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Ξενοφάνης), of Colophon, was the son of Orthomenes, or according to others, of Dexius (D. L. 9.18, ib. Interp.). He was mentioned in the writings of Heracleitus and Epicharmus (ib. 9.1. &c; Arist. Met. 3.5. p. 1010. 6), and had himself made mention of Thales, Epimenides, and Pythagoras (D. L. 9.18, 1.111, 8.36), and is placed in connection with tire musician Lasus of Hermione in the time of the Athenian Hipparchus. (Plut. de vitioso pudore, p. 530.) On the other hand, his expression respecting Simonides (Schol. in Aristoph. Pac. 696 ; comp. S. Karsten, p. 81) is very doubtful. In a fragment of his elegies mention is made of the Median invasion as an event that took place in his time, by which we should probably understand the expedition of Harpagus against the Greek cities in Asia (Ol. 59), not the Persian invasion of Greece (Ol. 72 or 75; comp. Theol. Arithm. p. 40, and Cousin, Nouveaux Fragmens philosophiques, p. 12, &c). Yet the widely different significations of these lines may have given rise to the chronological statements of Apollodorus and Timaeus, the former of whom placed his birth (undoubtedly too early), in the 40th Olympiad, and made him live to the times of Dareius and Cyrus, while the latter made him a contemporary of Hiero (Ol. 75. 3) and Epicharmus (Clem. Al. Strom. i. p. 361; Sext. Emp. ad v. Math. 1.257). Other statements are still more uncertain (D. L. 9.18, 8.56, 20 ; Euseb. Chron. Ol. 60. 2. and 56. 4); but the first mentioned references are sufficient to fix the period when he flourished to between the 60th and 70th Olympiads. According to the fragments of one of his elegies (D. L. 9.19), he had left his native land at the age of 25, and had already lived 67 years in Hellas, when, at the age of 92, he composed that elegy. He left his native land as a fugitive or exile (ἐκπεσών), and betook himself to the Ionian colonies in Sicily, Zancle and Catana (D. L. 9.18). There can be no doubt that he, the founder of the Eleatic school (Plat. Soph. p. 224d.), lived at least for some time in Elea (Velia, founded by the Phocaeans in Ol. 61), the foundation of which he had sung (comp. Arist. Rhet. 2.23; D. L. 9.10).


Historical Poems

Besides this poem on the foundation of Elea, one on the building of Colophon is mentioned (ibid.), and a didactic poem, in like manner composed in the epic metre, which, as usual, was probably provided by later writers with the title " On Nature" (Stob. Ecl. Phys. 1.294; Pollux, 6.46), and was imitated by Empedocles (D. L. 8.56; comp. Plut. de Pyth. Orac. p. 402e).

Didactic Poems

Of the two historical poems only the titles have been preserved; of the didactic poem some not inconsiderable fragments (in S. Karsten, i.--xvi.), but unfortunately not such as to display the compass and foundation of the doctrines peculiar to him. He stands more clearly before us as an elegiac poet, and we can have no hesitation in placing him side by side with Mimnermus and other distinguished cultivators of this species of poetry. In his elegies also we see exhibited the direction of his mind towards investigation, and his earnest view of life. He derides in them the Pythagorean doctrine of the migration of souls (fr. xviii.); makes good the claims of wisdom in opposition to the excessive admiration of the bodily strength and activity by which the victory was gained in athletic games (fr. xix.); lashes the effeminate luxury of the Ionians, which they had imitated from the Lydians (fr. xx.); recommends that at cheerful banquets, moderation and noble deeds and the praise of virtue should be sung, not the contests of Titans, giants, and other worthless stories (fr. xxi.).

Dubiously ascribed work

Iambics and Silli

Iambics and Silli are also attributed to Xenophanes (Diog. Laert. l.c. ; Strabo xiv. p.643; Schol. in Aristoph. Equit. 406); the latter probably because Timon had introduced him as a speaker in his Silli, induced probably in the first instance by the ridicule with which the Colophonian had expressed himself respecting the doctrines of his predecessors.


As little can we regard Xenophanes as the author of parodies, which, according to the testimony of Aristotle (Aristot. Poet. 2, ib. Interp.) were first composed by Hegemon, a contemporary or Epicharmus. Besides, the hexameters which profess to be taken from the parodies of Xenophanes (Athen. 2.54e. fr. xvii.) do not at all bear the character of this species of poetry.

Tragic Poetry

Lastly, when he is called a tragic poet (τραγῳδοποιός in Euseb. Chron. l.c., unless we are to read ἐλεγειοποιός with J. Scaliger, or τραγῳδοποιος with Rossi) it can only be in the sense in which elegiac poetry generally was included under that name. We do not even feel inclined to refer the word, as S. Karsten does (p. 22, &c), to chorus-songs, the beginnings of tragedy.


How much Xenophanes lived in the midst of poetry, we see from the statement that he recited his poems in the manner of rhapsodies. (Ding. Laert. 9.18.)

