500–428 BC

Anaxagoras, an influential Greek philosopher, was born probably about the year 500 B.C. At his native town of Clazomenae in Asia Minor, he had, it appears, some amount of property and prospects of political influence, both of which he surrendered, from a fear that they would hinder his search after knowledge. In early manhood (c. 464)) he went to Athens, which was rapidly becoming the headquarters of Greek culture. There he is said to have remained for thirty years. Pericles learned to love and admire him and the poet Euripides derived from him an enthusiasm for science and humanity. Some authorities assert that even Socrates was among his disciples. His influence was due partly to his astronomical and mathematical eminence, but still more to the ascetic dignity of his nature and his superiority to ordinary weaknesses. It was he who brought philosophy and the spirit of scientific inquiry from Ionia to Athens. His observations of the celestial bodies led him to form new theories of the universal order, and brought him into collision with the popular faith. He attempted, not without success, to give a scientific account of eclipses, meteors, rainbows and the sun, which he described as a mass of blazing metal, larger than the Peloponnesus; the heavenly bodies were masses of stone torn from the earth and ignited by rapid rotation. The ignorant polytheism of the time could not tolerate such explanation, and the enemies of Pericles used the superstitions of their countrymen as a means of attacking him in the person of his friend.

Anaxagoras was arrested on a charge of contravening the established dogmas of religion (some say the charge was one of Medism), and it required all the eloquence of Pericles to secure his acquittal. Even so he was forced to retire from Athens to Lampsacus (434-433 B.C.), where he died about 428 B.C., honoured and respected by the whole city.

—Excerpted from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Key events during the life of Anaxagoras:

464 BC
Moved from Asia Minor to Athens.
  Teacher and philosphical inspiration of Pericles, Socrates, and Euripides.
435 BC
Accused of impiety. Defended by Pericles.
434 BC
Exiled to Lampsacus.
428 BC
Died in exile.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Statesman and His Friends  in  Pictures from Greek Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Before the Time of Christ  in  Stories of the Great Scientists  by  Charles R. Gibson
Teachings of Anaxagoras  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber

Image Links

The master read to the pupils from the poems of Homer
 in Our Little Athenian Cousin of Long Ago

Short Biography
Pericles Athenian statesman during Golden Age of Athens. Made Athens cultural center of Greece.
Socrates First moral philosopher, immortalized by Plato.
Euripides Third of the great Greek Tragedians. Wrote Alcestis, Medea, Orestes, Electra and many others.