Ancient History & Civilisation


Parmenides of Elea is the first Presocratic philosopher of whose work we have substantial fragments, which allow us not just to know some of his conclusions, but also, and importantly, to see that he argued for these conclusions (see T1), and how he did so.1However, there are still severe limitations on the evidence. For reasons that will become obvious, scholars divide his poem, after the prologue (which we have in its entirety) into the ‘Way of Truth’ (more accurately this should be the way to truth, or to reality) and the ‘Way of Appearance’. Although we have a considerable amount of the Way of Truth, we have little of the Way of Appearance, and are again reduced to relying on a few late testimonia. A critical question, the relation between the two halves of the poem, thus remains almost entirely a matter of speculation. A second difficulty is that there are a few serious textual problems. And thirdly, there is the obscurity of Parmenides’ thought. Nevertheless, he remains probably the single most important Presocratic thinker and one of the most interesting philosophers of the Western world. After Parmenides, Presocratic thought could not remain the same, since subsequent thinkers felt they had to respond to the challenge he offered to all scientific thought; and the resolution of certain logical difficulties he raised sharpened the thought of both Plato and Aristotle. And all this from a man who wrote poetry of a Homeric kind and saw himself, as the prologue (F1) clearly shows, as much a shaman or a mystic as a philosopher, making a spiritual and philosophical journey just as Homer’s Odysseus had travelled the known world. For many people nowadays, the categories of rational and extra-rational thought are distinct, but this was clearly not the case for Parmenides (or Empedocles).

The prologue (F1) is clearly designed to set Parmenides apart from the majority of the human race, as a man of knowledge. Since ancient times it has often been interpreted as a journey into the clear light of knowledge, to enlightenment, but closer attention reveals that Parmenides starts in the upper world and is taken to the underworld, which was traditionally the place of the roots of night and day, and of the daily birthplace of the sun. Thus his maiden charioteers, the daughters of the Sun, have left a place of darkness and come up to the light to fetch Parmenides, and to take him back to their abode to meet an unnamed goddess;2 so too the goddess hastens to tell Parmenides that it is no ‘ill fate’ (F1 l. 26) that has brought him to her domain, where ‘ill fate’ is a common phrase for ‘death’. This is what entitles us to think of him as a shaman of some kind. However, a number of scholars prefer to see the prologue as a mere literary device.

In devilishly obscure terms, and prosaic and somewhat tortured verse, F3–7 lay out the heart of Parmenides’ extraordinary philosophy. In F3 the goddess offers a choice between two ‘ways’. Since one is immediately called impossible and unthinkable, we are obviously supposed to approve and follow the other: ‘that (or how) it is and it cannot not be’ Parmenides does not describe the way as ‘the way that states that it is’: that it is is the name of the way (hence my use of italics, to attempt to communicate this identity), and it leads to truth or reality. It is, literally, a ‘way of thinking’ about the world, and there are two such ways of thinking, only one of which is possible and truly informative. Only if we assume that it is will we understand reality.

What is this ‘it’? No subject is ever specified, except simply ‘what can be spoken and thought of’ (F4, F5 l. 1), so it is safest to assume that the subject is anything at all: anything we care to think about either is or is not, and we are encouraged to think that it is, since what-is-not is nothing. What does it mean to say that it ‘is’? It could mean that it exists, or that it is really the case, or that it is something—that we can predicate things of it. Parmenides makes no distinction between these various senses of ‘is’, and it is not clear that we should either. Perhaps he meant all of them, or as many of them as are appropriate in any given context. So, for instance, in F5 and at F8 ll. 5–21 the existential meaning is generally predominant; but in certain contexts one might think that the predicative sense of ‘is’ is uppermost, according to which to say ‘it is’ is to say ‘it is … ‘where the ellipsis is filled with a predicate or predicates.3 The predicative sense in its turn shades into what is known as the ‘veridical’ sense, because surely it is only if X is F (if some attribute F can be predicated of X) that we can identify X as something real. Note that we need not necessarily conclude that Parmenides was confused about all these possible meanings of ‘is’: he may, as I suggested, unpack ‘is’ in different ways in different contexts.

