THE PRE-SOCRATICS: Pioneers Of Fancy Thinkin'!

"…the FIRST Philosophers thought the nature of matter were the ONLY principles of ALL things."

THE PRE-SOCRATICS: Pioneers Of Fancy Thinkin'!

written by Fred Van Lente drawn by Ryan Dunlavey colored by Adam Guzowski

Script for Action Philosophers: The Pre-Socratics


Script by Fred Van Lente

Copyright © 2006 Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey. 


FULL-PAGE SPLASH: A gathering of all the Pre-Socratics featured in this story. I could see this going one of two ways… You could do a “class-picture” type shot of all of them in rows. Or, go the comics-hommage route, and show them sitting around a table like this first meeting of the JUSTICE SOCIETY. (Quote: Aristotle 693)

Regardless, each Pre-Socratic has a distinctive outfit on to match his philosophy (links to more historically accurate picture reference can be found in their individual strips):

  • THALES wears a scuba wet suit;
  • ANAXIMANDER has a fish head;
  • ANAXIMENES wears a beanie with a propeller on it and holds one of those hand-held battery-powered fans;
  • HERACLITUS is a giggling pyro with a flaming head (like Firestorm) that keeps flicking a lighter over and over again;
  • PARMENIDES looks like he’s made out of rock – not like the Thing, but more of a petrified wood kinda look (he’s literally a “BLOCKHEAD”);
  • EMPEDOCLES jumped into a volcano and got burnt to a crisp, so he’s black and steaming—the only thing distinguishable about him is his eyes. 

CAPTION: “Of the FIRST philosophers,” writes the first real HISTORIAN of philosophy, ARISTOTLE, “MOST thought the PRINCIPLES which were of the nature of MATTER were the ONLY principles of ALL things.” 

CAPTION: In other words, there were no “META”-physics… The material, idealistic, and spiritual worlds all obeyed IDENTICAL laws! 

CAPTION: Those theories prevailed in the days before the appearance of this first mega-star philosopher, SOCRATES, so the thinkers that expounded them are known, collectively, as ACTION PHILOSOPHER(S) #19…


CREDITS: The dual principles of this COMIC BOOK are STORY (by FRED VAN LENTE) and ART (by RYAN DUNLAVEY)! 



Panel 1: Thales measures the pyramids by their shadows. He is extremely poverty-stricken in this picture, and his toga is patched and threadbare. 

1. CAPTION: Thales was a scientific JACK-OF-ALL-TRADES. He predicted ECLIPSES, diverted the flow of mighty RIVERS…

2. CAPTION: …and figured out how to measure the height of the PYRAMIDS by measuring their SHADOWS at the precise time of day when HIS shadow was equal to HIS height! 

Panel 2: Some rich Greek NOBLEMEN mock Thales openly. 

3. CAPTION: You’d think his mad MENTAL SKILLS would have won Thales some PROPS from his PEEPS. 

4. CAPTION: You’d be WRONG…. 

5. NOBLEMAN #1: Pfff! SHADOW BOY here thinks he’s so GREAT! 

6. NOBLEMAN #2: If you’re so SMART, why aren’t you RICH, Poindexter? HAW, HAW! 

Panel 3: Thales studies a weather station in an olive grove

7. CAPTION: So, after careful STUDY, Thales determined that next summer would produce an especially bountiful OLIVE CROP…

8. CAPTION: …and used his last CENT to buy up all the OLIVE PRESSES in the neighborhood!  

Panel 4: Thales, now in a rich toga, grins madly as the glum noblemen pay him buttloads of dough for the use of the olive press behind him. 

9. CAPTION: Once his prediction came TRUE, he CLEANED UP renting out his equipment to the growers! 

10. THALES: Who SAYS philosophy doesn’t PAY? Heh! 


Panel 1: The now-rich Thales, lost in thought, wanders through a landscape, looking up at the twinkling stars in the night sky above. 

