the Milesian school began with Thales). Bringing together ideas from both Anaximander and Thales, Anaximenes held that air is the first principle of all things yet he also maintained Anaximander’s concept of the “unlimited.” He also claimed that the stars moved independently around the earth. The early philosophers were astronomers of the highest caliber.

According to Diogenes, Anaximenes wrote simply and plainly in the Ionian dialect. Apollodorus claims that Anaximenes lived during the capture of Sardis, the capital of Lydia, which fell to the Persians around 547 BC. Diogenes includes two intriguing letters to Pythagoras from Anaximenes. There is no discussion of Anaximenes in relation to politics in Diogenes Laertius’s biography.

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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