The end of F3, F4 (which in fact fits metrically immediately after the end of F3, and almost certainly belongs there), the beginning of F5, and F6 all tie together ‘being’ and ‘being thought of’ (or perhaps ‘being ascertained’). Parmenides cannot mean, literally, that thinking and being are identical, but that they are co-extensive: thinking is thinking of a thing as it is. Here ‘being’ cannot be existential, because we can easily think of things that do not exist, such as unicorns and the King of Australia. But it is true that we can know something and think of it only if it has some attribute or attributes. And, on the veridical sense of being, we can only ever know something that is the case. The Greek word Parmenides used for ‘thinking’ carries connotations of ‘recognition’, with the consequent implication that what you think of is something out there to be recognized, not a fanciful object such as a unicorn or the King of Australia. Parmenides was a dialectician, leading his audience on to further conclusions: having gained our acceptance to the obvious fact that we cannot think of or know an attributeless entity, on the basis of this agreement, gained on one sense of ‘being’, he will go on, in F7 and F8 to try to force our agreement to other conclusions, gained on the existential sense of ‘being’.

In various ways, F3, F5, and F7 make further claims about the prohibited way of enquiry,4 showing how completely unacceptable and impossible it is by outlining the difficulties encountered by those who attempt per impossibile to take it. The most thorough such description is that of F5, where the way is said to be that of ‘two-headed mortals’ and to ‘turn back on itself’. Interpretations of what Parmenides means us to understand by this way differ, of course; but if we assume, as seems reasonable, that the mortals of this way are the same as the mortals whose opinions are reflected in the ‘Way of Appearance’, the second half of the poem, then the problem with the way is one of polar thinking, of seeing things in terms of opposites, as ‘F and not-F’. So mortals are ‘two-headed’, Janus-like figures, looking both forward and backwards, because although they appear to be saying ‘is’ about something, it turns out that what they are saying about it might just as well be ‘is not’. Puzzlingly, people on this way are described as both identifying and not identifying being and not being. Perhaps what is meant is that they identify being and not being, because, on the evidence of the senses, they say both ‘X is …’ and ‘X is not …’, where the ellipses are filled with different predicates; and they do not identify being and not-being precisely because the predicates with which they fill the ellipses are different. It is the way of mortals—the way of most of us—because it unthinkingly relies on the senses and accepts as real phenomena such as birth and perishing, which imply both that a thing is and that it is not, as Parmenides will shortly argue.

The opening line of F7 is radically ambiguous. On the one hand, it could be taken to outlaw sentences of the form ‘X is not F’ in favour of those of the form ‘X is F’. But this is unlikely, and not least because Parmenides himself constantly makes use of sentences of this form, saying that what-is is not born, not divisible, and so on. On the other hand, then, it could more plausibly be taken to be a corollary of the denial of generation that is about to be argued in F8 ll. 5–21, where Parmenides denies that anything can come into existence from something that does not exist.5 Given a state of non-existence, we cannot explain a state of existence, since we have no way of moving from the one to the other. Since, by definition, what-is-not has no properties, it has no properties that could be taken to explain the generation of what-is. This, I suppose, is why at the beginning of F5 Parmenides appears (astonishingly) to deduce ‘what-is must be’ from ‘what-is can be’; in fact, for him, the two propositions are more or less identical, since there could not possibly be anything other than what can be.

