Anaximenes of Miletus
Anaximenes Milesius - Illustrium philosophorum et sapientum effigies ab eorum numistatibus extractae.png
Anaximenes of Miletus as imaginatively depicted in a 16th century engraving.
Bornc. 586/585 BC
Diedc. 526/525 BC (aged c. 60)
EraPre-Socratic philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolIonian/Milesian school
Main interests
Natural philosophy
Notable ideas
Air is the arche
Matter changes through rarefaction and condensation

Anaximenes of Miletus (/ˌænækˈsɪməˌnz/; Greek: Ἀναξιμένης ὁ Μιλήσιος; c. 586/585 – c. 526/525 BC) was an Ancient Greek, Pre-Socratic philosopher from Miletus in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), active in the 6th century BC.

He was the last of the three philosophers of the Milesian School, considered the first philosophers of the Western world. Anaximenes is best known and identified as a younger friend or student of Anaximander, who was himself taught by the very first philosopher Thales, one of the Seven Sages of Greece. Thales proposed all was made of water; Anaximander proposed all was made of apeiron or something indefinite rather than something specific, and Anaximenes proposed all was made of air. More condensed air made for colder, denser objects and more rarefied air made for hotter, lighter objects.

The life and views of Anaximenes remain obscure as none of his work has been preserved, and he is only known through comments about him made by later writers. His cosmological views seem similar to his two Milesian predecessors. Anaximenes thought that the earth was flat and tilted, with the shape of a table (or trapezoid), and floated on air. The other celestial bodies were also flat and supported by air.


Anaximenes the son of Eurystratos was from Miletus, an Ionian Greek town on the western coast of Asia Minor or Anatolia, settled near the mouth of the Maeander River.[1][2] He is the third philosopher in the Western tradition, after Anaximander, who came after Thales, who was one of the Seven Sages of Greece.[3] He is given the number 13 in the standard Diels–Kranz numbering.

Map of Asia minor. Millawanda is Miletus
Greek settlements in Ionia

His dates are lost to history. Anaximenes is considered by Aristotle's follower Theophrastus (as relayed by Simplicius) to have been the younger pupil of Anaximander,[4] and he is also considered old enough to have influenced Pythagoras.[1][5][6]

According to Diogenes Laertius, in Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, a principal source for the history of ancient Greek philosophy, the chronologist Apollodorus of Athens estimated Anaximenes' lifespan by surmising he flourished during the same time period as when the Persian king Cyrus the Great defeated the Lydian king Croesus; at the Battle of Thymbra and subsequent Siege of Sardis in 546 BC.[7][8][9][a] The typical age for one's acme of 40 years old is assumed for when one was 'fluorishing' placing his birth at 586 BC.

Other inferences suggest a similar time period: the Eclipse of Thales on May 28, 585 BC, interrupting a battle in a war between the Medes and the Lydians, is used to date when Thales fluorished. Further it is figured Anaximenes was born around when Thales 'fluorished' and 'fluorished' when Thales died.[7][11][12]

According to classicist John Burnet, he was considered in his time a more important figure than his teacher Anaximander.[5][13] Some of Anaximenes' writings are referenced during the Hellenistic Age, but no record of these documents currently exist.[b] Further details of his life and philosophical views are obscure as none of his work has been preserved, and he is only known through fragments and interpretations of him made by later writers and polemicists, such as Aristotle.[15]

Air as the Arche

Anaximenes of Miletus as depicted in the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)
Anaximenes of Miletus as depicted in the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

According to Aristotle, and his follower Theophrastus, each philosopher of the Milesian School was a material monist who sought to discover the arche; the one, underlying basis of everything.[4][16][c] Aristotle called the first philosophers physiologoi (φυσιολόγοι), natural philosophers.[18] Anaximenes thought air was the primary substance that held the universe together.[15] Or literally aer, which may also include mist or vapor.[8]

Anaximenes views were seen to reconcile the views of his two predecessors, Thales and Anaximander. Air as the arche had the feature of being one (like with Thales, who believed it was water), and infinite (like with Anaximander, who thought it was apeiron), but determinate, like Thales and unlike Anaximander.[17] It was also seen as the substance most capable of change, for he also saw air as always in motion.[19]

As well as specific, infinite and dynamic, he believed that air was divine.[2][4][19][d] He identified air with the "breath of life" and thus the soul as well as the air in the atmosphere.[8][22][23][e] Only a single quote by Anaximenes survives: "Just as our soul...being air holds us together, so pneuma and air encompass [and guard] the whole world."[25][26][27] This is the first extant source to use the word pneuma ("breath").[28]

Condensation and rarefaction

If air is breathed out through the mouth during cold and humid conditions, the water vapor will condense into a visible cloud or mist.
If air is breathed out through the mouth during cold and humid conditions, the water vapor will condense into a visible cloud or mist.

