Parmenides Criticism

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B. A. G. Fuller (essay date 1923)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: B. A. G. Fuller, "The Eleatic School," in History of Greek Philosophy: Thales to Democritus, Henry Holt and Company, 1923, pp. 143-79.

[In the following excerpt, Fuller considers the difficulties and ramifications of Parmenides's logical assertions, explaining how Parmenides's work was rein-forced by Zeno through his paradoxical motion scenarios and modified by the skeptic Me lis sus.]

The flight of philosophy from the coasts of Asia Minor to the southern shores of Italy is full of ro mance and adventure. Before the Lydian Empire and all the wealth of Crœsus had fallen into the hands of the victorious Persians, the philosopher Thales, it will be remembered, advocated in vain the union of the Ionian cities in a single league, the better to withstand the advancing hosts of Cyrus. A Pan-Ionian Congress which was finally convened to consider the emergency turned a deaf ear also to the suggestion of another statesman, Bias of Priene, that all the lonians should desert their hearths en masse and seek a new home in the island of Sardinia far in the western seas. But the advice of Bias proved to be not altogether barren, and bore its fruit in two cities when at length the barbarians were actually at their gates and the Persian siegeworks began to overtop their walls. Phocasa, on the coast somewhat north of present-day Smyrna, was the first of the Ionian cities to be attacked. Its inhabitants apparently had always been a bold and venturesome lot. According to Herodotus1 they were the first of the Greeks to give up hugging the shores in little, tubby, cargo boats and to launch swift fifty-oar power ships fit for the high and open seas. In them they under-took long voyages in distant waters, and brought back to the Hellenic world its first acquaintance with the Adriatic, the Tyrrhenian, and the Spanish coasts.

However that may be, the Phocœans at the Persian summons to surrender utilized the truce of a day, which had been granted them for the discussion of terms, in embarking their entire population and setting sail for the neighboring island of Chios. There they thought they might be able to buy land and settle. But the Chians refused to receive them. Disheartened at their failure to find a refuge, the more timid and homesick souls went back to such homes as the Persians had left them. The stouter hearts, however,

"…. shook out more sail
And day and night held on indignantly,"

shaping their course for Alalia in Corsica, where earlier voyagers had already established a Phocœan colony. Here for five years they led a piratical and freebooting existence, a public nuisance to their neighbors by land and by sea. Finally their swift penteconters were raided by a combined Carthaginian and Tyrrhenian fleet. They succeeded in beating up, or rather off, the police, but their victory cost them so dear that they decided to move on. Once more they emigrated en masse, this time to Rhegium on the Straits of Messina. Thence they worked their way north along the coast, and in 536 B.C. finally settled to the south of Pœstum and founded Velia or Elea.

Curiously enough, the cradle of an even greater school of philosophy was built as the result of similar action on the part of the only other Ionian city to heed Bias' counsel. The inhabitants of Teos also eluded their besiegers by packing themselves and their belongings aboard ship and sailing away. They voyaged, however, no further than the northern Ægean where on the coast of Thrace they founded Abdera. Here the philosopher Democritus was born whose mechanical and atomic theory of the world is still an inspiration of our scientific thinking.

The Eleatic School, then, which so sharply contradicted the teachings of Heracleitus, was itself the result of an episode in a thoroughly Heracleitan adventure. Indeed, Parmenides, its founder, if he did not actually "come over on the Mayflower ," as is suggested by Diogenes' statement that he "flourished" about 504 B.C., must at any rate have stood in close succession to...

(The entire section is 54,393 words.)