Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
155. Life of Zeno 157. Dialectic

From Chapter VIII., The Younger Eleatics

156. Writings
Diogenes speaks of Zeno's "books," and Souidas gives some titles which probably come from the Alexandrian librarians through Hesychios of Miletos.7 In the Parmenides Plato makes Zeno say that the work by which he is best known was written in his youth and published against his will.8 As he is supposed to be forty years old at the time of the dialogue, this must mean that the book was written before 460 B.C., and it is very possible that he wrote others after it.9 If he wrote a work against the "philosophers," as Souidas says, that must mean the Pythagoreans, who, as we have seen, made use of the term in a sense of their own.10 The Disputations (Ἐρίδες) and the Treatise on Nature may, or may not, be the same as the book described in Plato's Parmenides.

It is not likely that Zeno wrote dialogues, though certain references in Aristotle have been supposed to imply this. In the Physics11 we hear of an argument of Zeno's, that any part of a heap of millet makes a sound, and Simplicius illustrates this by quoting a passage from a dialogue between Zeno and Protagoras.12 If our chronology is right, it is quite possible that they may have met; but it is most unlikely that Zeno should have made himself a personage in a dialogue of his own. That was a later fashion. In another place Aristotle refers to a passage where "the answerer and Zeno the questioner" occurred,13 a reference which is most easily to be understood in the same way. Alkidamas seems to have written a dialogue in which Gorgias figured,14 and the exposition of Zeno's arguments in dialogue form must always have been a tempting exercise.

Plato gives us a clear idea of what Zeno's youthful work was like. It contained more than one "discourse," and these discourses were subdivided into sections, each dealing with some one presupposition of his adversaries.15 We owe the preservation of Zeno's arguments on the one and many to Simplicius.16 Those relating to motion have been preserved by Aristotle;17 but he has restated them in his own language.

Burnet's Notes


7. Diog. ix. 26 (R. P. 130); Souidas s.v. (R. P. 130 d).

8. Plato, Parm. 128 d 6 (R. P. 130 d).

9. The most remarkable title given by Souidas is Ἐξήγησις τῶν Ἐμπεδοκλέους. Of course Zeno did not write a commentary on Empedokles, but Diels points out (Berl. Sitzb., 1884, p. 359) that polemics against philosophers were sometimes called ἐξηγήσεις. Cf. the Ἡρακλείτου ἐξηγήσεις of Herakleides Pontikos and especially his Πρὸς τὸν Δημόκριτον ἐξηγήσεις (Diog. v. 88).

10. See above, p. 278, n. 1. It hardly seems likely that a later writer would make Zeno argue πρὸς τοὺς φιλοσόφους, and the title given to the book at Alexandria must be based on something contained in it.

11. Arist. Phys. H, 5. 250 a 20 (R. P. 131 a).

13. Arist. Soph. El. 170 b 22 (R. P. 130 b).

14. Chap. V. p. 199, n. 5.

15. Plato, Parm. 127 d. Plato speaks of the first ὑπόθεσις of the first λόγος, which shows that the book was really divided into separate sections. Proclus (in loc.) says there were forty of these λόγοι altogether.

16. Simplicius expressly says in one place (p. 140, 30; R. P. 133) that he is quoting κατὰ λέξιν. I see no reason to doubt this, as the Academy would certainly have a copy of the work. In that case, the use of the Attic dialect by Zeno is significant.

17. Arist. Phys. Z, 9. 239 b 9 sqq.

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