In the opening lines of F8 (which followed immediately on from F7), the goddess claims to be able to prove that what-is is ‘unborn and imperishable, | Entire, alone of its kind [i.e. unique], unshaken, and complete [or perfect]’. This programme is then carried out very systematically in what follows: F8 ll. 5–21 argue that what-is is unborn and imperishable; ll.22–5 argue that it is indivisible (i.e. entire and unique); ll. 26–31 argue that it is unchanging (‘unshaken’); and ll. 32–49 that it is complete. Although at the start of the philosophical section of the poem it seemed as though the subject of ‘is’ was unrestricted, anything we could think about, by the end of F8 Parmenides has argued that following through the logic of just ‘it is’ reduces everything to an unchanging singularity, so that the only possible subject of ‘is’ is just this singularity, and nothing else.6 Thus, at a stroke, Parmenides repudiated all the attempts of his predecessors to explain phenomena such as creation and change, and set up a severe challenge to those scientist-philosophers who came after him. As Colotes appears to have claimed (see T2), Parmenides seems to have argued away the real existence of the phenomenal world altogether. The typical pattern of the argument of these sections of F8 is that Parmenides starts with his conclusion, and then proceeds to support the conclusion in a series of premisses linked by ‘for’. His arguments are startling and brilliant in their boldness, but scholars still argue in minute detail about every single line and word within them.

First, creation must take place either from what-is or from what-is-not. In a ‘neither … nor’ dilemma, F8 ll. 7–11 eliminate the latter possibility (on the grounds that there is no such thing as what-is-not, and that change from what-is-not is absurd),7 and then ll. 12–13 eliminate the former possibility (on the ground that there can be no extra ‘what-is’ for ‘what-is’ to be created from). What-is exists in an unbroken continuum, from the infinite past and into the infinite future (ll. 5–6),8 and so there can be no creation in the past or future. Parmenides does not argue for what-is being imperishable, but allows us to infer that, mutatis mutandis, the same arguments eliminate perishing too.

F8 ll. 22–5 then argue that what-is must be a singularity, continuous in both space and time (see also F6.1–2): there are no gaps of not being in what-is. F8 ll. 26–31 argue that it is unchanging. Although Parmenides’ words here make it sound as though physical change is his primary target, a more generous view would regard the ‘limits’ which constrain what-is not as spatial limits (an awkward concept for Parmenides, for what would lie beyond the limits?), but as limits of possibility, such that what-is cannot be other than what it is, in space, time, or intensity. Thus all kinds of change are eliminated—both local motion and qualitative change.

F8 ll. 32–49 (with a recapitulatory digression at ll. 35–41) argue that, since what-is is unchanging in space and time, it is complete and perfect. At ll. 42–4 Parmenides could be taken to be saying that what-is is spherical. This cannot be his meaning, since it would naturally lead to the question: ‘What, then, lies outside the sphere?’9 In short, he likens what-is to a sphere in order to communicate the idea of its self-identity—its equiformity and equally dispersed intensity. A sphere is the only body that is the same from whatever direction you look at it, inside or outside.10Meanwhile, the digression at ll. 35–41 argues that, if there is only a singularity, there is no reality to all the different names we give things, since there is in reality no plurality of things.

After this astonishing tour de force it is strange, and even somewhat disappointing, to be taken abruptly into the domain of Presocratic cosmogony, presented as an abstract analysis of what ‘mortals’ already believe. F5 forbade effectively the kind of thinking the goddess now goes on to explicate. The reason the goddess gives for going on to explain cosmology and cosmogony is to prevent Parmenides ever being outdone by other thinkers; he must have at his grasp the best cosmology, but armed with the Way of Truth he will also be able to see through this and any cosmology. It is the best cosmology to deal with the illusory world of change, if one were to take it as real (see also the difficult and obscure F1 ll. 31–2), but in reality there are no such things—or at any rate, no suchknowable things—as change, creation, destruction, and so on. The cosmology is an accurate description of things as they appear to be, but it is deceptive because it purports to be a description of reality. As F12 suggests, things such as creation and destruction are all just conventional names, and when we stop ‘nourishing’ them—that is, giving them the force of currency—they will die out. In the mean time, perhaps, the validity of the cosmology of the Way of Appearance should be tested, sceptically, by examining it (and any other attempt at cosmology) against the truths of the Way of Truth.

