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Embryological Analogies in Pre-Socratic Cosmogony

  • H. C. Baldry (a1)

The extent of the dependence of early Greek cosmogony on mythical conceptions has long been a prolific source of controversy. Views on the subject have varied from Professor Cornford's claim that ‘there is a real continuity between the earliest rational speculation and the religious representation that lay behind it’ to Professor Burnet's extreme statement, ‘it is quite wrong to look for the origins of Ionian science in mythological ideas of any kind.’ The solution of the problem that I wish to suggest is one which should satisfy those who insist on ‘the scientific character of the early Greek cosmology,’ while retaining a direct connection with pre-scientific beliefs—namely, that some, at least, of the earliest philosophers founded their doctrines of the beginning of the universe on a deliberate rationalization of earlier and contemporary mythical ideas. The appearance of notions like the ‘world-egg’ in a number of passages, too well known for quotation, shows that primitive cosmogony assumed an analogy between the generation of the world and the generation of animate creatures. I believe it can be proved that, so far from the ‘renunciation of sexual imagery’ which even Professor Cornford has recently attributed to Anaximander, he and other philosophers retained the habit of regarding cosmogony and anthropogony as parallel phenomena, only substituting for the mythical ‘world-egg’ a more scientific view of the embryo and its development. They looked at the world through the same spectacles as their predecessors, but after wiping from them the rose tint of mythological fancy.

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page 27 note 1 From Religion to Philosophy, preface.

page 27 note 2 Early Greek Philosophy, third edition, p. 13. I shall in future refer to this work as E.G.P.3.

page 27 note 3 E.G.P. 3, p. 24.

page 27 note 4 E.g., Aristophanes , Birds 693703;Plato , Sophist 2420;Eurip . fr. 48;Aesch . fr. 44; Apoll. Rhod. I, 496 sqq.; Lucretius I, 250–251.

page 27 note 5 Cambridge Ancient History, vol. IV, p. 542.

page 27 note 6 I use such terms only for convenience. Embryology was not, of course, a separate department of science at this time.

page 27 note 7 άθροΙζεται καί παϰύνεται θερμαινομένη at the beginning of ∏ερζ Φύσιος παιδίον, 12.

page 27 note 8 The frequent recurrence of this word embryological sections of the Corpus Hippocraticum (e.g. in ∏ερζ γυνἧς and ∏ερΙ διαΙτης I chs. 27–28) shows that it was the regular term for the ‘separating off’ of the seed from the parent. The use of the word is studied by Keus A. in his dissertation Ueber philosophische Begriffe und Theorien in den hippokratischen Schriften (Köln, 1914).

page 27 note 9 This was the usual term for the ‘drawing’ of breath. Among the many places where it occurs in the Corpus Hippocraticum are ∏ερΙ σαρκὧν 6. ∏ερς διαίτης I. 9, and ∏ερΙ Φύσιος άνθρώπον 5. The breathing of the embryo before birth, accepted by most of the medical writers, was disputed, like some other medical assumptions, by certain philosophers. Cf.Menon , Anonymi Londin. 18. 8, p. 31 for Philolaus, and Aét. 5. 15 (Dox. Graeci 425–6) for Empedocles and Diogenes.

page 28 note 1 Other words for this membrane are δέρμα, ϰιτών, μήνιϒξ, ϰόριον, and πάγος. In ∏ερἰ διαίτης I. 10, the words τν περιέϰοντα πάγον are used of the ‘skin of the world’—as Fredrich says (Hippohratische Untersuchungen, Berlin, 1899, p. 101), ‘die durch Kälte erstarrte Schicht, welche als Haut den Körper und ähnlich einer Haut das Weltall umgiebt.’ Cf. the passages cited by Fredrich in his note ad loc., and ∏ερί διαίτης 4. 89. The author of ∏ερί σαρκν 9 regards the formation of a membrane as a usual result of the action of cold air on warm liquid.

page 28 note 2 See Ploss and Bartels , Das Weib in der Natur- und Völkerkunde, Berlin, 1927.

