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  • Empedokles postulated that plants take up their nutrition though pores in their leaves.

  • Democrit of Abdera formulated the priciple of natural selection.

  • Heraclit ”panta rhei“, ”nobody enters the same river twice”; early predecessor of the dynamical paradigm in ecology, as opposed to Parmenides for whom perceived change was only an illusion.

  • Pythagoras advanced the idea of a natural harmony in the whole universe.

  • Hippokrates discussed the influence on the environment on man, which lead him to his health concept.

  • Herodotos (traveled in the then known world, such as Persia and Egypt, compiled information with natural historical contents, e.g. on crocodiles and associated plovers picking up the insect from their skin.

  • Plato founder of providence ecology: harmony amongst animals and man, man and God.

  • Aristotle has been called „father of animal ecology“: he studied behavior and habitat of birds, seasonal influence on reproduction, animal geography, hibernation and migration, colour change, feeding habits, and symbiosis - He rejected the idea of natural selection and favored the idea of prestabilized harmony following Empedokles and Pythagoras.

  • Democritus of Abdera is said to have observed growth patterns of antlers and teeth and inferred the causes from his observations.

  • Aristotle and Theophrastos mentioned or described 1000 different species (550 animals and 450 plants), most of which we can interpret in modern terms through their names and/or described features. These are huge figures when compared to what was mentioned in writing before, yet it only represents a selection of what these men actually knew. Neither of them aimed at completeness of coverage. Plant and animal species, along with their features, were the raw stuff on which their teaching was built, and indeed, their writings were essentially textbooks or lecture scripts – an interpretation that accounts for many of their peculiarities.

  • Anaxagoras argues that the baby gets everything it needs for growing from its mother’s milk, so all that stuff has been contained in the milk before: Anaxagoras was right to state this; but he was wrong to deny that flesh or bones could not arise from different constituents; Empedocles, in turn, suggested a quantitative formula for the constitution of bones, which, of course, was by far too simple.



Talk, The Ancient Greek roots of Biological Sciences.

Ecology of the Ancient Greek World

H. Diels and W. Kranz, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, 6th ed. (Berlin, 1952)

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