Xenophanes

Xenophanes (570 BC - 470 BC) was a Greek philosopher, poet, and social and religious critic. Our knowledge of his views comes from his surviving poetry, all of which are fragments passed down as quotations by later Greek writers. His poetry criticized and satirized a wide range of ideas, including the belief in the pantheon of anthropomorphic gods and the Greeks' veneration of athleticism.

Xenophanes rejected the then standard belief in many gods, as well as the idea that the gods resembled humans in form. One famous passage ridiculed the idea by claiming that, if oxen were able to imagine gods, then those gods would be in the image of oxen. Because of his development of the concept of One God that is abstract, universal, unchanging, immobile and always present, Xenophanes is often seen as one of the first monotheists in occidental philosophy of religion.

Throughout his life Xenophanes, propagating a moderate lifestyle devoid of luxury, led a rather ascetic life. He covered many different topics such as religion, nature, and knowledge. Even in light of all his work, whether or not Xenophanes is actually considered a “real” philosopher is still up for debate.

Xenophanes had neither a big impact on other philosophers nor any followers or pupils. Yet, and despite the fact that his work arguably lacks abstraction (focusing instead on popular concepts and ideas), Xenophanes is, without a doubt, the first Greek scholar to provide elaborated theological propositions. In this context, he first and foremost gained a reputation for his critique of the common held anthropomorphic conception of the gods, attributing human characteristics to gods.

Xenophanes was less a philosopher of nature in the manner of Parmenides, who looked for abstract principles underlying natural change, than a poet and religious reformer who applied generally philosophical and scientific notions to popular conceptions. His system and critiques of the works of other thinkers appear primitive in comparison with later Eleaticism, which developed its philosophy of appearance and reality into a sophisticated system.

He died on 480 BC