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Chapter 2. XENOPHANES1 (570-478 B.C.)

[18] Xenophanes, a native of Colophon, the son of Dexius, or, according to Apollodorus, of Orthomenes, is praised by Timon, whose words at all events are :

Xenophanes, not over-proud, perverter of Homer, castigator.

He was banished from his native city and lived at Zancle in Sicily [and having joined the colony planted at Elea taught there]. He also lived in Catana. According to some he was no man's pupil, according to others he was a pupil of Boton of Athens,2 or, as some say, of Archelaus. Sotion makes him a contemporary of Anaximander. His writings are in epic metre, as well as elegiacs and iambics attacking Hesiod and Homer and denouncing what they said about the gods. Furthermore he used to recite his own poems. It is stated that he opposed the views of Thales and Pythagoras, and attacked Epimenides also. He lived to a very great age, as his own words somewhere testify3 :

[19] Seven and sixty are now the years that have been tossing my cares up and down the land of Greece ; and there were then twenty and five years more from my birth up, if I know how to speak truly about these things.

He holds that there are four elements of existent things, and worlds unlimited in number but not overlapping [in time]. Clouds are formed when the vapour from the sun is carried upwards and lifts them into the surrounding air. The substance of God is spherical, in no way resembling man. He is all eye and all ear, but does not breathe ; he is the totality of mind and thought, and is eternal. Xenophanes was the first to declare that everything which comes into being is doomed to perish, and that the soul is breath.4

[20] He also said that the mass of things falls short of thought ; and again that our encounters with tyrants should be as few, or else as pleasant, as possible. When Empedocles remarked to him that it is impossible to find a wise man, "Naturally," he replied, "for it takes a wise man to recognize a wise man." Sotion says that he was the first to maintain that all things are incognizable, but Sotion is in error.5

One of his poems is The Founding of Colophon, and another The Settlement of a Colony at Elea in Italy, making 2000 lines in all. He flourished about the 60th Olympiad.6 That he buried his sons with his own hands like Anaxagoras7 is stated by Demetrius of Phalerum in his work On Old Age and by Panaetius the Stoic in his book Of Cheerfulness. He is believed to have been sold into slavery by [... and to have been set free by] the Pythagoreans Parmeniscus and Orestades : so Favorinus in the first book of his Memorabilia. There was also another Xenophanes, of Lesbos, an iambic poet.

Such were the "sporadic" philosophers.

1 Diels (Dox. Gr. p. 140) compares Hippolytus, Ref. Haer. i. 14. 1 ; Plutarch, Strom. 4 ; Aëtius, i. 3. 12, ii. 4. 11, ii. 20. 3, iii. 9. 4, ii. 24. 9, i. 3. 12, iii. 16. 5, ultimately from Theophrastus, Phys. Opin. Fr. 5, Fr. 16.

2 Possibly the same Boton who taught Theramenes rhetoric. If so, D. L. (or his authority) may have transferred to Xenophanes an excerpt intended for Xenophon. See the note of Diels, Fr. d. Vors., on 11 A 1 (Xenophanes)

3 Fr. 8 D.

4 Presumably followed by Epicharmus when he wrote

εὐσεβὴ ς νόῳ πεφυκὼς οὐ πάθοις κ᾽ οὐδὲν κακὸν κατθαν ών: ἄνω τὸ πνεῦμα διαμεν εῖ κατ᾽ οὐρανό ν.

(Fr. 22, ap. Clem. Strom. iv. 170, p. 640 P.)

5 It would be rash to infer from this single notice, that Sotion, considering Xenophanes a Sceptic, did not derive him from the Pythagoreans through Telauges.

6 540-537 b.c.

7 ii. 13.

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  • Cross-references to this page (3):
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), CA´TANA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), VELIA
    • Smith's Bio, Hermodo'rus
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