Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 67.djvu/707

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701
ANAXIMANDER.

ANAXIMANDER, EARLIEST PRECURSOR OF DARWIN.
By Dr. CHARLES R. EASTMAN,

HARVARD UNIVERSITY.

AS has been aptly remarked by Huxley, 'There is no snare in which the feet of a modern student of ancient lore are more easily entangled, than that which is spread by the similarity of the language of antiquity to modern modes of expression.' The great exponent of evolution observes further in the same connection that he does 'not pretend to interpret the obscurist of Greek philosophers'; all that he wishes to point out is that 'the words, in the sense accepted by competent interpreters, fit modern ideas singularly well.'[1]

The force of these remarks becomes manifest when one inquires into the rightfulness of regarding Anaximander, the Milesian, companion or pupil of Thales ('sodalis Thaletis' Cicero calls him) in the sixth century before our era, as the first who foreshadowed modern ideas of evolution. It may be of some profit for us to consider briefly the manner in which his doctrines have been interpreted by naturalists, and thereafter to examine into the original sources, which have preserved for us the skeleton of his system, and can alone enlighten us in regard to his conception of nature. An inquiry of this kind will not be without value in case it merely serves to bring home and emphasize the fact of historical continuity of ideas which are commonly considered as modern.

It is a matter of no little moment, when we stop to realize it, that conceptions of organic evolution, and also of a heliocentric cosmogony, assumed shape in the mind of man, however vaguely or imperfectly, in periods of remote antiquity, and have exercised a determining influence on human thought ever since. Natural laws become invested with new and more profound interest on finding that they have seldom been discovered offhand, revealed, as it were, by a single flash of genius; but by the progressive development of ideas, extending sometimes throughout centuries, and leading from dim, far-distant adumbrations up to our present understanding of the truth. There comes to us, also, through the tracing of ideas back to their sources, an increased sense of our indebtedness to the princely legacy of Greek thought. It has been justly said by one of Huxley's distinguished pupils, that 'even amidst our present wealth of facts, the impassable boundaries of human thought seem to confine us to unconscious revivals of Greek con-


  1. Huxley, T. H., 'Evolution and Ethics,' in his 'Collected Essays,' Vol. IX., p. 69 (London, 1894).