Anaximenes seemed to base his conclusions on naturally observable phenomena in the water cycle, the processes of rarefaction and condensation.[29] Anaximenes attributed cold/wet air to be due to condensation, hot/dry air to be due to rarefaction.[2][14][30] This can be classically illustrated by blowing on one's hand with pursed lips and feeling cold air, or with an open mouth and feeling warm air.[31]

Anaximenes figured this difference in the degree of condensation and density of air further produced all matter.[22] According to Anaximenes, the spread-out, loose, infinite air was condensed to wind, then formed into clouds, which condensed further to produce rain, snow, and other forms of precipitation.[22][24][31] The process continued until the air was condensed or felted enough to be tangible and form solids like dirt and ultimately stones. By contrast, just as water evaporates into air, air was further rarefied into fire or light.[8]

While Thales and Anaximander also recognized transitions in states of matter, Anaximenes was the first to associate the qualitative change in hot/dry and cold/wet pairings with the quantitative density of a single material.[32][33] Though noticing this anticipation of science is only a retrodiction, "for him density was a quantitative notion only in the weakest sense".[34]

Astrology by the 16th-century Dutch engraver Cornelis Cort has a book labeled "Anaximenes".
Astrology by the 16th-century Dutch engraver Cornelis Cort has a book labeled "Anaximenes".


Anaximenes also used air to explain the nature of the earth and the surrounding celestial bodies. In the beginning of the world, air condensed to create the flat surface of the earth, which he said was shaped like a table (or trapezoid),[f] and was tilted.[36][37][38] According to Aristotle in On the Heavens, Anaximenes thought the world stayed still by floating like a lid covering the air beneath it.[39][40][g]

He said the Sun floated on air, as like a broad leaf.[43] The moon also floated on air.[2] He thought of stars as similar to nails that are stuck in a transparent shell.[44][8] In keeping with the prevailing view of stars as balls of fire in the sky, Anaximenes proposed that the earth let out an exhalation of air that rarefied, ignited and became the stars.[45] While the sun is similarly described as being aflame, Anaximenes thought it is not composed of rarefied air like the stars, but rather of earth like the moon. According to Pseudo-Plutarch, Anaximenes thought its burning comes not from its composition but rather from its rapid motion.[40][28][46]

In his theory, according to the Christian polemicist Hippolytus in Refutation of All Heresies, when the sun sets it does not pass under the earth, but is merely obscured by higher parts of the earth as it circles around and becomes more distant.[2][38] Aristotle also relates that "many of the ancient cosmologists" believed this.[47] Hippolytus likens the motion of the sun and the other celestial bodies around the earth to the way that a cap may be turned around the head.[48][49]

Anaximenes believed that the sky was a dome and this dome the outer frontier of the earth.[50] Day and night are caused by celestial bodies being carried North until they are no longer seen. There is evidence that suggests Anaximenes may have been the first person to distinguish between planets and fixed stars.[8]

Weather and other natural phenomena

Anaximenes provided causes for other natural phenomena on the earth as well. Earthquakes, he asserted, were the result either of lack of moisture, which causes the earth to break apart because of how parched it is, or of superabundance of water, which also causes cracks in the earth.[51] In either case the earth becomes weakened by its cracks, so that hills collapse and cause earthquakes. Lightning is similarly caused by the violent separation of clouds by the wind, creating a bright, fire-like flash. Rainbows, on the other hand, are formed when densely compressed air is touched by the rays of the sun.[49][52]

Death and legacy

The ruins of Miletus
The ruins of Miletus

The traditional age to guess for his death is at 60 years old.[1] He could not have lived well into the 5th Century BC, for he was presumably getting old, and in response to the Ionian Revolt, Miletus was captured by the Persian army of Darius the Great in 494 BC.[24][28]

The Anaximenes crater on the Moon is named in his honor.

