prThales, the Milesian, one of the seven wise men, taught that water was the original cause of all things. Heraclitus maintained the same of fire: the priests of the magi, of water and fire. Euripides, a disciple of Anaxagoras, called by the Athenians the dramatic philosopher, attributed it to air and earth; and contended that the latter, impregnated by the seed contained in the rain falling from the heavens, had generated mankind and all the animals on the earth; and that all these, when destroyed by time, returned to their origin. Thus, such as spring from the air, also return into air, and not being capable of decay, are only changed by their dissolution, returning to that element whereof they first consisted. But Pythagoras, Empedocles, Epicharmus, and other physiologists, and philosophers, maintained that there were four elements, air, fire, water, and earth; and that their mixture, according to the difference of the species, forms a natural mould of different qualities.
prAmong the Seven Sages, Thales of Miletus pronounced for water as the primordial element in all things; Heraclitus, for fire; the priests of the Magi, for water and fire; Euripides, a pupil of Anaxagoras, and called by the Athenians “the philosopher of the stage,” for air and earth. Earth, he held, was impregnated by the rains of heaven and, thus conceiving, brought forth the young of mankind and of all the living creatures in the world; whatever is sprung from her goes back to her again when the compelling force of time brings about a dissolution; and whatever is born of the air returns in the same way to the regions of the sky; nothing suffers annihilation, but at dissolution there is a change, and things fall back to the essential element in which they were before. But Pythagoras, Empedocles, Epicharmus, and other physicists and philosophers have set forth that the primordial elements are four in number: air, fire, earth, and water; and that it is from their coherence to one another under the moulding power of nature that the qualities of things are produced according to different classes.