12 julio, 2024

Xenophanes: who was, biography, philosophy and works

Who was Xenophanes?

Xenophanes of colophon (ca.570-478 BC) He was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher and poet. In addition to developing and synthesizing the works of two great philosophers (Anaximander and Anaximenes), his most important contribution was his arguments about the existence of a single eternal being, who did not share attributes with human beings.

The prevailing belief of the time was that there were many gods who looked and behaved like mortals. In the representations of the poets, they exhibited bad behavior: theft, cheating, adultery. Xenophanes considered this behavior to be reprehensible, and should not be attributable to the divine.

He was a keen observer of the human condition, and practiced the special form of inquiry used by the Milesian philosopher-scientists. He was also a civic advisor who encouraged his fellow citizens to respect the gods and work to safeguard the welfare of his city.

Xenophanes Biography

Very few reliable data of his life are preserved; His biographers place his birth in Colophon, a Greek city in Asia Minor, between 580 BC and 570 BC. What all researchers agree is that he had a long and fruitful life.

Historical evidence shows that Xenophanes kept making poetry until he was in his 90s. This evidence places the date of his death at some point around 478 BC.

According to specialists, Xenophanes may have left his home possibly around 548 BC, when the city was taken over by the Medes (a tribe originally from western Thrace).

From there, he spent most of his life wandering throughout Greece until reaching Sicily, where he spent some time, later settling in Elea in southern Italy.

Xenophanes Philosophy

Even today the debate persists about whether or not Xenophanes should be included in the philosophical field. Even in his time he was excluded from the groups of philosophers. Many scholars have classified him as a poet or a theologian, or even an irrational mystic.

Furthermore, it is claimed that Xenophanes did not attract a large number of followers or disciples to his philosophy. It was due in part to his arguments against polytheism, the basis of Greek religion.

He proposed the existence of an indivisible god, completely different from human nature. These and other proposals did not bring him favorable treatment from other philosophers, such as Plato or Aristotle.

Similarly, many scholars consider that Xenophanes did not leave anything resembling a rational justification or argument for some of his claims, as any other philosopher would.

However, they agree that ignoring Xenophanes as a philosophical figure would be a mistake.

They also consider that he left some contributions in his fragments that, although they do not fit within the philosophical style, deserve serious consideration. Here are several of his teachings.

social morality

A recurring image of Xenophanes in many of his fragments is that of social criticism. Despite the fact that on many occasions he recited his poetry during celebrations and feasts, he always reserved a comment about the debauchery that characterized them.

Many of the fragments suggest that Xenophanes was welcome among the circles of people who had access to the good things in life. However, he felt it was his duty to encourage these people to behave with mercy and restraint.

In the same way, in the writings Xenophanes is observed criticizing ostentation. In them he makes a connection between the fall of his hometown and the inordinate displays of wealth by his citizens.

In other of his fragments of social criticism, Xenophanes expressed his disagreement with the excessive rewards and reverence offered to champion athletes.

In his opinion, these distinctions were made to the detriment of scholars and poets, who were not taken into account or appreciated.

divine conception

Xenophanes dedicated a group of passages, in an argumentative style, to criticize the human propensity to create gods in his image and likeness. According to him, mortals assumed that the gods clothed themselves, had a voice, and had a body.

He ironized by exemplifying the gods of the Ethiopians, who, according to the custom of representing the gods as themselves, would all be brown and black.

Following the same line of reasoning, the Thracian gods would be blue-eyed and red-haired. In addition, he attacked the tendency of religious people to privilege their belief system over others without having solid reasons to base it on.

Deep down, the divine conception that he preached was one based more on rationality than on traditional values.

The coincidence that in some cases the gods of two different peoples were the same, but with different names and presentations, gave argument to his philosophical position.

Divine goodness and the nature of the divine

Xenophanes, while criticizing the anthropomorphization of the gods, opposed the assignment of evil to them. According to scholars of him, this was due to his desire to maintain divine perfection and goodness.

This position was shared by many philosophers of his time, who accepted the thesis of the inherent goodness of the gods.

Similarly, many of his statements led other philosophers to believe that Xenophanes advocated a monotheistic religion. Others claimed that he openly supported Olympian polytheism.

For that reason, some classify him as a pantheist (where universe, nature, and god are equivalent), while others have maintained that he was essentially an atheist or materialist, since his observations were an attempt to desacralize celestial phenomena.

Works of Xenophanes

you chose

From the point of view of metrics, specialists affirm that Xenophanes wrote elegies. The topics treated with preference in his works were the symposium, the criticism of the greed of the rich, true virtue and some autobiographical traits.


Certain works with satire characteristics are also attributed to him. They were directed mainly against the poets Homer, Hesiod and also against some Greek philosophers.

epic poetry

Two epic poems are attributed to Xenophanes: colophon foundation and Colonization of Elea in Italy. According to the Greek historian of classical philosophy, Diogenes Laertius, the two works were composed of a total of 2,000 verses.

didactic poem about nature

Xenophanes is also credited with writing a poem titled about nature, that He was influenced by the philosophers Empedocles and Parmenides.

On the other hand, specialists say that much of the Ionian philosophy can be observed in its content and metrics.


Lesher, J. (2018). Xenophanes. In Edward N. Zalta (editor), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Taken from plato.stanford.edu.
Mark, JJ (2009, September 02). Xenophanes of Colophon. Taken from ancient.eu.
New World Encyclopedia. (s/f). History of Xenophanes. Taken from newworldencyclopedia.org.
Starkey LH and Calogero, G. (2011, February 17). Eleaticism. Taken from britannica.com.
Encyclopædia Britannica. (2008, November 12). Xenophanes. Taken from britannica.com.
Patzia, M. (s/f). Xenophanes (c. 570—c. 478 BCE). Taken from iep.utm.edu.
James, L. (2018, January 24). Xenophanes. Taken from plato.stanford.edu.

Deja una respuesta

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada. Los campos obligatorios están marcados con *