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Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers, by Kathleen Freeman, [1948], at


Xenophanes of Colophôn was in his prime about 530 B.C. He wrote poems for recitation, in hexameters and elegiacs.


1. For now, behold, the floor is clean, and so too the hands of all, and the cups. One (attendant) places woven garlands round our heads, another proffers sweet-scented myrrh in a saucer. The mixing-bowl stands there full of good cheer, and another wine is ready in the jar, a wine that promises never to betray us, honeyed, smelling of flowers. In our midst the frankincense gives forth its sacred perfume; and there is cold water, sweet and pure. Golden loaves lie to hand, and the lordly table is laden with cheese and with honey. The altar in the centre is decked with flowers all over, and song and revelry fill the mansion.

It is proper for men who are enjoying themselves first of all to praise God with decent stories and pure words. But when they have poured a libation and prayed for the power to do what is just—for thus to pray is our foremost need—it is no outrage to drink as much as will enable you to reach home without a guide, unless you are very old. But the man whom one must praise is he who after drinking expresses thoughts that are noble, as well as his memory (and his endeavour1 concerning virtue allows, not treating of the battles of the Titans or of the Giants, figments of our predecessors, nor of violent civil war, in which tales there is nothing useful; but always to have respect for the gods, that is good.

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2. But if anyone were to win a victory with fleetness of foot, or fighting in the Pentathlon, where the precinct of Zeus lies between the springs of Pisa at Olympia, or in wrestling, or in virtue of the painful science of boxing, or in a dread kind of contest called Pancration: to the citizens he would be more glorious to look upon, and he would acquire a conspicuous seat of honour at competitions, and his maintenance would be provided out of the public stores by the City-State, as well as a gift for him to lay aside as treasure.

So too if he won a prize with his horses, he would obtain all these rewards, though not deserving of them as I am; for my craft (wisdom) is better than the strength of men or of horses. Yet opinion is altogether confused in this matter, and it is not right to prefer physical strength to noble Wisdom. For it is not the presence of a good boxer in the community, nor of one good at the Pentathlon or at wrestling, nor even of one who excels in fleetness of foot—which is highest in honour of all the feats of strength seen in men's athletic contests—it is not these that will give a City-State a better constitution. Small would be the enjoyment that a City-State would reap over the athletic victory of a citizen beside the banks of Pisa! These things do not enrich the treasure-chambers of the State.

3. (The men of Colophon), having learnt useless forms of luxury from the Lydians, as long as they were free from hateful tyranny, used to go to the place of assembly wearing all-purple robes, not less than a thousand of them in all: haughty, adorned with well-dressed hair, steeped in the scent of skilfully-prepared unguents.

4. (The Lydians first struck coinage).

5. Nor would anyone first pour the wine into the cup when mixing it, but rather the water, and on to that the pure wine.

6. For, having sent a kid's ham, you received in return the fat leg of a bull, a precious prize for a man whose fame shall reach all over Hellas, and shall not cease so long as the race of Hellenic bards exists.

7. Now again I shall pass to another theme, and shall show the way. . . .

. . . And once, they say, passing by when a puppy was being

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beaten, he pitied it, and spoke as follows: 'Stop! Cease your beating, because this is really the soul of a man who was my friend: I recognised it as I heard it cry aloud.'

8. By now, seven-and-sixty years have been tossing my care-filled heart over the land of Hellas. From my birth till then (that is, till his exile), there were twenty-five years to be added to these, if indeed I am able to tell correctly of these matters.

9. Much feebler than an aged man.


10. Since from the beginning all have learnt in accordance with Homer . . .

11. Both Homer and Hesiod have attributed to the gods all things that are shameful and a reproach among mankind: theft, adultery, and mutual deception.

12. They have narrated every possible wicked story of the gods: theft, adultery, and mutual deception.

13. (Homer was earlier than Hesiod).

14. But mortals believe the gods to be created by birth, and to have their own (mortals’) raiment, voice and body.

15. But if oxen (and horses) and lions had hands or could draw with hands and create works of art like those made by men, horses would draw pictures of gods like horses, and oxen of gods like oxen, and they would make the bodies (of their gods) in accordance with the form that each species itself possesses.

16. Aethiopians have gods with snub noses and black hair, Thracians have gods with grey eyes and red hair.

17. (The Bacchic branches) of fir-wood stand round the firm-built dwelling.

18. Truly the gods have not revealed to mortals all things from the beginning; but mortals by long seeking discover what is better.

19. (Xenophanes admired Thales for having predicted solar eclipses).

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20. (Xenophanes said that he had heard that Epimenides lived to the age of 154).

21. (Of Simonides). Skinflint.

21a. Erykos (Eryx, in Sicily).

22. One should hold such converse by the fire-side in the winter season, lying on a soft couch, well-fed, drinking sweet wine, nibbling peas: 'Who are you among men, and where from? How old are you, my good friend? What age were you when the Mede came?'

23. There is one god, among gods and men the greatest, not at all like mortals in body or in mind.

24. He sees as a whole, thinks as a whole, and hears as a whole.

25. But without toil he sets everything in motion, by the thought of his mind.

26. And he always remains in the same place, not moving at all, nor is it fitting for him to change his position at different times.

27. For everything comes from earth and everything goes back to earth at last.

28. This is the upper limit of the earth that we see at our feet, in contact with the air; but the part beneath goes down to infinity.

29. All things that come into being and grow are earth and water.

30. The sea is the source of water, and the source of wind. For neither could (the force of the wind blowing outwards from within come into being) without the great main (sea), nor the streams of rivers, nor the showery water of the sky; but the mighty main is the begetter of clouds and winds and rivers.

31. The sun rushing on its way above the earth and giving it warmth.

32. And she whom they call Iris, she too is actually a cloud, purple and flame-red and yellow to behold.

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33. We all have our origin from earth and water.

34. And as for certain truth, no man has seen it, nor will there ever be a man who knows about the gods and about all the things I mention. For if he succeeds to the full in saying what is completely true, he himself is nevertheless unaware of it; and Opinion (seeming) is fixed by fate upon all things.

35. Let these things be stated as conjectural only, similar to the reality.

36. All appearances which exist for mortals to look at. . . .

37. Also, in (certain) caves, water drips down.

38. If God had not created yellow honey, they would say that figs were far sweeter.

39. Cherry-tree.

40. (Ionian dialect-word for a frog).

41. (Word for) A pit.


20:1 τόνος (Diels), an unlikely emendation.

Next: 22. Hêracleitus of Ephesus