When the goddess tells us that what is true is that there is just the singularity, we should perhaps not think so much that this is an ontological truth—that the singularity is all that exists—as an epistemological truth: there is only one true way to understand the world. After all, the prologue to the whole poem establishes Parmenides’ quest as an epistemological one. The mistake ‘mortals’ make is to think they can know the world of the senses. Somehow, underlying the world of the senses (whose evidence Parmenides of course altogether distrusts), there is the real world of unchanging singularity. The singularity is the physical world viewed by reason rather than the senses (as Aristotle saw, T5). This distinction between two worlds, or between a right and a wrong way of viewing the one world, was to prove very influential on Plato. However, as T3 suggests, Aristotle saw no such radical split between two worlds, and found Parmenides’ two ways perfectly reconcilable: somehow the cosmogony of light and night was to explain the creation of the singularity. So elsewhere (T5) Aristotle suggests that Parmenides identified fire/light with what-is, and night/dark with what-is-not.11 In this context it is crucial to look back to the prologue (F1), where Parmenides’ vision of unity and singularity was granted to him in a realm that transcends the polarity of light and dark, symbolized by his passing through the gates of day and night.

The details of Parmenides’ cosmogony are somewhat obscure, though our main evidence (T8, F13) is coherent enough if taken at face value. Even by Plato’s time, however, as T6 shows, Parmenides was famous as the spokesman for singularity, and the second half of his poem was overlooked. At any rate, it seems that there are two factors or stuffs, called light (or fire, or flame) and darkness (or earth, or night), which are complete opposites, with opposite characteristics (hot/cold, rare/dense, light/heavy) (F8 ll. 50–9;T4). In contrast to the singularity of the first part of F8, light and darkness exist only relative to each other. Light and darkness are very close to being true elements; they form the whole world, perhaps by means of the processes of separation and combination (T2, T7), and were used to explain all celestial phenomena (F9–11). The sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies occupied ‘rings’ surrounding the earth (like those of Anaximander?), which presumably carried them round at different rates.12But more than this we cannot say, except that, as F15 and F16 show, Parmenides recognized that the moon derived its light from the sun. Later sources also say that he was the first to recognize the identity of the morning and evening star, but they do not say whether he recognized it as a planet (T9). Even these discoveries are remarkable from a thinker whose chief intention was utterly to repudiate the world of the senses. T10 attributes another remarkable innovation to Parmenides, but we need not think that Parmenides based the division of the earth into zones on precise astronomical measurement, rather than on his usual foundation of hot and cold.

There is some evidence (F14) that Parmenides postulated a goddess, Love, as the prime force of cosmic creation,13 as well as of animal procreation (F13 ll. 3–6; see also, perhaps, T8); but as F14 shows, there was already a prior female deity of some kind (on whom see n. 2 above). Parmenides went into procreation to a certain extent (F17, T11), claiming that male embryos lay on the warmer right of the uterus, females on the colder left; and may also have discussed other physiological issues. Note the consistency with which he makes use of his two primary factors, light and night. Finally, F18 is a fascinating and tantalizing glimpse of a theory of mind-body interaction (or perhaps of a materialist theory of mind),14more fully spelled out by Theophrastus who preserves the fragment in a discussion of Parmenides’ views about sense-perception and related phenomena. Theophrastus seems to deduce from Parmenides’ obscure lines the notion (somewhat in anticipation of Empedocles’ theory of perception) that of the two elements in the body, hot and cold, the hot perceives the hot in the world, and the cold perceives the cold.

T1 (DK 28A28; C t36) For Parmenides would not agree with anything unless it seemed necessary, whereas his predecessors used to come up with unsubstantiated assertions. (Eudemus [fr. 11 Wehrli] in Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s ‘Physics’, CAG IX, 116.2–4 Diels)

F1 (DK 28B1; KRS 288, 301; C 1)

My carriage was drawn by the mares which carry me to the limits

Of my heart’s desire; they took me and set me on the renowned way

Of the deity, which takes a man of knowledge unharmed through all.

There I rode, for there the much-prompted mares were carrying me,

Straining at the carriage, and maidens were guiding my way. 5

The axle in its naves screeched like a pipe and glowed red-hot,

For the two wheels on either side were whirling and urging it on,

Thanks to the haste with which the maiden daughters of the Sun

Drove the carriage, having left the abode of night and entered the light.

