2. Of ELEA (Velia), son of Teleutagoras, and favourite disciple of Parmenides.
He was with the latter in Athens about the 80th Olympiad, when Socrates was still very young.
At this time he was 40 years old, and consequently was born about the 70th Olympiad (D. L. 9.28
; Plut. Soph.
p. 217, Parm.
p. 127; comp. Theaet.
With this chronology we can easily reconcile the statements which assign, as the period when he flourished, the 78th Olympiad (Suid. s. v.
), the 79th (D. L. 9.29
), or the 80th (Euseb. Chron.
The statements that he unfolded his doctrines to men like Pericles and Callias for the price of 100 minae (Plat. Alcib.
i. p. 119; Olympiod. in Alcib.
p. 140, Kreuzer; Plut. Vit. Pericl.
100.4) indicate a rather long residence in Athens. Of a well-grown and graceful person (εὐμήκης καὶ χαριεὶς ἰδεῖν
), Zenon was the favourite (παιδικὰ
) of Parmenides, says Plato (Parm.
p. 127; comp. D. L. 9.25
), where he doubtless intends the word to be taken in the honourable sense (comp. Schol. in Plat. l.c.
), not, as his traducers thought (Athen. 11.505
), in a signification which must have redounded to his disgrace in the eyes of those whom he held in such high esteem.
The noblest spiritual love of Zenon for his teacher is shown in the way in which he devoted his whole energy to the defence of the doctrines of Parmenides.
He is also said to have taken part in the law-making (Speusippus in D. L. 9.23
) or law-mending (Strabo 6.1) of Parmenides, to the maintenance of which the citizens of Elea had pledged themselves every year by an oath (Plut. ad v. Col.
p. 1126 ; Strabo, l.c.
), and his love of legitimate freedom is shown by the courage with which he exposed his life in order to deliver his native country from a tyrant. (Plut. ad v. Col.
p. 1126, de Stoic. Repugn.
p. 105, de Garrulit.
p. 505; comp. D. L. 9.26
, &c.; Diodor. Exc.
p. 557, Wessel.) Whether he perished in the attempt, or survived the fall of the tyrant, is a point on which the authorities vary. They also state the name of the tyrant differently.
Unfortunately also the writings of Zenon perished earlier than those of Parmenides and Melissus. Even the indefatigable Simplicius had not succeeded in possessing himself of more than one of the treatises of the Eleatic philosopher, and even this he probably had before him only in extracts (Simpl. in Arist. Phys.
f. 30, a. b.).
In explaining the difficult passage of Aristotle respecting the mode in which Zenon demonstrated the inconceivableness of motion, he manifestly had not Zenon's own words before him. Alexander and Porphyrius in all probability were not even acquainted with what Simplicius quotes from the treatise of Zenon. (Simpl. l.c.
) But whether this was the youthful essay characterised in the Parmenides of Plato, in which, in order to defend his master's doctrine of the oneness of the existent, he had developed the contradictions involved in the presupposition of a multiplicity of the existent (Plat. Parm.
p. 128), we cannot determine. Simplicius like Plato characterises the treatise to which he referred as composed in prose, as a σύγγραμμα
, though still the dialogical form indicated by Plato, and the division of the treatise into different argumentations (λόγους
), each of which carried out different assumptions (ὑποθέσεις
; comp. Plat. Parm.
p. 127; Arist. Elench. Soph.
100.10 ; D. L. 3.47
), does not manifest itself; a mode of dealing with the subject which seems to have been the immediate occasion which led Aristotle to regard Zenon as the originator of dialectic. (D. L. 9.25
; comp. 8.57; Sext. Emp. ad v. Math.
7.6). Of other treatises of Zenon we only learn the titles : -- Discussions (ἔριδες
), Against the Natural Philosophers (πρὸς τοὺς φυσικούς
), On Nature (περὶ φύσεως
), Explanation of the poems of Empedocles (ἐξήγησις τῶν τοῦ Ἐμπεδοκλέους
, Suid. s. v.
), and must leave it undecided whether it was one of these, and if so, which of them is the treatise referred to by Plato in the Parmenides.
In another passage (Phaedr.
p. 26 ; comp. Parm.
p. 129) Plato manifestly speaks of him, not of the rhetorician Alcidamas, as Quintilian (Inst.
3.1) assumes, as the Eleatic Palamedes, whose art causes one and the same thing to appear both like and unlike, one and many, at rest and in motion.
The way in which Zenon undertook to show the merely relative validity of our assertions with regard to the phenomenal world, is shown partly by his expressions which Simplicius has preserved, according to which the multiplicity of phenomena must be set down as finite, because actual, and consequently determinate; and as infinite, because not made up of ultimate parts; and for that very reason as at the same time small and great; as, on the one hand, in being divided ad infinitum, it loses all magnitude, and on the other hand regains it through the infinitude of the number of the parts (the argument of the dichotomia, to which Aristotle refers, Phys. Ausc.
1.3. p. 187. 1, and which Porphyrius had improperly referred to Parmenides ; see Simplicius, l.c.
); partly by the question which he is said to have put to Protagoras, whether a measure of corn, falling down, makes a noise (ψοφεῖ
) in its fall, while a thousandth part of the measure, or a single grain, does not (Arist. Phys. Ausc.
7.5. p. 250. 9; Simpl. f. 255; Schol. in Arist. p. 423b. 40). On the infinite divisibility of space and time also was founded Zenon's arguments to disprove the reality of motion (Arist. Phys. Ausc.
6.9; comp. 100.1, 2; Simpl. f. 236, b ; Themist. f. 55, b. &c.; Schol. in Arist. p. 413 ; comp. D. L. 9.29
He endeavoured to show, 1. that on account of the infinite divisibility of the space to be passed through the motion cannot begin at all; 2. that for that same reason the creature which moves most slowly (the tortoise) could not be overtaken by the swiftest (Achilles) ; 3. that the moving body must at the same time be in motion, and also, inasmuch as it occupies space, at rest; 4. that one and the same space of time might, in different relations, be both long and short (comp. Bayle, Dict. Crit. s. v.
). Consequently, Zenon manifestly concluded, we nowhere find in the phenomenal world a really existing thing, remaining like itself; and consequently we nowhere find an actual thing; it distributes itself into a multiformity which has neither subsistence nor unity; for that which neither increases when added, nor diminishes when taken away, -- that is, the true, indivisible unity,--cannot become a phenomenon (Arist. Met.
B. 4. p. 1001b. 7. ib. Alex.; comp. Simpl. in Phys.
f. 21). Hence he asserted that he would explain what things are, if he had unity
given to him. (Eudem. in Simpl. f. 21. 6.) Whether, and in what way, he nevertheless admitted the theory of Empedocles as a hypothetical explanation of phenomena, cannot be ascertained with certainty from the scanty statements of Stobaeus (Ecl. Phys.
p. 60) and Diogenes Laertius (9.29).
The centre of gravity of his philosophy lies in the acuteness with which he unfolded the contradictions which are against the conceivableness of the fundamental ideas of experience, in so far as the world of experience is conceived as existent, i. e.
as actually real; and consequently laid down for all subsequent meta-physic the problems of which it has still to seek the solution.
It is easily comprehensible therefore that the sceptic Timon (D. L. 9.25
) regarded him with special preference.
Comp. Zénon d'Elée in Nouveaux Fragments philosophiques, by V. Cousin. Paris, 1828, p. 96-150)
[Ch. A. B.