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Theophrastus 372-288 B.C.  

Theophrastus was born at Eresos about 372 B.C., the son of a fuller and died about 288 B.C. He came early to Athens to sudy under Plato and presumably at that time became acquainted with Aristotle and apparently they became very good friends. When Aristotle was forced to leave Athens about 322, Theophrastus was appointed his successor. It was at this time that all the manuscripts and writings of Aristotle were bequeathed to Theophrastus. Theophrastus became head of the school, reorganized and enlarged it and continued as leader for 35 years. He bought an adjoining estate, enlarged the garden. He is reported to have had more than 2,000 pupils.

Two hundred and twenty-seven treatises are attributed to Theophrastus dealing with religion, politics, ethics, education, rhetoric, mathematics, astronomy, logic, meterology, natural history and the like.

The botanical works of Theophrastus are the earliest of their kind in world literature. They are excellent and he has been termed the "father of botany." The two books are listed as follows:

Historia de Plantis (History of Plants or Inquiring into Plants).
De Causis Plantarums (The Causes of plants).

The first is largely descriptive while the second is more physiological in nature.

Theophrastus had a tremendous amount of knowledge, accumulated for him by students and staff of the Lyceum. His knowledge of foreign plants was likewise outstanding. Alexander the Great, while carrying on his military expeditions as far as the Indus River in India, sent him many plants.

Theophrastus was concerned with 500-550 species and varieties of plants, most of which were cultivated. He stated that wild plants were largely unknown and unnamed. He discussed some of these wild plants and indicated that attempts had been made to acclimatize some - not always with success. He was handicapped by insufficient terminology and in consequence he introduced some new technical terms. He distinguished between various means of reproduction of plants.

Sarton points out that at the beginning the urge for knowledge of plants was largely for food and drugs. However, Theophrastus became interested in botany as a form of knowledge and in plant life in all its forms as well as in the reasons for various phenomena observed by him. He considered changes in plants not miraculous but natural. The Lyceum has been considered by some as the first botanic garden. Presumably it contained some plants studied by Theophrastus and his pupils. Theophrastus was the greatest botanic writer until the Renaissance of the 16th Century in Germany. His Greek followers were Nicandros of Colophon, Cratevas and Dioscorides.

Theophrastus, Inquiry into Plants, trans. by Sir Arthur
Holt, London, W. Heinemann, New York, G. P.
Putnam's Sons, 1916.
De Causis Plantarums, trans. Robert E. Denger, Philadelphia,
Westbrook Pub. Co., 1927.


Additional information about Theophrastus may be found on the Internet.

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