The knowledge of people in antiquity, and in this case of Alexander the Great, never ceases to amaze me.
This time I came across the ancient Greek philosopher Democritus who lived in the fifth century BC. The information about this brilliant mind often called the father of modern science, is very scanty. Some claim he was born in Abdera, in modern Thracian Greece, around 460 BC, whereas others state that he was born in
in 490 BC. His death is also shrouded in mystery as some sources tell us that he died at the age of 104 or maybe 109. Well, we should not be picky about such details, should we? Miletus
Critical, however, is his theory that the universe is made up of tiny “atoms”. On this topic also, historians differ as a similar theory is being attributed to the contemporary philosopher Leucippus although each one is based on a different principle. Nonetheless, the very concept of ‘atoms’ became the staple of the modern scientific tradition.
According to Democritus, everything in the universe is composed of “atoms”, a kind of invisible building stones. Atoms are in constant motion and are separated by empty space. Their number is endless, and they all differ in shape and size. Noticeable is that Democritus described atoms in different shapes, sizes and arrangements, connected to each other with some kind of hooks and eyes, balls and sockets. Most importantly, the concept provided an explanation as to why the idea of a void was necessary in nature. Unlike philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle who were more concerned about the soul, Democritus looked at the world from the practical point of view.
Democritus came from a wealthy and noble family who had strong ties with the Persian King Xerxes. Eventually, he was influenced and/or instructed by
travelled extensively to Asia and Chaldeans and Magi. Democritus . He may have gone as far as Egypt India and . On the road, he may have met Anaxagoras, Hippocrates and Socrates, although his real mentor was Leucippus of Miletus who shared his theory of atomism. Ethiopia
As such, Democritus was an incredibly fascinating figure, but when we realize that he lived a good century before Alexander, our view of antiquity takes an entirely different twist. If only because of his teaching by Aristotle, we have no reason at all to doubt that the king was totally familiar with this atomic theory (and many others for that matters).
We still like to file our knowledge away in separate boxes by country or ideology while in reality, the world in antiquity was at least as vast as ours is today.