The Ancient Greeks

The Ancient Greeks Photo Credit: Clipart.com.


In this lesson, you begin your exploration of the history of the atom with the Ancient Greeks. Use the resources linked to from this sheet to help you in your exploration.


To begin, go to The Greek Concept of Atomos: The Indivisible Atom. This paper should serve as a good orientation about early Greek theories of the atom. As you read, take notes so you can answer these questions on your Ancient Greeks student sheet:

  • How has modern civilization come to learn about the ideas of Leucippus and Democritus?
  • What are the five major points of their atomic theory?
  • What is the significance of having a lower limit to which an atom can be divided?
  • What is the purpose of a “void”?
  • How do you think these philosophers were able to theorize to this level of specificity about the characteristics of the (invisible) atom and the laws of nature?
  • Why did their ideas “recede into the background” of atomic thought until the 17th century?

Now, go to The Atomists: Leucippus of Miletus and Democritus of Abdera. As you read this resource, think about your answers to these questions and record your answers on the student sheet:

  • What specific contributions did Leucippus and Democritus make in the development of their atomic theory?
  • Why did Leucippus first develop the basic atomic theory in response to the Eleatics?
  • How did the philosophers assess atoms in terms of the senses?
  • According to Democritus, how are universes formed?
  • How does modern atomic theory differ from the early Atomists?

Next, go to the third key reading of this lesson, Democritus of Abdera. As you examine his life and role in atomic theory, answer these questions on your student sheet:

  • What made Democritus “a man of great learning”?
  • Was Leucippus the first to propose an atomic theory? Explain.
  • In what ways did Democritus advance and broaden the atomic theory?
  • How was this significant?
  • What was unusual about Democritus’ theory on the origin of the universe?
  • What is significant about Democritus’ wish to “remove the belief in gods”?


This esheet is a part of the The History of the Atom 1: The Ancient Greeks lesson.

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