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Xenophanes (c.570–c.478 BC)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A120-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved December 02, 2022, from

Article Summary

Xenophanes was a philosophically minded poet who lived in various cities of ancient Greece. He is best remembered for an early comment on the limits of knowledge, a critique of anthropomorphism in religion and an advance towards monotheism. The surviving fragments of his poems span a wide range of topics, from proper behaviour at symposia and the measures of personal excellence to the nature of the divine, the forces that rule nature and how much can be discovered by mortals concerning matters in either realm. Both Plato and Aristotle characterized him as the founder of Eleatic philosophy, a view echoed in the pseudo-Aristotelian treatise, On Melissus, Xenophanes and Gorgias, and in ancient doxographical summaries. But in many of his poems Xenophanes speaks as a civic counsellor and inquirer into nature in the tradition of the philosopher-scientists of Miletus. While his one, unmoving, whole and eternal divinity bears some resemblance to Parmenides’ ‘being’, in other teachings he anticipates the views of Heraclitus and Empedocles. His comments on divine perfection, the limited utility of the victorious athlete and the need to restrict poetic expression all foreshadow views expressed by Plato in the Republic.

Citing this article:
Lesher, J.H.. Xenophanes (c.570–c.478 BC), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-A120-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2022 Routledge.

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