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Xenophanes

XENOPHANES

(b. Colophon, Ionia, ca. 580–570 b.c.; d. ca. 478 b.c.)

theology, epistemology.

It is generally believed that Xenophanes was born about 570 b.c. in Colophon, a Greek city in Asia Minor. He left Ionia after 545, the time of the Persian conquest, in order to live in the western part of the Greek world, in southern Italy and Sicily. He died after 478. If it is true, as has recently been suggested,1 that Xenophanes did not leave Colophon at the time he left Asia but, rather, ten years earlier, then the date of his birth can be years earlierm, then the date of his birth can be pushed back bushed in accordance with the ancient chronology (580–577). On this hypothesis, he was banished from Colophon in 555, when the city came under a tyrannical regime (at that time it was still under the control of the kingdom of Lydia).

Xenophanes seems to have opposed this regime openly and to have been known after 555 as a poet fighting for the restoration of his native city’s ancient civil liberties. It was probably toward this end that he devoted an epic to the origins of Colophon and wrote a poem in honor of Elea. He may have joined the Phocaeans who founded the latter city on the coast of southern Italy (540–535).

Xenophanes’ deep personal involvement in political matters is inseparable from his intellectual activities. He profoundly influenced Greek thought in at least two respects, through his criticism of the anthropomorphic beliefs upheld by traditional religion and through his “monist” definition of God. The principal surviving fragments of his elegies clearly show that the intellectual and moral reform to which he dedicated himself had a political objective. He believed that the thinker, through his statements, should clear the way for a strengthening of communal life within the framework of the city–state.

To further this goal, Xenophanes extended his critique of anthropomorphism to all the attitudes and activities attributed to the gods, judging these incompatible with a just conception of divine reality. He rejected the picture of the divine world and its organization propagated by Homer and Hesiod; he objected to certain ritual practices; and he denied that the gods intervene physically either in divination or in meteorological phenomena. To this refutation of accepted views which he elaborated in his Satires(Σίλλоι) Xenophanes joined a description of the attributes of God. These are such, he asserted, as reason conceives them when it has cast off the hold of mythology and popular beliefs. Thus, starting from the notion of omnipotence, Xenophanes derived the concepts of God’s unity (that is, unicity or wholeness) and eternity. God, he stated, is present everywhere and acts without intermediary and without displacement or movement, solely by means of His mind’s will.

Did Xenophanes apply his ideas concerning the attributes of divine reality to the universe? Did he identify God with the cosmos, as has often been supposed?2 It does not seem that he did. This pantheistic interpretation (given by Theophrastus and already proposed by Aristotle) appears incompatible–despite the opposing views of certain authors3–with the wording of the existing fragments. Still, these attributes endow Xenophanes’ God with an ontological status remarkably similar to that later enunciated in certain propositions of Eleatic logic. According to tradition, Xenophanes was the teacher of Parmenides; and the latter could indeed have found in the conception of a unique, eternal, and omnipotent God the starting point for his deduction of the properties of being.

Xenophanes’ monotheism did not entail a denigration of man. On the contrary, he affirmed man’s autonomy in material progress and civilization. But he did make a distinction of great epistemological significance: God alone possesses complete knowledge, whereas man can attain genuine knowledge only within the limits assigned to the combined activity of his senses. That is, he can really know only particular objects or partial aspects of the world. With regard to the totality of things, the universe (and God himself), man must be satisfied with a probable knowledge, which is incapable of verifying the truth of what it grasps. Thsi restriction has given rise to much discussion. Some atthors, including a few modern ones, have claimed that Xenophanes meant to apply it to empirical knowlege itself, thus portraying him as an advocate of radical skepticism.4 This view is incorrect. He thought that human knowledge was limited, not with respect to things but relative to God’s omniscience.