1. CAPTION: But not even FINANCIAL SUCCESS slaked Thales’ thirst for KNOWLEDGE…

2. THALES (THOUGHT): There is such a WONDROUS VARIETY to the things in the world… Clouds, stars, men, earth…

3. THALES (THOUGHT): …yet I am CONVINCED that the MANY are related to each other by a single COMMONALITY—the ONE! 

Panel 2: Thales is so lost in thought, he doesn’t realize that he has come upon an open well until he trips on the edge, and loses his balance. 

4. THALES (THOUGHT): But WHAT could this One BE—


Panel 3: Same shot: Thales falls into the well. 


Panel 4: Same shot: the well. 


Panel 5: Stat previous panel.




COPY AT TOP: Thales is known as the FIRST PHILOSOPHER for stating that his discipline was, as Aristotle would later put it, the science of “FIRST CAUSES”…

…and he would pass his water-as-first-cause theory on to his PUPIL…


Panel 1: Anaximander and his youthful student Anaximenes stand on an ancient Greek dock, watching fish jump out of the water. 

ANAXIMANDER (the teach): All LIVING THINGS, even those that now live on LAND, began their existence in the SEA…

ANAXIMANDER: …but I do not teach that the One is WATER as LITERALLY as my beloved teacher THALES.  

Panel 2: Teacher and student look at their reflections in the swirling water. 

ANAXIMANDER (OFF): No, I believe that water is but one of MANY basic elements…

ANAXIMANDER (OFF): …that THEMSELVES emanate from the INDETERMINATE BOUNDLESS! The FINITE things in OUR world find THEIR source in the realm of the INFINITE! 

Panel 3: Wrap your head around this trippy panel: The infinite boundless is a swirl of stars, like the Milky Way Galaxy, from which stuff “separates”, like debris flung free from a revolving tornado…Show the four elements: air (a cloud), water (a raindrop), fire (a plume of fire), earth (a diamond). 

CAPTION: “The specific elements SEPARATE OFF from the ORIGINAL SUBSTANCE in a process of ETERNAL MOTION.”

CAPTION: “There are MANY worlds, MANY universes, all participating in this cosmic cycle of CREATION and DESTRUCTION.” 

Panel 4: A wave smashes into the coast where Anaximander and Anaximenes stand, splitting off the bit they’re standing on. The two Anaxes wave their arms madly as the bit of cliff they’re standing on is about to slide into the sea… (Quote: Stumpf 7)

ANAXIMANDER: For from what source things ARISE, to that they return of NECESSITY when they are DESTROYED!

ANAXIMANDER: They suffer PUNISHMENT and make REPARATION to one another for their INJUSTICE according to the order of TIME! 


COPY AT TOP: Yet ANOTHER important philosophical tradition would be started by Anaximander’s student…


Panel 1: Anaximenes at his teacher’s deathbed. 

ANAXIMANDER: Now I return to the Infinite Boundless… Cough! 

ANAXIMANDER: I trust YOU will carry on my teachings… GAK! 

Panel 2: Anaximenes contemptuously kicks Anaximander’s dead body into an open grave. 


ANAXIMENES: Your THEORIES stink almost as bad as your FEET! 

ANAXIMENES: Anybody with HALF a brain could see the first cause isn’t WATER—Or your fantastical INFINITE BOUNDLESS…

Panel 3: Anaximenes admires a ceiling fan—and the AIR CURRENTS (with arrows) it generates.  

ANAXIMENES: …but AIR! While it is INVISIBLE, like our very SOULS, its movements may be TRACKED scientifically!  

ANAXIMENES: All the OTHER elements DERIVE from air! When sped up, air forms FIRE, and when slowed down, it forms WATER! 

Panel 4: Angry-Young-Philosopher Anaximenes throws darts at pictures of Thales and Anaximander pinned to a dartboard. 

CAPTION: So was inaugurated one of the more COMMON philosophical traditions:

ANAXIMENES: Every philosopher who came before ME is an IDIOT! 



Panel 1: Heraclitus absent-mindedly hands his dubious brother his crown on the palace balcony. 

