Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
61. God and the World 63. Life of Herakleitos

From Chapter II., Science and Religion

62. Monotheism or Polytheism
That this "god" is just the world, Aristotle tells us, and the use of the word θεός is quite in accordance with Ionian usage. Xenophanes regarded it as sentient, though without any special organs of sense, and it sways all things by the thought of its mind. He also calls it "one god," and, if that is monotheism, then Xenophanes was a monotheist, though this is surely not how the word is generally understood. The fact is that the expression "one god" wakens all sorts of associations in our mind which did not exist for the Greeks of this time. What Xenophanes is really concerned to deny is the existence of any gods in the proper sense, and the words "One god" mean "No god but the world."160

It is certainly wrong, then, to say with Freudenthal that Xenophanes was in any sense a polytheist.161 That he should use the language of polytheism in his elegies is only what we should expect, and the other references to "gods" can be best explained as incidental to his attack on the anthropomorphic gods of Homer and Hesiod. In one case, Freudenthal has pressed a proverbial way of speaking too hard.162 Least of all can we admit that Xenophanes allowed the existence of subordinate or departmental gods; for it was just the existence of such that he was chiefly concerned to deny. At the same time, I cannot help thinking that Freudenthal was more nearly right than Wilamowitz, who says that Xenophanes "upheld the only real monotheism that has ever existed upon earth."163 Diels, I fancy, comes nearer the mark when he calls it a "somewhat narrow pantheism."164 But all these views would have surprised Xenophanes himself about equally. He was really Goethe's Weltkind, with prophets to right and left of him, and he would have smiled if he had known that one day he was to be regarded as a theologian.

Burnet's Notes


160. The fact that he speaks of the world as living and sentient makes no difference. No Greek ever doubted that the world was in some sense a ζῷων.

161. Freudenthal, Die Theologie des Xenophanes (Breslau, 1886).

162. Xenophanes calls his god "greatest among gods and men," but this is simply a case of "polar expression," to which parallels will be found in Wilamowitz's note to Euripides' Herakles, v. 1106 Cf. especially the statement of Herakleitos (fr. 20) that "no one of gods or men" made the world.

163. Griechische Literatur, p. 38.

164. Parmenides Lehrgedicht, p. 9.

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