Xenophanes
Overview
 
Xenophanes of Colophon (Ancient Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

: ksenopʰánɛːs ho kolopʰɔ̌ːnios, English: z; c.570 – c.475 BC) was a Greek
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 philosopher, theologian, poet
Poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

, and social and religious critic
Critic
A critic is anyone who expresses a value judgement. Informally, criticism is a common aspect of all human expression and need not necessarily imply skilled or accurate expressions of judgement. Critical judgements, good or bad, may be positive , negative , or balanced...

. Xenophanes life was one of travel, having left Ionia at the age of 25 he continued to travel throughout the Greek world for another 67 years.
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
Xenophanes of Colophon (Ancient Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

: ksenopʰánɛːs ho kolopʰɔ̌ːnios, English: z; c.570 – c.475 BC) was a Greek
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 philosopher, theologian, poet
Poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

, and social and religious critic
Critic
A critic is anyone who expresses a value judgement. Informally, criticism is a common aspect of all human expression and need not necessarily imply skilled or accurate expressions of judgement. Critical judgements, good or bad, may be positive , negative , or balanced...

. Xenophanes life was one of travel, having left Ionia at the age of 25 he continued to travel throughout the Greek world for another 67 years. Some scholars say he lived in exile in Siciliy. Knowledge of his views comes from fragments of his poetry, surviving as quotations by later Greek writers. To judge from these, his elegiac
Elegiac
Elegiac refers either to those compositions that are like elegies or to a specific poetic meter used in Classical elegies. The Classical elegiac meter has two lines, making it a couplet: a line of dactylic hexameter, followed by a line of dactylic pentameter...

 and iambic poetry criticized and satirized
Satire
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

 a wide range of ideas, including Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

 and Hesiod
Hesiod
Hesiod was a Greek oral poet generally thought by scholars to have been active between 750 and 650 BC, around the same time as Homer. His is the first European poetry in which the poet regards himself as a topic, an individual with a distinctive role to play. Ancient authors credited him and...

, the belief in the pantheon
Pantheon (gods)
A pantheon is a set of all the gods of a particular polytheistic religion or mythology.Max Weber's 1922 opus, Economy and Society discusses the link between a...

 of anthropomorphic gods
Deity
A deity is a recognized preternatural or supernatural immortal being, who may be thought of as holy, divine, or sacred, held in high regard, and respected by believers....

 and the Greeks' veneration of athleticism. He is the earliest Greek poet who claims explicitly to be writing for future generations, creating "fame that will reach all of Greece, and never die while the Greek kind of songs survives."

Theology

Xenophanes' surviving writings display a skepticism that became more commonly expressed during the fourth century. He cleverly satirized the polytheistic beliefs of earlier Greek poets and of his own contemporaries: "Homer and Hesiod" one fragment states, "have attributed to the gods all sorts of things that are matters of reproach and censure among men: theft, adultery, and mutual deception." Sextus Empiricus
Sextus Empiricus
Sextus Empiricus , was a physician and philosopher, and has been variously reported to have lived in Alexandria, Rome, or Athens. His philosophical work is the most complete surviving account of ancient Greek and Roman skepticism....

 reported that such observations were appreciated by Christian apologists. Xenophanes is quoted, memorably, in Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria
Titus Flavius Clemens , known as Clement of Alexandria , was a Christian theologian and the head of the noted Catechetical School of Alexandria. Clement is best remembered as the teacher of Origen...

, arguing against the conception of gods as fundamentally anthropomorphic:
But if cattle and horses and lions had hands
or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do,
horses like horses and cattle like cattle
also would depict the gods' shapes and make their bodies
of such a sort as the form they themselves have.
...
Ethiopians say that their gods are snub–nosed [σιμούς] and black
Thracians
Thracians
The ancient Thracians were a group of Indo-European tribes inhabiting areas including Thrace in Southeastern Europe. They spoke the Thracian language – a scarcely attested branch of the Indo-European language family...

 that they are pale and red-haired.

