About  Parmenides of Elea


Parmenides of Elea, active in the earlier part of the 5th century BC, authored a difficult metaphysical poem that has earned him a reputation as early Greek philosophy's most profound and challenging thinker.

The Parmenides Foundation has been named after him because he was the first philosopher in western philosophy that raised the issue of the relation between thought and reality, and the strengths and weaknesses of human thinking in attaining truth.


The dramatic occasion of Plato's dialogue, Parmenides, is a fictionalized visit to Athens by the eminent Parmenides and his younger associate, Zeno, to attend the festival of the Great Panathenaea. Plato describes Parmenides as about sixty-five years old and Socrates, with whom he converses in the first part of the dialogue, as “quite young then”, which is normally taken to mean about twenty. Given that Socrates was a little past seventy when executed by the Athenians in 399 BC, one can infer from this description that Parmenides was born about 515 BC. He would thus appear to have been active during the early to mid-fifth century BC Speusippus, Plato's successor as head of the Academy, is said to have reported in his ‘On Philosophers’ that Parmenides established the laws for the citizens of his native Elea, one of the Greek colonies along southern Italy's Tyrrhenian coast (Speus. fr. 3 Tarán ap. D.L. 9.23; cf. Plu. Col. 1126A), though Elea was founded some 30 years before Parmenides' birth. The ancient historiographical tradition naturally associates Parmenides with thinkers such as Xenophanes and the Pythagoreans active in Magna Graecia, the Greek-speaking regions of southern Italy, whom he may well have encountered. A 1st century CE portrait head of Parmenides was discovered at Castellamare della Bruca (ancient Elea) in the 1960's with an inscription – “Parmenedes, son of Pyres, Ouliadês, Natural Philosopher” – that associates him with a cult of Apollo Oulios or Apollo the Healer.

According to Diogenes Laertius, Parmenides composed only a single work (D.L. 1.16). This was a metaphysical and cosmological poem composed in the traditional epic medium of hexameter verse. The title ‘On Nature’ under which it was transmitted is probably not authentic. The poem originally extended to perhaps eight hundred verses, roughly one hundred and sixty of which have survived as “fragments” that vary in length from a single word (fr. 15a: “water-rooted,” describing the earth) to the sixty-two verses of fragment 8. That any portion of his poem survives is due entirely to the fact that later ancient authors, beginning with Plato, for one reason or another felt the need to quote some portion of it in the course of their own writings. Sextus Empiricus quotes thirty of the thirty-two verses of fragment 1 (the opening proem of the poem), though apparently from some sort of Hellenistic digest rather than from an actual manuscript copy, for his quotation of fr. 1.1-30 continues uninterruptedly with five and a half verses from fragments 7 and 8. The Alexandrian Neoplatonist Simplicius (6th c. CE) appears to have possessed a good copy of the work, from which he quoted extensively in his commentaries on Aristotle's Physics and De Caelo. He introduces his lengthy quotation of fr. 8.1-52 as follows: “Even if one might think it pedantic, I would gladly transcribe in this commentary the verses of Parmenides on the one being, which aren't numerous, both as evidence for what I have said and because of the scarcity of Parmenides' treatise.” Thanks to Simplicius' lengthy transcription, we appear to have entire Parmenides' major metaphysical argument demonstrating the attributes of “What Is” (to eon) or “true reality” (alêtheia).


On Nature (written between 480 and 470 BC)

An excellent logical walk-through of the Parmenidean argument of existence can be found at [1] and [2]