Heraclides of Pontus
A 4th cent. BC philosopher, one of the first students of Plato in the Academy; an intellectual of great independence of thought, he made original contributions to many fields of natural philosophy.
Heraclides was born to a prominent family in Heraclea Pontica on the Bithynian coast of the Black Sea. At a young age he entered Plato’s BC. After 339 Heraclides returned to Heraclea and, according to Diogenes Laertius (Lives V, 86-94), he became actively involved in the political life of his homeland. Anecdotal testimonies also speak of some sort of apotheosis for Heraclides after his death.; apparently he became a person of authority there, for during to Sicily, he remained in Athens and was appointed head of the School. He was also a candidate for the position of scholarch along with in 339
Diogenes describes Heraclides’ studies at Athens as a progression from theand to . This is why he categorizes Heraclides as a Peripatetic philosopher, and discusses his life along with that of other Aristotelians. All the available evidence on his philosophy, however, confirms his Platonic origins. The list of titles of his work is quite extensive. These titles reveal that he composed dialogues (e.g. Cleinias, Protagoras), trearises on natural philosophy (Against Democritus, Of Celestial Phenomena), and works of literary criticism (On passages in Euripides and Sophocles, Solutions of Homeric Problems); some of the titles are more peculiar (Abaris, On the Cessation of Breathing, Of things in the Underworld), suggesting that Heraclides had a penchant for mysticism.
The most noted contribution of Heraclides to later thought is his view on the movement of the Earth. Heraclides probably attempted to interpret an obscure passage from the Timaeus (40b-c), where Plato describes the Earth as “ειλομένην” or “ιλλομένην” on the axis of the cosmos. The spelling and meaning of this participle constituted an unsettled issue already for ancient commentators – it could either mean “compressed” or “moving”. Heraclides apparently opted for the second interpretation, and described the Earth as rotating on its axis at the center of a sealed and fixed universe. In this way one could “save the appearances” of celestial phenomena.
As a Platonist, Heraclides probably participated in the discussions over the value of the tenets. He did remain true to Platonic tradition, though, on the issue of the . His contribution was that he attributed a materiality of sorts to the immortal soul: according to Heraclides, the soul is made up of light, or “ether”, and descends from, and has its domicile in, the Galaxy.. We have no knowledge of the specifics of his view; we only have Plutarch’s testimony, who claimed that reading Heraclides’ Zoroastres or Of things in the Underworld one would be hard pressed to find many common elements with Plato’s
Heraclides, like his contemporary Xenocrates, seems to have espoused a form of atomism. He describes his elementary particles as “ανάρμους όγκους”, which means “masses without joints” – this probably denotes a contrast with transformations.’ atoms. Sextus Empiricus contrasts Democritus’ atoms, which are described as “απαθή” (=unaffected, impassible), to the masses of Heraclides, which are dubbed “παθητοί” (=subject to external influence or change). Perhaps the difference has to do with the fact that Heraclides’ atoms, like the elementary solids in the Timaeus, are subject to reciprocal
- Dorandi, T. ed. Filodemo. Storia dei Filosofι. Platone e l’Academia . Naples, 1991.
- Gottschalk, H.B. Heracleides of Pontos. Οξφόρδη, 1980.
- Wehrli, F, Herakleides Pontikos, Die Schule des Aristoteles, Heft 7. Βασιλεία, 1953.