The Ancient Greeks & Nature

The Indigenous Nativity, Philosophical & Scientific Foundations
of Classical Western Civilisation
Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia in the Southern Autumn of 1996

The Ancient Greeks and Nature

It should be recalled that the foundations of the classical physical sciences, mathematics and geometries can be traced back to the ancient Greek philsophers and sages whose recorded wisdoms and writings were rediscovered after the Dark Ages, and upon whose philosophies and sciences the emerging western civilisation sought to rebuild knowledge "anew".

This article examines the translated historical literature concerning the earliest of the ancient Greeks, by way of very brief summarisation of the extensive researched work of the classicist WKC Guthrie.

The following series of notes are drawn from my review of the book:
"A History of Greek Philosophy", Volume I: The Earlier PreSocratics and the Pythagoreans
- by W.K.C. GUTHRIE (Published 1962)

I have made no attempt to make the following account coherent at this stage, except for a brief index, for its purpose is largely reference material for further research and development concerning my own understanding of nature as outlined in such articles as:

Therefore, in these annotations and collection of ancient quotations from over two thousand five hundred years ago, being a resource to myself, I can appreciate the possiblity that this reference itself may be a resource to others. In the spirit of global communications and the furtherance of the age of information, I have therefore placed these notes on the web, for benefit of the students of Life ......

In an Age where terrestrial nativity is being examined with increasing sensitivity, and the rights of Indigenous Peoples of all lands are being recognised as fundamental in the ontology of planetary affairs, it is fitting to re-examine the very foundations of the generic (post-dark-age) western culture which has been the basis of educational reforms and guidelines for the archetypal approaches to intellectual and natural thinking for the last few hundred years.

Do not forget that all living beings are a native of the terrestrial planetary system, and this has been so since the beginning.


PRF Brown
BCSLS {Freshwater}
Mountain Man Graphics,
Newport Beach, Australia


  • A Milesian - often termed the father of speculative science - lifespan from 624 to 548

  • attributed as having predicted the eclipse of the sun - (Astronomical knowledge)

  • travelled extensively - influenced by Egyptians and Babylonians ...

  • saw water as the "motive element" - the "arche" of nature - identified soul or life (psyche) with the cause of all motion.

  • Thales was the first recorded of the ancient Greeks - but all reports of him are second hand.

  • [Page 66] ....... "Thales too seems, from what is recorded about him, to have regarded the soul as a motive force, since he said that the lodestone has a soul because it makes iron move." - Aristotle (DeAnima,I,405,a19)

    Reputedly, Thales said: "All things are full of gods" ... as did all Greeks ... that "soul is mingled in the whole". Note that the instance of the lodestone and amber, though not vegetable or animal kingdom, show themselves to exhibit the psychical property (as it was to the ancient Greeks) of initiating motion.

  • WATER: In support of Thales reverence to the element water, Aristotle notes (a) the sperm of animals is moist, (b) plants are nourished by moisture, (c) Plants have The Sap, and in animals and man, The Blood. From the writer Theophrastus, Thales reportedly says: "That the fire of the sun and stars itself, and the while cosmos, are nourished by the exhalations from water."

  • MATHEMATICS: Attributed to Thales are the following ...

  • WIGHTMAN: Some commentary concerning water: The greater part of the earth's surface is water, water pervades every region of our atmosphere; life as we know it is impossible without water; water is the universal solvent; it disappears when fanned by the wind abd falls again from the clouds as rain; ice turns into water, as does the snow that falls from the sky; communal life is greatly afforded by the presence of a river; the Embryonic water

  • Thales lived - by all reports - an austere life, and he did not publish anything.

    [Page 72]


  • a student of Thales (6110 530?) ... and was his successor.

  • first to publish a book

  • named the "arche" of all things as apeiron ... (the boundless)

  • Believed the genesis of all things came about
  • both the Milesians and the Ionians customarily were held to question "What is the world made of"?

  • The world of the ancient Greeks was not made of matter, but rather nature - [physis = nature]

  • "Things perish into that out of which they have their being"

  • "the 'opposites' must make recompense to one another for their injustice accorning to the ordinance of time"


  • [Page 106] Separating Out: "The sun is sepated (from the circumference/skin/bark) into wind (light/dry) and the rain-cloud (heavy/wet) - the lighter and finer vs the heavier and courser.