They pushed the veils off their heads with their hands.* 10

There stand the gates of the paths of night and day,

And a lintel and threshold of stone enclose them round about.

The gates are of aither and they fill the huge frame of the gate,

And vengeful Justice controls the alternating locks.*

The maidens spoke soft and beguiling words to Lady Justice, 15

And cunningly persuaded her to take the pin quickly out of the lock

And pull it away from the gates for them; the gates opened wide,

Creating a yawning gap through the frame, as one and then the other

Turned in their sockets the bronze pivots which were fastened to them

With nails and rivets. Then the maidens steered the carriage 20

And the horses straight through the gates and down the road.

The goddess received me kindly. Taking in her hand my right hand

She spoke and addressed me with these words: ‘Young man,

You have reached my abode as the companion of immortal charioteers

And of the mares which carry you. You are welcome. 25

It was no ill fate that prompted you to travel this way,

Which is indeed far from mortal men, beyond their beaten paths;

No, it was Right and Justice. You must learn everything—

Both the steady heart of well-rounded truth,

And the beliefs of mortals, in which there is no true trust. 30

Still, you shall learn them too, and come to see how beliefs

Must exist in an acceptable form, all-pervasive as they altogether are.’*

(pieced together from: Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors
7.111 Bury; and Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s ‘On the Heavens’, CAG VII, 557.25–558.2 Heiberg)

F2 (DK 28B5; KRS 289; C 2)

‘The point from which I start Is common; for there shall I return again.’

(Proclus, Commentary on Plato’s ‘Parmenides’ 708.15–16 Cousin)

F3 (DK 28B2; KRS 291; C 3)

‘Come then, I will tell you—and do you for your part listen to my tale

And pass it on—of those ways of seeking which alone can be thought of.

There is the way that it is and it cannot not be:

This is the path of Trust, for Truth attends it.

Then there is the way that it is not and that it must not be: 5

This, as I show you, is an altogether misguided route.

For you may not know what-is-not—there is no end to it*

Nor may you tell of it.’

(pieced together from: Proclus, Commentary on Plato’s ‘Timaeus’ 1.345 Diehl; and Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s ‘Physics’, CAG IX, 116.28–117.1 Diels)

F4 (DK 28B3; KRS 292; C 4)

‘For the same thing both can be thought and can be.’*

(Clement, Miscellanies 6.23.3 Stählin/Früchtel)

F5 (DK 28B6: KRS 293; C 5)

‘It must be that what can be spoken and thought is, for it is there for being

And there is no such thing as nothing. These are the guidelines I suggest for you.

For I shall start my exposition to you first with this way of seeking,

And then go on to the one on which mortals, knowing nothing,

Stray two-headed; for confusion in their breasts 5

Leads astray their thinking. On this way they journey

Deaf and blind, bewildered, indecisive herds,

In whose thinking being and not being are the same

And yet not the same. For all of them the path turns back on itself.’*

(pieced together from Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s ‘Physics’, CAG IX, 86.27–8 and 117.4–13 Diels)

F6 (DK 28B4; KRS 313; C 6)

‘By thinking gaze unshaken on things which, though absent, are present,*

For thinking will not sever what-is from clinging to what-is,

Whether it is scattered at random everywhere throughout my composition,

Or whether it comes together.’*

(Clement, Miscellanies 5.15.5 Stählin/Früchtel)

F7 (DK 28B7; KRS 294; C 7)

‘For never shall this be overcome, so that things-that-are-not are; You should restrain your thinking from this way of seeking. And do not let habit compel you, along this well-tried path, To wield the aimless eye and noise-filled ear and tongue, But use reason to come to a decision on the contentious test I have announced.’

(pieced together from: Plato, Sophist 237a8–9 Duke et al.; and Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors 7.114.37–41 Bury)

F8 (DK 28B8; KRS 295, 296, 297, 298, 299, 300, 302; C 8)

‘Now only the one tale remains

Of the way that it is. On this way there are very many signs

Indicating that what-is is unborn and imperishable,

Entire, alone of its kind, unshaken, and complete.