Other passages quoted by Clement of Alexandria that argue against the traditional Greek conception of gods include:
  1. "One god, greatest among gods and humans,
    like mortals neither in form nor in thought."
  2. Two "But mortals think that the gods are born
    and have the mortals' own clothes and voice and form"


Regarding Xenophanes' theology five key concepts about God can be formed. God is: beyond human morality, does not resemble human form, cannot die or be born (God is divine thus eternal), no divine hierarchy exists, and God does not intervene in human affairs. While Xenophanes is rejecting Homeric theology, he is not questioning the presence of a divine entity, rather his philosophy is a critique on Ancient Greek writers and their conception of divinity There is also the concept of God being whole with the universe, essentially controlling it, while at the same time being physically unconnected. It would seem, however, that this notion of God being intertwined with the universe contradicts Xenophanes' physical philosophy.

Xenophanes espoused a belief that "God
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

 is one, supreme among gods and men, and not like mortals in body or in mind." He maintained there was one greatest God. God is one eternal being, spherical in form, comprehending all things within himself, is intelligent, and moves all things, but bears no resemblance to human nature either in body or mind. He is considered by some to be a precursor to Parmenides
Parmenides
Parmenides of Elea was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the southern coast of Italy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides...

 and Spinoza
Baruch Spinoza
Baruch de Spinoza and later Benedict de Spinoza was a Dutch Jewish philosopher. Revealing considerable scientific aptitude, the breadth and importance of Spinoza's work was not fully realized until years after his death...

. Because of his development of the concept of a "one god
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

 greatest among gods and men" that is abstract, universal, unchanging, immobile and always present, Xenophanes is often seen as one of the first monotheists
Monotheism
Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one and only one god. Monotheism is characteristic of the Baha'i Faith, Christianity, Druzism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Samaritanism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.While they profess the existence of only one deity, monotheistic religions may still...

, in the Western
Western world
The Western world, also known as the West and the Occident , is a term referring to the countries of Western Europe , the countries of the Americas, as well all countries of Northern and Central Europe, Australia and New Zealand...

 philosophy of religion
Religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

, though this vision is disputed.

Physical Ideas

Xenophanes wrote about two extremes predominating the world: wet and dry (water and earth). These two extreme states would alternate between one another and with the alteration human life would become extinct then regenerate (or vise versa depending on the dominant form). The idea of alternating states and human life perishing and coming back suggests he believed in the principle of causation; another distinguishing step that Xenophanes takes from Ancient philosophical traditions to ones based more on scientific observation. The argument can be considered a rebuke to Anaixmenes' air theory. A detailed account of the wet and dry form theory is found in Hippolytus' Refutation.

Xenophanes concluded from his examination of fossil
Fossil
Fossils are the preserved remains or traces of animals , plants, and other organisms from the remote past...

s that water
Water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

 once must have covered all of the Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

's surface. The use of evidence is an important step in advancing from simply stating an idea to one being back up by evidence and observation.

Knowing

Xenophanes is credited with being one of the first philosophers to distinguish between true belief and knowledge, which he further developed into the prospect that you can know something but not really know it. If the statement seems unclear, that's because it is. Due to the lack of whole works by Xenophanes a lot of meaning is lost and a whole lot of guessing is at hand, so that the implication of knowing being something deeper ("a clearer truth") may have special implications or it just may mean that you can't know something just by looking at it. It is known that the most and widest variety of evidence was considered by Xenophanes to be the surest way to prove a theory.
His epistemology, which is still influential today, held that there actually exists a truth
Truth
Truth has a variety of meanings, such as the state of being in accord with fact or reality. It can also mean having fidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal. In a common usage, it also means constancy or sincerity in action or character...

 of reality
Reality
In philosophy, reality is the state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or might be imagined. In a wider definition, reality includes everything that is and has been, whether or not it is observable or comprehensible...

, but that humans as mortals are unable to know it. Karl Popper
Karl Popper
Sir Karl Raimund Popper, CH FRS FBA was an Austro-British philosopher and a professor at the London School of Economics...

 read Xenophanes as saying that it is possible to act only on the basis of working hypotheses—we may act as if we knew the truth, as long as we know that this is extremely unlikely. Xenophanes' views then might serve as a basis of Critical rationalism
Critical rationalism
Critical rationalism is an epistemological philosophy advanced by Karl Popper. Popper wrote about critical rationalism in his works, The Open Society and its Enemies Volume 2, and Conjectures and Refutations.- Criticism, not support :...

.

In today's philosophical and classics discourse, Xenophanes is seen as one of the most important presocratic philosophers. It had also been common since antiquity to see him as the teacher of Zeno of Elea
Zeno of Elea
Zeno of Elea was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher of southern Italy and a member of the Eleatic School founded by Parmenides. Aristotle called him the inventor of the dialectic. He is best known for his paradoxes, which Bertrand Russell has described as "immeasurably subtle and profound".- Life...