CAPTION: Heir to the throne of EPHESUS, Heraclitus ceded his crown to his BROTHER so he’d have more time for THOUGHT. 

BROTHER: Uh…some might say you’re not thinkin’ too straight right NOW, Bro’… 

Panel 2: Heraclitus puts his foot in a river. 

CAPTION: “All things are in FLUX” was his catchphrase, more FAMOUSLY formulated as:

CAPTION: “You cannot step TWICE into the SAME RIVER.”

Panel 3: Same panel, except now Heraclitus is dressed in FEMALE DRAG. 

CAPTION: For the SECOND TIME it’s not the SAME RIVER, and you’re not the SAME MAN. 

Panel 4: Heraclitus, holding a spent book of matches, watches drooling like a pyro as a house goes up in flames, people jumping screaming from the windows, et cetera. 

CAPTION: FIRE, according to Heraclitus, is that CONSTANT element in all things that CHANGES—the “UNITY in DIVERSITY!”  


CAPTION: But this is not merely another version of “The One” as taught by Thales or Anaximenes, but a process of TRANSFORMATION! 


Panel 1: Planet Earth is depicted as a gigantic bonfire, fed with KINDLING from the left side and disgorging gouts of SMOKE on the right side. (Stumpf 13) 

CAPTION: The world is, Heraclitus says, an “ever-living FIRE” which is maintained by “measures of it KINDLING and measures going OUT.” 

CAPTION: “All things are an exchange for FIRE, and Fire for ALL THINGS, even as wares for GOLD and gold for WARES.” 

Panel 2: Similar to the last panel of the previous page, Albert Einstein holds a smoking pack of matches watching people jump out a building. 

CAPTION: Nothing is ever DESTROYED, but merely takes on a different FORM! This notion is remarkably SIMILAR to physics’ notion of the conservation of matter and energy. 


CAPTION: Hence we have STABILITY in the universe not in spite of, but BECAUSE OF constant CHANGE! 

Panel 3: Heraclitus opens a furnace door in his chest and shows off the fire burning within him. 

HERACLITUS: God IS fire, and God/fire permeates ALL things—no less than the HUMAN SOUL! 

HERACLITUS: REASON is the fire OF the soul, for only through IT can we see that which is shared by ALL THINGS! 

HERACLITUS: Thus, though MEN are all DIFFERENT, they are UNITED by a SINGLE FLAME! 

Panel 4: A cartoon cat holding a mallet and a cartoon mouse with a chain saw chase each other around a cartoon living room. 

CAPTION: And though men always DISAGREE, “what is in OPPOSITION is in CONCERT and from what DIFFERS comes the most beautiful HARMONY.” 

CAPTION: Just as fire is the CONSTANT in CHANGE, it is only through the tension between OPPOSITES that the universe achieves ORDER! 


Panel 1: Parmenides tears through the previous panel angrily, demanding to be heard by the reader. 

PARMENIDES: If that sounds like TOTAL B.S. to you, you’re not ALONE! 

PARMENIDES: I’VE always found the whole NOTION of change to be completely ILLOGICAL! 

Panel 2: Parmenides shows off, on the one hand, a steaming pile of gelatinous goo, and on the other, a table lamp. 

PARMENIDES: I mean—REALLY! Thales and Heraclitus BOTH go on and on about this process of “BECOMING”…

PARMENIDES: …but I ASK you, have you ever SEEN something in the process of BECOMING? Of COURSE not! A thing either IS or it ISN’T! 

PARMENIDES: THAT’S the fundamental underlying concept of the philosophy of…

“HEADER” (wedged in between two panel tiers): 


Panel 3: The globe has been twisted into a three-dimensional INFINITY SYMBOL that Parmenides embraces lovingly. (Stumpf 17)

PARMENIDES: “One path ONLY is left for us to speak of, namely, that IT IS. In this path are very many tokens that what IS, is uncreated and indestructible, for it is complete, unmovable and WITHOUT END.” 

