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Xenophanes of Colophon

Others across the Greek speaking world were aware of Pythagoras, and was the philosopher Xenophanes (zenAHfenes), born around 570 BCE, around twelves years younger than Pythagoras and with opposing ideas. Xenophanes was a native of Colophon, a Greek city in western Asia Minor. He is described in early life as having fled rather than live under Persian rule and as having been disgusted with the Greeks for their feeble resistance against the Persians. His disgust is described as having spread to his rejection of the the gods of Homer and Hesiod. He favored what he thought was reason rather than being guided in outlook by emotions or mere tradition. He took up in residence with other Greeks in the south of the Italian Peninsula, and there he became a became a celebrated philosopher.

Xenophanes objected to mysticism and to divine revelations. He denounced the priests of the Dionysus movement as impostors. The gods of Homer, he said, teach theft, adultery and mutual deceit. He ridiculed seeing gods as human-like. Fragments of his writing follow:

fragment: "But mortals deem that the gods are begotten as they are, and have clothes like theirs, and voice and form."

fragment: "Yes, and if oxen and horses or lions had hands, and could paint with their hands, and produce works of art as men do, horses would paint the forms of the gods like horses, and oxen like oxen, and make their bodies in the image of their several kinds."

fragment: "The Ethiopians make their gods black and snub-nosed; the Thracians say theirs have blue eyes and red hair."

Xenophanes speculated – knowing that he was going beyond his ability to know. He speculated that the earth stretched infinitely in all directions, that the earth was infinitely deep and that air extended infinitely upwards. He imagined a god as a central force in the universe but not human-like in shape, thought or emotions: a god that is everywhere and everything, a god that is the whole universe, perhaps the primary source that Thales and Anaximander had spoken about. And, like pantheists of later times, his belief that god is nature and nature is god left him open to the charge that he believed in no god at all.



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