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In the fifth century, it is difficult to draw clear lines between the work of a medical writer/physician and a philosopher/scientist.
Presocratic cosmologies of this period devoted some attention to questions of human physiology and medicine, and conversely the early treatises in the Hippocratic corpus often paid some attention to cosmology (see Aristotle, . The earliest Presocratic cosmologies in Ionia (e.g., those of Anaximander and Amaximenes) did not deal with physiology, and it is possible that the new interest in physiology in cosmologies of the fifth century (e.g., those of Empedocles and Anaxagoras) was due to the influence of Alcmaeon (Zhmud 2012a, 366; 2014, 100).
Comparison with Empedocles’ address to Pausanias suggests, moreover, that what we have is not a dedication but an exhortation or an attempt to instruct (Vlastos 1953, 344, n. Alcmaeon might be quite independent of these Pythagoreans and trying to persuade them of his distinct point of view. However, it is not true that the ancient “tradition is unanimous in presenting him as a Pythagorean” (Zhmud 2012a, 123).
In fact, the majority of ancient sources do not describe him as a Pythagorean (e.g., Clement [DK 24A2], Galen [DK24A2], Aetius [DK 24A4, 6, 8–10, 13, 17–18], Censorinus [DK 24A13–14], and Chalcidius [DK A10]).
Most scholars of the last fifty years, however, have come to recognize that Aristotle’s treatment of Alcmaeon here suggests the exact opposite; it only makes sense to compare him with the Pythagoreans and wonder who influenced whom, if he is not a Pythagorean (e.g., Guthrie 1962, 341: “Aristotle …
expressly distinguishes him from the Pythagoreans”). Certainly most of the opposites which are mentioned as crucial to Alcmaeon do not appear in the Pythagorean table of opposites, and there is no trace of the crucial Pythagorean opposition between limit and unlimited in Alcmaeon.
He is likely to have written his book sometime between 500 and 450 BCE.
The surviving fragments and testimonia focus primarily on issues of physiology, psychology, and epistemology and reveal Alcmaeon to be a thinker of considerable originality.
83), asserts that he wrote mostly on medical matters.
The historian Herodotus tells us that, in the second half of the sixth century, the physicians of Croton were the best in the Greek world (III.
131) and recounts in some detail the activities of the most prominent Crotoniate physician of the time, Democedes (III. Thus, whether a practicing physician or not, Alcmaeon undoubtedly owes some of his interest in human physiology and psychology to the medical tradition in Croton.
Croton is also famous as the center of Pythagoras’ activity from ca. Alcmaeon addressed his book to three men who may have been Pythagoreans: 194, 267).
He is either the father or the husband of Theano, who is in turn either the wife or student of Pythagoras.