page 28 note 3 The development of the chick in the egg, as described in ∏ερί ϕύσιος παιδίον 30, is very similar to that of the human embryo expounded in ch. 12. That this parallel was generally recognised is shown by the use of the egg in mythology. According to Cadman, artificial incubation may have been practised in Egypt as early as 3000 B.C.

page 28 note 4 E.g. 11. 606–8, 658–661, 665.

page 28 note 5 The ‘white’ was generally regarded as τροφή for the ‘yolk’ (cf. Arist . De gen. anim. 3. 2,725B 22), just as cool breath was τροφή for ‘the hot.’ Cf., among many passages in the Corpus Hippocraticum, ∏ερί ϕνσν 3: τᾧ γάρ πνρί τ πνεμα τροϕή πṽρδ΄ήέρος ούκ ἂν δύναιτο ζν. Also ∏ερί ϕύσιος παιδίον 12, and ∏ερΙ σαρκν passim.

page 28 note 6 The same word is used of this membrane and of the caul. Cf. ϰόριον ap. Arist . De gen. anim., loc. cit., and Hist. anim. 6. 13. 4.

page 29 note 1 See ProfessorHeidel W. A., Antecedents Greek Corpuscular Theories, in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, vol. 22 (1911), pp. 111sqq.

page 29 note 2 I am indebted for this suggestion to Dr. Joseph Needham.

page 29 note 3 (Plut.) Strom. 2 (Dox. Graeci, p. 579). I quote Diels' text. The conjectural readings of Zeller (ϕησί δ΄έϰ το άιδΙον τό γόνιμον τε καί ψνϰρόν) and Mullach (γονΙμον θερμόν τε καί ψνϰρόν) seem to me due to failure to understand the passage.

page 29 note 4 I can see no justification for Heidel's conclusion that we here ‘find masked in Stoic phraseology the ϕύσις άόριστος of Theophrastus,’ although parts of his discussion of the subject (Proc. Amer. Acad. 48, pp. 686–9) are valuable.

page 29 note 5 Anaximander's treatise was known to Aristotle and Theopbrastus. See Heidel, loc. cit.

page 29 note 6 Cf. Theopbrastus, De igne I: ή γόνιμος έν τοίς ζῴοις καί ϕντοίς θερμότης.

page 29 note 7 Cf. the use of the word στοίϰείων.

page 29 note 8 Op. cit., p. 32.

page 29 note 9 He continues, ‘Aus allen wiedergegebenen Worten aber erhellt die Meinung, dass die κίνησις der Grund des Lebens ist, eine Annahme, die im schroffen Gegensatze steht zu den Ausführungen eines Plato und Aristoteles, die in der κίνησις erst eine Folge des Lebensprinzips (ψνϰή) sehen’

page 30 note 1 Class. Philol. I, p. 281.

page 30 note 2 Hist an. 5.34. 1.

page 30 note 3 5. 19. 4.

page 30 note 4 E.G.P.3, p. 339.

page 30 note 5 σϕαιροειδές. Cf. ∏ερΙ ϕύσιος παιδίον 12: ήάλλη γονή στρογγύλη έστίν έν ύμένι.

page 30 note 6 Diog. 9. 31 sqq. We may note in passing that the doctrine of the vortex, which is used by Leucippus, is not incompatible with the view of Anaximander's cosmogony here put forward. The development of the embryo is only one of several analogies which he wove together in his picture of the world.

page 30 note 7 E.G.P.3, p. 61.

page 30 note 6 The differentiating power of πνεμα (or κενόν) expressed in ổ ổιορΙζει τάς ϕύσιος may perhaps comparable with the effect of breath on the embryo as described in ∏ερΙ Φύσιος παιδον 17: ήδέ σάρξ αύξομένη ύπό τού πνεύματος άρθρούται͵ καί έρϰεται έν αύτέη έκαστον τό μοΙον ώς τό μοΙον&hellip ϕνσώμενα γάρ διΙσταται ξύμαντα κατά σνγγένεΙαν ‘Differentiation of the kinds (ϕύσεις)’ is such an excellent description of this process that I suspect that Aristotle's explanation by the division of things through void was either his own invention or a late Pythagorean addition to the doctrine, It implies a clear distinction between void and substance more reminiscent of the Atomists than of Pre-Parmenidean thought.

