The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers

By Werner Jaeger | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
XENOPHANES' DOCTRINE OF GOD

THE ancients distinguished two schools of Greek philosophy,1 one in Ionia, the other in Italy, and thought of the Italian school as including Xenophanes, Pythagoras, and Parmenides. This geographical classification is not altogether unjustified, but it is rather superficial. It is true that these men lived in southern Italy and Sicily and evidently devoted considerable energy to coming to terms socially and intellectually with their environment, as we shall have occasion to point out later in connexion with Pythagoras and Parmenides. But the mere fact that Italy was the region of their chief activity tells us nothing about their real intellectual antecedence, which was determined far more by their ancestral background. Xenophanes came from Colophon on the coast of Asia Minor, Pythagoras from Samos: both were emigrants. The former left his native city after its conquest by the Medes; the latter left Samos to escape the tyranny of Polycrates. Elea, the southern Italian home of Parmenides, was a colony newly founded by refugees from Asia Minor who had abandoned their homes for the same reasons as Xenophanes, and whose exodus to Italy was the subject of an epic by Xenophanes himself. Whether Parmenides was one of these emigrants or a son of emigrant stock, is of little importance. In any case, he is intellectually a child of Ionia like the rest. All three men are obviously in close contact with the Ionian philosophy of nature, and carry its ideas forward in various directions.

Xenophanes is the first Greek thinker whom we can know as a personality. The human contours of the older natural philosophers have either vanished behind the monuments of their intellectual achievements or survived only in anecdotes. The comparative intimacy of our acquaintance with Xenophanes is directly connected with the fact that he was no such original thinker as they, though his influence was of inestimable value in the dissemination of their philosophy. His struggle on behalf of philosophy brought him fame; and in those of his poems which have come down to us, he is always an impassioned warrior in this cause. By his time Greek poetry had long since become an instrument by which the poet could publicize any

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