Parmenides was a Greek philosopher and poet, born of an illustrious family. He was held in high esteem by his fellow citizens for his excellent legislation, and was admired for his exemplary life.

He believed that truth lies in the perception that existence is, and that error lies in the idea that non-existence also can be. Nothing can exist if it cannot be imagined, therefore to be imagined and to be able to exist are the same thing. He goes on to consider the consequences of saying that anything exists. In the first place, it cannot have come into being. If it had, it must have arisen either from nothing or from something. It cannot have arisen from nothing, for there is no nothing. It cannot have arisen from something, for there is nothing else than what exists. Nor can anything else besides itself come into being, for there can be no empty space in which it could do so. In this way, Parmenides completely refutes all accounts of the origin of the universe.

(Speaking to Socrates) “…similars, for example, become similar, because they partake of similarity; and great things become great, because they partake of greatness; and just and beautiful things become just and beautiful, because they partake of justice and beauty…”

(Speaking to Socrates) “…one and the same thing will exist as a whole at the same time in many separate individuals, and will therefore be in a state of separation from itself.”

Ouroboros says, "If these quotations are addressed to Socrates, they are likely the construction of Plato, a character based on the historical philosopher Parmenides, and are therefore suspect."

Parmenides may have been appropriated by Plato as a character in some of his works, but the actual writings of Parmenides are fragments, possibly even fragments of fragments. Poet-translator Stan Lombardo points out in his introduction to the fragments that it is possible (based on analysis of both content and hexameter) that Parmenides had training in a mystic tradition, possibly Orphic shamanism. Lombardo's translation of the fragments differs considerably from the standard Diels text. As an allegory for his atomistic philosophy of physics, Parmenides' fragments have certain pedagogical value. As poetry, they remain haunting and beautiful, particularly in Lombardo's capable hands. Certainly Rumi and Parmenides have plenty to talk about in that Big Coffeeshop in the Sky.

Excerpts from the Lombardo Translation

The horses that take me to the ends of my mind
were taking me now; the drivers had put me
on the road to the Goddess, the manifest Way
that leads the enlightened through every delusion.

I was on that road. Wizard mares
strained at the chariot and maidens drove it.
The axle whined in the hubs like a Panspipe
hanging fire in the whirl of the wheels, propulsion
of these priestess-daughters of the Sun
when they leave on a mission from nightspace to light
pushing their veils from their heads with their hands.

The gates of the skyways of Night and Day
loomed up before us, gates made of space-stuff
but capped with a lintel, a stone threshold before them
and filled with the mass of great solid doors...

You will come to know
the nature of the sky and all the signs that are there,
the imperceptible effects of the sun's blinding rays
and the source of its energy,
the force and the nature of the round-faced moon
in her erratic orbit,
and the arching dome of the universe,
how it originated
and how Necessity engineered it to fetter the stars.

round earth
a wanderer with borrowed light

Note: I strongly recommend the Lombardo translation to anyone interested in Parmenides, but must note that it is not a side-by-side translation. It can be very frustrating not to be able to consult the Greek, a situation easily remedied by acquiring the Diels as well as the Lombardo or by visiting and downloading the Diels as a PDF or in unicode. The Lombardo is currently out of print, but I had no problem finding a replacement copy when mine went into the bathtub last weekend.

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