It was not once nor will it be, since it is now, all together, 5

Single, and continuous. For what birth could you seek for it?

How and from what did it grow? Neither will I allow you to say

Or to think that it grew from what-is-not, for that it is not

Cannot be spoken or thought. Also, what need could have impelled it

To arise later or sooner, if it sprang from an origin in nothing? 10

And so it should either entirely be, or not be at all.

Nor ever will the power of trust allow that from what-is

It becomes something other than itself. That is why Justice has not freed it,

Relaxing the grip of her fetters, either to be born or to perish;

No, she holds it fast. The decision on these matters depends on this: 15

It is or it is not. And it has been decided, as was necessary,

To leave the one way unthought and nameless, as no real way,

And that the other truly is a way and is truth-bearing.

And how could what-is be hereafter? How could it have been?

If it came to be, it is not, and likewise if it will be some time in the future. 20

Thus birth has been extinguished and perishing made inconceivable.

Nor can it be divided, since all alike it is. Nor is there

More of it here and an inferior amount of it elsewhere,

Which would restrain it from cohering, but it is all full of what-is.

And so it is all coherent, for what-is is in contact with what-is.* 25

Now, changeless within the limits of great bonds,

It is without beginning and without end, since birth and perishing

Have been driven far off, and true trust has cast them away.

It stays in the same state and in the same place, lying by itself,

And so it stays firmly as it is, for mighty Necessity 30

Holds it in the bonds of a limit which restrains it all about,

Because it is not lawful for what-is to be incomplete.

For there is no lack in it; if there were, it would lack everything.

The same thing both can be thought and is that which enables thinking.

For you will not find thinking apart from what-is, on which it depends 35

For its expression. For apart from what-is nothing else

Either is or will be, since what-is is what Fate bound

To be entire and changeless. Therefore all those things which mortal men,

Trusting in their true reality, have proposed, are no more than names –

Both birth and perishing, both being and not being, 40

Change of place, and alteration of bright colouring.

Now, since there is a last limit, what-is is complete,

From every side like the body of a well-rounded sphere,

Everywhere of equal intensity from the centre. For it must not be

Somewhat greater in one part and somewhat smaller in another. 45

For, first, there is no such thing as what-is-not, to stop what-is

From joining up with itself; and, second, it is impossible for what-is

To be more here and less there than what-is, since it all inviolably is.

For from every direction it is equal to itself, and meets with limits.

Here I end what I have to tell you of trustworthy arguments 50

And thinking about reality. From this point onward, learn

Mortal beliefs, listening to words which, though composed, will be lies. *

For they proposed in their minds to name two forms,

One of which should not be named;* this is where they went wrong.

They selected things oppositely configured and attributed to them features 55

Distinct from one another—to the one form the bright fire of flame,

Which is gentle, very light, and in every way the same as itself,

But not the same as the other. This too is self-consistent

In the opposite manner, as impenetrable night, a dense and heavy body.

I tell you this way of composing things in all its plausibility, 60

So that never shall any mortal man outstrip you in judgement.’

(pieced together from Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s ‘Physics’, CAG IX, 145.1–146.25 and 38.30–39.9 Diels)

T2 (DK 28B10; KRS 304; C t113) Actually, Parmenides has not done away with fire and water and crags and the settlements of Europe and Asia, as Colotes says, because he has composed a cosmology as well, and he produces the whole phenomenal world out of and as a result of the combination of his elements, the bright and the dark. He has a great deal to say about the earth, the heavens, the sun, moon, and heavenly bodies; he has an account of the creation of the human race; and in the true fashion of a scientist of old who is developing his own theory, rather than criticizing someone else’s, he covers every issue of importance. (Plutarch, Against Colotes 1114b7-c5 Einarson/de Lacy)

