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Xenophanes

570-475 BC

Xenophanes was a philosopher born in Colophon, Greece. When he was about twenty-five years old he left home and became a wandering rhapsodist. Xenophanes made his living this way, reciting his poems in public until he was at least ninety-two years old. Unlike most philosophers, Xenophanes wrote hexameters and elegiac like a poet. He is known as the father of satire for his criticism of traditional religious beliefs.

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Xenophanes stood for religious reform. He believed that the traditional tales of the poets were directly responsible for the moral corruption of the time. He said that, "Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the gods all things that are a shame and disgrace among mortal, stealing and adulteries and deceiving of another." (fr. 11) He sharply criticized the widely accepted polytheism of the humanized gods in the Theogany of Hesiod and Homer.

Xenophanes' philosophy outlines two major beliefs. On the nature of deity, he was a pantheist believing that God is One. His theology was more a rejection of polytheism than an attempt at developing an abstract conception of deity. His beliefs were intellectual objections to the widely accepted traditions. No evidence suggests that he regarded God with any religious feeling.

Tradition portrayed gods to have human characteristics, but he wouldn't accept this as truth. If God is in no way human, it follows that he [God] holds complete power, complete knowledge, and moral goodness. God never toils intellectually; his mind's power is unlimited. He said that God, "always remains in the same place, moving not at all, and it is not proper for him to change position from time to time." [1] Xenophanes, as a wanderer, must have longed for this sort of stability and rest.

Xenophanes held a sober belief regarding the nature of knowledge. He believed that the whole is unintelligible. This means that even if we could know the real truth, we would not be aware of it, and we would be unable to communicate it. In his Fragments, he denies the possibility of absolute and objective knowledge. In essence, only guessing is possible for man. He concludes his writings saying, "Here then let these Opinions stand- in resemblance to the reality." [2]


Notes

[1]. Freeman, Kathleen, The Pre-Socratic Philosophers, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959), p. 96.

[2]. ibid, p. 97.


Bibliography

Freeman, Kathleen, The Pre-Socratic Philosophers, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959).

Guthrie, W. K. C., F. B. A., A History of Greek Philosophy, V. 1, (London: Cambridge University Press, 1971).


Edited by: Erica E. Olson
Researched by: Nathan L. Seldomridge
Written by: Jill E. Luckow
October 28, 1996

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