Influence on philosophy

Pre-Socratic philosophy

The theories of Anaximenes were likely influential upon later Presocratic philosophers. Perhaps because of the aforementioned capture of Miletus in 494 BC, philosophy seemed to shift focus to Italy before coming back to Asia Minor.[24][53]

Similarly to Anaximenes, the Pythagoreans in Italy, according to Aristotle, believed the world breathed; that there was "boundless breath" which was "outside the heavens, and … was inhaled by the world".[54][55] Xenophanes claimed the rainbow is a cloud, which on one interpretation is a response to Anaximenes idea that a rainbow is from light reflected off of clouds.[56] Xenophanes theory that the arche is earth and water can also be seen as his response to Anaximenes.[57]

The cosmology of Anaxagoras back in Asia Minor shared many similarities with that of Anaximenes, and was likely influenced by it,[19][58][59] while the atomists Democritus and Leucippus adopted Anaximenes' view that the world was flat.[5][39][60] Diogenes of Apollonia attempted to amalgamate the theories of Anaximenes with those of Anaxagoras.[61] He took up the view of Anaximenes' that air was the arche, and that all substances were the result of the condensation and rarefaction of air.[5][62]

Plato and Aristotle

In the Timaeus, Plato favorably mentions Anaximenes's theory of matter and its seven states from stone to fire. Plato treats Anaximenes as a kind of philosopher of process rather than a material monist, as Aristotle portrays him. From this perspective, Anaximenes can be seen as a forerunner of Heraclitus and ultimately Plato, moreso than of Diogenes of Apollonia.[63][64][65] Plato may be referencing Anaximenes in the Phaedo when he states "And so one man makes the earth stay below the heavens by putting a vortex about it, and another regards the earth as a flat trough supported on a foundation of air."[28][66]

Aristotle is the oldest extant writer to reference Anaximenes by name.[65] Sometimes however he also seems to merely allude to him, e. g. "Diogenes, however, as also some others, identified soul with air. Air, they thought, is made up of the finest particles and is the first principle."[67][68] Aristotle in Generation of Animals calls pneuma the "vital heat".[69][70][71]


The Stoics believed pneuma to be a mix of the elements fire and air. In a view reminiscent of Anaximenes, Chrysippus believed pneuma is what held everything together.[72][73]


  1. ^ Cyrus the Great would a few years later defeat Babylon, ending the Babylonian captivity.[10]
  2. ^ According to Diogenes Laertius he wrote straightforwardly; in the "pure unmixed Ionian dialect."[1][14]
  3. ^ They were arguably being anachronistic by imposing the peculiarly Aristotelian notion of substance on to earlier philosophy.[17]
  4. ^ Thales said everything was "full of gods".[20][21]
  5. ^ While Anaximenes was a pagan philosopher, it is interesting to note the Old Testament features a similar image of the breath of life in the founding of the world and creation of man: Genesis 2:7.[24]
  6. ^ The word trapezoid (τραπεζοειδῆ) comes from the Greek trapeza meaning "table" and -oeides meaning "shaped." So this term can ambiguously refer to something that is table-shaped, or trapezoid-shaped. Several writers therefore contend what was meant about Anaximenes was not a world shaped like a flat circle, but like a trapezoid.[35]
  7. ^ This view of the earth has been analogized to that of a disc or frisbee.[41][42]



