previous.gif     next.gif    

by H. Crosthwaite



THE early philosophers before the time of Socrates help considerably in our investigation, and give support to the view that electrical forces were a major preoccupation of the Greeks. The earliest of them, the Ionian physicists, lived in a region that had close contacts with the East and with Egypt.

The city of Miletus produced, within a century, Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes. Each searched for unity behind the diversity of the appearance of the material world. Each looked for a single primary element as the basis of the physical world, and tried to isolate and to identify it. With these three we can also take Xenophanes, who was educated at Kolophon, the seat of a famous oracle. He was well informed about Ionian theories and moved to Western Greece.

Thales is well known for having predicted an eclipse of the sun, probably the eclipse of 585 B. C.. His ancestry was Phoenician. It has been suggested that his parents were Kadmeians from Boeotia, and that his father's name, Examyes, is Karian.

Aetius, A. D. 100, tells us that having been a philosopher in Egypt, Thales moved to Miletus when older.

Thales seems to have regarded water as the original element from which the rest of the physical world is derived. Aristotle says that Pherecydes and others, and the Magi, put the "best thing" (ariston) as the first creating substance.

Pindar, Olympian Odes I, says: "Water is best, and gold is a blazing (aithomenon) fire."

Olympian III: 42: "Water is best, and gold the most precious." Aristotle, De Anima, says that "Thales appears to have supposed that the soul (psyche) was something that could move; if indeed he said that the stone had a soul because it moved iron."

Diogenes Laertius, 3rd century A. D., reports that Thales was said to have attributed a share of soul to soulless things, calling in evidence the magnet, and amber.

Aristotle, De Anima: "Thales thought that all things were full of gods."

Anaximenes is the next writer to mention the soul. He says that our soul is air, and holds us together, and that breath and air surround the whole cosmos. There is an important distinction between 'aer' and 'aither', the damp misty air or breath, and the dry upper air. Anaximenes held that by rarefaction and condensation one substance can be many different things.

Anaximander (he was aged sixty four in 547 B. C.) is said by Cicero (De Divinatione 1.50) to have warned the Spartans to move into the fields, as an earthquake was imminent. He postulated a single original substance, 'to apeiron', the infinite. He was a pupil of Thales.

Only one sentence of Anaximander's work Concerning The Physical Universe has survived. Simplicius, quoting Theophrastus, 3rd century B. C., says: "Into those same things from which they take their origin, all the things that exist also go on to their destruction, and of necessity; for they are punished and make retribution to each other for the injustice in accordance with the decree of time, expressing it in more poetical terms."

(R. Mondolfo, Problemi del pensiero antico, Bologna 1935, suggests that the crime is expansion of the worlds caused by collisions). There are infinitely numerous worlds (ouranoi) in the apeiron, all equidistant. Cicero, in his De Natura Deorum, I: 10: 25, says: "nativos esse deos," i. e. that the gods come into being by birth.

Moira, one's lot, ananke, necessity, and dike, j ustice, make up the impersonal law given by the apeiron.

Aetius writes: "Anaximander declared that the infinite ouranoi were gods."

The 6th century B. C. poet and philosopher Xenophanes wrote a philosophical poem on nature, and a number of poems called Silloi, 'squint-eyed'. They ridiculed the anthropomorphic deities of Homer. He studied fossils of fishes in mountains, and concluded that land and sea must have undergone great changes. Simplicius reports of him that his single, non-anthropomorphic deity "always stays in the same place unmoved, and shakes everything without trouble by his mind."

This thought is similar to one expressed in Aeschylus, Suppliants 96 ff.: "Zeus casts mortals down from the lofty towers of their hopes, to utter destruction. He puts forth no violence, but sits and at once accomplishes his thought somehow from his holy resting place."

Heraclitus, who flourished in Ionia about 500 B. C., is well known for his doctrine of flux: "Everything flows, nothing remains constant," and "You can't step twice into the same river." He has fire, and 'logos', as solutions to the problem that occupied the Ionian physicists. The soul is a fragment of the surrounding cosmic fire. Macrobius, A. D. 400, on the Somnium Scipionis, I: 14, says: "Heraclitus declared that the soul is a spark of the essential substance of the stars, 'scintilla stellaris essentiae'." Stars are concentrations of aither. In this context, Fragment 26 is relevant: "When man dies and his eyes are extinguished, he unites in happiness with light; living man asleep resembles the dead, for he, too, has his eyes closed; man awake resembles a man asleep." Heraclitus seems to have regarded lightning as a manifestation of the cosmic fire. "Thunderbolt steers the universe."

The statement attributed to Heraclitus, that the way up and the way down are the same, may imply the identity of the electrical weapon of the god in the sky, and the electrical force of Gaia, the goddess of chthon, the earth. Plutarch describes Hermes as being both ouranios (of heaven) and chthonios, of earth. Euripides (Alcestis 743) describes him as chthonios.

A similar view of the relationship between the soul and ethereal fire is found in Indian thought. The flames of the funeral pyre help the soul to rise to join the heavenly fire. In Homer, on the other hand, the psyche or soul is a breath soul. It survives death in the house of Hades. When Odysseus descends to the underworld, he has to slaughter sheep so that the pale ghosts can drink the blood and speak audibly (Odyssey XI: 23 ff.). Heraclitus thought that knowledge of the soul was needed for knowledge of the cosmos, and Pythagoras linked the soul with moral standards.

