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of gods”.24 In this way, the whole of nature and everything in it is not only alive, but also divinized. And all this began with water. What was the nature of this primordial water such that creating a living and divinized universe was possible? If everything is full of gods, then apparently water, including primordial water, is full of them as well. It is extremely likely that Thales’ primeval water was teeming with gods. However, it may well be that at the beginning was pure water in which the gods were created, very much in the spirit of the Theogony. Whether this water itself was considered to be a god by Thales, we do not know, but if the apophthegm, “What is the divine? That which has no beginning nor end” (DL 1.36), is anything close to what Thales might have said, then, yes, water is a divine entity. Such an ascription is not impossible in a thinker who makes mythological reports the point of departure and whose two younger fellow townsmen, Anaximander and Anaximenes, considered their own archai to be divine. Because water is an ontological principle, the gods that are in it are its manifestations and should not be considered as entities independent of the water-arche. From considering the gods independent, there is but one step to considering the divine independent and stating that God used water to mold the cosmos (Cicero, ND 1.25 = A23). Just as in Greek and Middle East mythologies, Thales’ gods are created and as such are also material entities. Water is divine because it is the source of all things and is uncreated and eternal. It is possible, considering the theological roots of his philosophy, that Thales’ water was not only endowed with some divine attributes, but it was God. It is only a likely guess that this God-hydor was for him an intelligible being: even the least significant of the gods of mythology was a rational being. Furthermore, that much was apparently obvious for Aetius when he explicitly stated that for Thales “God was the mind of the cosmos” (1.7.11 = A23). This must be understood in the materialistic and also pantheistic framework: God is water and water, because of its supreme divinity, is the arche. But this water should not be spiritualized. It is empirical water, not something being water only by name. It is, thus, anachronistic to state that “the water of Thales is not a material principle but rather a symbol for the primeval matter from which emanates all becoming.”25 Thales was hardly a peripatetic. What would the primeval matter be if it were not water? Only a material cause? What would be formal, efficient, and final causes? If Aristotle’s terminology is used, then we can at best state that Thales’ water is all the four causes combined in one substrate.26

Also, it is far too spiritualized a statement that Thales’ “water is, not matter in the ordinary physical sense, but the content of intelligible form, the principle of the differentiability of intelligibility,”27 or that Thales’ “Water” can be the “essence” of earth and fire because it is something completely different from water that one drinks or in which one takes a bath.


24 Aristotle, De anima 411a8 = A22; Aetius 1.7.11 = A2. But cf. Patricia F. O’Grady, Thales of Miletus: the beginnings of Western science and philosophy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002), pp. 122, 244.

25 John Miller, ‘Thales on water: the Egyptian connection’, Southwest Philosophical Studies 1989, 46.

26 Or, as cautiously stated, “Thales seems to have made no distinction between primary all-pervasive matter and the all-pervading spirit, or gods,” Susan W. Kline, ‘The first philosopher of the Western world’, Classical Journal 35 (1939), p. 85.

27 Stanley H. Rosen, ‘Thales: the beginning of philosophy’, in Essays in Philosophy (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1962), p. 36.


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