Introducing the Presocratics

We started back this term on a completely new module! After some warm-up Latin verbs and nouns, I explained that we were leaving behind the Trojan War and Dark Ages, and skipping forward in time to around the sixth century BC. Around this time, a group of early thinkers, known as the Presocratics, emerged, and they started to ask questions such as: where does everything come from? What is everything made of?


Before this time, people thought of phenomena has being explained by supernatural forces, but these philosophers and scientists began to look at the world around them, and try to find answers within nature. This time saw the emergence of rational thought in ancient Greece, and it changed the face of everything.


We looked at a Presocratic called Thales of Miletus, who thought that water was the basis for all matter. He also worked out the height of the pyramids by using geometry.  Thales was a hylozist (someone who thinks that everything is alive and contains a soul). Aristotle wrote: …Thales thought all things are full of gods. He perhaps thought this because of the action of magnets.

We then looked at two ancient Greek words, “κλέπτω” and “ῠ̔́δωρ“. I asked you to transliterate them and then we talked about what they might mean. You were quick to guess the first, “I steal”, and link it to ‘kleptomaniac’, and some of you spotted the similarity to ‘hydrate’ for “ῠ̔́δωρ“, leading to guessing that it meant “water”.

I introduced you to a “klepsydra” or “water-thief”, which was an ancient Greek way of measuring time using water. We talked about how these, along with sundials, are the oldest known time-keeping instruments.


A presocratic philosopher called Empedocles used a klepsydra as an analogy for respiration when trying to describe and understand the process. You each got a bowl, a cup and some water, and created your own klepsydra.

We also talked about how Empedocles came up with the idea of the four elements of air, water, fire and earth being the basis of all things – contrasting with Thales, who thought that everything was made of water.


Finally, we translated chapter five on Telling Tales in Latin, exploring the story of Apollo and Daphne!

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