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Greek Philosopher: Xenophanes

Updated on April 2, 2009

570 - 480 BC

Xenophanes, a native of Colophon in Asia Minor, the son of Dexius. According to some he was no man's pupil, according to others he was a pupil of Boton of Athens.

Since Xenophanes' was a wandering poet and a maker of satires and elegies, his writings are more closely related to religion and to conduct than to philosophy.

For many years he wandered around Greece and Sicily as a poet and minstrel before settling down in in Phoenician colony of Elea, in southern Italy in 540 BC and founded a school there.

Known as the Eleatic School, he taught philosophical concepts which were later broadened and systemized by his disciple, the Greek philosopher Parmenides.

In his writings Xenophanes cleverly satirized the polytheistic beliefs of earlier Greek poets and of his own contemporaries. He ridiculed their deities as gods created in the image of the men who worshiped them. He attacked the old relgion because its gods were guilty of wicked actions.

He decried the extravagant interest of the Greeks in athletics and insists that wisdom is preferable to physical strength. He touched on rules of etiquette, with the admonition that too much drinking is to be avoided.

The most important part of Xenophanes' writings for philosophy is to be found in the attacks upon the traditional views of the gods. In a manner similar to that of Euripides, Xenophanes decries the attribution of all manner of vice and crime to the deities. This is the motive for his criticism of the writings of Homer and Hesiod.

The attribution of depravity to gods follows from the anthropomorphic conception of deity, Men create gods in their own images, just as animals would construct deities with animal characteristics, had they the ability to draw.

He felt that humans should reject polytheistic anthropomorphism and recognize instead a single nonhuman deity underlying and unifying all worldly phenomena.

In other works he ridiculed the doctrine of transmigration of souls and deplored Greek preoccupation with athleticism and luxurious living at the expense of wisdom. Only fragments of his poems have survived.

References

  • New Encyclopedia, Volume 25, 1971, Funk & Wagnalls. Page 343.
  • Standard College Dictionary, 1963, Funk & Wagnalls. Page 1553.
  • Pictorial Knowledge, Volume 10, circa 1950, Newnes. Page 411.
  • Early Greek Philosophy, 4th Edition, 1964, Milton C. Nahm. Page 79.


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    • Dame Scribe profile image

      Dame Scribe 

      9 years ago from Canada

      and he left his mark on our world which we learn about to this day. Thanks Darkside. He must've been quite the instructor. :)

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