T3 (DK 28A25; C t20) Some of them [earlier philosophers] did away with generation and destruction altogether, on the grounds that nothing that is is generated or destroyed, but only seems to us to be generated or destroyed. This is the view of Melissus, Parmenides, and so on. Even if basically they argue well, we have to regard their arguments as not relevant to science as such, since the existence of things which are not liable to generation or to change in general is more properly a question dealt with by a different discipline, not natural science, but a prior form of study. However, because they assumed the existence of nothing other than what is accessible to the senses, and because they were the first to appreciate that there must be unchanging entities, if recognition and knowledge are to exist, they transferred arguments proper to the higher form of study from there on to sensible things. (Aristotle, On the Heavens 298b14–24 Allan)

T4 (c t22) That the opposites are principles is agreed by everyone, including those who say that the universe is single and unchanging: even Parmenides regards hot and cold—or fire and earth, as he calls them—as principles. (Aristotle, Physics 188a19–22 Ross)

T5 (DK 28A24; C t26) Parmenides seems to speak with somewhat more insight [than Xenophanes and Melissus] in arguing that what-is-not is nothing—that there is nothing apart from what-is; he necessarily thinks, then, that being is single and that nothing else exists; I have gone into this in more detail in my Physics. But since he is forced to be guided by appearances, he assumes that the one exists from the viewpoint of reason, but that a plurality exists from the viewpoint of the senses, and therefore, in a volte-face, posits two causes and two first principles, hot and cold, by which he means, for example, fire and earth. Of these he ranks the hot with what-is and the other with what-is-not. (Aristotle, Metaphysics 986b27–987a2 Ross)

T6 (DK 28B8; C t6) [Socrates speaking] But I was in danger of forgetting the other side to the controversy, Theodorus, the assertion that ‘Unique and unchanging is that for which, as a whole, there is the name “to be”’,* and all the other propositions which people like Melissus and Parmenides maintain and which contradict the former theory [of perpetual flux and change]—that all is one, and that this oneness is fixed within itself, having no space in which to change or move. (Plato, Theaetetus 180d7-e4 Duke et al.)

T7 (DK 28A35; C t33) Since, they say,* it is the nature of the hot to separate and of the cold to combine, and since it is the nature of each of the other bodies to act and be acted upon, they say that everything else is both generated and destroyed out of and because of these factors. (Aristotle, On Generation and Destruction 336a3–6 Joachim)

F9 (DK 28B10; KRS 305; C 9)

‘You shall know the nature of the aither, and all the signs in the aither;*

You shall know the baneful deeds of the immaculate torch

That is the brilliant sun; and you shall know the origins of all these things.

You will come to understand the wanderings of the round-faced moon

And her nature; you will comprehend also the enclosing heaven, 5

And know from where it came and how necessity bound it

To hold the limits of the stars.’

(Clement, Miscellanies 5.138.1 Stählin/Früchtel)

F10 (DK 28B11; C 10)

‘How earth and sun and moon,

How the aither, shared by all, the Milky Way, the outermost heaven,

And the hot force of the stars, all strove to come into existence.’

(Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s ‘On the Heavens’, CAG VII, 559.22–5 Heiberg)

F11 (DK 28B9; KRS 303; C 11)

‘Now, since light and night have been given all names

And been predicated of this and that in accordance with their powers,

Everything is full of light and dark night at once,

And of both equally, since neither of them contains what-is-not.’

(Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s ‘Physics’, CAG IX, 180.9–12 Diels)

F12 (DK 28B19; KRS 312; C 20)

‘And so these things came into being thanks to belief, and are now,

And in time to come will end when their nourishment is complete.

Men proposed names for each thing, to distinguish them.’

(Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s ‘On the Heavens’, CAG VII, 558.9–11 Heiberg)

F13 (DK 28B12; KRS 306; C 12)

‘The narrower ones* became filled with unadulterated fire,

And subsequent ones with night, and a portion of flame permeates them;

Between these is the goddess who controls all things,

Since for all things she initiated vile intercourse and childbirth,

Sending female to join with male and again conversely 5

Male with female.’

(pieced together from Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s ‘Physics’, CAG IX, 31.13–17 and 39.14–16 Diels)

F14 (DK 28B13; C 13)

‘The very first of all the gods she devised was Love.’