page 31 note 1 Physics 4. 6, 213B 22 sqq. I quote Diels' text. The MSS. have πνεύματμα, which is altered by both Diels and Heidel (πνεύμα). The point is of little importance for my interpretation, but the recurrence of the phrase in έκ τού άπεΙρον elsewhere makes a change to έκ τού άπεΙρον πνεύματος here scarcely credible. Stobaeus (Ecl. 1. 18. ic, Dox. Graeci, p. 316), after mentioning the passage which I have quoted, cites a parallel statement: έν δέ τώ ∏νθαγόρον ϕιλοσοϕΙας πρώτώ γράϕει τόν μέν ούρανδν είναί ενα έπεισάγεσθαι δέ έκ τόν άπείρον τε καί πνοήν καί πνοήν τό κενόν͵ δ διορίζει κάστων τάς ϰώρας άεί The same thing is expressed more simply by Aëtius (2. 9. 1, Dox. Graeci, p. 338): οί μέν απο ∏υθαγόρον έκτός καί έξ ού τού κόσμον κενόν είς δ άναγόρον καί έξ ού. The commentaries of Simplicius (615. 26) and Philoponos (615. 22) on the Physics passage are of no assistance in its interpretation.

page 31 note 2 Met. N. 3, 1091A 13 sqq. As Ross says in his note ad loc, it is possible that these suggestions ‘might be merely derisive conjectures of Aristotle's own.’ But in view of his use of the word ϰροίας in the Pythagorean sense of ‘surface,’ together with the terminology of the last clause, it seems more likely that he is mentioning accounts given by the Pythagoreans themselves. Ross admits that ‘his reference to seed probably implies that some Pythagoreans thought of the generation of numbers as akin to that of beings.’ At 1092A 32, Aristotle satirically suggests that the Platonic ‘one’ may also be derived ώς άπό σπέρματος.

page 31 note 3 E.g. Burnet in E.G.P.3, p. 298.

page 31 note 4 De caelo B, 13, 293A 18 sqq. Admittedly the particular ‘preconception’ which Aristotle cites is not explicitly concerned with embryology, but he is only choosing one of many, or even making a guess of his own.

page 32 note 1 The previous sentence, πολλοίς δ΄αν καί έτέροις συνδόξεΙε μή δείν τή γή τήν μέσον ϰώραν συνδιδόναι τό πιστόν ούκ έκ ϕαινομένων άθρούσιναλλά μάλλον έκ τών λόγων has led some commentators, from Alexander to Sainte-Hilaire, to suppose that the preconception here stated is attributed to a group of philosophers different from the Pythagoreans previously mentioned. But the identity of this group has never been discovered, for the simple reason that it did not exist. Simplicius' interpretation is clearly the right solution of the mystery: πολλοίς δ΄ςν καί άλλοίς δόξειε μή τήν μέσην ϰώραν άποδιδάτων ϕύσεώς τίς λαμβάνοι άλλ΄ έκ τής τών λόγων πιθανότητος. The Pythagorean argument from the relative merits of the elements is one which many might follow, f they trusted mere words instead of the evidence of their senses.

page 32 note 2 According to Diels. this probably comes from Theophrastus through Poseidonius.

page 32 note 3 I do not wish to stress the value of this fragment as evidence. Although accepted by Boeckh, it is rejected by Burnet and suspected by Diels, whose main reason seems to be that it conflicts with Stobaeus' immediately preceding statement that Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle held that the cosmos had neither top nor bottom. But Theophrastus' account of the central fire theory, as reproduced in Aetius, certainly regards the universe in terms of άνω and κάτω, whether ts broke away from the orthodox Pythagorean view or not. The title κάτω is admittedly Alexandrian.

