When did Kosmos become the Kosmos?

In Cosmos in the Ancient World. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 22-41 (2019)
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When did kosmos come to mean *the* kosmos, in the sense of ‘world-order’? I venture a new answer by examining later evidence often underutilised or dismissed by scholars. Two late doxographical accounts in which Pythagoras is said to be first to call the heavens kosmos (in the anonymous Life of Pythagoras and the fragments of Favorinus) exhibit heurematographical tendencies that place their claims in a dialectic with the early Peripatetics about the first discoverers of the mathematical structure of the universe. Likewise, Xenophon and Plato refer to ‘wise men’ who nominate kosmos as the object of scientific inquiry into nature as a whole and the cosmic ‘communion’ (koinônia) between all living beings, respectively. Again, later testimonies help in identifying the anonymous ‘wise men’ by associating them with the Pythagoreans and, especially, Empedocles. As Horky argues, not only is Empedocles the earliest surviving source to use kosmos to refer to a harmonic ‘world-order’ and to illustrate cosmic ‘communities’ between oppositional pairs, but also his cosmology realises the mutual correspondence of these aspects in the cycle of love and strife. Thus, if later figures posited Pythagoras as the first to refer to the universal ‘world-order’ as the kosmos, they did so because they believed Empedocles to have been a Pythagorean natural scientist, whose combined focus on cosmology and ethics exemplified a distinctively Pythagorean approach to philosophy.

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Phillip Sidney Horky
Durham University


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