(Plato, Symposium 178b11 Burnet)

T8 (DK 28A37; KRS 307; C t61) Parmenides said that there are rings wound round each other, one made out of the rare and one out of the dense, and that there are other rings between the rare and the dense ones which are a mixture of light and dark.* He said that what surrounds them all is solid, like a wall, and that under it is a fiery ring; and also that what lies in the centre of them all is also solid, and that around it is another fiery ring. Of the mixed rings, the one that lies closest to the centre is the principle and cause of movement and generation for them all, and he called it the divine helmswoman and the key-holder, Justice and Necessity. And he said that air is a secretion from the earth which is emitted as vapour as a result of the earth’s more powerful felting.* He said that the sun is an exhalation of fire, and so is the circle of the Milky Way; that the moon is a mixture of both air and fire; that the aither is the outermost region, surrounding everything, that under it is located the fiery region we call heaven, and that under this finally are located the regions that surround the earth. (Aëtius, Opinions 2.7.1 Diels)

F15 (DK 28B14; KRS 308; C 14)

‘An alien light wandering around the earth, shining in the night.’

(Plutarch, Against Colotes 1116a6 Einarson/de Lacy)

F16 (DK 28 B15; C 15)

‘With gaze always fixed on the rays of the sun.’

(Plutarch, On the Face on the Moon 929b1 Cherniss)

T9 (DK 28A40a; C t65) Parmenides was the first to locate the Morning Star (which was considered by him to be identical to the Evening Star) in the heavenly fire, after which came the sun, according to him. Under the sun came the heavenly bodies in the fiery region, which is what he calls the heaven. (Aëtius, Opinions 2.25.7 Diels)

T10 (C t99) Posidonius says that Parmenides was the originator of the division into five zones, but that he had made the breadth of the torrid zone almost double its correct size, until the area between the tropics extended beyond both tropics and ended near the temperate zones. (Posidonius [fr. 49 Edelstein/Kidd] in Strabo, Geography–5 Meineke)

F17 (DK 28B17; KRS 309; C 18, t125) But others too among the ancients claimed that a male embryo is conceived in the right part of the womb. So, for instance, Parmenides says: ‘Boys on the right, girls on the left.’ (Galen, Commentary on Hippocrates’ ‘Epidemics’ 2.46.19–22 Wenkebach/Pfaff)

T11 (DK 28A52; C t34) Parmenides and a few others, for instance, claim that women are warmer than men, and say that it is because of their warmth and the abundance of their blood that menstruation occurs. (Aristotle, On the Parts of Animals 648a29–31 Bekker)

F18 (DK 28A46, B16; KRS 311; C 17, t45) Broadly speaking, there are two schools of thought concerning sense perception: some attribute it to similarity, others to opposition. Parmenides, Empedocles, and Plato attribute it to similarity, Anaxagoras and Heraclitus to opposition … On the whole, Parmenides did not go into this [the operation of each of the five senses] with any clarity, but only said that there were two elements and that knowledge is due to one of them being in excess of the other. For our thinking, he says, becomes different depending on whether the hot or the cold is predominant. Moreover, he claims that the kind of thinking that is caused by the hot is better and more pure. However, even this kind of thinking needs a certain adaptation, as he says:

‘For thinking comes† to men according to the condition which the blend† Of the much-straying body is in at any moment. For it is the same thing That the constitution of the human body thinks, In each and every man. For the full is what is thought.’

For he treats perception and intellectual activity as the same, and that is why he says that remembering and forgetting are also due to the same factors and occur as a result of the physical blend in us. But he fails to explain whether, if they were equally mixed, intellectual activity would or would not occur, or what the general condition of the person would be like. And that he also attributes perception to opposition in itself is clear when he says that because of its lack of fire a corpse does not perceive light and warmth and sound, but does perceive their opposites, such as cold and silence. And at the general level he says that everything that exists has knowledge to a certain extent. (Theophrastus, On the Senses 1.1–4.9 Stratton)

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