THEOPHRASTUS – THE FATHER OF BOTANTY


The ancient Greek Theophrastus (371–286 B.C.E.) is known as the father, or founder, of botany. He wrote two large books, On the History of Plants and On the Causes of Plants. … He also developed a theory of plant growth and wrote about how plants were structured. He identified and described 550 different

While Theophrastus studied very diverse issues, he is best known for his work with plants. He has often been referred to as the first scientific botanist, and two of his practical, yet influential, books on the subject have survived into modern times.

Theophrastus was one of the few Peripatetics who fully embraced Aristotle’s philosophy in all areas of metaphysicsphysics, physiology, zoologybotanyethics, politics, and history of culture. His general tendency was to strengthen the systematic unity of those subjects and to reduce the transcendental or Platonic elements of Aristotelianism as a whole. Of his few surviving works, the most important are Peri phytōn historia (“Inquiry into Plants”) and Peri phytōn aitiōn (“Growth of Plants”), comprising nine and six books, respectively. Of dubious origin are the smaller treatises attributed to him on fire, winds, signs of weather, scents, sensations, and other subjects. His notable Charaktēres (many English translations) consists of 30 brief and vigorous character sketches delineating moral types derived from studies that Aristotle had made for ethical and rhetorical purposes; this work later formed the basis for the masterpiece of Jean de La BruyèreLes Caractères . . . (1699). In his ethical teachings, famous because of the assaults of the Stoic philosophers, Theophrastus reiterated Aristotle’s notion of a plurality of virtues with their relative vices and acknowledged a certain importance to external goods.

Among Theophrastus’ other works is the Physikōn doxai (“Opinions of Natural Philosophers”). As reconstructed by Herman Diels in Doxographi Graeci (1879), it provides a foundation for the history of ancient philosophy

Theophrastus and his reasearches

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  • Metaphysics (or On First Principles).
    • Enquiry into Plants: Books 1-5.
    • Enquiry into Plants: Books 6-9; Treatise on Odours; Concerning Weather Signs.
    •  De Causis Plantarum. There are 3 volumes of this book .
    • On Sweat, On Dizziness and On Fatigue. 

Theophrastus introduced his Physics with the proof that all natural existence, being corporeal and composite, requires principles,and first and foremost motion as the basis of all change.

Denying the substance of space, he seems to have regarded it, in opposition to Aristotle, as the mere arrangement and position (taxis and thesis) of bodies.Time he called an accident of motion, without, it seems, viewing it, with Aristotle, as the numerical determinant of motion. He attacked the doctrine of the four classical elements and challenged whether fire could be called a primary element when it appears to be compound, requiring, as it does, another material for its own nutriment.

Surely, then, if the life in animals does not need explanation or is to be explained only in this way, may it not be the case that in the heavens too, and in the heavenly bodies, movement does not need explanation or is to be explained in a special way? Theophrastus, Metaphysics, 10a.16-29