Friday, December 05, 2014

Nietzsche and Pound

I am currently working on a piece comparing and contrasting two archetypically controversial figures of modern times: Friedrich Nietzsche and Ezra Pound. Electronic searches have yielded several respectful comments by Pound in his earlier years regarding the German thinker.
Yet quite by accident I came across a real gem. Writing in 1933 about the concept of the Will to Power, Pound dismissed N. as a "hysterical teuto-pollak," managing to combine two ethnic stereotypes into one put-down. In a sense his source was Nietzsche himself, because the philosopher believed himself to be of aristocratic Polish extraction (a view that has since been refuted). When Nietzsche's writings were first received in the US, however, some ascribed his emotional intensity to his "Slavonic" heritage.
After teaching for many years in an inner-city college, I learned to be wary of stereotypes based on my students' background. Any assumptions of that kind were almost invariably wrong. Many though still cherish such judgments.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Lost in translation?

A recent list in The Guardian proposed 100 novels that one should read.  They were all in English, and this is surely not right.  Still the question arose of the adequacy of translations.  Here is my response.

How much in fact can one gain from reading a novel in translation, as distinct from the original text? Balzac, for example. wrote at great speed and with little attention to linguistic precision; his novels are important for character. plot, and social analysis. So go ahead and read them in translation: you won't miss much. With Flaubert it is just the opposite. He claimed. a little improbably, to have spent three days on a single sentence. Flaubert's exquisite music only comes through in the original. 

A classic of modern Italian literature, Quer pasticciaccio brutto de Via Merulana by Carlo Emilio Gadda, presents a different problem because of the writer's extensive use of Roman dialect. Once I could handle it. but no longer. The Trimalchio scene in Petronius' Satyricon similarly characterizes the arriviste by his use of vulgar Latin instead of the literary standard.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Post-Midterm reflections

The results of the election had been predicted. Still, once the returns were in, I would have expected some reexamination on the part of adherents of both parties.
As an independent who is generally skeptical of the way politics is conducted in this country, I can offer some objective (I think) comments. I am not surprised at the Republican gloating: they are not good at introspection in the first place, and judge, not unrealistically, that they did well. Their main problem is to contain the excesses of the Tea Party, while appearing to conciliate them - a tough assignment.
What I keep seeing though is the same-old Democratic Party memes. One is that, after all, Obama is really wonderful, when clearly he is not. Another is the notion that rank-and-file Republican voters are stupid and voted against their own interest. As a number of analysts have shown, these voters are (alas, perhaps) not voting against their own interests, as they (not the punditocracy) perceive them. But are they stupid, we are told. This is a problematic assertion for supposed believers in popular sovereignty to make. Trust the people - except when they are overruled by the bicoastal elites.
Another illusion is the notion that if the qualified nonvoters had voted the results would have been different. A number of academic studies have shown that in the aggregate nonvoters would have voted much the same as voters. If we would end disenfranchisement - especially of ex-offenders - the results might be different. But I am speaking of the electorate as we actually have it.
Then there is the notion that demography will bury the Republicans. That does not seem to be happening now - and may be a pie-in-the-sky vision anyway.
I am far from saying (as some maps seem to suggest) that the US has become a Republican country. It may become so, though, if liberals do not relinquish their tendency to recycle their own tired memes about how superior they are to the yahoos. The "yahoos" are Americans like the rest of us. As people with modest resources they ought to command the sympathy of the liberal elite. But they do not

Monday, November 03, 2014

Goethe and the gay-friendly approach

The term "gay friendly" is commonly used to designate places and institutions that make an effort to welcome gay men and lesbians. Gay friendly, however, are also courageous individuals who without having any personal stake in the matter defend gay rights, sometimes vociferously. A case in point is the NFL player Chris Kluwe, whose energetically stated writings leave no doubt where he stands.
While this enlightened approach is currently prominent, it is not new. Perhaps the first eminent gay-friendly person was the German writer J. W. von Goethe (1749-1832). Basing himself largely on his studies of classical antiquity, Goethe repeatedly stressed the continuity and naturalness of same-sex love. Until recently, there have been efforts to obscure this aspect of the writer's work, especially in Germany, where he is a national institution. Conversely, a few have sought to "out" Goethe, even though it is unlikely that he ever gave physical expression to his perceptions.
The tendency to posit a "gay Goethe" illustrates an uncritical tendency that sometimes occurs in histories of homosexuality - to reason from the work to the life. Once the continuity of the gay-friendly theme is recognized, this mistake should become less common.

