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


Parmenides of Elea was in his prime about 475 B.C.

He wrote a poem in hexameter verse, addressed to his pupil Zeno; it was divided into three parts: the Prologue, the Way of Truth, the Way of Opinion.

1. The mares which carry me conveyed me as far as my desire reached, when the goddesses who were driving had set me on the famous highway which bears a man who has knowledge through all the cities. Along this way I was carried; for by this way the exceedingly intelligent mares bore me, drawing the chariot, and the maidens directed the way. The axle in the naves gave forth a pipe-like sound as it glowed (for it was driven round by the two whirling circles (wheels) at each end) whenever the maidens, daughters of the Sun, having left the Palace of Night, hastened their driving towards the light, having pushed back their veils from their heads with their hands.

There (in the Palace of Night) are the gates of the paths of Night and Day, and they are enclosed with a lintel above and a stone threshold below. The gates themselves are filled with great folding doors; and of these Justice, mighty to punish, has the interchangeable keys. The maidens, skilfully cajoling her with soft words, persuaded her to push back the bolted

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bar without delay from the gates; and these, flung open, revealed a wide gaping space, having swung their jambs, richly-wrought in bronze, reciprocally in their sockets. This way, then, straight through them went the maidens, driving chariot and mares along the carriage-road.

And the goddess received me kindly, and took my right hand in hers, and thus she spoke and addressed me:

'Young man, companion of immortal charioteers, who comest by the help of the steeds which bring thee to our dwelling: welcome!—since no evil fate has despatched thee on thy journey by this road (for truly it is far from the path trodden by mankind); no, it is divine command and Right. Thou shalt inquire into everything: both the motionless heart of well-rounded Truth, and also the opinions of mortals, in which there is no true reliability. But nevertheless thou shalt learn these things (opinions) also—how one should go through all the things-that-seem, without exception, and test them. 1

2. Come, I will tell you—and you must accept my word when you have heard it—the ways of inquiry which alone are to be thought: the one that it is, and it is not possible for it not to be, is the way of credibility, for it follows Truth; the other, that it is not, and that it is bound not to be: this I tell you is a path that cannot be explored; for you could neither recognise that which is not, nor express it.

3. For it is the same thing to think and to be. 2

4. Observe nevertheless how things absent are securely present to the mind; for it will not sever Being from its connection with Being, whether it is scattered everywhere utterly throughout the universe, or whether it is collected together.

5. It is all the same to me from what point I begin, for I shall return again to this same point.

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6. One should both say and think that Being Is; for To Be is possible, and Nothingness is not possible. This I command you to consider; for from the latter way of search first of all I debar you. But next I debar you from that way along which wander mortals knowing nothing, two-headed, 1 for perplexity in their bosoms steers their intelligence astray, and they are carried along as deaf as they are blind, amazed, uncritical hordes, by whom To Be and Not To Be are regarded as the same and not the same, and (for whom) in everything there is a way of opposing stress. 2

7, 8. For this (view) can never predominate, that That Which Is Not exists. You must debar your thought from this way of search, nor let ordinary experience in its variety force you along this way, (namely, that of allowing) the eye, sightless as it is, and the ear, full of sound, and the tongue, to rule; but (you must) judge by means of the Reason (Logos) the much-contested proof which is expounded by me.

There is only one other description of the way remaining, (namely), that (What Is) Is. To this way there are very many sign-posts: that Being has no coming-into-being and no destruction, for it is whole of limb, without motion, and without end. And it never Was, nor Will Be, because it Is now, a Whole all together, One, continuous; for what creation of it will you look for? How, whence (could it have) sprung? Nor shall I allow you to speak or think of it as springing from Not-Being; for it is neither expressible nor thinkable that What-Is-Not Is. Also, what necessity impelled it, if it did spring from Nothing, to be produced later or earlier? Thus it must Be absolutely, or not at all. Nor will the force of credibility ever admit that anything should come into being, beside Being itself, out of Not-Being. So far as that is concerned, Justice has never released (Being) in its fetters and set it free either to come into being or to perish, but holds it fast. The decision on these matters depends on the following: it is, or it is not. It is therefore decided—as is inevitable—(that one must) ignore the one way as unthinkable and inexpressible (for it is no true way) and take the other as the way of Being and Reality. How could Being perish? How could it come into being? If it came into being, it Is Not; and so too if it is

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about-to-be at some future time. Thus Coming-into-Being is quenched, and Destruction also into the unseen. 1

Nor is Being divisible, since it is all alike. Nor is there anything (here or) there which could prevent it from holding together, nor any lesser thing, but all is full of Being. Therefore it is altogether continuous; for Being is close to Being.

But it is motionless in the limits of mighty bonds, without beginning, without cease, since Becoming and Destruction have been driven very far away, and true conviction has rejected them. And remaining the same in the same place, it rests by itself and thus remains there fixed; for powerful Necessity holds it in the bonds of a Limit, which constrains it round about, because it is decreed by divine law that Being shall not be without boundary. For it is not lacking; but if it were (spatially infinite), it would be lacking everything. 2

To think is the same as the thought that It Is; for you will not find thinking without Being, in (regard to) which there is an expression. For nothing else either is or shall be except Being, since Fate has tied it down to be a whole and motionless; therefore all things that mortals have established, believing in their truth, are just a name: Becoming and Perishing, Being and Not-Being, and Change of position, and alteration of bright colour.

