Parmenides' Fragments and Commentary

Arthur Fairbanks, ed. and trans.

The First Philosophers of Greece

(London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1898), 86-135.

Fairbanks's Introduction

Proemium (Fragments)

Ancient Authors' Commentaries on Parmenides

Fairbanks's Introduction

[Page 86] Parmenides, the son of Pyres (or Pyrrhes), of Elea, was born about 515 B.C.; his family was of noble rank and rich, but Parmenides devoted himself to philosophy. He was associated with members of the Pythagorean society, and is himself called a Pythagorean by later writers. In the formation of his philosophic system however he was most influenced by his aged fellow-townsman, Xenophanes; the doctrines of Xenophanes he developed into a system which was embodied in a poetic work "On Nature." The statement that he made laws for the citizens may have reference to some connection with the Pythagorean society.



The horses which bear me conducted me as far as desire may go, when they had brought me speeding along to the far-famed road of a divinity who herself bears onward through all things the man of understanding. Along this road I was borne, along this the horses, wise indeed, bore me hastening the chariot on, and maidens guided my course. The axle in its box, enkindled by the heat, uttered the sound of a pipe (for it was driven on by the rolling wheels on either side), when the maiden daughters of Helios hastened to conduct me [Page 89] to the light, leaving the realms of night, pushing aside with the hand the veils from their heads. There is the gate between the ways of day and night lintel above it, and stone threshold beneath, hold it in place, and high in air it is fitted with great doors; retributive Justice holds the keys that open and shut them.1 However, the maidens addressed her with mild words, and found means to persuade her to thrust back speedily for them the fastened bolt from the doors; and the gate swinging free made the opening wide, turning in their sockets the bronze hinges, well fastened with bolts and nails; then through this the maidens kept horses and chariot straight on the high-road. The goddess received me with kindness, and, taking my right hand in hers, she addressed me with these words:--Youth joined with drivers immortal, who hast come with the horses that bear thee, to our dwelling, hail! since no evil fate has bid thee come on this road (for it lies far outside the beaten track of men), but right and justice. 'Tis necessary for thee to learn all things, both the abiding essence of persuasive truth, and men's opinions in which rests no true belief. But nevertheless these things also thou shalt learn, since it is necessary to judge accurately the things that rest on opinion, passing all things carefully in review.


Come now I will tell thee-and do thou hear my word and heed it-what are the only ways of enquiry that lead to knowledge. The one way, [Page 91] assuming that being is and that it is impossible for it not to be, is the trustworthy path, for truth attends it. The other, that not-being is and that it necessarily is, I call a wholly incredible course, since thou canst not recognise not-being (for this is impossible), nor couldst thou speak of it, for thought and being are the same thing.

It makes no difference to me at what point I begin, for I shall always come back again to this.

It is necessary both to say and to think that being is; for it is possible that being is, and it is impossible that not-being is ; this is what I bid thee ponder. I restrain thee from this first course of investigation; and from that course also along which mortals knowing nothing wander aimlessly, since helplessness directs the roaming thought in their bosoms, and they are borne on deaf and like-wise blind, amazed, headstrong races, they who consider being and not-being as the same and not the same; and that all things follow a back-turning course.

That things which are not are, shall never prevail, she said, but do thou restrain thy mind from this course of investigation.

[Page 93] And let not long-practised habit compel thee along this path, thine eye careless, thine ear and thy tongue overpowered by noise; but do thou weigh the much contested refutation of their words, which I have uttered.

There is left but this single path to tell thee of: namely, that being is. And on this path there are many proofs that being is without beginning and indestructible; it is universal, existing alone, immovable and without end; nor ever was it nor will it be, since it now is, all together, one, and continuous. For what generating of it wilt thou seek out? From what did it grow, and how? I will not permit thee to say or to think that it came from not-being; for it is impossible to think or to say that not-being is. What thine would then have stirred it into activity that it should arise from not-being later rather than earlier? So it is necessary that being either is absolutely or is not. Nor will the force of the argument permit that anything spring from being except being itself. Therefore justice does not slacken her fetters to permit generation or destruction, but holds being firm.

(The decision as to these things comes in at this point.)

[Page 95] Either being exists or it does not exist. It has been decided in accordance with necessity to leave the unthinkable, unspeakable path, as this is not the true path, but that the other path exists and is true. How then should being suffer destruction? How come into existence? If it came into existence, it is not being, nor will it be if it ever is to come into existence. . . . So its generation is extinguished, and its destruction is proved incredible.

Nor is it subject to division, for it is all alike; nor is anything more in it, so as to prevent its cohesion, nor anything less, but all is full of being; therefore the all is continuous, for being is contiguous to being.

Farther it is unmoved, in the hold of great chains, without beginning or end, since generation and destruction have completely disappeared and true belief has rejected them. It lies the same, abiding in the same state and by itself accordingly it abides fixed in the same spot. For powerful necessity holds it in confining bonds, which restrain it on all sides. Therefore divine right does not permit being to have any end; but it is lacking in nothing, for if it lacked anything it would lack everything.

Nevertheless, behold steadfastly all absent things as present to thy mind; for thou canst not separate [Page 97] being in one place from contact with being in another place; it is not scattered here and there through the universe, nor is it compounded of parts.

Therefore thinking and that by reason of which thought exists are one and the same thing, for thou wilt not find thinking without the being from which it receives its name. Nor is there nor will there be anything apart from being; for fate has linked it together, so that it is a whole and immovable. Wherefore all these things will be but a name, all these things which mortals determined in the belief that they were true, viz. that things arise and perish, that they are and are not, that they change their position and vary in colour.

But since there is a final limit, it is perfected on every side, like the mass of a rounded sphere, equally distant from the centre at every point. For it is necessary that it should neither be greater at all nor less anywhere, since there is no not-being which can prevent it from arriving at equality, nor is being such that there may ever be more than what is in one part and less in another, since the whole is inviolate. For if it is equal on all sides, it abides in equality within its limits.

At this point I cease trustworthy discourse and the thought about truth; from here on, learn the opinions of mortals, hearing of the illusive order of my verses.

Men have determined in their minds to name two principles [lit. forms]; but one of these they ought not to name, and in so doing they have erred. They distinguish them as antithetic in character, and give them each character and attributes distinct from those of the other. On the one hand there is the aethereal flame of fire, fine, rarefied, everywhere identical with itself and not identical with its opposite; and on the other hand, opposed to the first, is the second principle, flameless darkness, dense and heavy in character. Of these two principles I declare to thee every arrangement as it appears to men, so that no knowledge among mortals may surpass thine.

But since all things are called light and darkness, and the peculiar properties of these are predicated of one thing and another, everything is at the same time full of light and of obscure darkness, of both equally, since neither has anything in common with the other.

And the smaller circles are filled with unmixed fire, and those next them with darkness into which their portion of light penetrates; in the midst of these is the divinity who directs the course of all.

[Page 101] For she controls dreaded birth and coition in every part of the universe, sending female to join with male, and again male to female.

First of all the gods she devised love.

Thou shalt know the nature of the heavens and all signs that are in the sky, the destructive deeds of the pure bright torch of the sun and whence they arose, and thou shalt learn the wandering deeds of the round-eyed moon and its nature. Thou shalt know also the sky surrounding all, whence it arose, and how necessity took it and chained it so as to serve as a limit to the courses of the stars. How earth and sun and moon and common sky and the milky way of the heavens and highest Olympos and the burning (might of the) stars began to be.

It (the moon) wanders about the earth, shining at night with borrowed light. She is always gazing earnestly toward the rays of the sun.

For as at any time is the blending of very complex members in a man, so is the mind in men constituted; for that which thinks is the same in all men and in every man, viz. the essence of the members of the body; and the element that is in excess is thought.

On the right hand boys, on the left hand girls.

So, according to men's opinions, did things arise, and so they are now, and from this state when they shall have reached maturity shall they perish. For each of these men has determined a name as a distinguishing mark.

When male and female mingle seed of Venus in the form [the body] of one, the excellence from the two different bloods, if it preserves harmony, fashions a well-formed body; but if when the seed is mingled the excellencies fight against each other

[Page 102] Femina virque simul Veneris cum germina miscent unius in formam diverso ex sanguine virtus temperiem servans bene condita corpora fingit. at si virtutes permixto semine pugnent nec faciant unam permixto in corpore dirae nascentem gemino vexabiint semine sexum.

and do not unite into one, they will distress the sex that is coming into existence, as the twofold seed is mingled in the body of the unfortunate woman.

With this there are fineness and heat and light and softness and brightness; and with the dense are classed cold and darkness and hardness and weight, for these are separated the ones on one side, the others on the other.

Ancient Authors' Commentaries on Parmenides

Literature: The fragments of Parmenides have been collected by Peyron, Leipzig 1810 ; Karsten, Amsterdam 1830; Brandis, Comm. Eleat. Altona 1813; Vatke, Berlin 1864; Stein, Symb. philol. Bonn. Leipzig 1867; V. Revue Phil. 1883, 5: 1884, 9. Berger, Die Zonenlehre d. Parm. Munchen, 1895.

Plato, Theaet. 180 D. I almost forgot, Theodoros, that there were others who asserted opinions the very opposite of these: 'the all is alone, unmoved; to this all names apply,' and the other emphatic statements in opposition to those referred to, which the school of Melissos and Parmenides make, to the effect that all things are one, and that the all stands itself in itself, not having space in which it is moved.

Ibid. 183 E. Feeling ashamed before Melissos and the rest who assert that the all is one being, for fear we should examine the matter somewhat crudely, I am even more ashamed in view of the fact that Parmenides is one of them. Parmenides seems to me, in the words of Homer, a man to be reverenced and at the same time feared. For when I was a mere youth and he a very old man, I conversed with him, and he seemed to me to have an exceedingly wonderful depth of mind. I fear lest we may not understand what he said, and that we may fail still more to understand his thoughts in saying it; and, what is most important, I fear lest the question before us should fail to receive due consideration. . . .

Soph. 238 c (concluding a discussion of Parmenides). You understand then that it is really impossible to speak of not-being or to say anything about it or to conceive it by itself, but it is inconceivable, not to be spoken of or mentioned, and irrational.

Parm. 150 B. Accordingly the unity itself in relation to itself is as follows : Having in itself neither greatness nor littleness, -it could not be exceeded by itself nor could it exceed itself, but being equal it would be equal to itself.

[Page 104] Ibid. 163 c. This statement: It does not exist, means absolutely that it does not exist anywhere in any way, nor does not-being have any share at all in being. Accordingly not-being could not exist, nor in any other way could it have a share in being.

(Symp. 178 iB, 195 c : Reference to the stories which Hesiod and Parmenides told about the gods. Line 132 is quoted.)

Arist. Phys. i. 2; 184 b 16. The first principle must be one, unmoved, as Parmenides and Melissos say, . . .

Ibid. i. 3 ; 186 a 4. To those proceeding after this impossible manner things seem to be one, and it is not difficult to refute them from their own statements. For both of them reason in a fallacious manner, both Parmenides and Melissos; for they make false assumptions, and at the same time their course of reasoning is not logical. . . . And the same sort of arguments are used by Parmenides, although he has some others of his own, and the refutation consists in showing both that he makes mistakes of fact and that he does not draw his conclusions correctly. He makes a mistake in assuming that being is to be spoken of absolutely, speaking of it thus many times; and he draws the false conclusion that, in case only whites are considered, white meaning one thing, none the less there are many whites and not one; since neither in the succession of things nor, in the argument will whiteness be one. For what is predicated of white will not be the same as what is predicated of the object which is white, and nothing except white will be separated from the object; since there is no other ground of separation except the fact that the white is different from the object in which the white exists. But Parmenides had not yet arrived at the knowledge of this.

Ibid. i. 5 ; 188 a 20. Parmenides also makes heat [Page 105] and cold first principles; and he calls them fire and earth.

Ibid. iii. 6 ; 207 a 15. Wherefore we must regard Parmenides as a more acute thinker than Melissos, for the latter says that the infinite is the all, but the former asserts that the all is limited, equally distant from the centre [on every side].

Gen. Corr. i. 3 ; 318 b 6. Parmenides says that the two exist, both being and not being-i.e. earth and water.

Metaph. i. 3 ; 984 b 1. None of those who have affirmed that the all is one have, it happens, seen the nature of such a cause clearly, except, perhaps, Parmenides, and he in so far as he sometimes asserts that there is not one cause alone, but two causes.

Metaph.i.5; 986 b l8. For Parmenides seemed to lay hold of a unity according to reason, and Melissos according to matter; wherefore the former says it is limited, the latter that it is unlimited. - Xenophanes first taught the unity of things (Parmenides is said to have been his pupil), but he did not make anything clear, nor did he seem to get at the nature of either finiteness or infinity, but, looking up into the broad heavens, he said, the unity is god. These, as we said, are to be dismissed from the present investigation, two of them entirely as being somewhat more crude, Xenophanes and Melissos; but Parmenides seems to speak in some places with greater care. For believing that not-being does not exist in addition to being, of necessity he thinks that being is one and that there is nothing else. . . . and being compelled to account for phenomena, and assuming that things are one from the standpoint of reason, plural from the standpoint of sense, he again asserts that there are two causes and two first principles, heat and [Page 106] cold, or, as he calls them, fire and earth ; of these he regards heat as being, its opposite as not-being.

Metaph. ii. 4; 1001 a 32. There is nothing different from being, so that it is necessary to agree with the reasoning of Parmenides that all things are one, and that this is being.


Theophrastos, Fr. 6 ; Alexander Metaph. p. 24, 5 Bon.; Dox. 482. And succeeding him Parmenides, son of Pyres, the Eleatic-Theophrastos adds the name of Xenophanes-followed both ways. For in declaring that the all is eternal, and in attempting to explain the genesis of things, he expresses different opinions according to the two standpoints:-from the standpoint of truth he supposes the all to be one and not generated and spheroidal in form, while from the standpoint of popular opinion, in order to explain generation of phenomena, he uses two first principles, fire and earth, the one as matter, the other as cause and agent.

Theophrastos, Fr. 6a; Laer. Diog. ix. 21, 22; Dox. 482. Parmenides, son of Pyres, the Eleatic, was a pupil of Xenophanes, yet he did not accept his doctrines. . . . He was the first to declare that the earth is spheroidal and situated in the middle of the universe. He said that there are two elements, fire and earth; the one has the office of demiurge, the other that of matter. Men first arose from mud ; heat and cold are the elements of which all things are composed. He holds that intelligence and life are the same, as Theophrastos records in his book on physics, where he put down the opinions of almost everybody. He said that philosophy has a twofold office, to understand both the truth and also what [Page 107] men believe. Accordingly- he says: (Vv. 28-30)) 'Tis necessary for thee to learn all things, both the abiding essence of persuasive truth and men's opinions in which rests no true belief.'

Theoph, Fr. 17 ; Diog. Laer. viii. 48 ; Dox. 492. Theophrastos says that Parmenides was the first to call the heavens a universe and the earth spheroidal.

Theoph. de Sens. 3 ; Dox. 499. Parmenides does not make any definite statements as to sensation, except that knowledge is in proportion to the excess of one of the two elements. Intelligence varies as the heat or the cold is in excess, and it is better and purer by reason of heat; but nevertheless it has need of a certain symmetry. (Vv. 146-149) 'For,' he says, 'as at any time is the blending of very complex members in a man, so is the mind in men constituted; for that which thinks is the same in all men and in every man, viz., the essence of the members of the body; and the element that is in excess is thought.' He says that perceiving and thinking are the same thing, and that remembering and forgetting come from these6 as the result of mixture, but he does not say definitely whether, if they enter into the mixture in equal quantities, thought will arise or not, nor what the disposition should be. But it is evident that he believes sensation to take place by the presence of some quality in contrast with its opposite, where he says that a corpse does not perceive light and heat and sound by reason of the absence of fire, but that it perceives cold and silence and the similar contrasted qualities, and in general that being as a whole has a certain knowledge. So in his statements he seems to do away with what is difficult by leaving it out.

Theophr. Fr. 7 ; Simpl. Phys. 25 r 11 5 ; Dox. 483. In [Page 108] the first book of his physics Theophrastos gives as the opinion of Parmenides: That which is outside of being is not-being, not-being is nothing, accordingly being is one.

Hipp. Phil. 11 ; Dox. 564. Parmenides supposes that the all is one and eternal, and without beginning and spheroidal in form; but even he does not escape the opinion of the many, for he speaks of fire and earth as first principles of the all, of earth as matter, and of fire as agent and cause, and he says that the earth will come to an end, but in what way he does not say. He says that the all is eternal, and not generated, and spherical, and homogeneous, not having place in itself, and unmoved, and limited.

Plut. Strom. 5; Dox. 580. Parmenides the Eleatic, the companion of Xenophanes, both laid claim to his opinions, and at the same time took the opposite standpoint. For he declared the all to be eternal and immovable according to the real state of the case; for it is alone, existing alone, immovable and without beginning (v. 60) ; but there is a generation of the things that seem to be according to false opinion, and he excepts sense perceptions from the truth. He says that if anything exists besides being, this is not-being, but not-being does not exist at all. So there is left the being that has no beginning; and he says that the earth was formed by the precipitation of dense air.

Epiph. adv. Haer. iii. 10; Dox. 590. Parmenides, the son of Pyres, himself also of the Eleatic school, said that the first principle of all things is the infinite.

Cie. de Nat. Deor. i. 11 ; Dox. 534. For Parmenides devised a sort of contrivance like a crown (he applied to it the word GREEK), an orb of light with continuous heat, which arched the sky, and this he called [Page 109] god, but in it no one could suspect a divine form or a divine sentiment, and he made many monstrosities of this sort; moreover, he raised to the rank of gods War, Discord, Desire, and many other things which disease or sleep or forgetfulness or old age destroys; and Similarly with reference to the stars he expresses opinions which have been criticized elsewhere and are omitted here.

Aet. i. 3; Dox. 284. Parmenides, the Eleatic, son of Pyrrhes, was a companion of Xenophanes, and in his first book the doctrines agree with those of his master; for here that verse occurs: (V. 60), Universal, existing alone, immovable and without beginning. He said that the cause of all things is not earth alone, as his master said, but also fire. 7; 303. The world is immovable and limited, and spheroidal in form. 24; 320. Parmenides and Melissos did away with generation and destruction, because they thought that the all is unmoved. 25; 321. All things are controlled by necessity; this is fated, it is justice and forethought, and the producer of the world.

Aet. ii. 1 ; Dox. 827. The world is one. 4; 332. It is without beginning and eternal and indestructible. 7; 335. Parmenides taught that there were crowns encircling one another in close succession,8 one of rarefied matter, another of dense, and between these other mixed crowns of light and darkness; and that which surrounded all was solid like a wall, and under this was a crown of fire; and the centre of all the crowns was solid, and around it was a circle of fire; and of the mixed crowns the one nearest the centre was the source of motion and generation for all, and this 'the goddess who directs the helm and holds the keys,'9 he calls 'justice and necessity.' The air is that which is separated from the earth, being evaporated by the [Page 110] forcible pressure of the earth; the sun and the circle of the milky way are the exhalation of fire, and the moon is the mixture of both, namely of air and fire. The aether stands highest of all and surrounding all, and beneath this is ranged the fiery element which we call the heavens, and beneath this are the things of earth. 11 ; 339. The revolving vault highest above the earth is the heavens. 340. The heavens are of a fiery nature. 13 ; 342. The stars are masses of fire. 15 ; 345. He ranks the morning star, which he considers the same as the evening star, first in the aether; and after this the sun, and beneath this the stars in the fiery vault which he calls the heavens. 17; 346. Stars are fed from the exhalations of the earth. 20 ; 349. The sun is of a fiery nature. The sun and the moon are separated from the milky way, the one from the thinner mixture, which is hot, the other from the denser, which is cold. 25; 356. The moon is of a fiery nature. 26; 357. The moon is of the same size as the sun, and derives its light, from it. 30; 361. (The moon appears dark) because darkness is mingled with its fiery nature, whence he calls it the star that shines with a false light.

Aet. iii. 1 ; 365. The mixture of dense and thin gives its milk-like appearance to the milky way. 11; 377.. Parmenides first defined the inhabited parts of the earth by the two tropical zones. - 15 ; 380. Because the earth is equally distant on all sides from other bodies, and so, rests in an equilibrium, not having any reason for swaying one way rather than another; on this account it only shakes and does not move from its place.

Aet. iv. 3; 388. The soul is of a fiery nature.. 5 ; 391. The reason is in the whole breast. 392. Life and intelligence are the same thing, nor could there be any living being entirely without reason. 9; 397. Sensations arise part by part according to the symmetry of [Page 111] the pores, each particular object of sense being adapted to each sense (organ). 398. Desire is produced by lack of nourishment.

Aet. v. 7; 419. Parmenides holds the opposite opinion; males are produced in the northern part, for this shares the greater density; and females in the southern part by reason of its rarefied state. 420. Some descend from the right side to the right parts of the womb, others from the left to the left parts of the womb; but if they cross in the descent females are born. 11; 422. When the child comes from the right side of the womb, it resembles the father ; when it comes from the left side, the mother. 30 ; 443. Old age attends the failure of heat.