A major dichotomy

Today the world hangs in the balanced (I do not think that is an exaggeration) with regard to the legal position of same-sex conduct.
Medieval and early modern Europe had inherited the repressive approach stemming from the Bible and enshrined by Theodosius and his successors in the late Roman Empire: sodomy, so called, must be severely repressed. With unfortunate ramifications, this approach was reinforced by Henry VIII in his anti buggery law of 1537.
In 1791, however, the French National Assembly struck down the feudal sodomy laws in that country, a wise step reaffirmed by the Code Napoleon. French armies secured, in effect, the sodomy exemption in Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and French Switzerland. Most of the rest of Europe, including the UK remained unreformed. Still the beneficent effects of the Code spread to Latin America, and also to such distant countries as Ottoman Turkey and Japan.
But the repressive legacy of Britain also spread, notably to the Caribbean and to British India. In the US we have only recently freed ourselves from this malign legacy. Sadly, the repressive torch (if that is the right term) of repression has been taken up by Muslim-majority countries. Colonial French West Africa, once freed of the scourge because of the Code, has been overtaken by it, because of Islamic influence and also the mistaken notion that same-sex love is a "Western imposition."
I wish I could say that a favorable outcome of this Manichaean struggle was assured, but it is not.

Presocratics - Open questions

The two postings following this one are two tentative efforts to understand an ancient conundrum, the Presocratics of Greece.  Here is an introduction to the issues.


THE PRESOCRATICS;  Open Questions

1.  What is the best overall term for this current: Presocratic, Preplatonic, or first philosophers?

2.  Was Thales truly the first?  What is the status of Hesiod and the Orphics in this regard?

3.  Was there (as the conventional view has it) a sharp break with the Near East and Egypt, or were there important elements of continuity?

4.  Did science, heralding its later development, start with the Ionians?  Or later with Democritus?

5.  Why was there so much focus on opposites, as seen in the famous table that Aristotle ascribes to the Pythagoreans?

6.  How many of the thinkers were involved in pederastic relationships?

7.  Did the philosophy of Being start with Parmenides?


Friday, October 31, 2014

The Presocratics - Part One (a work in progress)

       THE PRESOCRATICS IN SEQUENCE   by Wayne R, Dynes

1.  The Presocratic thinkers rank as the first philosophers in the Western tradition.  In my admittedly eccentric view, they remain the best.  This piece is meant to give some justification of this claim, which seems counterintuitive.
2.  Their writings survive only in fragments, patiently gathered by modern scholars over the last 200 years.  
To the dogged German philologist Hermann Diels belongs the merit for launching the standard work in this field. This work, entitled Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker (The Fragments of the Presocratics), remains an essential reference. It was first published in 1903, was later revised and expanded three times by Diels, and was finally revised in a 5th edition (1934–37) by Walther Kranz,  and again in a sixth edition (1952). It consists of three volumes that present, for each of the Presocratics, both quotations from their (now mostly lost) works transmitted by later writers, and secondary-source material.  Despite some criticisms that have occurred over the years, this 3-volume work ranks as a stupendous accomplishment of precise German scholarship.  
Based on Diels' enumeration of the fragments, the testimonia in the collection are known as the "A-fragments,", The “B-Fragments” are the texts regarded as the actual words of the individual thinker. The third category, the C-fragments, represents “imitations.”  Diels' method of labeling the fragments remains the standard way of referring to the works of the Presocratics.
On its first publication, this 3-volume work was hailed as a stupendous accomplishment of precise German scholarship.  This remains the case, despite some criticisms that have accumulated over the years.  For example, there is some controversy among scholars over the details of his arrangement of the fragments. That is, some fragments Diels categorized as quotations are thought by some scholars to be in reality only paraphrases or explanations of the Presocratic work in question. Moreover, the work does not include texts discovered since its publication, such as fragments from the Strasbourg papyrus (published in 1998), which preserves for us pieces of philosophical poetry never before known in modern times. 

