Xenophanes was a poet and rhapsode, and he was a historian, perhaps the real father of history. As a highly creative thinker, unusually critical, and unique in his self-criticism, he became the founder of the Greek Enlightenment. He developed Anaximander’s cosmology in defending it against Anaximenes. His very original rationalist theology was closely connected with the cosmology that, late in life, he may have arrived at under the infl uence of the astronomical discoveries of Parmenides. He was a literary critic, perhaps the fi rst, and a moralist. He was the founder of what today are called geology and meteorology. He was an acute critic, again the fi rst, of society and of social institutions. And of decisive importance to Western science and philosophy, he was the founder of epistemology, the

theory of knowledge. [Yet most, if not all, of these great contributions to our civilization have been either attributed to somebody else, ignored, partly forgotten, or simply misunderstood. In this essay I propose a more just and historically plausible picture of Xenophanes and his achievements than I think has been drawn before.]


The crisp lines that I have chosen as a motto 1 stem from the pen of Harold F. Cherniss, an outstanding 2 historian of Greek philosophy (but one, I am afraid, who may never ‘become a fi gure in the history of . . . philosophy’ even ‘by mistake’). The lines I have quoted conform to a pattern, to a tradition that allows anyone to abuse Xenophanes with impunity.