Anaxagoras of Clazomenae



Life and Work

Anaxagoras (c. 500-428 BC) was born in the Ionian city of Clazomenae but he is the first Presocratic who activated in Athens. He seems to be the teacher of Pericles. Anaxagoras is the first philosopher before Socrates who brought in trial for impiety. But in contrast to Socrates, and probably with the political help of Pericles, he exiled and died in Lampsacus. He wrote a book in prose with the title On Nature.



For Anaxagoras, in the beginning of the cosmos, there was not one but two principles all infinite and everlasting in nature: (1) Mind (Nous) and (2) the Primeval Mixture (Migma). In the beginning ‘everything was in everything’. The revolutionary formation of the cosmos started when the infinite ‘seeds’ (spermata) within the primeval mixture separated from the mixture by the motive power of Mind. Mind initiated the rotation of the ‘seeds’ resulting in the predominantly heavy parts coming to the center of the vortex and the subtler parts to the outer part encircling them.


The Seeds

The compact ingredients of the primeval mixture were an infinite number of ‘seeds’ such as the opposite qualities of the wet and the dry, the hot and the cold, the bright and the dark. The ‘seeds’ are not generated nor destroyed; they are the ultimate combined, indivisible, and imperishable elements, unlimited in number and different in shape, colour and taste, with each ‘stuff’ containing everything. Anaxagoras’ ‘seeds’ are not elemental principles, as in Empedocles, but aggregations of the homoiomeroi. Homoiomeria means that for any given substance, its greater ratio is comprised of an infinite number of smaller particles having the same nature as the whole (and thus of all particles in existence), included in all physical mixtures.



Mind (nous) is the motive force that initiated the primeval matter. Mind is completely separate from matter, the only exception to the universal criterion ‘everything in everything’. Matter under the control of Mind expands continually and indefinitely outwards from the original microdot which contained everything in the whole universe. Nous is described as ‘unlimited’, ‘self-controlling’, ‘unmixed’, ‘alone in itself and by itself’, ‘the finest’, ‘the purest’, ‘possessing complete knowledge’, ‘supreme in power’, ‘the controller of everything alive’.



1 (1) All things were altogether, unlimited in number and smallness; and the small was unlimited, and all things being together nothing was distinct because of its smallness. For air and aether covered everything, both being unlimited. For these are the greatest in all things, both in quantity and size.

2 (2) For air and aether are being separated out from the quantity of what surrounds, and what surrounds is unlimited in amount.

3 (3) And there is no least of what is small, but always a lesser (for it is not possible for what there is not to be); but there is always a larger than the large, and equal to the small in amount; for each thing in relation to itself is both large and small.

4 (4) (i) And since this is so, we must believe that there are many things of all kinds in all that is coming together and seeds of all things having all kinds of forms and colours and smells.

          (ii) And humans were compacted and all the other animals that have psych. And for these humans there are inhabited cities and harvested fields as with us, and they have a sun and moon and the rest like us, and their earth has much produce of all kinds which they buy and use at home. So this is what i have said about the separating off, that there would not only be a separating off with us but elsewhere as well.

           (iii) And before the separating off when all things were together, there was no colour distinct at all; for the mixture of all things was preventing it of the wet and the dry and the hot and the cold and the bright and the dark,  and there was much earth within and a quantity if unlimited seeds, not at all like each other. For none of the other things seemed alike, one to another.

           (iv) And since this is so we must believe that all things are in the whole.

5 (21a)   The seen gives a glimpse of the unseen.  

6 (21)    Because of our weakness we are unable to judge the truth.

7 (17)   The Greeks are not right to think that there is generation and destruction, for nothing is generated or destroyed, but there is a mixing and a separating of existing things. And so they would be right to call generation mixing and destruction separating.

8 (5)  After these have been broken up in this way we must understand that all the things that there are are neither less nor more; for it is impossible for there to be more than all things, but all things are always equal.

9 (6)     And since there are equal shares in quantity of the large and small, so too there would be everything in everything; for there are not separate, but everything has a portion of everything. Since there is no least it would not be possible for there to be separation nor for anything to exist on its own, but as at the beginning so now everything is all together. And in everything there is much of what is being separated off equal in quantity in the greater and the less.

10 (7)   So that it is not possible to know the quantity of what is being separated off either in theory or practice.

11 (8) The contents of the cosmos are not separated from each other or cut of by an axe not the hot from the cold nor the cold from the hot.

12 (10) How could hair come from what is not hair and flesh from what is not flesh.

13 (11)  In everything there is a portion of everything except of mind (nous), but some have mind as well.

14 (12) (i) Other things have a portion of everything, but mind is unlimited, self-determining, and mixed with no thing; it alone has independent existence.  For if it were not independent, but mixed with some other thing, it would have a share in all things, if it had been mixed with any one; for there is a portion of everything in everything, as I said earlier. And what was mixed with it would prevent it from controlling any one thing in the way that it does by being alone and independent.

            (ii) It is the most rarefied of all things and the purest, and has knowledge of each thing, and the greatest power. All that has life, whether larger or smaller, mind controls, and mind controlled the rotation of the whole, so as to make it rotate in the beginning. First it began the rotation from a small area, now it brings more into the rotation, and will bring even more.

            (iii) Mind knew all that had been mixed and was being separated and becoming distinct. And all that was going to be, all that was but is no longer, and all that is now and will be, mind arranged in order, and this rotation too, in which now rotate the stars and sun and moon and air and aether, as they are being separated off. And it was the rotation which caused the separation. The dense is being separated off from the rare, and the hot from the cold, the bright from the dark and the dry from the wet.

            (iv) But there are many portions of many things, and no thing is completely separated or distinct from another except mind. Mind is all the same, whether larger or smaller. Nothing else is like any one thing, but each individual object most obviously is and was what that object has most of.

15 (13)   And when mind  initiated movement there was a separating off from all that was being moved, and all that mind moved was made distinct; and the rotation of what was being moved and made distinct was causing much more to be made distinct.

16 (14) And mind is always, even now with everything else, in the periphery and in what has been separated and brought together and in what has been separated off completely.

17 (15)  The thick and the wet and the cold and the dark were coming together, and there now is earth. The fine and the hot and the dry moved out towards the aether.

18 (16) From these as they were separating off earth was compacted; for water is separated off from the clouds, and from water earth, and from earth stones are compacted by the cold.

19 (18)  The sun gives brightness to the moon.

20 (19)  We call Iris the light in the clouds facing the sun.

21 (20)  A bird's milk is the white of the egg.                


Translation M. R. Wright -  note: numbers in parentheses refer to the standard Diels/Kranz order




Copyright 1997-2006

Giannis Stamatellos






  Writings and Sources

  Mythological Origins

  Pherecydes of Syros


  Thales of Miletus
  Anaximander of Miletus
  Anaximenes of Miletus

  Heraclitus of Ephesus
  Xenophanes of Colophon

  Pythagoras of Samos
  Philolaus of Croton
  Archytas of Tarantum
  Alcmaeon of Croton


  Parmenides of Elea
  Zeno of Elea
  Melissus of Samos

Empedocles of Acragas
  Anaxagoras of Klazomenes
  Democritus of Abdera