While there are more or less complete translations of Diels-Kranz into French and Italian, there is still no integral English-language version   Recently, Daniel W, Graham has issued a 2-volume set comprising the fragments of the main thinkers in the original languages and English, but without the supporting erudition of Diels-Kranz: The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy: The Complete Fragments and Selected Testimonies of the Major Presocratics, 2 vols., Cambridge, 2010.

Since the late 1990s, there has been a groundswell of publications on the Presocratic thinkers.  There are several new syntheses, of which the weightiest is probably Richard D. McKirahan, Philosophy Before Socrates: An Introduction with Texts and Commentary, second ed., Indianapolis, 2010.  There are also important essay collections:  A. A. Long, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Early Greek Philosophy, Cambridge, 1999; and Patricia Curd and Daniel W,. Graham, The Oxford Handbook of Presocratic Philosophy, Oxford and New York, 2008. 

There have been several painstaking efforts to produce improved versions of the D-K. texts.  Of these perhaps the most outstanding is A, H, Coxon, The Fragments of Parmenides,second ed., Las Vegas, 2009.  Work on Parmenides has been particularly active. There is even a special institution, Parmenides Publishing, headquartered in Las Vegas, that serves as a clearing house.  

In the Phoenix Series, the Toronto University Press has published new, accessible monographs on the major thinkers by several authors.  So far these have included  Democritus (with Leucippus), Empedocles, Heraclitus, Parmenides, and Xenophanes.

3.  In the light of this vigorous activity, what need is there for the present account? I believe that it is still possible to advance the discussion is significant ways.

The consensus is that there are two towering figures - superstars if you will - Heraclitus and Parmenides.  They are commonly thought to be diametrically opposed.  Heraclitus held that the world was in constant flux, demonstrating an endless mutation of one state into another.  Even the polarity of opposites, which would seem to offer some security in the hurly burly, the turmoil and dint of change, that surrounds us, was annulled by the principle of the unity of opposites. By contrast, Parmenides saw only perfect stability, viewing change as a mere illusion.  Focusing on change was simply the product of a misguided journey down the path of false opinion. 

My contention is that these figures are not as different as commonly thought. Heraclitus did indeed emphasize transience as an inescapable condition of our situation in the universe.  At the same time, though, it is possible to detect glimmers of a permanent order underlying the flux.  In his own way, Parmenides did not stress that permanence is the only thing that mattered, for there is a dialectical interaction between stability, on the one hand, and change, on the other.  Change, however subordinate it must be in the overall scheme of things, is nonetheless something that must be dealt with, as he illustrated in the last major section of his poem.

4.  At all events, working with this beguiling, but fragmentary material poses a serious challenge.  But there is a also a benefit: the appeal of DIY or do it yourself: the challenge of creating one’s own ensemble from the fragmentary and scattered materials that have come down to us.

