Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
60. Finite or Infinite 62. Monotheism or Polytheism

From Chapter II., Science and Religion

61. God and the World
In the passage of the Metaphysics just referred to, Aristotle speaks of Xenophanes as "the first partisan of the One,"152 and the context shows he means to suggest he was the first of the Eleatics. We have seen already that the certain facts of his life make it very unlikely that he settled at Elea and founded a school there, and it is probable that, as usual in such cases, Aristotle is simply reproducing certain statements of Plato. At any rate, Plato had spoken of the Eleatics as the "partisans of the Whole,"153 and he had also spoken of the school as "starting with Xenophanes and even earlier."154 The last words, however, show clearly what he meant. Just as he called the Herakleiteans "followers of Homer and still more ancient teachers,"155 so he attached the Eleatics to Xenophanes and still earlier authorities. We have seen before how these playful and ironical remarks of Plato were taken seriously by his successors, and we must not make too much of this fresh instance of Aristotelian literalness.

Aristotle goes on to tell us that Xenophanes, "referring to the whole world,156 said the One was god." This clearly alludes to frs. 23-26, where all human attributes are denied of a god who is said to be one and "the greatest among gods and men." It may be added that these verses gain much in point if we think of them as closely connected with frs. 11-16, instead of referring the one set of verses to the Satires and the other to a cosmological poem. It was probably in the same context that Xenophanes called the world or god "equal every way"157 and denied that it breathed.158 The statement that there is no mastership among the gods159 also goes very well with fr. 26. A god has no wants, nor is it fitting for one god to be the servant of others, like Iris and Hermes in Homer.

Burnet's Notes


152. Met. A, 5. 986 b 21 (R. P. 101), πρῶτος τούτων ἑνίσας. The verb ἑνίζειν occurs nowhere else, but is plainly formed on the analogy of μηδίζειν, φιλιππίζειν and the like.

153. Theaet. 181 a 6, τοῦ ὅλου στασιῶται. The noun στασιώτης has no other meaning than "partisan," and the context shows that this is what it means here. The derivation στασιώτας .. . ἀπὸ τῆς στάσεως appears first in Sext. Math. x. 46, where the term στασιῶται is incorrectly ascribed to Aristotle and supposed to mean those who made the universe stationary, an impossible interpretation.

154. Soph. 242 d 5 (R. P. 101 b). If the passage implies that Xenophanes settled at Elea, it equally implies this of his imaginary predecessors. But Elea was not founded till Xenophanes was in the prime of life.

155. Theaet. 179 a 3, τῶν Ἡρακλειτείων ἤ, ὥσπερ σὺ λέγεις, Ὁμηρείων καὶ ἔτι παλαιοτέρων. Here Homer stands to the Herakleiteans in just the same relation as Xenophanes does to the Eleatics in the Sophist. In just the same spirit, Epicharmos, the contemporary of Xenophanes, is mentioned, along with Homer, as a predecessor of the ῥέοντες (Theaet. 152 e).

156. Met. 986 b 24. The words cannot mean "gazing up at the whole heavens," or anything of that sort. They are taken as I take them by Bonitz (im Hinblicke auf den ganzen Himmel) and Zeller (im Hinblick auf das Weltganze). The word ἀποβλέπειν had become too colourless to mean more, and οὐρανός means what was later called κόσμος.

157. See above, p. 125, n. 1.

158. Diog. ix. 19 (R. P. 103 c), ὅλον δ' ὁρᾶν καὶ ὅλον ἀκούειν, μὴ μέντοι ἀναπνεῖν. See above, p. 108, n. 2.

159. [Plut.] Strom. fr. 4, ἀποφαίνεται δὲ καὶ περὶ θεῶν ὡς οὐδεμιᾶς ἡγεμονίας ἐν αὐτοῖς οὔσης· οὐ γὰρ ὅσιον δεσπόζεσθαί τινα τῶν θεῶν, ἐπιδεῖσθαί τε μηδενὸς αὐτῶν μηδένα μηδ' ὅλως, ἀκούειν δὲ καὶ ὁρᾶν καθόλου καὶ μὴ κατὰ μέρος.

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