The Fragments of Parmenides


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But even if such ascents had a poetry of their own, it seems to be quite different from that of Parmenides. For these poets surely told of such adventures as facts which they expected to be taken as literally true.

A Selection of Critical Studies on the Poem of Parmenides

When Epimenides told of his converse with nymphs in a cave, he stated what he claimed to be a fact. But Parmenides is plainly allegorizing. The allegory may of course be based on something akin to a mystical experience, but it is none the less an allegory. The transition from Night to Day is the transition from ignorance to knowledge ; the Sun-maidens who accompany the poet are the powers in him which strain toward the light; the horses who know the road are his own impulses towards truth ; the way on which he travels is the way of inquiry.

The allegory is revealed as soon as the goddess begins to speak. For then the way with its three different branches becomes the ways of truth, of not-being, and of opinion. The allegory breaks down when the poet gets to his real task, and we may be certain that till then Parmenides is not giving the literal record of a spiritual adventure but clothing his search for truth in an allegorical dress Parmenides' Proem may be called allegorical because it has two meanings--the superficial meaning which tells a story and the implied meaning which gives the essential message of the poet.

He tells of a chariot journey through gates to a goddess, but what he really describes is the transition from ignorance to knowledge. The use of allegory on such a scale is extremely rare in early Greek poetry. Road A is described in line 3, and proved by line 4 to be the Way of Truth; Road B is the 'track beyond all tidings', delineated in line 5.

FR. B2: THE WAYS OF ENQUIRY

Road C , described in lines , is that 'along which mortals. The 'first road' of line 3 also has pitfalls for the goddess 'restrains' Parmenides from it ; and it cannot therefore be identical with Road A , the Way of Truth. Now lines l-2 contain the end of an argument concerned with this 'first road' ; and, as I shall show, it is plausible to find the beginning of the argument in [B 2] , which starts to recount the horrors of the 'track beyond all tidings'.

If that is so, then the 'first road' of [B 6] is identical with Road B ; and in consequence Road B , the 'track beyond all tidings', is not the Way of Opinion. Road A maintains 'both that it is esti and that it is not for not being' B2. The three roads are thus distinguished by means of the word ' esti ', 'it is'. Both the sense of the verb and the identity of its subject are matters of high controversy. Since they are also vital to any interpretation of Parmenides' argument, we cannot burke the issue. I begin by asking what is the sense of the verb ' einai ' as Parmenides uses it here.

The classification of the different 'senses', or 'uses', of the verb ' einai ' is a delicate task, abounding in linguistic and philosophical difficulties; 10 and my remarks will be crude and superficial. Nevertheless, something must be said. We can distinguish between a complete and an incomplete use of ' einai ': In its complete use, ' einai ' sometimes has an existential sense: In its incomplete use, ' einai ' often serves as a copula, and the use is called predicative: Many scholars think that Parmenides' original sin was a confusion, or fusion, of the existential with the predicative ' einai '; and they believe that the characterization of the three roads in [B 2] catches Parmenides in flagrante delicto.


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  • FR. B1: THE PROEM!

If we ask what sense ' esti ' has in line 3, the answer is disappointing: Now I do not wish to maintain that Parmenides was conscious of the distinction between an existential and a predicative use of ' einai '; credit for bringing that distinction to philosophical consciousness is usually given to Plato. But I do reject the claim that [B 2] fuses or confuses the two uses of the verb.

I see no reason to impute such a confusion to the characterization of the three roads; for I see no trace of a predicative 'is' in that characterization. The point can be simply supported: Road B rules out 'X is not'; if we read 'is' predicatively, we must suppose Parmenides to be abjuring all negative predications.

Full text of "The fragments of Parmenides"

Such a high-handed dismissal of negation is absurd; it is suggested by nothing in Parmenides' poem; and it is adequately outlawed by such lines as B 8. Then is ' esti ' existential? Aristotle distinguishes what has been called a 'veridical' use of ' esti '; 'X esti ', in this use, is complete, and ' esti ' means. If Socrates asserts that cobblers are good at making shoes, his interlocutor may reply ' esti tauta ', 'Those things are' or 'That's true'.

It has been suggested that Parmenides' complete ' esti ' is veridical, not existential.


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That suggestion can be accommodated, I think, to [B 2] and [B 6]; but the accommodation is not easy, nor as far as I can see does it have any philosophical merit. In any event, the suggestion breaks on the rocks of B 8: None of those properties consists with the veridical reading of ' esti ': Since the inferences in B 8 are tied to the ' esti ' of [B 2] and [B 6], the veridical reading of esti in those fragments can only be maintained at the cost of ascribing to Parmenides a confusion between veridical and non-veridical einai.

And I see no reason for making that derogatory ascription. Existential ' einai ' remains. The obvious and the orthodox interpretation of ' esti ' in [B 2] and [B 6] is existential; and that interpretation is felicitous: I shall continue to translate Parmenides' ' einai ' by 'be'; but I shall paraphrase it by 'exist'. Road A thus says that 'it exists', esti. Scholars have naturally raised the question of what exists: Some have denied the appropriateness of the question, urging that we need no more ask after the subject of ' esti ' than we do after ' huei ', 'it is raining'.

I find that suggestion perfectly incomprehensible. Here we do look for a logical subject and we expect to find it, explicit or implicit, in the immediate context. In ordinary discourse, the antecedent is often not expressed: One standard view gives ' esti ' in [B 2]. I am at a loss to understand that assertion; what in the world can be meant by 'Being exists'?