5.  When did the Presocratics flourish?  The most general answer is that they began to thrive in archaic Greece (ca. 600-480 BCE), extending for a time into the succeeding classical era (ca. 480-400), when they eventually yielded to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
It is generally agreed that Thales of MIletus, who is thought to have lived from ca. 624 to 546 BCE, is the earliest Presocratic thinker. (All dates are approximate, though fairly well established in terms of sequence).  Thales was succeeded by two younger Milesian colleagues, Anaximander (ca. 610-546) and Anaximenes (ca. 585-525).  Pythagoras, a somewhat shadowy figure, may be placed at ca. 580-ca. 500.  Xenophanes of Colophon lived ca. 570-480.
The bold innovator Heraclitus of Ephesus belonged to a new generation, living from ca. 535 to 475.  Parmenides of Elea (ca. 515-450) was probably even bolder. 
Zeno (ca. 490-ca. 430) was the pupil of Parmenides. Melissus, though born on Samos ca. 500 (death date unknown), ranks as the third Eleatic thinker.
Empedocles came from Akragas (ca. 492-432)
A new new note was introduced by Anaxagoras of Clazomenae (ca. 500 – 428).
Something of an outlier, chronologically speaking, was Democritus of Abdera (ca. 450-370).
Socrates, thought to have ended the Presocratic era, lived from ca. 470 to 399.
Examined more broadly, the Presocratic thinkers fall into four groups.  First, came the early PIONEERS (the Milesians Pythagoras, and Xenophanes).  Then there were the two great INNOVATORS, Heraclitus and Parmenides.  After them came the CONSOLIDATORS (Zeno, Empedocles, Anaxagoras and a few lesser lights).  Finally, there was the CONCLUDER, Democritus, noted for his thorough exposition of the atomic theory.
Not included in this list are the Sophists.  Although there has been a revival of interest in them in recent years, in my view they do not rank either with the Presocratics or with the classical triumvirate of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
The larger historical context is this.  There were two major phases of Greek colonization in the Mediterranean world, one in the early eighth century BCE, followed by a second burst of the colonizing spirit in the sixth century. Population growth and cramped spaces at home played a considerable role, accompanied by the the competitive spirit animating the frequently kingless, newly introduced model of the Greek city-states. Through this Greek expansion the use of coins spread throughout the Mediterranean world.  While the connection with colonization, especially in its second phase is clear, attempts to link the Presocratic thinkers with the emergence of coinage have not not been generally successful. Still, the the record shows that Thales was personally concerned with economic matters as seen in his successful effort to gain control of the winepresses in Miletus.
Another contextual factor is the rise of institutionalized pederasty, which in the view of William Percy arose about the time of Thales, the first Presocratic.  Several of the leading Presocratic thinkers were involved in pederastic relationships, as noted below.

