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Cosmos of the Ancients

Comsos of the Ancients

The Greek Philosophers on Myth and Cosmology



Parmenides

P armenides (flourished c. 475 BC) may not have held any strong belief in the gods, certainly not in the anthropomorphic forms Homer and Hesiod had them appear. Instead he made allegorical interpretations of the myths, much like Theagenes had done in the century before, and Empedocles did in his own time.



       Still it was none other than the goddess Dike herself, who declared to him what grand mission he was to engage upon: "It is necessary that you shall learn all things, as well the unshaken heart of well-rounded truth as the opinions of mortals in which there is no true belief."

       Tradition has it that he was a student of Xenophanes, although not much of their ideas match, and others have said that he was connected to the Pythagoreans, being partly more near his ways of reasoning through mathematical deduction.


Parmenides


       Following his own reasoning, the gods must somehow exist, because people are able to imagine them, since he claimed: "For you could not know that which does not exist (because it is impossible) nor could you express it." The nature of being and non-being is the center of his attention, to the extent of pure agitation: "It is necessary to say and to think Being; for there is Being, but nothing is not. These things I order you to ponder." Mortals are confused on this point, he claims, a confusion that may very well be impossible to straighten out:

       They are carried deaf and blind at the same time, amazed, a horde incapable of judgement, by whom to be and not to be are considered the same and yet not the same, for whom the path of all things is backward-turning.

       The mythology and beliefs of his fellow men must to Parmenides have been a striking evidence of this, since the absurdities of the gods and their doings already before his days had been revealed.

       This also led him to a firm cosmological view, where what is must always have been, since it cannot have come out of non-being: "Thus it is necessary to exist all in all or not at all." Therefore, when he talked about the ether and the "pure torch of the resplendent sun" coming into being, he must have been referring to a process of change, and not any kind of creatio ex nihilo. This is implied by his saying that the earth, sun and moon, the ether, the stars and the outermost Olympus "strove eagerly to come into being." Just as being and non-being is a pair of opposites, he saw such dynamic counterparts making up the processes of the cosmos - from the pair of Light and Night which equally fill all things, to that of man and woman. But there is a one, not herself the counterpart to anyone or anything, who governs these dynamics:

       In the middle of these is the goddess who governs all things. For everywhere she is the beginner of union and of painful birth, sending the female to unite with the male and again to the contrary the male with the female.

       She is also the one to have "devised Eros as the very first of all gods."

       Where the sun is splendid in the mind of Parmenides, he states about the moon that its light is but a reflection of that of the sun: "Wandering around the earth shining in the night with a borrowed light." About the earth he may have been the first to express the opinion that it is spherical, though not in those actual fragments of his texts remaining.


Literature

Tarán, Leonardo, Parmenides: A Text with Translation, Commentary, and Critical Essays, Princeton 1965.


© Stefan Stenudd 2000



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The Greek Philosophers.

The Greek Philosophers


Introduction
Thales
Anaximander
Anaximenes
Pherecydes of Syros
Pythagoras
Xenophanes
Theagenes
Hecataeus
Heraclitus
Pindar
Parmenides
Anaxagoras
Empedocles
Herodotus
Gorgias
Melissus
Protagoras
Euripides
Prodicus of Ceos
Leucippus
Democritus
Critias
Antisthenes
Diagoras of Melos
Plato
Aristotle
Epicurus
Euhemerus
Table of the Greek Philosophers
Literature
The book


Aristotle

Aristotle


Aristotle's Life
Timeline
Aristotle's Poetics
Aristotle's Cosmology


Cosmos of the Ancients, by Stefan Stenudd.

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