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Short description: 5th century BC Greek philosopher
Bust of Parmenides discovered at Velia, thought to have been partially modeled on a Metrodorus bust.
Bornc. late 6th century BC
c. 5th century BC
EraPre-Socratic philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolEleatic school
Main interests
Ontology, Cosmology
Notable ideas
Monism, Truth vs Opinion

Parmenides of Elea (/pɑːrˈmɛnɪdz ...ˈɛliə/; Greek: Παρμενίδης ὁ Ἐλεάτης; fl. late sixth or early fifth century BC) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher from Elea in Magna Graecia.

Parmenides was born in the Greek colony of Elea, from a wealthy and illustrious family.[lower-alpha 1] His dates are uncertain; according to doxographer Diogenes Laërtius, he flourished just before 500 BC,[lower-alpha 2] which would put his year of birth near 540 BC, but in the dialogue Parmenides Plato has him visiting Athens at the age of 65, when Socrates was a young man, c. 450 BC,[lower-alpha 3] which, if true, suggests a year of birth of c. 515 BC.[1] He is thought to have been in his prime (or "floruit") around 475 BC.[2]

The single known work by Parmenides is a poem whose original title is unknown but which is often referred to as On Nature. Only fragments of it survive. In his poem, Parmenides prescribes two views of reality. The first, the Way of "Alethia" or truth, describes how all reality is one, change is impossible, and existence is timeless and uniform. The second view, the way of "Doxa", or opinion, describes the world of appearances, in which one's sensory faculties lead to conceptions which are false and deceitful.

Parmenides has been considered the founder of ontology and has, through his influence on Plato, influenced the whole history of Western philosophy.[3] He is also considered to be the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy, which also included Zeno of Elea and Melissus of Samos. Zeno's paradoxes of motion were developed to defend Parmenides' views. In contemporary philosophy, Parmenides' work has remained relevant in debates about the philosophy of time.


Parmenides was born in the Greek colony of Elea, from a wealthy and illustrious family.[lower-alpha 4] His dates are uncertain; according to doxographer Diogenes Laërtius, he flourished just before 500 BC,[lower-alpha 5] which would put his year of birth near 540 BC, but in the dialogue Parmenides Plato has him visiting Athens at the age of 65, when Socrates was a young man, c. 450 BC,[lower-alpha 6] which, if true, suggests a year of birth of c. 515 BC.[1] He is thought to have been in his prime (or "floruit") around 475 BC.[2]

On Nature

Parmenides' sole work, which has only survived in fragments, is a poem in dactylic hexameter, later titled On Nature. Approximately 160 verses remain today from an original total that was probably near 800.[3] The poem was originally divided into three parts: An introductory proem that contains an allegorical narrative which explains the purpose of the work, a former section known as "The Way of Truth" (aletheia, ἀλήθεια), and a latter section known as "The Way of Appearance/Opinion" (doxa, δόξα). Despite the poem's fragmentary nature, the general plan of both the proem and the first part, "The Way of Truth" have been ascertained by modern scholars, thanks to large excerpts made by Sextus Empiricus[lower-alpha 7] and Simplicius of Cilicia.[lower-alpha 8].[3] Unfortunately, the second part, "The Way of Opinion," which is supposed to have been much longer than the first, only survives in small fragments and prose paraphrases.[3]


The introductory proem describes the narrator's journey to receive a revelation from an unnamed goddess on the nature of reality.[4] The remainder of the work is then presented as the spoken revelation of the goddess without any accompanying narrative.[4]

The narrative of the poet's journey includes a variety of allegorical symbols, such as a speeding chariot with glowing axles, horses, the House of Night, Gates of the paths of Night and Day, and maidens who are "the daughters of the Sun"[5] who escort the poet from the ordinary daytime world to a strange destination, outside our human paths.[6] The allegorical themes in the poem have attracted a variety of different interpretations, including comparisons to Homer and Hesiod, and attempts to relate the journey towards either enlightenment or darkness, but there is little scholarly consensus about any interpretation, and the surviving evidence from the poem itself, as well as any other literary use of allegory from the same time period, may be too sparse to ever determine any of the intended symbolism with certainty.[4]

The Way of Truth

In the Way of Truth, an estimated 90% of which has survived,[3] Parmenides distinguishes between the unity of nature and its variety, insisting in the Way of Truth upon the reality of its unity, which is therefore the object of knowledge, and upon the unreality of its variety, which is therefore the object, not of knowledge, but of opinion[citation needed]. This contrasts with the argument in the section called "the way of opinion," which discusses that which is illusory.