6.  Where did they come from? Ionia, with the Greek cities in Asia Minor, what is now the Western coast of Turkey was extraordinarily productive.  Miletus provided the earliest thinker, Thales, as well as his successors Anaximander and Anaximenes.  Ephesus was the hometown of Heraclitus, while Colophon produced Xenophanes.
Moving westward, the island of Samos just off the coast of Asia Minor was the homeland of Pythagoras (though his existence remains shadowy) and Melissus.
Finally, the Greek colonies of southern Italy and Sicily were important: Elea in lower Italy, with Parmenides and Zeno; Akragas in Sicily, with Empedocles; and Croton in southern Italy, with Philolaus.
Only with the chronological outlier Democritus (a native of Abdera) does continental Greece become significant.  Of course with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, Greece in the narrow geographical sense of the peninsula projecting from the European landmass, become dominant.  The general pattern then is initial concentration on the two extremes, the Greek colonies on the coast of Anatolia and those of Sicily and southern Italy.  Did their status as settler societies foster innovation?  
And what about the possible role of Eastern thought (Babylonian and Persian) on the Ionian cities?  It is possible, for example, that Heraclitus’ emphasis on fire reflects Zoroastrian thought. Yet such links remain speculative.
7.  While such Presocratics as Heraclitus were fiercely independent, some were linked in successor groups.  Clearly this is the case with the three Milesians, Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes.  Somewhat less certain is the role ascribed to Xenophanes in forming the Eleatic school, distinguished by Parmenides, Zeno, and Melissus.
There were also lover pairs, such as Parmenides and Zeno.  In his youth Zeno had been the eromenos of Parmenides.  Later, as a mature philosopher he faithfully sought to bolster the arguments of his lover with his famous paradoxes.  Empedocles had a less prominent lover, a certain Pausanias, about which little is known.  For his part, Empedocles is known to have discouraged heterosexual copulation, because it tended to disturb the ideal balance of love and strife, the two forces that ruled his universe.  Tacitly, he approved of homosexual unions, for he formed at least one.
8.  Among the Milesian pioneers there was emphasis on cosmology, a concern that left a lasting effect.  Some see in it the remote origins of modern science.
They also illustrated what has been termed Material Monism.  Thales thought that water was the primal element, while Anaximenes assigned that role to air.  Eventually this exclusivity yield to Empedocles’ quaternion of earth, air, fire, and water.  The Milesian-Empedocles contrast reflects the duality between oneness and multiplicity, a puzzle only ultimately solved by the atomism of Democritus.
9.  Xenophanes of Colophon was a kind of pro-hippie poet and philosopher who roamed about the Greek lands.  He is best remembered for his iconoclastic views of the gods.
His surviving writings display a skepticism that became more common during the fourth century.  Xenophanes mocked traditional religious views of his time as human projections.  He directed his critique at the polytheistic religious views of earlier Greek poets and of his own contemporaries: "Homer and Hesiod," one fragment states, "have attributed to the gods all sorts of things that are matters of reproach and censure among men: theft, adultery, and mutual deception." 
Xenophanes is also quoted as arguing against the conception of gods as fundamentally anthropomorphic:
“But if cattle and horses and lions had hands
or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do,
horses like horses and cattle like cattle
also would depict the gods' shapes and make their bodies
of such a sort as the form they themselves have.
...
Ethiopians say that their gods are snub–nosed [σιμούς] and black, and Thracians say  that they are pale and red-haired.” In this way he anticipated the cultural relativism of today’s discipline of anthropology. 
 
Other passages take issue with the traditional Greek conception of gods.  For example,  "One god, greatest among gods and humans,
like mortals neither in form nor in thought;” and  "But mortals think that the gods are born and have the mortals' own clothes and voice and form."

Xenophanes' theology suggests five key concepts about God”  1) God is beyond human morality;  2) does not resemble human form; 3) cannot die or be born (God is thus eternal): 4) no divine hierarchy exists; and 5) God does not intervene in human affairs.  While Xenophanes rejected the traditional Homeric theology, he did not challenge the existence of a divine entity.  Instead, his philosophy is a critique on Ancient Greek writers and their conception of divinityThere is also the concept of God being immanent within the universe, essentially controlling it, while at the same time being physically unconnected.
Xenophanes held that "God isone, supreme among gods and men, and not like mortals in body or in mind." He maintained there was one greatest God. God is one eternal being, spherical in form, comprehending all things within himself, is intelligent, and moves all things, but bears no resemblance to human nature either in body or mind. He is considered by some to be a precursor of Spinoza because of his espousal of the concept of a "one god greatest among gods and men," a being that is abstract, universal, unchanging, immobile and always present,