  • "Innumerable worlds come into being and pass away everlastingly

    {Page 115]


  • the younger contemporary of Anaximander, and his successor.

  • Believed that the "air" is the arche - primal element in nature ... "the infinite underlying substance of things is air - when it is rarifies is becomes fire, when condensed it becomes wind and then cloud, and if condensed further becomes the earth and stones. This with eternal motion is the cause of all change."

  • the "arche" of the comos was not matter, but eternal being: Soul/Life (Psyche) - alive, eternal, divine, immortal.
  • air associates breathe and life ... and anaximenes believed it to be the "stff" of the human soul.

  • the stars have the nature of fire: the sun is flat like a leaf ...

    [Page 146]


  • born Samos 570 - 490 bc, moved from the tyrany of Polycrates (538) to Croton, Southern Italy.

  • fled the rebellion of the Italians against his "order of Pythagoreans" which scattered back to Greece & elsewhere

  • introduced "philosophy" as a way of life, also travelled widely.

  • When asked 'What is philosophy?' by a ruler, he reportedly gave the following answer:

  • an inscription on the temple of Apollo: "Nothing too much, observe limit"

  • Linked ... the immortality of the soul ... link to the divine ... divine fragment or spark.

  • THE COSMOS: In the ancient definition was - The World and its inherent Order".

  • philosophy is conformity with the divine - to follow God.

    The Pythagorean Mathematics of Nature:
    "HARMONY" ... a summary by Aristotle.

    Further notes by Guthrie ...

  • There is a numerical, proportional structure of the concordant notes of the scale.
  • the infinite variet and quality of sound is reduced to order by the exact and simple law of ratio in quantity.

    [Page 245]

    The Ten Pythagorean Principles

    Aristotle writes that others of this same school [Pythagoreanism] say there are 10 principles ...



    Also known as the table of the Opposites

    at restmoving

    Of the principles, Pythagoras said that the monad was God and the good, the true nature of the One, Mind itself; but the indefinite Dyad is a "daimon" and evil, concerned with material plurality. [Aet.1.7.8.dox.302]

    There is additional reference in this text by Guthrie concerning the parallels which may obviously be observed between this Pythagorean table of principles, and the outlining in the eastern lands of ancient China, concerning the TAO, and the complimentary natures of the principles of "Ying and Yang"

    These are listed as follows: Sunshine/light - darkness/shadow, masculinity - femininity, activity - passivity, heat-cold, dryness - wetness, hardness - softness, odd - even.

    It is rumoured that Pythagoras journeyed and studied amoung the Magi and Chaldeans, and with Zaroaster.

    Delineation of the point (1), the line (2), the triangle (3) and the pyramid (4). Outline of the "Fluxion Theory" whereby a moving point generates the line, the moving line generates the surface, and the moving surface - the solid figures.

    The Five Pythagorean Solid Figures


    From the account of Theoprastus [Aetius II,6,5,DK,44,a15]:

    There being five solid figures, called the mathematical solids, Pythagoras says that ...

    [Page 271]

    The Fifth Element of Nature

  • Notes from Guthrie: The truth is that the emergence of a fifth element in Greek thought was a gradual process. In bare outline, a common conception of the universe seems to have been shared by most religious and philosophical thinkers in the centuries before Plato. The cosmos, a sphere bounded by the sky, contains the conflicting "opposites" (ie: primarily the hot/the cold, the wet/the dry) which became (via Empedocles) the four root substances earth, water, air and fire.

  • The mutually destructive nature of these elements ensures that the creatures compounded of them shall be mortal. But this cosmic sphere is not the whole of existence. It floats in a circumambient substance of indefinite extent. This "surrounding" was of a pure and higher nature, everlasting, alive, and intelligent - in fact - divine.

  • Xenocrates, a student of Plato - himself educated in accordance to the Pythagorean thought, comments upon writings from Aristotle ...

  • On the life of Plato, Xenocrates writes:

    [Page 272]

    Reference to the "Counter-Earth"

    Referenced from writings by Aristotle on the Pythagoreans ... Aetius III,II,3 (DK,44a,17)

  • Pythagoreans held that the cosmos "Breathed in" from the Infinite Breath outside it: the "aither"
  • Pythagoras derived the world from the fire and the fifth element"

    The Harmony of the Spheres

    From the writings of Aristotle [DeCaelo - 290b,12ff] ...

