From Ionian Speculation to Eleatic Deduction: Parmenides’ Xenophanean-Based Theism

In Heather Reid (ed.), Politics and Performance in Western Greece: Essays on the Hellenic Heritage of Sicily and Southern Italy. The Heritage of Western Greece, Book 2. Sioux City, Iowa: Parnassos Press. pp. 221-236 (2017)
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Warranting further examination is how the nascent philosophical tradition initially spread to this region from its Ionian provenance. Despite numerous ancient attestations that Parmenides of Elea was influenced, or even directly instructed, by the Ionian-born Xenophanes, many modern scholars remain skeptical of this historical association. The extent of this skepticism ranges from cautious uncertainty to outright denial of any historical plausibility. The skeptical grounds similarly vary, from distrusting the historical veracity of late and/or perhaps biased commentators, to understanding these thinkers as involved in radically different projects. This essay aims to challenge the skeptical position, and establish a direct link disseminating Ionian philosophy to Magna Graecia via Xenophanes and Parmenides. The argument is straightforward. First, the ancient geographical and temporal evidence is noted, establishing that it was possible for Parmenides to have been influenced and/or taught by Xenophanes. Next, the metaphysical and epistemological parallels between these thinkers are considered. Despite notable differences, on balance, these close parallels suggest against the skeptical view, making it quite plausible to impute a direct intellectual link between these thinkers. Third, I consider ancient claims that both thinkers were engaging with religious topics, offering a sort of “rational theology.” This evidence for a close intellectual relationship between these thinkers has been entirely ignored by modern scholars, and orthodox interpretative models cannot readily provide a charitable explanation for them. However, by reconsidering the theistic content in Parmenides’s poem, a new interpretative approach is revealed which can. Once this evidence is considered in its totality, the case for imputing a close and direct intellectual heritage from Xenophanes to Parmenides proves quite substantial.
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