The many different natural processes can be explained separately; for example, the earth is suspended in midair because it is equidistant from each point of the heavens (A11); the sea is a remnant of the first moisture (A27); winds are the result of setting the finest vapors of the air by the sun (Aetius 3.7.1 = A24). Such explanations, however, although they may be satisfactory from scientific and practical points of view, are not satisfactory for a philosopher or a theologian. Does the Apeiron have anything to do with these particular natural processes, and if it does, as it should, what is the connection? The answer hinges not that much on the nature of natural processes but on the nature of activity of the divine Apeiron. What is a suitable activity for the cosmic divinity? This activity is not a collection of mechanical processes of the type found in nature. If this were the case, then it would not be, in fact, possible to distinguish the Apeiron from nature. Nature would be the Apeiron, the Apeiron would simply be a fanciful synonym of nature pointing to the fact that it is infinite (and such a route was later chosen by the atomists). The answer lies in the only extant fragment from Anaximander’s book. In the process of creating the universe, the hot and the cold are separated from the Apeiron, that is, the Apeiron is not in the world. Existing things come into existence from the Apeiron and pass away into it. The processes in the world take place because things come into being and are destroyed, which happens because they “pay penalty and retribution to each other for their injustice according to the order of time” (Simplicius, In Phys. 24.18–20 = B1). Although Theophrastus who in Simplicius’ excerpt quotes these words, qualifies them as “rather poetic” (24.20–21 = A9), they very likely were not treated merely as a metaphor by Anaximander himself. These words are rather an expression of a conviction that “the power which presides over physical order is moral.”33 This power is an attribute of the Apeiron. The Apeiron which governs all things uses this power to exact its moral pronouncements. The physical processes in the world are secondary to the moral nature of the Apeiron. Whatever happens in the world is not merely a result of mechanical changes, but a reflection of the moral order inhabiting the Apeiron.34

Whence this moral order? For Homer, order, including moral order, belongs to the highest level of reality, the level exceeding the world of mortals and immortals – destiny, fate, moira.35 In order for the cosmos to function properly, even the gods have to submit to its ordinances. The moral order is united by Anaximander along with the concept of infinity in the concept of the Apeiron, a moral infinity. The divine moral law that rules in human societies becomes the divine principle ordering the course of the entire universe. Anaximander does not tell us more about the nature of the Apeiron.


33 Cornford, From Religion to Philosophy, p. 11.

34 Santillana says that the concept of governing is an expression of “what he meant and could not express – automatic control,” Giorgio di Santillana, The Origins of Scientific Thought (New York: Mentor Books, 1961), p. 39. Automatic control is rather what he did not mean and could express.

35 The importance of the moira in understanding the origin of philosophy is strongly emphasized by Cornford, From Religion to Philosophy, chs. 1–2. See also Ehnmark, The Idea of God in Homer, ch. 6.