As Originator of the Eleatic Doctrine

Xenophanes was universally regarded by antiquity as the originator of the Eleatic doctrine of the oneness of the universe. (Plat. Soph. p. 242 ; Arist. Met. 2.5.) At the same time, however, it is mentioned, in some cases with the quotation of verses of the Colophonian bearing upon the point, that he maintained, in the first instance, the unity of the Deity (Arist. Met. A, 5, p. 986b, 24 ; Timon. ap. Sext. Emp. Pyrrh, Hyp. 1.224, &c), and denied that the Deity was originated or perished (Arist. Rhet. 2.23, p. 1399b, 5. 1400, b, 5, de Xenoph. G. et M. 100.3; Stob. Ecl. Phys. p. 416; Plut. Plac. 2.4, &c); that he strenuously denounced the transference to the deity of the human form, and human sins and weaknesses (fr. i. vi.), and inveighed against Homer and Hesiod as the originators of godless myths (fr. vii.); and that he attributed to the Deity undivided activity (fr. ii.), and taught regarding it that without weariness it overcomes every thing by mind (φρενί, fr. iii.), free from motion in space (fr. iv.). That the Deity was in his view the animating power of the universe, is expressed by Aristotle (l.c. ; comp. Timon. ap. Sext. Emp. l.c.) in the words, that, directing his glance on the whole universe, he said, " God is the One." The outlines of the demonstration of Xenophanes are to be found in the little book which has come down to us, in a corrupted form, among the writings of Aristotle, De Xenophane, Gorgia et Melisso, 100.3, &c; for we are justified in attributing it to the Colophonian, not to Zeno, who is named in the heading of the section treating of it, or to some other philosopher unknown to us, by the testimony of Simplicius, who (in Arist. Phys. f. 6) without any important variation, refers it to him, and speaks of it as taken from Theophrastus, whether, as is likely, he had the little treatise before him, and regarded it as the work of Theophrastus, or as derived from a work of Theophrastus which has not come down to us. According to this demonstration, the Existent, which Xenophanes sets down as the same with the Deity, cannot have originated either out of like or out of unlike, whether the latter be regarded as stronger or weaker. Further, the Deity, inasmuch as his essence consists in ruling, must be one only, and neither finite nor infinite, neither moved nor unmoved. We are not induced to deny these conclusions to be those of Xenophanes, as does E. Zeller, who in part follows earlier writers (Philosophie der Griechen, i. p. 134, &c), either by the erroneous superscription, which is corrected by the testimony of Simplicius, or by a proposition, which is set down as belonging to Zeno, in the third section of the same book (100.5, p. 979. 22. b, 22), which in reality is different from the doctrine ascribed to Xenophanes (p. 977b, 3, 13, &c p. 979. 4), or by the dialectic development, with which it is pretended Xenophanes cannot be accredited, or by the apparent contradiction that the Deity is represented on the one hand as neither finite nor infinite. on the other (p. 977b, 1; comp. Simpl. l.c.) as bounded and spherical; on the one hand, as neither moved nor unmoved, on the other (fr. iv.) as freed from motion, nor by the statement of Aristotle (Metaph. A, 5. p. 926b, 18) that Xenophanes had not decided whether he regarded the One as limited or as unlimited. For to begin with the removal of the last difficulty,--the passage of Aristotle referred to only asserts that from the doctrine of Xenophanes it could not be concluded with certainty whether he had conceived of the Deity as ideal or as material, and to show this, he may have appealed to that antinomical attempt to exclude from the Deity the conditions of rest and motion, limitation, and infinity. To this attempt Xenophanes may have been induced by his endeavour (which exhibits itself unmistakeably in the fragments of his which have been preserved) to exalt the idea of the Deity above the region of anthropomorphic definitions. That he nevertheless found himself driven, in what at least seemed contradiction to this, to describe the self-complete Divine essence as shut up in itself and motionless, exhibits a wavering, not yet thoroughly formed tone of thought, for which indeed Aristotle finds fault with him (l.c. p. 986b, 26). We cannot admit again, that no trace of the original epic style is to be found in his conclusions and propositions. Such expressions as κρατεῖν ἀλλὰ μὴ κρατεῖσθαι (p. 977. 27, comp. 31, 38), οὔτι ἀτρεμεῖν οὔτι κινεῖσθαι (ib. 6, 16) show the contrary.

While, however, Xenophanes identified the existent with the Deity, and conceived of it as the basis of phenomena, he could not yet, like his successor Parmenides, who proceeded in a dialectic manner, hold the manifold, in opposition to the one existence, as non-existent (comp. Arist. de Xenoph. &c. 100.4, p. 977b., 24); and certainly his sceptical expressions (fr. xiv. xv.), which must have heightened Timon's preference for him, are not to be understood as Sextus Empiricus (Pyrrh. Hyp. 1.225) and others understood them, as though he had attributed certainty to the conviction of the unity and eternity of the divine essence, but probability only to the assumption respecting the plurality of gods and the world of phenomena. Of the scanty, and in part doubtful, statements respecting his mode of explaining the latter (see Brandis, Handbuch der Geschichte der Griech. Röm. Phil. vol. i. p. 373, &c) all that deserves mention here is his endeavour to establish that the surface of the earth had gradually risen out of the sea, by appealing to the shells and petrifactions of marine products found on mountains and in quarries (Orig. Philos. 100.4).


Respecting the life, doctrines, and fragments of Xenophanes, compare Fülleborn's essay; Xenophanes, in his Beiträge (i. p. 59, &c); C. A. Brandis, Comment. Eleat. pars prima (Altonae, 1813); Xenophane, Fondateur de l'Ecole d'Elée, by Victor Cousin, in his Nouveaux Fragments philosophiques, p. 9, &c; and especially Xenophanis Colophonii Carminum Reliquiae; de Vita ejus et Studiis disseruit, Fragmenta explicavit, Placita illustravit Simon Karsten, Bruxellis, 1830 (Philosophorum Graecorum Veterum Reliqu. vol. i. pars 1).

[Ch. A. B.]

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  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Aristotle, Poetics, 1448a
    • Diogenes Laertius, Vitae philosophorum, 9.10
    • Athenaeus, of Naucratis, Deipnosophistae, 2.54
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