6. Xenophanes
From Pre-Socratic Philosophers (1958)

Xenophanes, also from Ionia, probably left his native city of Colophon at the time of the Persian conquest in 545 B.C., He may then have been about twenty-five. The rest of his long life (he lived to be over ninety) was spent in the Greek cities of the West, mainly, it seems, in Sicily. He wrote in poetry and a considerable number of his verses have survived.

He seems to have been rather a critic of ideas than an original philosopher; but his criticism is important. It was concerned with both social and theological ideas and is much more typical of the active, practical spirit of Ionia than are the more mystical (though much more fruitful) views of Pythagoras.

We know from Pindar, a contemporary of Xenophanes, how strongly and beautifully developed was the cult of athletes in the Greek cities of Sicily and Italy. Victory in the Olympic Games was something which brought to the victor almost divine honours — the gods themselves, in the fine poetry written to commemorate these victories, are often given the qualities of athletes. Xenophanes applies both to the social and to the religious theory the keen edge of Ionian rationalism. "Our art," he says (by which he means scientific inquiry, economic and political efficiency) "is a great deal more useful than the strength of men and horses." It is the same view as that which we meet later in Aeschylus, who makes Prometheus declare that the future dispensation, the way of progress, is to be by means of intelligence rather than of brute force.

Most remarkable are Xenophanes' criticisms of the established mythological ideas of the gods. These attacks of his on anthropomorphism need no explanation. The fragments are from his Satires or Silloi and are quoted by Burnet.

1. Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the gods all things that are a shame and disgrace among mortals, stealings and adulteries and deceivings of one another.

2. But mortals deem that the gods are begotten as they are, and have clothes like theirs, and voice and form.

3. Yes, and if oxen and horses or lions had hands, and could paint with their hands, and produce works of art as men do, horses would paint the forms of the gods like horses, and oxen like oxen, and make their bodies in the image of their several kinds.

4. The Ethiopians make their gods black and snub-nosed; the Thracians say theirs have blue eyes and red hair.

Xenophanes' own views about the gods seem to have taken the form of a kind of pantheism. The relevant fragments are as follows:

5. One god, the greatest among gods and men, neither in form like unto mortals nor in thought. . . .

6. He sees all over, thinks all over, and hears all over.

7. But without toil he swayeth all things by the thought of his mind.

8. And he abideth ever in the selfsame place, moving not at all; nor doth it befit him to go about now hither now thither.

These fragments (5-8) seem to show merely a development of the thought expressed in the previous fragments (1-4). The full statement is something like this: "The stories of the gods told by Horace and Hesiod are both immoral and scientifically absurd. All that we know is the material universe and this, in its totality, is the only thing that can be called divine."

Later thinkers, and in particular Parmenides, made a philosophical system out of the idea of "the One." Xenophanes must be considered as an interesting and influential critic of established ideas rather than as the founder of any "school."

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