Wright Cosmology in Antiquity
Wright Cosmology in Antiquity...
COSMOLOGY IN ANTIQUITY
Th e widespread interest in recent discoveries and arguments, and and the popularity of books by such writers as Stephen Hawking and Paul Davies, have made this the ‘golden age’ of cosmology. Many of today’s problems awaiting solution are more sophisticated versions of puzzles discussed by the philosophers and mathematical astronomers of ancient Greece over two thousand years ago. They too worried about the limits of time and space, the elements that make up the whole, how (or if) the universe began, and whether cosmic events are random or meaningful, chaotic or maintained by balance and order.
Cosmology in Antiquity is a comprehensive introduction to the origins and development of cosmological thought in ancient times. It examines the m ain themes o f the subject, starting starting where approp riate with the Babylonian and Egyptian forerunners, and continuing thro ugh the Preso cratics to Plato , Aristo tle and th e Hel lenistic schools o f the the Sto ics and Epicureans. The ir impact on the intellectual intellectual life at Rome along with the scholarship developed at Alexandria is also also considered .
M.R. Wright is Professor of Classics at the University of Wales, Lampeter. She has previously published books on the Presocratics, Empedocles and Stoic ethics in Cicero, as well as articles and review essays on a wide range of subjects in ancient philosophy.
First published 1995 by Ro ut le dg e 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, 0 X 14 4RN Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada b y Ro ut le dg e 270 Madison Ave, New York NY 10016 Reprinted 1996 Transferred to Digital Printing 2005
Routle dge is an int erna tiona l T homson P ublishing Comp any Selection and editorial matter © 1995 M.R. Wright Typeset in Garamond by Pon ting—Gr een Pu blishing Services, Chesha m, Bucks All rights reserved. No part of this book m ay be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now know n or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without pe rm is si on in w rit in g fro m th e pu bl is he rs .
British Library Cataloguing in P ublica tion Data Wrig ht, M.R. ' Cosmology in Antiquity. - (Sciences of Antiquity Series) I. Titl e II. Series 523.1093
Library o f Congress Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available ISBN 0-415-083 72-9 (hbk) ISBN 0 -415-121 83-3 (pbk) ISBN 978-1-134-52411-2 (ebk) P r i n t e d a n d h o u n d b y A n t o n y R o w e L t d. E a s t b o u r n e
List o ffigu re s General series introduction Ack no wl ed ge men ts
1 IN TR OD U CT IO N
2 A SURVEY OF COSM OLO GICA L TEXTS
3 MODELS, MYTHS AN D METAPHORS
4 MACROCOSM AND MICROCOSM
5 CHAOS AND COSMO GONY
6 ELEMENTS AND MATTER
7 AIR, AITH ER AN D ASTRA
8 TIME AND ETERNITY
9 THE MATH EMATICA L BASES OF GREEK COSMOLOGY
10 THE COSMOS AND GOD Glossary Bib liog rap hy In de x o f classical sources General index
163 185 188 193 196
I am happy to acknowledge the receipt of a personal research grant from the British Academy in 1993 which came at a critical time in the writing of this volume. It enabled me to make use of the expertise of Dr Stuart Leggatt, who helped considerably with the Aristotelian passages throughout, and especially with problems arising from the crucial De Caelo. Parts of the sections on elements and time, and almost the whole of the ninth chapter (on the mathematical principles involved), derive from draft material which he provided; I am very grateful to this fine scholar for his advice and assistance on these and other topics related to the history of science. I am also indebted to my physicist son, Tom, who produced thecomputer graphics for the illustrations, and dealt patiently with a stream of queries on the latest answers to questions which the Greeks first raised. My husband sifted through the complete manuscript with a critical eye; the breadth of reading that he and Tom foster, and the interest in the philosophy underpinning their own research, gave this work on ancient cosmology a wider perspective. M.R. Wright The University of Reading September 1994
Two fragments of the Pythagorean Philolaus probably come from about the same period and continue the theme on similar lines to the previous quotations, as they emphasise the sense of orderly connection and arrangement of like and unlike in one whole: Things unlike each other and of different kinds and unequally matched must all have connecting links to be part of one kosmos. (fr. 6) What limits and what is unlimited together make a harmo ny of the kosmos and the things in it. ' (fr. 2) Among the later Presocratics, Diogenes of Apollonia spoke with familiarity of ‘this kosmos' and all that exists in it (fr. 2). The sense came full circle when the the word kosmos, which in Homer had described personal adornment and was then transferred to the fair arrangement of the universe, returned with Democritus to the individual, portrayed now as the whole in miniature, the ‘micro cosm ’ (mikros kosmos, fr. 34). The medical writers at about the same time were also co nscious of the relationship between the order of parts in the individual and in the external world. It was tho ught that the doctor had to be familiar with the constellations, and to watch out for changes and excesses in food and drink, in winds and weather and the kosmos as a whole, since from these arise the illnesses that occur in people. (Regimen 1.2) And the author of the early Hippocratic work, On Human Nature, claimed that a person would die if any of the mutually dependent components that made up his or her constitution failed, just as the kosmos would disappear if any one of its connected opposites, the same ingredients on a large scale, were to break loose, for, in both, ‘from a single necessity, they maintain and nourish each other’ (O n Hum an Nature 7.58-60). These early thinkers set out to discard mythical and theological traditions and to forge a new language of nature and necessity to account for the structure and functioning o f phenomena. Their great advancc came in the recognition of balance and proportion in apparent disorder, and of continuity through the variations; they 5
A SURVEY OF COSMOLOGICAL TEXTS
Cosmology is unique among ancient sciences in being based on a wide variety of texts. Where writers on topics concerned with medicine or geography, for example, used the medium of the straightforward prose treatise, an overview of works dealing with the structure of the universe and the celestial bodies, and the relationship of the human race to the whole, needs to take into account verse and prose writings in a broad range of literary genres. In some cases there are only fragments of the original works, and two of the most influential philosophers, Pythagoras and Socrates, wrote nothing; their theories have to be compiled from a range of evidence, often conflicting or untrustworthy. The most interesting work was carried out mainly by the Presocratic Greeks in the sixth and fifth centuries BC, by Plato and Aristotle in the fourth and then by followers of the Stoic and Epicurean schools in Greece and later in Rome, and it is on these figures that the emphasis lies. But their cosmology needs to be seen in context, from its beginnings on the seaboard of Asia Minor, where roads were open to Egypt and the Middle East, to its most significant discoveries by the scholars in Alexandria. The transfer to Rome gave rise to the philosophical works of Cicero and Lucretius in the last century of the Republic, to Seneca in the early empire and then to the writings in Greek from the two ends of the spectrum in Roman society in the second century AD: the Handbook of the slave Epictetus, and the Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Alongside these developments, advances in mathematics, medicine and even architecture were sometimes relevant, as were the comic sketches by Lucian and Plutarch’s serious moral essays; political theory also had its input in the concept of world-citizenship cosmopolitanism in its literal sense.