- Jul 2021
Anaximander is said to have made the first map of the world. Although this map has been lost, we can imagine what it must have looked like, because Herodotus, who has seen such old maps, describes them. Anaximander’s map must have been circular, like the top of his drum-shaped earth. The river Ocean surrounded it. The Mediterranean Sea was in the middle of the map, which was divided into two halves by a line that ran through Delphi, the world’s navel. The northern half was called “Europe,” the southern half “Asia.” The habitable world (Greek: “oikoumenê”) consisted of two relatively small strips of land to the north and south of the Mediterranean Sea (containing Spain, Italy, Greece, and Asia Minor on the one side, and Egypt and Libya on the other side), together with the lands to the east of the Mediterranean Sea: Palestine, Assyria, Persia, and Arabia. The lands to the north of this small “habitable world” were the cold countries where mythical people lived. The lands to the south of it were the hot countries of the black burnt people.
Does this map of the world with the black burnt people in the lands to the south (which includes the idea of "below") result in future racist ideas?
We may assume that Anaximander somehow had to defend his bold theory of the free-floating, unsupported earth against the obvious question of why the earth does not fall. Aristotle’s version of Anaximander’s argument runs like this: “But there are some who say that it (namely, the earth) stays where it is because of equality, such as among the ancients Anaximander. For that which is situated in the center and at equal distances from the extremes, has no inclination whatsoever to move up rather than down or sideways; and since it is impossible to move in opposite directions at the same time, it necessarily stays where it is.” (De caelo 295b10ff., DK 12A26) Many authors have pointed to the fact that this is the first known example of an argument that is based on the principle of sufficient reason (the principle that for everything which occurs there is a reason or explanation for why it occurs, and why this way rather than that).
principle of sufficient reason
: for everything which occurs there is a reason or explanation for why it occurs, and why this way rather than that
The first example in Western culture is that of Anaximander explaining why the Earth does not fall.
It is certainly important that we possess one text from Anaximander’s book. On the other hand, we must recognize that we know hardly anything of its original context, as the rest of the book has been lost. We do not know from which part of his book it is, nor whether it is a text the author himself thought crucial or just a line that caught one reader’s attention as an example of Anaximander’s poetic writing style.
This is one of the first (existing) annotations in Western culture. One must be careful however as the context of the rest is missing.
What techniques might we use to help rebuild the context? What would Bart Ehrman's text suggest?
Whence things have their origin, Thence also their destruction happens, As is the order of things; For they execute the sentence upon one another – The condemnation for the crime – In conformity with the ordinance of Time.
An English translation of the fragment of Anaximander which we still have (via Simplicius).
The only existing fragment of Anaximander’s book (DK 12B1)
There is only one extant fragment of Anaximander's work. (DK 12B1)
However, perhaps not Anaximander, but Thales should be credited with this new idea. Diogenes Laërtius ascribes to Thales the aphorism: “What is the divine? That which has no origin and no end” (DK 11A1 (36)). Similar arguments, within different contexts, are used by Melissus (DK 30B2) and Plato (Phaedrus 245d1-6).
Compare this with the Christian philosophy of God: the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, etc.