10.  The witty, often paradoxical utterances of Heraclitus are both beguiling and frustrating.  It is tempting to solve the problem by pronouncing the two-word formula: “everything flows” (panta rei).  This simplification goes back to Plato (Cratylus 402a), who was not sympathetic to Heraclitus.  Those two little words have echoed down the centuries, surviving even now as a kind of Twitter condensation of the Greek thinker’s message. 
Plato and Aristotle charged that Heraclitus’ thought was confused and incoherent.  For he held that (1) everything is constantly changing and (2) opposite things are identical, so that (3) everything is and is not at the same time. In this way, the principles of universal flux and the identity of opposites defy the dictates of the law of non-contradiction.  Only in modern times have scholars been able to free themselves of these animadversions, recognizing the true grandeur of the thought of Heraclitus.
It is generally believed that Heraclitus wrote a single book which supplied the fragments available to us.  According to Diels-Kranz there are 126 authentic fragments.  In his edition Miroslav Marcovich recognizes 122.  Recent papyrus discoveries have added some material, mostly duplications of items already known,  In this discussion I use the traditional Diels-Kranz numbers for citation.
Throughout the surviving passages Heracliitus shows an unwavering self-confidence, bordering on arrogance and even megalomania.  Although all human beings are immersed in the Process (or Logos), very few have the wit to understand  or even recognize thieir situation.  Heraclitus shows disdain for such predecessors as Hesiod, Pythagoras, and Xenocrates.  In their ignorance they are scarcely better than the common herd.  There are social consequences as well, as when he recommends that the adults of his naive Ephesus should simply hang themselves, so miserable is the mess they have made of the city’s affairs.
Heraclitus’ utterances about opposites rank among his most seminal and challenging observations  First are contraries that stem from different points of view (perspectivism).  For example, “[t[he sea is the purest and most polluted water; to fishes drinkable and bringing safety; to humans undrinkable and destructive.” (fr. 61)  Or, “[t]he most beautiful of apes is ugly in comparison with the human race.” (fr. 82)
Then there are qualities that occur simultaneously.  Of these, probably the most famous is “[t[he road up and the road down are one and the same.” (fr. 60)
And then qualities that necessary for each other. “Disease makes health pleasant and good, hunger does the same for satiety, weariness for rest.” (fr. 111)
Finally, the there is the transmutation of elements.  “Fire lives the death of earth and air lives the death of fire, water lives the death of air, earth that of water,”  (fr. 76)
The river sayings have occasioned much discussion.  One version is this (rendered literally):  “On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow.” (fr. 22). 

Properly interpreted, the sentence asserts that different waters flow in rivers that are themselves staying the same.  In other words, though the waters are always changing, the rivers remain rivers. In fact, it must be precisely because the waters are always changing that there are rivers at all, rather than lakes or ponds. The import is that rivers can stay the same over time even though, or indeed because, the waters change. The point, then, is not that everything is changing, but that the fact that some things change makes possible the continued existence of other things. It may be then that,  more generally, the change in elements or constituents supports the constancy of higher-level structures.
In the light of these passages, it may be argued that Heraclitus does not proclaim universal flux, a kind of unending hullaballoo,  Instead he recognizes a lawlike process,
Heraclitus asserts the primacy of  an everlasting Word  or Logos, according to which all things are one in some sense.  The Ephesian thinker is convinced that the cosmos exhibits a rational structure, and that this rational structure orders and controls the universe. The Logos is Heraclitus's physis, but only in the sense of a single principle informing all of nature.  To understand the logos it is imperative to acknowledge that all things are unified in it. To be sure, the logos is not the material out of which everything else arose according to the pattern of Milesian monism, though it ranks as the origin of all things insofar as it controls the arrangement of all matter.
In fact, Heraclitus’ theory responded critically to the philosophy of his Ionian predecessors. The Milesian thinkers - Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes - held that some original material turns into all other things (material monism). The world as we know it is the orderly ensemble of different things emanating from the primary element. For the Milesians, the task of  explaining the world and its phenomena required showing how everything came from the original stuff, such as Thales’ water or Anaximenes’ air.
Heraclitus seems to follow the Milesian example when he refers to the world as “everliving fire” (fr, 30) and makes statements such as “Thunderbolt steers all things,” alluding to the directive power of fire (fr. 64). But fire is a strange element to make the origin of all things, for it is the most inconstant and changeable. It is, indeed, a symbol of change and process. Heraclitus observes that “[a]ll things are an exchange for fire, and fire for all things, as goods for gold and gold for goods.” (fr. 90)

Ultimately, for Heraclitus fire may figure more importantly as a symbol than as an element. Fire is constantly changing, but so is everything else.  We witness a never-ending sequence of transformations, the Logos in action.  In this way Heraclitus anticipated the process of philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and others, The world is not to be identified with any particular substance, but rather with an ongoing process governed by a law of change.
Heraclitus’ accomplishment was enormous.   He ranks as the first Western philosopher to go beyond physical theory in search of the metaphysical foundations and moral assumptions that have come to form the basis for our thinking.
11.  Parmenides is commonly viewed as the thinker who contradicted every aspect of our perception of the world by suggesting that change does not occur. “What are you going to believe: what I say or your own lying eyes?”   This is an oversimplification, as will become apparent in what follows.

