As Pericles was a very cultivated man, he liked to meet and talk with the philosophers, and to befriend the artists. He was greatly attached to the sculptor Phidias, and he therefore did all in his power to save him from the envy of his fellow-citizens.
Anaxagoras, a philosopher of great renown, was the friend and teacher of Pericles. He, too, won the dislike of the people; and, as they could not accuse him also of stealing, they charged him with publicly teaching that the gods they worshiped were not true gods, and proposed to put him to death for this crime.
Now, Anaxagoras had never heard of the true God, the God whom we worship. He had heard only of Zeus, Athene, and the other gods honored by his people; but he was so wise and so thoughtful that he believed the world could never have been created by such divinities as those.
He observed all he saw very attentively, and shocked the people greatly by saying that the sun was not a god driving in a golden chariot, but a great glowing rock, which, in spite of its seemingly small size, he thought must be about as large as the Peloponnesus.
Of course, this seems very strange to you. But Anaxagoras lived more than two thousand years ago, and since then people have constantly been finding out new things and writing them in books, so it is no wonder that in this matter you are already, perhaps, wiser than he. When you come to study about the sun, you will find that Anaxagoras was partly right, but that, instead of being only as large as the Peloponnesus, the sun is more than a million times larger than the whole earth!
Anaxagoras also tried to explain that the moon was probably very much like the earth, with mountains, plains, and seas. These things, which they could not understand, made the Athenians so angry that they exiled the philosopher, in spite of all Pericles could say.
Anaxagoras went away without making any fuss, and withdrew to a distant city, where he continued his studies as before. Many people regretted his absence, and missed his wise conversation, but none so much as Pericles, who never forgot him, and who gave him money enough to keep him in comfort.
Another great friend of Pericles was a woman called Aspasia. She was so bright that the wisest men of Athens used to go to her house merely for the pleasure of talking to her. All the best-informed people in town used to assemble there; and Cimon and Pericles, Phidias, Anaxagoras, and Socrates were among her chosen friends.