Ricardo Salles (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México): 'Elements, sea and stars in Anaximander'
Abstract: There is evidence that for Anaximander the sea level is decreasing under the action of the sun and that it will dry out one day. In a classic interpretation of his cosmology, put forward by Jaap Mansfeld in 2011 (‘Anaximander’s fragment: another attempt’, Phronesis 56: 1-32), this desiccation reflects an instability of the cosmos that will ultimately lead to its destruction. This global destruction, Mansfeld contends, is a material change where the basic substances that compose the cosmos — the four physical elements fire, air, water and earth — destroy one another and, in particular, where fire destroys water. In this paper, I cast doubt on Mansfeld’s interpretation by arguing that for Anaximander the desiccation of the sea, and ultimately the destruction of the cosmos, cannot be accounted for in terms of an elemental conflict. My overall conclusion is that we need to reconsider the relation that the cosmology and meteorology of Anaximander bear to his elemental theory and discard the assumption that the former two are based on the latter.