Parmenides was born of an illustrious family about 510 BCE, at Elea, a Greek colony in southern Italy, and ranks as the chief representative of the Eleatic philosophy. Reputedly he enjoyed the esteem by his fellow-citizens for his excellent legislation, to which they ascribed the town’s prosperity. He was also admired for his exemplary lifestyle. 
Parmenides is sometimes regarded as a disciple of Xenophanes, though the connection seems tenuous. Seemingly, Parmenides wrote after Heraclitus, and in conscious opposition to him.  This difference may be attested by an apparent allusion to Hericlitus: “for whom it is and is not, the same and not the same, and all things travel in opposite directions” (fr. 6, 8). According to Plato (in his dialogue “Parmenides”), he visited Athens in his sixty-fifth year,  where he encouraged the youthful Socrates. The truth of this account has been doubted. Yet there can be no doubt that Parmenides influenced Plato’s theory of Forms.
Since Parmenides wrote in hexameter verse in a style recalling that of Hesiod and the Orphics, his writings are sometimes hard to interpret.  His didactic poem On Nature survives in fragments, although the Proem (or introductory discourse) of the work has been largely  preserved. Parmenides was a young man when he wrote it, for the anonymous goddess who reveals the truth to him addresses him as “youth.” 
The theme of the Proem Parmenides’ ascent to the home of the goddess who is supposed to speak the remainder of the verses.  This conceit reflects  the conventional ascents into heaven which were almost as common as descents into hell in the apocalyptic literature of the time.
The Proem opens with Parmenides representing himself as borne on a chariot and attended by the Sun-maidens who have left the Halls of Night to guide him on his journey. They pass along until they reach the Gate of Night and Day, which is locked and barred. The key is in the keeping of Dike (Right), the Avenger, who is persuaded to unlock it by the Sun-maidens. They pass in through the gate and now bask in the realms of Day. The goal of the journey is the palace of a goddess who welcomes Parmenides and instructs him in the two ways, that of Truth (Aletheia) and the deceptive way of Opinion (Doxa). The implication is that Parmenides had been converted, passing from error (night) to truth (day), and the Two Ways must represent his former error and the truth which is now revealed to him.
It may be that the Way of Opinion distills Pythagorean cosmology. In any case, it is surely impossible to regard it as anything else than a description of some error. The goddess says so in words that cannot be explained away. Further, this erroneous belief is not the ordinary man’s view of the world, but an elaborate system, which seems to be a natural development the Ionian cosmology on certain lines. To this assertion it has been objected that Parmenides would not have taken the trouble to expound in detail a system he had altogether rejected, but that is to mistake the character of the apocalyptic convention. It is not Parmenides, but the goddess, who expounds the system, and it is for this reason that the beliefs described are said to be those of “mortals.”
At all events, there appears to be a mathematical background.  To the mathematician it is the same thing that can be thought and that can be, and this is the principle from which Parmenides starts. It is impossible to think what is not, and it is impossible for what cannot be thought to be. The great question, Is it or is it not? is therefore equivalent to the question, Can it be thought or not?
With this premise, Parmenides’ poem has two divisions. The first characterizes the truth, and the second the world of illusion — that is, the world of the senses and the erroneous opinions of mankind founded upon them. In his opinion truth lies in the perception that existence is, and error in the idea that non-existence also can be. Nothing can have real existence but what is conceivable; therefore to be imagined and to be able to exist are the same thing: there is no development. The essence of what is conceivable is incapable of development, imperishable, immutable, unbounded, and indivisible. What is various and mutable, all development, is a delusive phantom. Perception is thought directed to the pure essence of being; the phenomenal world is a delusion, and the opinions formed concerning it can only be improbable.
