Where Epistemology and Religion Meet What do(es) the god(s) look like?

Rhizomata 1 (2):283-307 (2013)
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Abstract
The focus of this essay is on Xenophanes’ criticism of anthropomorphic representation of the gods, famously sounding like a declaration of war against a constituent part of the Greek religion, and adopting terms and a tone that are unequalled amongst “pre-Socratic” authors for their directness and explicitness. While the main features of Xenophanes’ polemic are well known thanks to some of the most studied fragments of the pre-Socratic tradition, a different line of enquiry from the usual one is attempted by considering the multi-layered background of the religious beliefs revolving around the idea that the gods have human form as outlined in the tradition of epic poetry or represented in cult statues: in the light of this consideration Xenophanes’ text can take on some new characteristics. In the second part of the article, emphasis is put on the importance of the correlation Xenophanes established between the issue of the appearance of the gods and that of the certainty of knowledge, in terms that have exerted tremendous influence on later thought, most notably on Plato in the Timaeus.
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Archival date: 2016-03-04
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