    [Page 317]

    Pythagoras and the Nature of the Soul

    From the writings of Plato [Republic 431ff] ...

  • The soul is both an attunement or "harmonia" and also immortal.

  • The soul was of the natue of air, or breathed in with air - pneuma - the "breath-soul".

  • 'The soul is a kind of harmony, for harmony is a blend of contraries, and the body is compounded out of contraries" - Aristotle on the recorded beliefs of Pythagoras.

  • "The ancient theological writers and prophets also bear witness that the soul is yoked to the body as a punishment, and buried in it as in a tomb". - [Philolaus - Clem Alex Strom]

  • Pythagoras taught of the transmigration of the soul - man/plant/animal - and post-humous rewards for the good. It is recorded that he remembered his past lives as Aethalides (son of Hermes, whence the gift of memory), Euphobus (from the Homer epics), Hermotimus and Pyrrus (a Delian fisherman) before his birth as Pythagoras.

    Ancient insight of Heliocentricity?

    Pythagoras maintained that the fire was at the center of the cosmos. Very little if anything is known directly of his teachings due to the seclusion of his practice, the five year vow of silence required by initiates to his order. Information concerning Pythagoras is largely second hand, and the nature of the original doctrine may well be unknown, as the order scattered to many different locations after 545 bc.

    Scattered remnants however, tell an interesting story:

    [Page 343]


  • The life of Alcmaeon of Croton overlapped that of Pythagoras, and he was called by some later writers a Pythagorean

  • He believed in the immortality of the soul, its kinship with the divine, the divinity of the stars and the role of the "opposites" in nature.

  • Alcmaeon distinguished between sensation and thought, and was the first to give explicit recognition that the brain is the central organ of feeling and thought. He points out the difference between man and the animals:

  • both Socrates and Plato thought the "brain is what provides sensation of hearing, sight and smell.

  • both Aristotle and (probably) Empedocles ascribed the common sensorium as the heart.

  • on SLEEP: "Retirement of the blood to the larger blood vessels, whereas awaking is their redifffusion".

  • on the SOUL, from the writings of Aristotle of Alcmaeon [De Anima 405,a,30]:

  • The common thought of the age concerning the "Divinity of the sun, moon, stars, etc" was not restricted to the sages, or the philosophers - it was commonly held by the general person.

  • The Hippocratic treatise "On Ancient Medicine" is dated 450 - 420 BC.


  • born same time as Pythagoras and lived to about 100 ... known as a poet & was against the "Homeric Gods"

    [Page 403]


  • born about 540 bc in Ephesus of royal family, Heraclitus was a solitary, his words were obscure, and he never disguised his contempt for mankind and other "philosophers and poets" such as Pythagoras and Homer:


    Heraclitus put forward the idea of the logos as that which orders all things. In the inimical manner of the eastern mystical writers and characters (see The TAO) of the eastern planetary regions at this same time period, Heraclitus says:

    "Listening not to me but the Logos it is wise to agree that all things are one."

    The Three Basic Statements of the Logos

    Apollonius of Tyana

    In conclusion of this account concerning the manner in which the ancients contemplated nature it would be an idea also to reference what is known of the life of one of the last of the Greek philosophers - and one who is rarely known and referenced in the classical disciplines. A better description of Apollonius of Tyana (approx 20BC - 90AD) would be philosopher/sage and what we know of him is recorded in a publication entitled The Life of Apollonius of Tyana by Philostratus in about 220AD. The web reference supplied here will access much of this work.

    Briefly, Apollonius of Tyana travelled overland to India, in or around the time of Christ in order to "converse with the Brahmins". The following extract is of particular relevance to a further series of articles entitled Theories of Aether, and is sourced from chapter XXXIV of Book II of the above publication:

    In conclusion of this account concerning the ancients, it would be fitting to thus also reference the ancient civilisations of the east, as they have a greater extended history that those of the western world. To this end I have prepared a number of further documents which might be browsed by interested parties:

  • The Rig Veda - An account of the earliest recorded views (3700BC) on nature and man.

  • The Katha Upanishad - An account of more recent - yet still earlier than 1000BC - views and outlooks.


    The Ancient Greeks & Nature

    The Indigenous Nativity, Philosophical & Scientific Foundations
    of Classical Western Civilisation
    Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia in the Southern Autumn of 1996