Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
55. Life of Xenophanes 57. The Fragments

From Chapter II., Science and Religion

56. Poems
According to Diogenes, Xenophanes wrote in hexameters and also composed elegies and iambics against Homer and Hesiod.122 No good authority says anything of his having written a philosophical poem.123 Simplicius tells us he had never met with the verses about the earth stretching infinitely downwards (fr. 28),124 and this means that the Academy possessed no copy of such a poem, which would be very strange if it had ever existed. Simplicius was able to find the complete works of much smaller men. Nor does internal evidence lend any support to the view that Xenophanes wrote a philosophical poem. Diels refers about twenty-eight lines to it, but they would all come in quite as naturally in his attacks on Homer and Hesiod, as I have endeavoured to show. It is also significant that a number of them are derived from commentators on Homer.125 It is more probable, then, that Xenophanes expressed such scientific opinions as he had incidentally in his satires. That would be in the manner of the time, as we can see from the remains of Epicharmos.

The satires are called Silloi by late writers, and this name may go back to Xenophanes himself. It may, however, originate in the fact that Timon of Phleious, the "sillographer" (c. 259 B.C.), put much of his satire upon philosophers into the mouth of Xenophanes. Only one iambic line has been preserved, and that is immediately followed by a hexameter (fr. 14). This suggests that Xenophanes inserted iambic lines among his hexameters in the manner of the Margites.

Burnet's Notes


122. Diog. ix. 18 (R. P. 97) The word ἐπικόπτων is a reminiscence of Timon fr. 60 (Diels), Ξεινοφάνης ὑπάτυφος Ὁμηραπάτης ἐπικόπτης

123. The oldest reference to a poem Περὶ φύσεως is in the Geneva scholium on Il. xxi. 196 (quoting fr. 30), and this goes back to Krates of Mallos. We must remember that such titles are of later date, and Xenophanes had been given a place among philosophers long before the time of Krates. All we can say, therefore, is that the Pergamene librarians gave the title Περὶ φύσεως to some poem of Xenophanes.

124. Simpl. De caelo, p. 522, 7 (R. P. 97 b). It is true that two of our fragments (25 and 26) are preserved by Simplicius, but he got them from Alexander. Probably they were quoted by Theophrastos; for it is plain that Alexander had no first-hand knowledge of Xenophanes, or he would not have been taken in by M.X.G. (See p. 126.)

125. Three fragments (27, 31, 33) come from the Homeric Allegories, two (30, 32) are from Homeric scholia.

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