Person: Anaxagoras Of Clazomenae
Anaxagoras was a Greek mathematician famed as the first to introduce philosophy to the Athenians. He was imprisoned for claiming that the Sun was not a god and that the Moon reflected the Sun's light.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Anaxagoras was an Ionian, born in the neighbourhood of Smyrna in what today is Turkey.
- Although Ionia had produced philosophers such as Pythagoras, up to the time of Anaxagoras this new study of knowledge had not spread to Athens.
- Anaxagoras is famed as the first to introduce philosophy to the Athenians when he moved there in about 480 BC.
- During Anaxagoras's stay in Athens, Pericles rose to power.
- In about 450 BC Anaxagoras was imprisoned for claiming that the Sun was not a god and that the Moon reflected the Sun's light.
- Under this law they persecuted Anaxagoras, who was accused of teaching that the sun was a red-hot stone and the moon was earth.
- We should examine this teaching of Anaxagoras about the sun more closely for, although it was used as a reason to put him in prison, it is a most remarkable teaching.
- Anaxagoras also shows an understanding of centrifugal force which again shows the major scientific insights that he possessed.
- Anaxagoras proposed that the moon shines by reflected light from the "red-hot stone" which was the sun, the first such recorded claim.
- There is also other evidence to suggest that Anaxagoras had applied geometry to the study of astronomy.
- As to the structure of matter, Anaxagoras postulated an infinite number of elements, or basic building blocks.
- Aristotle both found much to praise in Anaxagoras's theory of nous.
- Both Plato and Aristotle, however, were critical of the fact that the driving force of the nous as proposed by Anaxagoras was not ethical.
- The nous of Anaxagoras does provide a mechanical explanation of the world after the non-mechanical start when the vortex is produced.
- It is worth noting that Newton's mechanical universe would have more in common with Anaxagoras's views than the continuing ethical intelligence proposed by Plato and Aristotle.
- We can obtain some clues to the mathematics that Anaxagoras studied but, unfortunately, very little remains in the records to allow us to know of definite results which he may have proved.
- He records information about the painting of stage scenes for the plays which were performed in Athens and says that Anaxagoras wrote a treatise on how to paint scenes so that some objects appeared to be in the foreground while other appeared in the background.
- This fascinating comment must mean that Anaxagoras wrote a treatise on perspective, but sadly no such work survives.
- Anaxagoras was saved from prison by Pericles but had to leave Athens.
- Even if this story is fictitious, it is likely to be based on the way that Anaxagoras lived his life and so tells us something of the personality of this remarkable scientist who gave a description of the creation of the solar system that took 2000 years to improve upon.
Born 499 BC, Clazomenae (30, km west of Izmir), Lydia (now Turkey). Died 428 BC, Lampsacus, Mysia (now Turkey).
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Tags relevant for this person:
Ancient Greek, Astronomy, Geometry, Origin Turkey, Puzzles And Problems
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive