by Albino Nolletti (copyright in Italy 2004, in other countries 2013) - webmaster Federico Adamoli

www.parmenides-of-elea.net - last revision: january, 15 2013


Ancient bust of Parmenides.
In truth, the facial features of Parmenides are invented because unknown,
like those of all the pre-socratic philosophers. In fact, chronologically
the first philosopher whose physical appearance is known is Socrates.


THE “VISION” AND REASONING OF PARMENIDES

All things are one, and this one is Being” (*)

         According to Parmenides, existing cosmic space is not unlimited but is an enormous sphere.
         It is entirely filled by “Being”. “
Being” is the only and homogeneous substance that, permeating all things (including human beings and the air) that our senses perceive in the cosmos, constitutes the cosmos itself. In fact, in the “vision” of the eleatic philosopher the cosmos is not composed of numerous entities – planets, stars, people, animals, trees, flowers, houses, mountains, clouds, etc., of different appearance and color, capable of transformation, movement, birth and death – that appear daily before our eyes, but consists of Being, which is an eternal, not generated, one, huge, limited, spherical, motionless substance, not becoming but always equal to itself, homogeneous, of the same density everywhere, not divided into multiple “things” but continuous.
         So: only Being exists. This Being, which is one, is perceived by humans as “broken” in many things, all the things that our deceptive sight daily sees:

To this One so many names will be assigned
as many are the things that mortals proposed, believing that they were true,
that they were born and perish, that they exist and do not exist,
that they changed the place and their bright color” (8,38-41)

Literal translation:
"It will have for name all things,
how many the mortals proposed, believing that they were true,
that they were born and perish, that they exist and do not [exist],
that they changed the place and their bright color" (8,38-41)



Left picture: Parmenides’ Being is not divided into land, water, air, people, animals, etc.; it is a huge spherical mass of homogeneous, of the same density everywhere, continuous, undivided, always the same, eternal substance. It fills the entire cosmos and therefore constitutes the cosmos.

Right picture: Instead, our sight perceives Being, the reality, as made of many “things”: land, sea, sky, people, animals, trees, houses, etc., which over time change their shape, color and place, born and die.


         Then, inside all the apparent “things” – that appear to us separate from each other and bound to be born, to change and to perish – there is a single and immutable substrate, an indivisible and eternal substance, which is “Being”. It is the foundation of the apparent “things”, it is the substance that uniformly permeates the entire cosmos. The universe is made from a continuous substance, it is an homogeneous “continuum”, which seems to us broken into multiple “objects” of different appearance and color, capable of transformation, movement, birth and death.
If “Being” did not exist, our senses could not perceive the “appearances” and even the appearance of human beings, and also of themselves, and our mind could not think anything, including itself, nothing would exist.


         (*) The doctrine of Parmenides is summarized in these words by Aristotle in “Metaphysics”, III, 4, 1001 a 29.
          Aristotle also wrote: “Some philosophers argued that
the universe is an only entity … these philosophers say that the One is motionless … Parmenides, considering that beside Being there is no Non-Being, must necessarily believe that Being is one; he, forced however to take into account the things that appear to our senses, and assuming that the one is according to reason while the multiplicity is according to senses, supposes two causes and two principles, the hot and the cold, that is, the fire and the earth; and he assigns to hot the rank of Being and to cold the rank of Non-Being” (Metaphysics, I, 5, 986 b 18 – 987 a 1).
         And Theophrastus, a disciple of Aristotle and his successor as head of the Lyceum, in the first book of his “Physics”, writes: “Parmenides believed that
in accordance with truth the whole is one, not generated and spherical, while, in accordance with the opinion of many, in order to explain the origin of things that appear to our senses, supposed two principles, the fire and the earth”.
         Plato writes in his dialogue “Theaetetus” (180 e): “Melissus and Parmenides argue that
all things are one and it is stable in itself, not having a place to move”.
         And in his dialogue “The sofist” (242 d) Plato writes: “Eleatic philosophers argue that
what is commonly defined as ‘all things’ is one thing”.


How should be really the appearances

You also will learn how should be interpreted
the appearances that pass all continuously” (1,31-32)
Literal translation:
“But you will learn these things also, how
should be really the appearances that pass all continuously” (1,31-32)


         Hence, Being is an uniform and stationary globe, in which it seems to us there are moving shapes and colors; it is a huge body in which we perceive, as colorful and moving figurines, the appearances (people, animals, trees, flowers, mountains, rivers, etc.).
         The things that we perceive with our senses (“ta dokounta”= the appearances) exist, but not as such, not as individual bodies, separated from each other, multiple and changing. Their substrate, their constituent substance, which is Being, exists. They are made of the same single, eternal, unchangeable and motionless substance, while they seem born and die, move and change. All these apparent objects,
including air (in fact the air is not the void and therefore contains the same quantity of “being” than solids and liquid contain), are contiguous and without boundaries that define them and therefore continuous and are all made from a single substance, from an homogeneous “continuum” which is Being.


Being” is, “Non-Being” is not

         Since Being fills the entire existing space (“it touches the borders”: 8,49) and coincides with it, outside of it and beyond it there is nothing else. Hypothetical entities external to Being cannot exist and should not even be thought of, because, being physically and conceptually outside the sphere of Being, that is, of what exists, cannot exist.
         But not only “Non-Being” does not exist outside of the sphere of Being; it does not even exist inside Being (under the unthinkable aspect of emptiness, of change in shape, color and place, of birth and death).


Being” does not change

         Parmenides’ Being does not change, does not become, does not move, always remains the same and is everlasting. In truth, from the logical point of view, if something is different today from what it was in the past, it is no longer the same thing. If a green leaf becomes yellow, it is no longer the same entity; if a man who has black hair then will have white, he is no longer the same man; a plant that forms new branches and buds is not the same anymore but another; and so on.
         Parmenides and his disciples believe that if Being was subject to transformation, to change, it gradually become non-being; in fact the entities, becoming,
         a) become something else, other than themselves, losing their identity, their essence: “If it changes, it must destroy what was, and “what is not” must be born: so Being perished and Non-Being was born” (Melissus of Samos, disciple and exegete of Parmenides: 7,2; 8,6);
         b) and gradually come to death: “If Being would change even only a hair in ten thousand years, it would be completely destroyed in the duration of time” (Melissus 7,2).
Logical reasoning tells us that a body, to remain itself, cannot change and, if it does not change, will remain forever.


Thinking and that because of which there is thinking are the same thing”

         Since Being is the only existing entity, it is the only object of thought: “thinking and that because of which there is thinking are the same thing” (8,34), “it is the same to think and to be” (fragment 3). If nothing existed, there would be nothing to think about. If Being did not exist, the thought would not even exist. “In fact, without Being … you will not find thinking” (8,35-36). The thought is thought of Being. Being is at the same time what exists and the only object of thought.


Is Parmenides’ Being object or concept?

         I think that Parmenides is started from logical reasoning I have explained in my book and in which I cannot expand here for reasons of space and then has performed the fusion between thought and being, between thinking and what is thought, between logical concept and cosmos. So in the fragment 8 Being – that in the previous fragments represented the logic concept of “existing”, was “what is” conceptually, as opposed to non-being, that is, to nothing – assumes the physical configuration of “what exists in the cosmos”, of the only and uniform substance constituting the cosmos, until to coincide with the cosmos itself. In fact we see that it shows to have a physical consistence: it is “continuous” (8,6; 8,25); “But since there is an extreme limit, it is limited” (8,42); “it touches the borders” (8,49); and this “Being” is great, restrained “within the limits of great bonds” (8,26).
         Parmenides’ Being is therefore the unitary physical substance of the world and at the same time the logical concept of “existing”. In his absolutely unitary “vision” Parmenides theorizes an entity that is simultaneously:
physical-cosmological: it is all that exists in the cosmos, and then the cosmos itself; metaphysical: it is the invisible substance “behind” all individual apparent things that we perceive every day, constituting and permeating them; ontological: it is the only existing being, is “what is”; logical-conceptual: since it is the only existing body, is the only object of thought; the mind reunifies Being, which senses had mistakenly divided into many things.


Ways” and “speeches” of Parmenides: there is no “third speech” (so-called “third way”)

         In my book I preferred speak of speech on Truth and speech on Opinions, instead of – as other Authors did – way of Truth and way of Opinions. Parmenides himself, when will talk about speech, uses the words “logos” (“pistòn logon = trustworthy speech: 8,50) and “muthos” (2,1; 8,1); when he intends to speak about way, uses the terms “odòs = way (8,1; 8,18) and “odòs dizèsios = way of inquiry (2,2; 6,3; 7,2). Distinguishing speeches and ways, I was able to conclude that the speeches of Parmenides are two: that on Truth, revealed by the Goddess to Parmenides (fragments from 2 to 8,50), and that on Opinions, submitted by the Goddess to Parmenides as misleading (fragments from 8,50 to 19). In conclusion, the existing speech is ONE, that of the truth and Being, because the second, speaking about appearances, is not valid. Instead the ways of inquiry are four: ONE exact (“Being is”: 2,3; 6,1; 8,2) and three erroneous (“Being is not”: 2,5; “Being and Non-Being are regarded as the same thing and not the same thing”: 6, 8-9; “There are things that are not”: 7,1).
         Some notable Authors, very valid translators, interpreters and commentators of the Greek philosophers and talented philosophers themselves have suggested a “third speech” in Parmenides’ poem, that of “plausible appearances”. They have been misled by:

         - a not completely accurate translation and/or interpretation of the verses 1,31-32 and 8,38-41;
         - the apparent contradiction between 8,50-52 and 8,60-61;
         - the fact that Parmenides spends many verses (fragments 9-19 and missing verses between them) to the description of the apparent world, whereas – in their opinion – if it is “deceptive” rather than “plausible”, it does not deserve them.

         In truth, the verses 1,31-32 are clear. The Goddess tells Parmenides that he must learn all the things, namely:

         a) the solid heart of the well-round Truth, that is Being (speech on truth: fragment from 2 to 8,50);
         b) the opinions of mortals, that is appearances, in which there is no real certainty (speech on the opinions of mortals: fragments from 8,50 to 19);
         c) “how” the appearances, which pass continuously, should be really, that is, “how” the appearances referred in the speech b) should be interpreted.

         POINT c) ANTICIPATES THE EXPLANATION OF THE SPEECH b), then contained in 8,38-41 (“To this One so many names will be assigned/as many are the things that mortals proposed, believing that they were true,/ that they were born and perish, that they exist and do not exist,/ that they changed the place and their bright color”). IT IS NOT A THIRD SPEECH!
         Everything the Goddess tells Parmenides after 8,50-52
“NOW I INTERRUPT the trustworthy speech and reflection about truth: HENCEFORTH learn the opinions of mortals listening to the deceptive construction of my words” is false, is appearance.
         The fact that in 8,60-61 the Goddess says “To you I completely expose the likely cosmic order, so some opinion of mortals will never surpass you” does not means that the verses 8,53-59 tell lies and those of fragments from 9 to 19 present “plausible” descriptions:
both the ones and the others have been correctly placed by Diels after the watershed of 8,50-52 and are all human opinions, whether they belong to other mortals whether they belong to Parmenides, suggested to him by the Goddess with an only dialectical purpose, as we will see later. In fact, the dualism (“in this they were wrong”: 8,54) of the verses 8,53-59 continues in fragment 9: “since, if neither the one nor the other is present, there is nothing”, but always according to the erroneous belief of mortals! WE ARE ALWAYS AFTER 8,50-52, THE WATERSHED!
         In the speech on Truth there is no place for dualism, nor – of course – for pluralism. In Parmenides’ doctrine there is the apotheosis of monism, his monism is absolute: one is Being, which is improperly divided by mortals in many things (8,38-41); one is the mind, which assists all men (fragment 16) and thinks Being (4,2-4; 8,34-36); one is the way (“with many voices” [1,2], with many hypotheses, only one of which is that of Truth, of Being: “that Being is” [2,3; 6,1; 8,2]); and these entities, the mind, the Goddess, the way, converge and are contained in the only correct speech (that of divine Truth, known only by the Goddess and revealed only to Parmenides); they, like all the others that we perceive or imagine, are manifestations of Being, are imbued with the unitary substance of Being.

         So – supporters of the “third speech” are asking – why Parmenides devotes many verses, the entire third part of the poem (after the proem and the speech on truth), to the description of appearances?
         The Goddess herself explains partly it: “so some opinion of mortals will never surpass you” (8,61). She wants his protégé, in a likely dialectical contest with other thinkers, after he presented his theory on Being, is not exceeded by the other men even in “deceptive” (8,52) description of the wonderful and varied appearances. Parmenides (“the man who knows”: 1,3) will tell to other men (“who know nothing”: 6,4): I, chosen by the Goddess, know how is the real world, the world of Being, known only by the Gods and revealed only to me, but if you want I compete with you in describing the world as we mortals see it, I can do it in a more detailed and more poetic manner than all of you.
         We must also consider that Parmenides has decided to present his philosophical theory in poetry and not in prose. After the proem, evocative and poetic, he was however obliged to express in verses (not poetic: Parmenides is a great philosopher, but has not the poetic genius of Lucretius who was able to transpose philosophical theories of Epicurus admirably in poetry, so that Foscolo called “De rerum natura” with the words “the superhuman poem of Lucretius”) from fragment 2 to fragment 8 heavy and not very poetic philosophical statements on Being. He now absolutely needs to continue the poem writing widely about something poetic, that is, the world of Opinions, because, even if it is only apparent, it is very beautiful, full of stars, constellations, human beings, sun’s rays, reflected light of the moon that shines in the night, etc.
         Another reason is probably as follows. Parmenides had carried for many years, like his predecessors, the activity of naturalist philosopher. During that activity he had achieved important knowledge and discoveries; probably he was collecting his observations and reflections on natural phenomena in an unpublished manuscript, destined then to be made public with the usual title “Perì fùseos”, when, during his meditation on the “entities” that “passed continuously” before his eyes, conceived the extraordinary intuition of the doctrine of Being. Although the results of his previous studies had been overtaken by the theory of Being and therefore downgraded by Parmenides himself to the rank of “opinions”, he wished to avoid that they, and with them all his intellectual work of many years, get lost. He therefore, having written a single work (being clearly impossible to write two works containing opposing theories), has incorporated in it, in the section “on opinions”, the conclusions he had reached in the study of natural events, although he believed now that they were not valid. So he – as he promises in the fragment 10 and 11 – in the lost fragments has presumably described how he had previously and erroneously interpreted the nature of the sky, of the constellations and of the moon, the “works” of the sun and moon, the origin of the earth, the sun and moon, of ether, stars, the Milk Way, Olympus, as the sky supports the extremities of the stars, in fragment 12 as the celestial spheres were born and the origin of sexual attraction, in fragment 14-15 as the moon shines by night but not its light but reflected from the sun, and in fragments 16-17-18 as the major part of the substance of the organs of the human body, that governs and directs them, is the thought, as the human embryo is formed and as it is placed in the uterus and what happens if the seeds of the female and the male ones do not mix properly. But then in fragment 19 he concludes by reiterating that all these things happen “according to the opinion” and not according to the truth, and …

...if you want to know more, you can read the book (but it is written in Italian)



What is Parmenides’ Being

The book in Italian “Che cos’è l’essere di

Parmenide: spiegazione di un enigma

filosofico” (“What is Parmenides’ Being:

explanation of a philosophical enigma”)

with ten color plates (174 pages in paper)

is on sale in the form of e-book at a price

of Euro 6.00 on Amazon.


In the cover photo: Archaic Gate and “Rosa” Gate at Elea (now Ascea, in the province of Salerno, Italy). In the foreground you can see the few remains of Archaic Gate (built around 500 BC, when Parmenides was a teenager), in the background the beautiful and famous “Rosa” Gate (built in 350-340 BC). They share the road connecting the southern district of Elea with the northern one. Parmenides (515-440 BC) saw the Archaic Gate and often passed through it; he probably was inspired by it and its functioning in the description of the gate in the proem of his poem.


Book's extract:
[ PARMENIDE'S POEM: text, translation and paraphrase ]


Understanding the philosophy

Another book in Italian by the same author:

“Capire la filosofia: breve e semplice storia della

filosofia” (“Understanding the philosophy:

short and simple history of philosophy”)

(144 pages in paper).

Also this book is on sale in the form of e-book

at the price of Euro 6,00 on Amazon.


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