Text #9159"Xenophanes", in .
Xenophanes of Colophon (c. 570 – c. 475 BC) was a Greek philosopher, theologian, poet, and social and religious critic. Xenophanes lived a life of travel, having left Ionia at the age of 25 and continuing to travel throughout the Greek world for another 67 years. Some scholars say he lived in exile in Sicily. Knowledge of his views comes from fragments of his poetry, surviving as quotations by later Greek writers. To judge from these, his elegiac and iambic poetry criticized and satirized a wide range of ideas, including Homer and Hesiod, the belief in the pantheon of anthropomorphic gods and the Greeks’ veneration of athleticism. He is the earliest Greek poet who claims explicitly to be writing for future generations, creating “fame that will reach all of Greece, and never die while the Greek kind of songs survives.”
Xenophanes was a native of Colophon and was the son of Orthomenes or, according to others, of Dexius. He is said to have flourished during the 60th Olympiad (540-537 BC). He was mentioned in the writings of Heraclitus and Epicharmus and had himself mentioned Thales, Epimenides, and Pythagoras. In a fragment of his elegies, he mentions the Median invasion as an event that took place in his time, which may refer to the expedition of Harpagus against the Greek cities in Ionia (546/5 BC). He left his native land as a fugitive or exile and went to the Ionian colonies in Sicily, Zancle and Catana. He may have lived for some time in Elea (founded by the Phocaeans in the 61st Olympiad 536-533 BC), since he wrote about the foundation of the colony. According to the fragments of one of his elegies, he had left his native land at the age of 25 and had already lived 67 years in the Greek lands, when, at the age of 92, he composed that elegy.
Xenophanes’ surviving writings display a skepticism that became more commonly expressed during the fourth century. He satirized traditional religious views of his time as human projections. He aimed his critique at the polytheistic religious views of earlier Greek poets and of his own contemporaries: “Homer and Hesiod,” one fragment states, “have attributed to the gods all sorts of things that are matters of reproach and censure among men: theft, adultery, and mutual deception.” Sextus Empiricus reported that such observations were appreciated by Christian apologists. Xenophanes is quoted, memorably, in Clement of Alexandria, arguing against the conception of gods as fundamentally anthropomorphic.
Regarding Xenophanes’ theology five key concepts about God can be formed. God is: beyond human morality, does not resemble human form, cannot die or be born (God is divine thus eternal), no divine hierarchy exists, and God does not intervene in human affairs. While Xenophanes is rejecting Homeric theology, he is not questioning the presence of a divine entity, rather his philosophy is a critique on Ancient Greek writers and their conception of divinity. There is also the concept of God being whole with the universe, essentially controlling it, while at the same time being physically unconnected.
Xenophanes espoused a belief that “God is one, supreme among gods and men, and not like mortals in body or in mind.” He maintained there was one greatest God. God is one eternal being, spherical in form, comprehending all things within himself, is the absolute mind and thought, therefore is intelligent, and moves all things, but bears no resemblance to human nature either in body or mind. He is considered by some to be a precursor to Parmenides and Spinoza. Because of his development of the concept of a “one god greatest among gods and men” that is abstract, universal, unchanging, immobile and always present, Xenophanes is often seen as one of the first monotheists, in the Western philosophy of religion, although the quotation that seems to point to Xenophanes’s monotheism also refers to multiple “gods” who the supreme God is greater than. Physicist and philosopher Max Bernhard Weinstein specifically identified Xenophanes as one of the earliest pandeists.
Xenophanes concluded from his examination of fossils that water once must have covered all of the Earth’s surface. The use of evidence is an important step in advancing from simply stating an idea to backing it up by evidence and observation.
Xenophanes is credited with being one of the first philosophers to distinguish between true belief and knowledge, which he further developed into the prospect that you can know something but not really know it. Due to the lack of whole works by Xenophanes, a lot of meaning is lost and a large amount of guessing is at hand, so that the implication of knowing being something deeper (“a clearer truth”) may have special implications, or it may mean that you cannot know something just by looking at it. It is known that the most and widest variety of evidence was considered by Xenophanes to be the surest way to prove a theory.
J. Lesher, Presocratic Contributions to the Theory of Knowledge, 1998
U. De Young, “The Homeric Gods and Xenophanes’ Opposing Theory of the Divine”, 2000
W. Drechsler and R. Kattel, “Mensch und Gott bei Xenophanes”, in: M. Witte, ed., Gott und Mensch im Dialog. Festschrift für Otto Kaiser zum 80. Geburtstag, Berlin – New York 2004, 111-129
H. Fränkel, “Xenophanesstudien”, Hermes 60 (1925), 174-192
E. Heitsch, Xenophanes und die Anfänge kritischen Denkens. Mainzer Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, Abh. d. Geistes- und Sozialwiss. Kl., 1994, H. 7
W. Jaeger, The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers, Gifford Lectures 1936, repr. Westport, Ct. 1980
K. Jaspers, The Great Philosophers 3, New York etc. 1993
R. Kattel, “The Political Philosophy of Xenophanes of Colophon”, Trames 1(51/46) (1997), 125-142
O. Kaiser, “Der eine Gott und die Götter der Welt”, in: Zwischen Athen und Jerursalem. Studien zur griechischen und biblischen Theologie, ihrer Eigenart und ihrem Verhältnis, Berlin - New York 2003, 135-152
Luchte, James (2011). Early Greek Thought: Before the Dawn. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Richard D. McKirahan, Xenophanes of Colophon. Philosophy Before Socrates. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1994
K. Ziegler, “Xenophanes von Kolophon, ein Revolutionär des Geistes”, Gymmasium 72 (1965), 289-302