  1. ^ a b c d Laërtius 1925, p. 57-58 (DK13A1)
  2. ^ a b c d e Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 1.7.1 - 1.7.6 (DK13A7)
  3. ^ Hussey 2005, p. 33
  4. ^ a b c Simplicius, On Aristotle, Physics p. 151, 24 (DK 13A5)
  5. ^ a b c d Burnet 1930, p. 78-79.
  6. ^ Kerferd, G. B. “The Date of Anaximenes.” Museum Helveticum, vol. 11, no. 2, 1954, pp. 117–21. JSTOR, Accessed 28 Apr. 2023.
  7. ^ a b A.A. Mosshammer, 'Geometrical proportion and the chronological method of Apollodorus', Transactions of the American Philological Association 106 (1976) 291-306
  8. ^ a b c d e f Dye, James (2014), "Anaximenes of Miletus", Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers, Springer New York, pp. 74–75, doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-9917-7_49, ISBN 9781441999160
  9. ^ Lindberg 2007, p. 28.
  10. ^ Augustine, City of God, Book 18
  11. ^ Kirk, Raven & Schofield 1957, p. 143
  12. ^ Burnet 1930, p. 72.
  13. ^ see also Barnes 1982, p. 39
  14. ^ a b Guthrie 1962, p. 115
  15. ^ a b Great lives from history. The ancient world, prehistory-476 C.E. Salowey, Christina A., Magill, Frank N. (Frank Northen), 1907–1997. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press. 2004. ISBN 978-1587651526. OCLC 54082138.((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)
  16. ^ Lindberg 2007, p. 29.
  17. ^ a b Algra 1999, p. 57
  18. ^ Aristotle, Metaphysics, 986b
  19. ^ a b c Cicero, De Natura Deorum i. 26 (DK 13A10)
  20. ^ Aristotle, On the Heavens 1.5 411a7-8
  21. ^ Herbert Ernest Cushman. A beginner's history of philosophy. p. 26.
  22. ^ a b c "Anaximenes Of Miletus | Greek philosopher". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-11-30.
  23. ^ Guthrie 1962, pp. 127–128
  24. ^ a b c d Vamvacas 2009.
  25. ^ Aetius, i. 3, 4 (DK13B2)
  26. ^ Burnet 1930, p. 73.
  27. ^ Vamvacas 2009, p. 47
  28. ^ a b c d Kirk, Raven & Schofield 1957, pp. 152–153
  29. ^ Guthrie 1962, p. 116
  30. ^ Vamvacas 2009; Lindberg 2007, p. 29.
  31. ^ a b Plutarch, The Principle of Cold, 7 947 F (DK13B1)
  32. ^ Guthrie 1962, pp. 124–126
  33. ^ Kirk, Raven & Schofield 1957, p. 146
  34. ^ Barnes 1982, p. 46
  35. ^ Peter H. Gommers (2001). What's In A Name. p. 30. ISBN 9789058671493.
  36. ^ Burnet 1930, p. 77.
  37. ^ Pseudo-Plutarch, Placita philosophorum 895d
  38. ^ a b Couprie, Dirk L. (2018), "Peculiarities of Presocratic Flat Earth Cosmology", When the Earth was Flat: Studies in Ancient Greek and Chinese Cosmology, Historical & Cultural Astronomy, Springer, pp. 19–46,, doi:10.1007/978-3-319-97052-3, ISBN 9783319970516
  39. ^ a b Aristotle, On the Heavens 294b (DK13A20)
  40. ^ a b Pseudo-Plutarch, Stromata, 3 (DK13A6)
  41. ^ Routledge Companion to Ancient Philosophy. Routledge. 4 December 2013. p. 22. ISBN 9781317975502.
  42. ^ Andrew Gregory (2003). Eureka. p. 24. ISBN 9781840463743.
  43. ^ Aetius 2.22
  44. ^ Aetius 2.14
  45. ^ Eduard Zeller. Outlines of the History of Greek Philosophy. p. 41-43.
  46. ^ Kočandrle, Radim (2019). "The Cosmology of Anaximenes". History of Philosophy Quarterly. 36 (2): 101–120. doi:10.2307/48563639. JSTOR 48563639. S2CID 246623749.
  47. ^ Aristotle Meterologica II, 1,354a28
  48. ^ Graham, Daniel W. "Anaximenes". The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  49. ^ a b Fairbanks 1898, p. 20-21
  50. ^ Pseudo-Plutarch, placita philosophorum 888b
  51. ^ Aristotle Meterologica 2.7 365b6-12 (DK 13A21)
  52. ^ Guthrie 1962, p. 139
  53. ^ B. A. G. Fuller (1923). History of Greek Philosophy: Thales to Democritus. p. 98.
  54. ^ Aristotle, Physics Δ, 6. 213 b 22
  55. ^ Burnet 1930, p. 79, 108.
  56. ^ Xenophanes. James H. Lesher (ed.). Fragments. p. 140.
  57. ^ McKirahan, Richard D. (1994). "Xenophanes of Colophon". Philosophy Before Socrates: An Introduction with Texts and Commentary. Hackett Publishing Company. pp. 65–66. ISBN 978-0-87220-175-0. Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  58. ^ Burnet 1930, p. 270
  59. ^ Strabo, Geography, Book 14
  60. ^ Barnes 1982, p. 26
  61. ^ Burnet 1930, p. 145.
  62. ^ Burnet 1930, p. 353–358.
  63. ^ Graham, Daniel W. (2015-12-30). "Plato and Anaximenes". Études Platoniciennes (12). doi:10.4000/etudesplatoniciennes.706. ISSN 2275-1785.
  64. ^ Graham, D. (2003). "A testimony of Anaximenes in Plato". The Classical Quarterly. 53 (2): 327–337. doi:10.1093/cq/53.2.327.
  65. ^ a b Graham, Daniel. The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy. p. 91.
  66. ^ Phaedo, 99b
  67. ^ Aristotle, On the Soul, 405a21
  68. ^ P. J. Bicknell (1966). "TO ΑΠΕΙΡΟΝ, ΑΠΕΙΡΟΣ ΑΗΡ AND TO ΠΕΡΙΕΧΟΝ" (PDF). Acta Classica: 27–48.
  69. ^ Generation of Animals, 762a18-20
  70. ^ see Aristotle’s Theory of Material Substance: Heat and Pneuma, Form and Soul by Gad Freudenthal
  71. ^ Panpsychism in the West by David Skrbina, p. 57
  72. ^ The Philosophy of Chysippus by Josiah Gould, p. 126
  73. ^ The Image of the Jews in Greek Literature by Bezalel BarKochva, p. 528


Further reading

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