Tom Davies, *21

Department of Classics

Greek Cosmology and its Bronze Age Background (2020)



Traditional histories of philosophy place its origins in 6th-century BC Greek Ionia, with the Milesian thinkers Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes. I argue that this is a mistake. Centuries before the Milesians, cultures in contact with Greece offered their own answers to the central questions of Presocratic philosophy. They did not merely anticipate the Greek naturalizing approach to explaining the cosmos: specific ideas attributed to the Milesians are found in extant texts from ancient India, Iran, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. Milesian philosophy developed in dialogue with these non-Greek philosophical traditions.
The picture of early Greek philosophy that emerges is exciting: its achievements were novel and real, but they were not an evolution from myth to reason (since they built on antecedent naturalistic ideas), and they were not an isolated Greek miracle, but implicated in a much larger complex of intellectual developments. This context both helps us better reconstruct the arguments of the Milesians, and helps us understand the birth of philosophy in Greece as part of a general phenomenon in the Eurasian macro-region.

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