Xenophanes did not conceive or set forth a complete doctrine of the physical world,5 although he occasionally touched on physical questions in his polemical writings–alluding, for example, to Thales, Anaximander, and Pythagoras. He was neither a philosopher of nature nor a “sage” in the primary sense of the word. Highly independent and curious about everything (something for which he was reporached by Heraclitus), Xenophanes was poet and a thinker who played a major role in the intellectual adventure of his age. He stimulated the emancipation of reason in Greek ethical and religious discourse and thus contributed, although indirectly, to the triuimph of systematic thinking in science and philosophical religious discourse and thus contributed, although indirectly, to the triumph of systematic thinking in science and philosophical reflection

NOTES

1. See P. Steinmetx, “Xenphanesstudien,” see, entitled “Zur Datierung.”

2. Most recently, by M.U. Untersteiner, Senofane, clxxxix–cciii; and W.K.C. guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy, 381–383. Those who disagree or reserve opinion include W.Jaeger, The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers,43 and n. 23; H. Frankel, Dichtung und Philosophie des friihen Griechentums, 378; A. Lumpe, Die Philosophie des Xenopanes von Kolophon, 22–26; and G. S. Kirk. in Kirk and Raven, The Presocratic Philosophers,171–172.

3. Especially Guthrie,loc. cit.,

4. Particularly E. Heitsch, who opposes Franke. . Compare K. von Fritz. “Xenophanes,” cols. 1557-1559.

5. Summaries of the controversy over the De natura attributed to him are in Untersteiner, op. cit., ccxliiccl; and in Reale’s note in E. Zeller and R. Mondolfo, Lafilosofia dei Greci…69–71. There are some perceptive remarks in Stein metz. op. cit., 54–68(“Ein Lehrgedicht des Xenophanes?”).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Fragments and testimonia are in H. Diels and W. Kranz, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, 6th ed., I (Berlin, 1951), 113–139; the fragments alone are in E. Diehl, Anthologia lyrica Graeca, fasc. 1, Poetae elegiaci, 3rd ed. (Leipzig, 1949), 64–76; and M. L. West, lambi et Elegi Graeci ante Alexandrum cantati, II (Oxford, 1972), 163–170. There is abundant information in M. Untersteiner, Senofane, testimonianze e framenti (Florence, 1955); and E. Zeller and R. Mondolfo, La filosofia dei Greci nel suo sviluppo storico pt. 1, l Presocratici, III, Eleati, G. Reale, ed. (Florence, 1967), 1–164.

Recent writings include H. Frankel, Dichtung und philosophie des frϋhen Griechentums (New York, 1951; 2nd ed., Munich, Pauly–Wissowa,Real–Encyclopadie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, 2nd ser., IX (1967), cols. 1541-1562; W. K. C. Guthric, A History of Greek Philosophy, I (Cambridge, 1962), 360–402; E. Heitsch. “Das Wissen des Xenophanes,” in Rheinisches Museum fur Philologie109 (1966), 193–235; H. Herter, “Das Symposion des Xenophanes,” in Wiener Studien, 69 (1956), 33–48; W. Jaeger, The Theology of the Early Greek philoosophers (Oxford, 1947), 38–54; G. S. Kirk, in G. S. Kirk and J. E. Raven, The Presocratic philosophers(Cambridge, 1957), 163–181; A Lumpe,Die Philosophie des Xéenophanes von Kolophon(Munich, 1952); A. Rivier,” Remarques sur les fragments 34 et 35de Xenophane,” in Revue de philologie, 3rd ser. 30 (1956), 37–61; P. Steinmetz, “Xenophanesstudien” in Rheinisches Museum fur Philologie,109 (1966), 13–73; and M. Untersteiner, intro and commentart to his Senofane (see above).

AndrÉ Rivier

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Xenophanes

Xenophanes (zĕnŏf´ənēz), c.570–c.480 BC, pre-Socratic Greek philosopher of Colophon. Although thought by some to be the founder of the Eleatic school, his thought is only superficially similar to that of Parmenides. Xenophanes opposed the anthropomorphic representation of the gods common to the Greeks since Homer and Hesiod. Instead he asserted there is only one god, eternal and immutable but intimately connected with the world. Although interpretations of his thought vary, it was probably a form of pantheism. He was a singer of elegies, a poet, and a satirist who exhorted his hearers to virtue.

See G. S. Kirk and J. E. Raven, The Presocratic Philosophers (1957).

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Xenophanes of Colophon

Xenophanes of Colophon (c.560–478 bc) Travelling Greek poet and philosopher. Xenophanes proposed a version of pantheism, holding that all living creatures have a common natural origin. His work survives only in fragmentary form.

http://stanford.edu/entries/xenophanes

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Xenophanes

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