The Way of Opinion

In the significantly longer, but far worse preserved latter section of the poem, Way of Opinion, Parmenides propounds a theory of the world of seeming and its development, pointing out, however, that, in accordance with the principles already laid down, these cosmological speculations do not pretend to anything more than mere appearance. The structure of the cosmos is a fundamental binary principle that governs the manifestations of all the particulars: "the aether fire of flame" (B 8.56), which is gentle, mild, soft, thin and clear, and self-identical, and the other is "ignorant night", body thick and heavy.[7][lower-alpha 9] Cosmology originally comprised the greater part of his poem, explaining the world's origins and operations.[lower-alpha 10] Some idea of the sphericity of the Earth also seems to have been known to Parmenides.[3][lower-alpha 11]


As the first of the Eleatics, Parmenides is generally credited with being the philosopher who first defined ontology as a separate discipline distinct from theology.[3] His most important pupil was Zeno, who appears alongside him in Plato's Parmenides where they debate dialectic with Socrates.[lower-alpha 12] The pluralist theories of Empedocles and Anaxagoras and the atomist Leucippus, and Democritus have also been seen as a potential response to Parmenides' arguments and conclusions.[8]}} Parmenides is also mentioned in Plato's Sophist[lower-alpha 13] and Theaetetus.[lower-alpha 14] Later Hellenistic doxographers also considered Parmenides to have been a pupil of Xenophanes.[lower-alpha 15] Eusebius, quoting Aristocles of Messene, says that Parmenides was part of a line of skeptical philosophy that culminated in Pyrrhonism.[lower-alpha 16][better source needed] Parmenides' proto-monism of the One also influenced Plotinus and Neoplatonism.[citation needed]


Explanatory notes


  1. Diogenes Laërtius, (DK 28A1 {{{2}}})
  2. Diogenes Laërtius (DK 28A1 {{{2}}})
  3. Plato, Parmenides, 127a–128b (DK 28A5 {{{2}}})
  4. Diogenes Laërtius, (DK 28A1 {{{2}}})
  5. Diogenes Laërtius (DK 28A1 {{{2}}})
  6. Plato, Parmenides, 127a–128b (DK 28A5 {{{2}}})
  7. Against the Mathematicians,(DK 28B1 {{{2}}})
  8. Commentary on Aristotle's Physics(DK 22B8 {{{2}}})
  9. (DK 28B8.53–4 {{{2}}})
  10. Stobaeus, i. 22. 1a
  11. DK 28B10
  12. (DK 28A5 {{{2}}})
  13. Sophist, 241d
  14. Plato, Theaetetus, 183e
  15. Aristotle, Metaphysics, i. 5; Sextus Empiricus, adv. Math. vii. 111; Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, i. 301; Diogenes Laërtius, ix. 21
  16. Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica Chapter XVII


  1. 1.0 1.1 Curd 2004, pp. 3-8.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Freeman 1946, p. 140.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Palmer 2020.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Curd 2004, I.3.
  5. Kirk, Raven & Schofield 1983, p. 243.
  6. Furley 1973, pp. 1–15.
  7. Guthrie 1979, p. 61–62.
  8. Sedley 1998.


Ancient testimony

In the Diels-Kranz numbering for testimony and fragments of Pre-Socratic philosophy, Parmenides is catalogued as number 28. The most recent edition of this catalogue is:

Diels, Hermann; Kranz, Walther (1957) (in grc,de). Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker. Rowohlt. ISBN 5875607416. Retrieved 11 April 2022. .

Life and doctrines


Modern scholarship

Further reading

  • Austin, Scott (1986) (in en). Parmenides: Being, Bounds, and Logic. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-03559-9. 
  • Austin, Scott (15 July 2007) (in en). Parmenides and The History of Dialectic. Parmenides Publishing. ISBN 978-1-930972-53-7. 
  • Bakalis Nikolaos (2005), Handbook of Greek Philosophy: From Thales to the Stoics Analysis and Fragments, Trafford Publishing, ISBN:1-4120-4843-5
  • Barnes, Jonathan (1982). "Parmenides and the Objects of Inquiry". The Presocratic Philosophers. Routledge and Kegan Paul. pp. 155–175. 
  • Cordero, Nestor-Luis (2004), By Being, It Is: The Thesis of Parmenides. Parmenides Publishing, ISBN:978-1-930972-03-2
  • Cordero Néstor-Luis (ed.), Parmenides, Venerable and Awesome (Plato, Theaetetus 183e) Las Vegas: Parmenides Publishing 2011. Proceedings of the International Symposium (Buenos Aires, 2007), ISBN:978-1-930972-33-9
  • Coxon A. H. (2009), The Fragments of Parmenides: A Critical Text With Introduction and Translation, the Ancient Testimonia and a Commentary. Las Vegas, Parmenides Publishing (new edition of Coxon 1986), ISBN:978-1-930972-67-4
  • Curd, Patricia (2011), A Presocratics Reader: Selected Fragments and Testimonia, Hackett Publishing, ISBN:978-1603843058 (Second edition Indianapolis/Cambridge 2011)
  • Hermann, Arnold (2005), To Think Like God: Pythagoras and Parmenides-The Origins of Philosophy, Fully Annotated Edition, Parmenides Publishing, ISBN:978-1-930972-00-1
  • Hermann, Arnold (2010), Plato's Parmenides: Text, Translation & Introductory Essay, Parmenides Publishing, ISBN:978-1-930972-71-1
  • Mourelatos, Alexander P. D. (2008). The Route of Parmenides: A Study of Word, Image, and Argument in the Fragments. Las Vegas: Parmenides Publishing. ISBN:978-1-930972-11-7 (First edition Yale University Press 1970)
  • Palmer, John. (2009). Parmenides and Presocratic Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Extensive bibliography (up to 2004) by Nestor Luis Cordero; and annotated bibliography by Raul Corazzon

External links