PARMENIDES: There is no CHANGE or MOTION – these are merely ILLUSIONS produced by our SENSES! 

PARMENIDES: Though things may alter in APPEARANCE, they remain, in ESSENCE, exactly the SAME! 

Panel 4: Zeno’s Paradox: A tortoise and a hare running a race run into the same problem: the racetrack has been sectioned off in white lines like the paradox, as described below, and so it appears they will never actually reach the finish line! (In other words, the track is sectioned off to smaller and smaller units as the runners reach the finish line—which they never actually reach, of course.) 

CAPTION: Parmenides’ student ZENO illustrated the illusion of MOTION with his famous PARADOX:

CAPTION: If you’re running a RACE, you can’t reach the FINISH without getting HALFWAY there, right? And you can’t THERE without getting halfway to HALFWAY, right? And you can’t get to halfway to halfway without getting HALFWAY to THAT, yeah? So…the question is…

CAPTION: …how does anybody ever actually get ANYWHERE?

Panel 5: Parmenides smugly addresses the reader.

PARMENIDES: SEE? The ONE can never be divided into its separate PARTS, such as ELEMENTS or primary and lesser CAUSES! 

PARMENIDES: Likewise, nothing ever CHANGES! Not even this COMIC BOOK STORY! It will just go ON and ON and ON and—



Panel 1: Empedocles takes a nosedive into the lava-bubbling crater at Mt. Etna

CAPTION: Legend has it Empedocles wanted to remembered as a GOD, so he leapt into the volcano at MT. ETNA to erase all trace of his BODY. 

Panel 2: At volcano’s edge some Greek shepherds have discovered Empedocles’ SUICIDE NOTE and cluster around, reading it. Leave room up top to put the copy, which is in a childish scrawl. 

SUICIDE NOTE: Why can’t philosophers just get along?
I figured out way none of us can be wrong!

Panel 3: Checkmark next to ranting Parmenides (stat panel from P. story?)

SUICIDE NOTE: PARMENIDES was correct when he said what IS always WAS;

 Panel 4: Checkmark next to Heraclitus (stat panel from H. story?)

SUICIDE NOTE: But Heraclitus was right TOO that with CHANGE the universe is always ABUZZ! 

Panel 5: Checkmark next to merging of Thales & Anaximenes. 

SUICIDE NOTE: I say it’s the ELEMENTS that make UP the ONE that are always in FLUX.
Thales said it was WATER, Anaximenes said it was AIR…I say they’re BOTH right, the brainy young bucks!

Panel 6: Checkmark next to pyro Heraclitus…standing on a pitcher’s mound! 

SUICIDE NOTE: Wind and water are but TWO of the FOUR that make up all the world’s MATTER…
FIRE and EARTH round out that quartet—and thus ends my philosophical PATTER!


Panel 1: This meeting of the Pre-Socratics (shown on Page One) has devolved into petty bitching and finger-pointing. 




PARAMENIDES: NONE of the above!

EMPEDOCLES: ALL of the above!

Panel 2: Democritus humbly appears with presentation cards in a portfolio and an easel.

DEMOCRITUS: >Cough!< PARDON ME, kind sirs, b-but I, DEMOCRITUS, would like to H-HUMBLY assert a theory first proposed by MY teacher, wise LEUCIPPUS of THRACE. 

Panel 3: Democritus displays a presentation card depicting an ATOM on his easel. 

DEMOCRITUS: I propose that the principal nature of all matter is in fact microscopic building blocks called “ATOMS.” 

Panel 4: All the Pre-Socratics stare at Democritus. 


Panel 5: Same shot: They all break out into DERISIVE LAUGHTER! Democritus stalks off in fury.

PRE-SOCRATICS (multiple pointers): BWAH-HAH-HAH-HAH! 

THALES: Look at me! I’m made up of MILLIONS of invisible little ATOMS! 

HERACLITUS: I’m gaining weight – it must be because the ATOM FAIRY paid me a visit!