page 32 note 4 Also from Theophrastus through Poseidonius. The insertion of σϕαιρας is due to Diels. The picturesque language indicates that Theophrastus kept close to the Pythagorean statement.

page 32 note 5 Stob. Ecl. 1. 21. 8: τό πρώτον άρμοσθέν, τό έν έν τώ μέσώ τής σϕαιρας έστΙα καλείταί. This accepted by Diels as a genuine fragment of Philo-laus, but rejected by Burnet. Cf. Anatolius, τό πρώτον άρμοσθέν, τό έν έν τώ μέσ, p. 30 (Heiberg): δ΄αν καί έτέροις συνδόξεΙε μή δείν τή γή τήν, quoted by Miss. Richardson in her article ‘The Myth of Er’ (C.Q., October, 1926). My version of the origin of the ‘central fire’ doctrine is not inconsistent with Miss Richardson's interesting theory that the fire was at the centre of the earth.

page 32 note 6 The metaphor of the keel seems to have been specially applied to the embryo. Thus we have δ΄αν καί in Plato, Tim. 81b, and 5. 17. 2: ‘πολλοίς δ΄αν καί έτέροις (but see Diels' note, Dox. Graeci, p. I go, note 1). Cf. Fabricius ‘Nature first stretcheth out the Chine Bone, with the ribs drawn round it, as the keel, and congruous principle, whereon she foundeth and finisheth the whole pile.’ For the relation of this to the word όλκάς, see E.G.P.3, p. 294, note 1.

page 33 note 1 ∏ύρ and τό θερμόν were interchangeable in early Greek thought, though later differentiated (cf. Theophrastus, De igne i).

page 33 note 2 It is interesting to find that in the ‘geometrical’ Pythagorean cosmology fire was made up of pyramids—the simplest and primary solids. Cf. Plato, Tim. 56b: έστω… τό πρώτον άρμοσθέν, τό έν έν τώ μέσώ τής σϕαιρας έστΙα καλείταί. Cf. also Aëtius, 2. 6. 5 (Dox. Graeci, p. 334), which, as Burnet says (E.G.P.3, pp. 283–4), must refer to fourth-century Pythagorean doctrine.

page 33 note 3 E.G.P.3, pp. 297 sqq.

page 33 note 4 Pap. Anon. Londin. 18. 8, p. 31. Burnet (E.G.P.3, p. 279), like Frank E. (Plato und die sogenannten Pythagoreer, p. 328), derives Philolaus' medical doctrine of the ‘inhaling of cold breath’ from ‘the old Pythagorean theory,’ but this is incredible in view of the fact that it is assumed by all fifth-century medical writers. The existence of a ‘connection’ is indeed clear, and I have tried to show in the course of this article exactly what that connection was.

page 33 note 5 I. 10.

page 33 note 6 Diels (Hermes, 28, pp. 417 sqq.), followed by Frank (loc. cit.), places Philolaus, on account of his medical doctrines, at the beginning of the fourth century. His reasons seem to me insufficient, but the point does not materially affect the view here put forward.

page 33 note 7 See Met. A, 3. 983b. 18 sqq., paraphrased ir. Theophrastus, Phys. op., IT. I (Dox. Graeci, p. 475) Verbal parallels show that Burnet is probably right in saying that ‘Aristotle ascribed to Thales the arguments used at a later date by Hippon of Samos in support of a similar thesis.’ But pon may very well have taken the argument from Thales, as Aristotle implies.

page 33 note 8 For Anaximenes' interest in respiration, see Plutarch, De prim. frig. 7. 947.

page 34 note 1 Damasc. De princ. 124b. I give the text as quoted by Dieis, Fragments der Vorsokratiker, 71A 8. Kern έαντού to αύτού alters (i.e., Ζάντος), but it is simpler to follow H. Gomperz in leaving it out altogether. The γόνος here mentioned evidently corresponds to the έκροή) of fr. 7 (Diels) and, through the wetness of the seed, to the ύδωρ of fr. ia (Diels).

page 34 note 2 Cornford, From Religion to Philosophy, preface.

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