From Chapter IV., Parmenides of Elea
84. Life of Parmenides
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
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
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.
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