, the colleague of Parmenides
Parmenides
Parmenides of Elea was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the southern coast of Italy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides...

, and generally associated with the Eleatic school, but common opinion today is likewise that this is false (see Lesher, p. 102).

There is one fragment dealing with the management of a feast, another which denounces the exaggerated importance attached to athletic victories, and several which deny the humanized gods of Homer. Arguments such as these made Xenophanes infamous for his attacks on "conventional military and athletic virtues of the time" and well known to side with the intellectual instead.

Editions

  • E. Zeller
    Eduard Zeller
    Eduard Gottlob Zeller , was a German philosopher and theologian of the Tübingen School of theology.- Life :Eduard Zeller was born at Kleinbottwar in Württemberg, and educated at the University of Tübingen and under the influence of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel...

    , Die Philosophie der Griechen, 1st Volume, p. 378-395, Tübingen, 1856
  • A. Fairbanks, The First Philosophers of Greece, p. 65-85, New York, 1898 (cf. Hanover Historical Texts)
  • H. Diels and W. Kranz (eds.), Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, pp. 38–58, 1st Edition, Berlin, 1903 (6th Ed. is considered standard work and reprinted unaltered; much superior to Kirk/Raven)
  • G. S. Kirk
    Geoffrey Kirk
    Geoffrey Stephen Kirk DSC, FBA was a British classical scholar, known for his books on Ancient Greek literature and mythology.-Life:...

    , J. E. Raven
    John Raven
    John Earle Raven , who published as J. E. Raven, was an English classical scholar, notable for his work on presocratic philosophy, and amateur botanist.-Early life and education:...

    , and M. Schofield, The Presocratic Philosophers, Chapter 5, 2nd Edition, Cambridge, 1983
  • M. R. Wright, The Presocratics - the main fragments in Greek, Bistrol, 1985 (cf. Xenophanes of Colophon by Giannis Stamatellos)
  • B. Gentili and C. Prato (eds.), Poetarum Elegiacorum Testimonia et Fragmenta 1, Leipzig 1988 (best Greek text available)
  • J.H. Lesher (ed.), Xenophanes. Fragments, Toronto 1992 (best English edition and translation)

Further reading

  • J. Lesher, Presocratic Contributions to the Theory of Knowledge, 1998
  • U. De Young, "The Homeric Gods and Xenophanes' Opposing Theory of the Divine", 2000
  • W. Drechsler and R. Kattel, "Mensch und Gott bei Xenophanes", in: M. Witte, ed., Gott und Mensch im Dialog. Festschrift für Otto Kaiser zum 80. Geburtstag, Berlin – New York 2004, 111-129
  • H. Fränkel, "Xenophanesstudien", Hermes 60 (1925), 174-192
  • E. Heitsch, Xenophanes und die Anfänge kritischen Denkens. Mainzer Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, Abh. d. Geistes- und Sozialwiss. Kl., 1994, H. 7
  • W. Jaeger
    Werner Jaeger
    Werner Wilhelm Jaeger was a classicist of the 20th century.Jaeger was born in Lobberich, Rhenish Prussia. He attended school at Lobberich and at the Gymnasium Thomaeum in Kempen Jaeger studied at the University of Marburg and University of Berlin. He received a Ph.D...

    , The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers, Gifford Lectures 1936, repr. Westport, Ct. 1980
  • K. Jaspers
    Karl Jaspers
    Karl Theodor Jaspers was a German psychiatrist and philosopher who had a strong influence on modern theology, psychiatry and philosophy. After being trained in and practicing psychiatry, Jaspers turned to philosophical inquiry and attempted to discover an innovative philosophical system...

    , The Great Philosophers 3, New York etc. 1993
  • R. Kattel, "The Political Philosophy of Xenophanes of Colophon", Trames 1(51/46) (1997), 125-142
  • O. Kaiser, "Der eine Gott und die Götter der Welt", in: Zwischen Athen und Jerursalem. Studien zur griechischen und biblischen Theologie, ihrer Eigenart und ihrem Verhältnis, Berlin - New York 2003, 135-152
  • K. Ziegler, "Xenophanes von Kolophon, ein Revolutionär des Geistes", Gymmasium 72 (1965), 289-302

External links

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