Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
90. The Beliefs of "Mortals" 92. The Heavenly Bodies

From Chapter IV., Parmenides of Elea

91. The Dualist Cosmology
The view that the Second Part of the poem of Parmenides was a sketch of contemporary Pythagorean cosmology is, doubtless, incapable of rigorous demonstration, but it can be made extremely probable. The entire history of Pythagoreanism up to the end of the fifth century B.C. is certainly conjectural; but, if we find in Parmenides ideas wholly unconnected with his own view of the world, and if we find precisely the same ideas in later Pythagoreanism, the most natural inference will be that the later Pythagoreans derived these views from their predecessors, and that they formed part of the original stock-in-trade of the society. This will be confirmed if we find that they are developments of certain features in the old Ionian cosmology. Pythagoras came from Samos, and it was not, so far as we can see, in his cosmological views that he chiefly displayed originality. It has been pointed out (§ 53) that the idea of the world breathing came from Anaximenes, and we need not be surprised to find traces of Anaximander too. Now, if we were confined to what Aristotle tells us on this subject, it would be hard to make out a case; but his statements require, as usual, to be examined with care. He says, first of all, that the two elements of Parmenides were the Warm and the Cold.40 In this he is so far justified by the fragments that, since the Fire of which Parmenides speaks is, of course, warm, the other "form," which has all the opposite qualities, must of necessity be cold. Here, then, we have the traditional "opposites" of the Milesians. Aristotle's identification of these with Fire and Earth is, however, misleading, though Theophrastos followed him in it.41 Simplicius, who had the poem before him (§ 85), after mentioning Fire and Earth, at once adds "or rather Light and Darkness";42 and this is suggestive. Lastly, Aristotle's identification of the dense element with "what is not,"43 the unreal of the First Part of the poem, is not easy to reconcile with the view that it is earth. On the other hand, if we suppose that the second of the two "forms," the one which should not have been " named," is the Pythagorean Air or Void, we get a very good explanation of Aristotle's identification of it with "what is not." We seem, then, to be justified in neglecting the identification of the dense element with earth for the present. At a later stage, we shall be able to see how it may have originated.44 The further statement of Theophrastos, that the Warm was the efficient cause and the Cold the material or passive,45 is not, of course, to be regarded as historical.

We have seen that Simplicius, with the poem of Parmenides before him, corrects Aristotle by substituting Light and Darkness for Fire and Earth, and he is amply borne out by the fragments he quotes. Parmenides himself calls one "form" Light, Flame, and Fire, and the other Night, and we have now to consider whether these can be identified with the Pythagorean Limit and Unlimited. We have seen good reason to believe (§ 5-8) that the idea of the world breathing belonged to the earliest form of Pythagoreanism, and there can be no difficulty in identifying this "boundless breath" with Darkness, which stands very well for the [/187] Unlimited. "Air" or mist was always regarded as the dark element.46 And that which gives definiteness to the vague darkness is certainly light or fire, and this may account for the prominence given to that element by Hippasos.47 We may probably conclude, then, that the Pythagorean distinction between the Limit and the Unlimited, which we shall have to consider later (Chap. VII.), made its first appearance in this crude form. If, on the other hand, we identify darkness with the Limit, and light with the Unlimited, as many critics do, we get into insuperable difficulties.

Burnet's Notes


40. Met. A, 5. 986 b 34, θερμὸν καὶ ψυχρόν; Phys. A, 5. 188 a 20; De gen. corr. A, 3. 318b6; B, 3. 330b 14.

41. Phys. A, 5. 188 a 21,ταῦτα δὲ (θερμὸν καὶ ψυχρὸν) προσαγορεύει πῦρ καὶ γῆν; Met. A, 5. 986 b 34, οἷον πῦρ καὶ γῆν λέγων. Cf. Theophr. Phys. Op. fr. 6 (Dox. p. 482 ; R. P. 121 a).

42. Phys. p. 25, 15, ὡς Παρμενίδης ἐν τοῖς πρὸς δόξαν πῦρ καὶ γῆν (ἢ μᾶλλον φῶς καὶ σκότος). So already Plut. Adv. Col. 1114 b, τὸ λαμπρὸν καὶ σκοτεινόν.

43. Met. A, 5. 986 b 35, τούτων δὲ κατὰ μὲν τὸ ὂν τὸ θερμὸν τάττει, θάτερον δὲ κατὰ τὸ μὴ ὄν. See above, p. 182, n. 2.

44. See below, Chap. VII. § 147.

45. Theophr. Phys. Op. fr. 6 (Dox. p. 482 ; R. P. 121 a),followed by the doxographers.

46. Note the identification of the dense element with "air" in [Plut.] Strom. fr. 5 (Dox. p. 581), λέγει δὲ τὴν γῆν τοῦ πυκνοῦ καταρρυέντος ἀέρος γεγονέναι. This is pure Anaximenes. For the identification of this "air" with "mist and darkness," cf. Chap. I. § 27, and Chap. V. § 107. It is to be observed further that Plato puts this last identification into the mouth of a Pythagorean (Tim. 52 d).

47. See above, p. 109.

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