Nevertheless, behind abstract Being there lurks a more concrete candidate for the post of logical subject: Thus we might gloss Parmenides' ' esti ' by 'what is, is', and yet deny that 'what is' is a logical subject; for we might explain the phrase by ' whatever is, is '. Road A , on that view, maintains that whatever exists exists and cannot not exist. It has been objected to that interpretation that Parmenides attempts to prove that Road A is right, and Roads B and C mistaken; but that the interpretation makes A tautologous, and hence in no need of proof, and B and C contradictory, and hence in no need of disproof.

But the objection is doubly mistaken: University Press Scholarship Online. Publications Pages Publications Pages. Search my Subject Specializations: Classical, Early, and Medieval Plays and Playwrights: Classical, Early, and Medieval Poetry and Poets: Classical, Early, and Medieval Prose and Writers: Classical, Early, and Medieval World History: In ancient Greek, which, like many languages in the world, does not always require the presence of a subject for a verb, "is" functions as a grammatically complete sentence. Much debate has been focused on where and what the subject is. Since existence is an immediately intuited fact, non-existence is the wrong path because a thing cannot disappear, just as something cannot originate from nothing.

In such mystical experience unio mystica , however, the distinction between subject and object disappears along with the distinctions between objects, in addition to the fact that if nothing cannot be, it cannot be the object of thought either:. Thinking and the thought that it is are the same; for you will not find thinking apart from what is, in relation to which it is uttered. Helplessness guides the wandering thought in their breasts; they are carried along deaf and blind alike, dazed, beasts without judgment, convinced that to be and not to be are the same and not the same, and that the road of all things is a backward-turning one.

Thus, he concluded that "Is" could not have "come into being" because " nothing comes from nothing ". Existence is necessarily eternal. That which truly is [x], has always been [x], and was never becoming [x]; that which is becoming [x] was never nothing Not-[x] , but will never actually be.

A Fragment (unnamed) by Parmenides (Arthur Fairbanks trans.)

Parmenides was not struggling to formulate the laws of conservation of mass and conservation of energy ; he was struggling with the metaphysics of change, which is still a relevant philosophical topic today. Moreover, he argued that movement was impossible because it requires moving into " the void ", and Parmenides identified "the void" with nothing, and therefore by definition it does not exist. That which does exist is The Parmenidean One , which is timeless, uniform, and unchanging:. How could what is perish?

How could it have come to be? For if it came into being, it is not; nor is it if ever it is going to be. Thus coming into being is extinguished, and destruction unknown. Thus [it] must either be completely or not at all. Nor is it divisible, since it is all alike; nor is there any more or less of it in one place which might prevent it from holding together, but all is full of what is. Parmenides claimed that there is no truth in the opinions of the mortals. Genesis-and-destruction, as Parmenides emphasizes, is a false opinion, because to be means to be completely, once and for all.

What exists can in no way not exist. For this view, that That Which Is Not exists, can never predominate. You must debar your thought from this way of search, nor let ordinary experience in its variety force you along this way, namely, that of allowing the eye, sightless as it is, and the ear, full of sound, and the tongue, to rule; but you must judge by means of the Reason Logos the much-contested proof which is expounded by me. The structure of the cosmos is a fundamental binary principle that governs the manifestations of all the particulars: The mortals lay down and decided well to name two forms i.

The structure of the cosmos then generated is recollected by Aetius II, 7, For Parmenides says that there are circular bands wound round one upon the other, one made of the rare, the other of the dense; and others between these mixed of light and darkness. What surrounds them all is solid like a wall. Beneath it is a fiery band, and what is in the very middle of them all is solid, around which again is a fiery band. The most central of the mixed bands is for them all the origin and cause of motion and becoming, which he also calls steering goddess and keyholder and Justice and Necessity.

The air has been separated off from the earth, vapourized by its more violent condensation, and the sun and the circle of the Milky Way are exhalations of fire. The moon is a mixture of both earth and fire. The aether lies around above all else, and beneath it is ranged that fiery part which we call heaven , beneath which are the regions around the earth. The traditional interpretation of Parmenides' work is that he argued that the every-day perception of reality of the physical world as described in doxa is mistaken, and that the reality of the world is 'One Being' as described in aletheia: Under the Way of Opinion , Parmenides set out a contrasting but more conventional view of the world, thereby becoming an early exponent of the duality of appearance and reality.

For him and his pupils, the phenomena of movement and change are simply appearances of a changeless, eternal reality. This interpretation could settle because of various wrong translations of the fragments. For example, it is not at all clear that Parmenides refuted that which we call perception. The verb noein , used frequently by Parmenides, could better be translated as 'to be aware of' than as 'to think'.

Furthermore, it is hard to believe that 'being' is only within our heads, according to Parmenides. Parmenides' philosophy is presented in the form of poetry. The philosophy he argued was, he says, given to him by a goddess, though the "mythological" details in Parmenides' poem do not bear any close correspondence to anything known from traditional Greek mythology:. Welcome, youth, who come attended by immortal charioteers and mares which bear you on your journey to our dwelling.

For it is no evil fate that has set you to travel on this road, far from the beaten paths of men, but right and justice. It is meet that you learn all things — both the unshakable heart of well-rounded truth and the opinions of mortals in which there is not true belief. It has been claimed that previous scholars placed too little emphasis on the apocalyptic context in which Parmenides frames his revelation. As a result, traditional interpretations have put Parmenidean philosophy into a more modern, metaphysical context to which it is not necessarily well suited, which has led to misunderstanding of the true meaning and intention of Parmenides' message.

The obscurity and fragmentary state of the text, however, renders almost every claim that can be made about Parmenides extremely contentious, and the traditional interpretation has by no means been abandoned.

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The Fragments of Parmenides The Fragments of Parmenides
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