But since there is a (spatial) Limit, it is complete on every side, like the mass of a well-rounded sphere, equally balanced from its centre in every direction; for it is not bound to be at all either greater or less in this direction or that; nor is there Not-Being which could check it from reaching to the same point, nor is it possible for Being to be more in this direction, less in that, than Being, because it is an inviolate whole. For, in all directions equal to itself, it reaches its limits uniformly.

At this point I cease my reliable theory (Logos) and thought, concerning Truth; from here onwards you must learn the opinions of mortals, listening to the deceptive order of my words.

They have established (the custom of) naming two forms, one of which ought not to be (mentioned): that is where they have gone astray. They have distinguished them as opposite in

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form, and have marked them off from another by giving them different signs: on one side the flaming fire in the heavens, mild, very light (in weight), the same as itself in every direction, and not the same as the other. This (other) also is by itself and opposite: dark Night, a dense and heavy body. This world-order I describe to you throughout as it appears with all its phenomena, in order that no intellect of mortal men may outstrip you. 1

9. But since all things are named Light and Night, and names have been given to each class of things according to the power of one or the other (Light or Night), everything is full equally of Light and invisible Night, as both are equal, because to neither of them belongs any share (of the other). 2

10. You shall know the nature of the heavens, and all the signs in the heavens, and the destructive works of the pure bright torch of the sun, and whence they came into being. And you shall learn of the wandering works of the round-faced moon, and its nature; and you shall know also the surrounding heaven, whence it sprang and how Necessity brought and constrained it to hold the limits of the stars.

11. (I will describe) how earth and sun and moon, and the aether common to all, and the Milky Way in the heavens, and outermost Olympus, and the hot power of the stars, hastened to come into being.

12. For the narrower rings were filled with unmixed Fire, and those next to them with Night, but between (these) rushes the portion of Flame. And in the centre of these is the goddess who guides everything; for throughout she rules over cruel Birth and Mating, sending the female to mate with the male, and conversely again the male with the female.

13. First of all the gods she devised Love.

14. (The moon): Shining by night with a light not her own, wandering round the earth.

15. (The moon): Always gazing towards the rays of the sun.

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15a. (Earth): Rooted in water.

16. For according to the mixture of much-wandering limbs which each man has, so is the mind which is associated with mankind: for it is the same thing which thinks, namely the constitution of the limbs in men, all and individually; for it is excess which makes Thought.

17. On the right, boys, on the left, girls . . . (in the womb).

18. When a woman and a man mix the seeds of Love together, the power (of the seeds) which shapes (the embryo) in the veins out of different blood can mould well-constituted bodies only if it preserves proportion. For if the powers war (with each other) when the seed is mixed, and do not make a unity in the body formed by the mixture, they will terribly harass the growing (embryo) through the twofold seed of the (two) sexes.

19. Thus, therefore, according to opinion, were these things created, and are now, and shall hereafter from henceforth grow and then come to an end. And for these things men have established a name as a distinguishing mark for each.


20. But below it (Earth?) is a path, dreadful, hollow, muddy; this is the best path to lead one to the lovely grove of much-revered Aphrodite.


21. (The moon): Of false appearance.

22. 'Remarkably hard to convince'. (=Plato, Parmenides, 135A).

23. (The Acropolis of Boeotian Thebes was called in ancient times 'Islands of the Blest'.)

24. (The Telchînes were created from the hounds of Actaeon, which were changed into men by Zeus).

25. (= Empedocles, Frg. 28).


42:1 Reading δοκιμῶσ᾽ (= δοκιμῶσαι) with Diels, Vors., Edn. 4, and not with Kranz (Wilamowitz) δοκιμῶς (Vors., 5). Wilamowitz took περῶντα with τὰ δοκοῦντα, and translated: ('Still, you shall learn these things too), how phenomena had to be on a plausible footing, because these extend throughout everything.' This interpretation is favoured by those who accept the view that Parmenides left the door open for 'Opinion' in some form; it was rejected by Diels, Vors. 4, Nachträge, p. xxviii, as contrary to Parmenidean metaphysic. See Companion, pp. 141 sqq.

42:2 Or, reading ἔστιν: 'that which it is possible to think is identical with that which can Be'. (Zeller and Burnet, probably rightly).

43:1 i.e., 'in two minds'.

43:2 Cp. Heracleitus, Frg. 8.

44:1 ἄπυστος, 'beyond perception'; also ἄπαυστος, 'never-ending'.

44:2 Reading and meaning doubtful. Diels-Kranz: 'if it lacked Limit, it would fall short of being a Whole', but without any certainty.

45:1 Or, reading γνώμῃ (Stein): 'in order that no mortal may outstrip you in intelligence'.

45:2 Kranz takes ἐπεὶ with the previous line, and translates: 'For nothing is possible which does not come under either of the two' (i.e. everything belongs to one or other of the two categories Light and Night).

Next: 29. Zênô of Elea