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The INTERNET
Database of Periodic Tables

There are hundreds of periodic tables in web space, but there is only one comprehensive database of periodic tables & periodic system formulations. If you know of an interesting periodic table that is missing, please contact the database curator: Dr Mark R Leach.

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450 BCE

Classical Elements: Earth, Water, Air & Fire

The Greek Classical Elements — Earth, Water, Air, Fire [& Aether] — date from 450 BC or so, and persisted throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, deeply influencing European thought and culture.

A Greek text Kore Kosmou ("Virgin of the World") – associated with the Egyptian god Thoth – names the four elements fire, water, air, and earth:

And Isis answer made: Of living things, my son, some are made friends with fire, and some with water, some with air, and some with earth, and some with two or three of these, and some with all. And, on the contrary, again some are made enemies of fire, and some of water, some of earth, and some of air, and some of two of them, and some of three, and some of all. For instance, son, the locust and all flies flee fire; the eagle and the hawk and all high-flying birds flee water; fish, air and earth; the snake avoids the open air. Whereas snakes and all creeping things love earth; all swimming things love water; winged things, air, of which they are the citizens; while those that fly still higher love the fire and have the habitat near it. Not that some of the animals as well do not love fire; for instance salamanders, for they even have their homes in it. It is because one or another of the elements doth form their bodies' outer envelope. Each soul, accordingly, while it is in its body is weighted and constricted by these four.

The four elements were used by Hippocrates in describing the human body with an association with the four humours:

  • yellow bile (fire)
  • black bile (earth)
  • blood (air)
  • phlegm (water)

Plato characterizes the elements from a list created by the Sicilian philosopher Empedocles called these the four "roots." Plato seems to have been the first to use the term element:

The Neoplatonic philosopher Proclus disagreed, and maintained that each of the elements had three properties:

Fire is sharp, subtle, and mobile, while its opposite, earth, is blunt, dense, and immobile. They are joined by the intermediate elements, air and water, in the following fashion:

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pre 1900 formulations 1900 to 1949 formulations 1950 to 1999 formulations 2000 to 2009 formulations Spiral formulations 3 dimensional formulations
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Periodic Table, What is it showing?
Binary Compounds

© Mark R. Leach 1999-


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