This brings us to the question of the Greek concept of justice. Let us start with lines from a chorus in the Medea of Euripides, 410 ff: "The waters of sacred rivers flow uphill, and justice and all things are reversed. Man's counsels are deceitful, and belief in the gods is no longer firm."

The above passage is complemented by Heraclitus, Fragment 94: "The sun will not overstep his measures; otherwise the Furies, ministers of justice, will find him out."

The Furies, Erinyes, Eumenides, the kindly ones, the winged females with snakes in their hair, regard it as their especial duty to punish anybody who steps over the limit, who strays or misses the mark. Hesiod says that the Furies are the offspring of Gaia, earth, and the blood of Ouranos.

The word dike in Greek originally meant the way in which things are done. In the opening scene of the Agamemnon, the watchman is standing on the battlements of Mycenae resting his head on his hands kunos diken, in the manner of a dog, waiting for the fire-signal that is to announce the capture of Troy.

Later, the word dike comes to mean justice and punishment. In Plato's Republic, it is not one of the virtues, but rather a harmony of the other virtues; a balance. The Republic of Plato is an inquiry into the nature of justice, and Plato proceeds by analogy. Just as in the ideal state there is a harmony between the workers, the auxiliaries and the philosopher rulers, with none becoming too powerful or overstepping the limits, so in the individual there is a balance between the instincts, the 'high-spirited element', and the reason.

Zeus was above all others the god who stood for justice. To him a suppliant would pray, raising his hands to heaven and crying out for justice. Open almost any Greek tragedy, and a reference to Zeus and justice is likely to appear. In fact, we can go back to our conclusions on Greek tragedy and see a link between justice in the individual human being, in the Greek city state, and the stability of the sky and of the solar system. If the sky is darkened by a monster one can but hope that the god of light will do battle and win.

In Pindar, Olympian II: 70, we read: "The souls of the just pass by the highway of Zeus to the tower of Kronos." There may also be a connection between this passage and Nemean VI:" Toward what mark we run, by day or by night ..." There may also be a link with Alkman, a Greek lyric poet who flourished about 600 B. C.. A papyrus from Oxyrhynchus, number 2390, published in 1957, contains quotations from Alkman. It is discussed in The Presocratic Philosophers, by Kirk, Raven and Schofield.

"For when matter began to be established, a certain passage (poros), like a beginning (arche), was created. Alkman says that the material of everything was confused and not made. Then, he says, there came into being he (or that, masculine) who arranged everything; then a passage came into being, and when the passage had gone past, a sign (tekmor) followed. And the passage is like an origin, and the sign is like an end. When Thetis came into being, these became the beginning and end of everything, and all things have a similar nature to that of bronze, and Thetis to that of the craftsman, and the way and the sign to the beginning and the end... on account of sun and moon not yet having come into being but matter (hyle) still being without distinction. There came about therefore ... passage and sign and darkness. Day and moon and thirdly darkness; the flashings; not merely day but with sun; first there was only darkness, after this when it was separated (= distinguished?) ..."

Lyrica Graeca selecta, ed. Page (Oxford Classical Texts 1968). In the Partheneion of Alkman, Poros, way or passage, is linked with Aisa as the eldest of the gods. Aisa is generally a divine dispensation or decree, sometimes translated as 'fate'.

Alkman's poros may be compared to the phenomenon described by Plato in the story of Er, son of Armenius. Souls assemble on a meadow before returning to the sky before reincarnation. They travel to a spot where there is a pillar:

A straight light like a column (kion) extended from above through all the sky (ouranos) and earth, looking like a rainbow in colour..." Republic X: 616 b..

The Greek 'kion' means either 'column', or 'going', depending on the pronunciation (different accentuation). Egyptian ioon =column.

In Plato, Poros is the father of Eros (Symposium 203b). The mother of Eros was Night, and Night made prophecies before Themis did (scholium on Pindar's Pythian odes, in Scholia Vetera edited by Drachman; discussed by Kerenyi in Dionysus: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life)

The imagery of the pillar may perhaps be traced in the following passages:

Euripides, The Bacchae, 1082 ff.: "A light of holy fire stood between earth and heaven, and the upper air was silent, and so were the forest glades, and you would not have heard a sound from wild beasts."

The above translation is alternative to the one given in Chapter III. The verb sterizo can be transitive (set up), or intransitive (stand). For the silence, compare the silence before the god's voice is heard speaking to Oedipus before his death (in the messenger's speech of Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 1623).

Pindar, in Pythian X: 29, may refer to the poros when he writes: "But neither in ships nor on foot will you find the marvellous road to the agon of the Hyperboreans." The latter are the legendary people who live beyond the North. 'Huper, ' as well as meaning beyond, also means above. Agon is not only a contest but also a place where contests may occur, e. g. a stadium, as at Delphi, or the sky, as in the case of the tripods of Hephaistos in Homer, or a dancing floor, as at the court of King Alkinous.

The Greek concept of justice described above may not be unique. The Egyptian ma'at is truth and justice. The Latin meatus is movement or course, especially of sun and moon. Lucretius employs the word frequently in this sense, e. g. I: 28.

"... solis lunaeque meatus." The Egyptian "men ma'at Re" means, "The truth of Re remains". The Greek meno = remain, stand firm, withstand. Cf. Egyptian menkh, linen clothes worn by a priest, which I suggest were to give protection against radiation.

When moving the ark from the house of Obed-edom into the city of David, David "danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod" (II. Samuel VI: 14). Similar precautions were taken by the Israelite priests, and at the temple of Apollo at Gryneion linen breastplates were on show.

previous.gif     next.gif