Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
83. Ethics of Herakleitos 85. The Poem

From Chapter IV., Parmenides of Elea

84. Life of Parmenides
PARMENIDES, son of Pyres, was a citizen of Hyele, Elea, or Velia, a colony founded in Oinotria by refugees from Phokaia in 540-39 B.C.1 Diogenes tells us that he "flourished" in Ol. LXIX. (504-500 B.C.), and this was doubtless the date given by Apollodoros.2 On the other hand, Plato says that Parmenides came to Athens in his sixty-fifth year, accompanied by Zeno, and conversed with Sokrates, who was then quite young. Now Sokrates was just over seventy when he was put to death in 399 B.C.; and therefore, if we suppose him to have been an ephebos, that is, from eighteen to twenty years old, at the time of his interview with Parmenides, we get 451-449 B.C. as the date of that event. It is quite uncritical to prefer the estimate of Apollodoros to Plato's express statement,3 especially as Parmenides himself speaks of visiting "all towns,"4 and we have independent evidence of the visit of Zeno to Athens, where Perikles is said to have [/170] "heard" him.5 The date given by Apollodoros depends solely on that of the foundation of Elea (540 B.C.), which he had adopted as the floruit of Xenophanes. Parmenides is born in that year, just as Zeno is born in the year when Parmenides "flourished." I do not understand how any one can attach importance to such combinations.

We have seen (§55) that Aristotle mentions a statement which made Parmenides a disciple of Xenophanes; but it is practically certain that the statement referred to is only Plato's humorous remark in the Sophist, which we have dealt with already.6 Xenophanes tells us himself that, in his ninety-second year, he was still wandering up and down (fr. 8). At that time Parmenides would be well advanced in life. And we must not overlook the statement of Sotion, preserved by Diogenes, that, though Parmenides "heard" Xenophanes, he did not "follow" him. He was really the "associate" of a Pythagorean, Ameinias, son of Diochaitas, "a poor but noble man to whom he afterwards built a shrine as to a hero." It was Ameinias and not Xenophanes that "converted" Parmenides to the philosophic life.7 This does not read like an invention. The shrine erected by Parmenides would still be there in later days, like the grave of Pythagoras at Metapontion, and would have a dedicatory inscription. It should also be mentioned that Strabo describes Parmenides and Zeno as Pythagoreans, and that Kebes talks of a "Parmenidean and Pythagorean way of life."8 It is certain, moreover, that the opening of the poem of Parmenides is an allegorical description of his conversion from some form of error to what he held to be the truth, and that it is thrown into the form of an Orphic apocalypse.9 That would be quite natural if he had been a Pythagorean in his early days, so we need not hesitate to accept the tradition that he had. As regards the relation of Parmenides to the Pythagorean system, we shall have something to say later. At present we need only note that, like most of the older philosophers, he took part in politics; and Speusippos recorded that he legislated for his native city. Others add that the magistrates of Elea made the citizens swear every year to abide by the laws Parmenides had given them.10

Burnet's Notes


1.Diog. ix. 21 (R. P. 111). For the foundation of Elea, see Herod. i. 165 sqq. It was on the coast of Lucania, south of Poseidonia (Paestum).

2. Diog. ix. 23 (R. P. 111). Cf. Diels, Rhein. Mus. xxxi. p. 34; and Jacoby, pp. 231 sqq.

3. Plato, Parm. 127 b (R. P. 111 d). Wilamowitz once said that there were no anachronisms in Plato, though he now (Platon, vol. i. p. 507) regards this statement as an "invention." I cannot agree. In the first place, we have exact figures as to the ages of Parmenides and Zeno, which imply that the latter was twenty-five years younger than the former, not forty as Apollodoros said. In the second place, Plato refers to this meeting in two other places (Theaet. 183 e7 and Soph. 217 c 5), which do not seem to be mere references to the dialogue entitled Parmenides.

4. Cf. p. 172, n. 1.

5. Plut. Per. 4, 3. See below, p. 311, n. 1.

6. See above, Chap. II. p. 127, n. 2.

7. Diog. ix. 21 (R. P. 111), reading Ἀμεινίᾳ Διοχαίτα with Diels (Hermes, xxxv. p. 197). Sotion, in his Successions, separated Parmenides from Xenophanes and associated him with the Pythagoreans (Dox. pp. 146, 148, 166). So Proclus in Parm. iv. 5 (Cousin), Ἐλεᾶται δ' ἄμφω (Parmenides and Zeno) καὶ οὐ τοῦτο μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τοῦ Πυθαγορικοῦ διδασκαλείου μεταλαβόντε, καθάπερ που καὶ Νικόμαχος ἱστόρησεν. Presumably this comes from Timaios.

8. Strabo, vi. 1, p. 252 (p. 171, n. 2) ; Ceb. Tab. 2 (R. P. 111 c). The statements of Strabo are of the greatest value; for they are based upon historians (especially Timaios) now lost.

9. We know too little of the apocalyptic poems of the sixth century B.C. to be sure of the details. All we can say is that Parmenides has taken the form of his poem from some such source. See Diels, "Über die poetischen Vorbilder des Parmenides" (Berl. Sitzb. 1896), and the Introduction to his Parmenides Lehrgedicht, pp. 9 sqq.

10. Diog. ix. 23 (R. P. 111). Plut. Adv. Col. 1226 a, Παρμενίδης δὲ τὴν ἑαυτοῦ πατρίδα διεκόσμησε νόμοις ἀρίστοις, ὥστε τὰς ἀρχὰς καθ' ἕκαστον ἐνιαυτὸν ἐξορκοῦν τοὺς πολίτας ἐμμενεῖν τοῖς Παρμενίδου νόμοις. Strabo, vi. 1, p. 252, (Ἐλέαν) ἐξ ἧς Παρμενίδης καὶ Ζήνων ἐγένοντο ἄνδρες Πυθαγόρειοι. δοκεῖ δέ μοι καὶ δι' ἐκείνους καὶ ἔτι πρότερον εὐνομηθῆναι. We can hardly doubt that this too comes from Timaios.

Created for Peithô's Web from Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, 3rd edition (1920). London: A & C Black Ltd. Burnet's footnotes have been converted to chapter endnotes. Greek unicode text entered with Peithô's Younicoder.
Web design by Larry Clark and RSBoyes (Agathon). Peithô's Web gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Anthony Beavers in the creation of this web edition of Burnet. Please send comments to:
agathon at classicpersuasion