Parmenides goes on to consider in the light of this principle the consequences of saying that anything is. In the first place, it cannot have come into being. If it had, it must have arisen from nothing or from something. It cannot have arisen from nothing; for there is no nothing. It cannot have arisen from something; for here is nothing else than what is. Nor can anything else besides itself come into being; for there can be no empty space in which it could do so. Is it or is it not? If it is, then it is now, all at once. In this way Parmenides refutes all accounts of the origin of the world. Ex nihilo nihil fit.
Further, if it is, it simply is, and it cannot be more or less. There is, therefore, as much of it in one place as in another. (That condition makes rarefaction and condensation impossible.) it is continuous and indivisible; for there is nothing but itself which could prevent its parts being in contact with on another. It is therefore full, a continuous indivisible plenum. (That is directed against the Pythagorean theory of a discontinuous reality.) Further, it is immovable. If it moved, it must move into empty space, and empty space is nothing, and there is no nothing. Also it is finite and spherical; for it cannot be in one direction any more than in another, and the sphere is the only figure of which this can be said. What is is, therefore a finite, spherical, motionless, continuous plenum, and there is nothing beyond it. Coming into being and ceasing to be are mere “names,” and so is motion, and still more color and the like. They are not even thoughts; for a thought must be a thought of something that is, and none of these can be.
In recent years much attention has been given to a linguistic detail of Parmenides discussion - a detail that ostensibly has broad implications.  Under the "way of truth," Parmenides states that there are two ways of inquiry: that it “is,” on the one side, and that it “is not,” on the other side. He said that the latter argument is never feasible because nothing can not be: “For never shall this prevail, that things that are not are.” (fr 7.1)
There are delicate issues here. In the original Greek the two ways are simply named "that Is" (ὅπως ἐστίν) and "that Not-Is" (ὡς οὐκ ἐστίν) (frs. 2.3 and 2.5), without the "it" inserted in our English translation. As with many of the world’s languages, ancient Greek does not always require the presence of a subject for a verb, so that "is" functions as a grammatically complete sentence. Much debate has been focused on where and what the subject is. The simplest explanation as to why there is no subject here is that Parmenides wishes to express the simple, bare fact of existence in his mystical experience without the ordinary distinctions, just as the Latin "pluit" and the Greek “huei” (ὕει "rains") mean "it rains"; there is no subject for these impersonal verbs because they express the simple fact of raining without specifying what is doing the raining.  
Yet many scholars reject this explanation, producing more complex metaphysical explanations. Since existence is an immediately intuited fact, non-existence is the wrong path because a thing cannot disappear, just as something cannot originate from nothing. In such mystical experience (unio mystica), the distinction between subject and object disappears along with the distinctions between objects, in addition to the fact that if nothing cannot be, it cannot be the object of thought either.  The idea that Parmenides was a mystical thinker seems far-fetched, as one of the components of his heritage was the Ionian cosmological tradition.
For centuries Parmenides was regarded as a pure monist who created a system in which the Way of Truth is the only reality.  More recently, a dialectical approach has come into favor, acknowledging the interaction of the two Ways.  Thus the Way of Truth is superior, but we are not mistaken in apprehending our daily reality in terms of the Way of Opinion.
12.  Zeno of Elea was a disciple of Parmenides  - apparently also his lover when he was young - who later demonstrated his loyalty by reinforcing his master’s ideas with his paradoxes.
In his dialogue “Parmenides,” Plato asserts that Zeno's writings were brought to Athens for the first time on the occasion of the visit of Zeno and Parmenides. Plato also has Zeno say that this work, "meant to protect the arguments of Parmenides,"  was written in Zeno's youth, stolen, and published without his consent. Plato has the youthful Socrates paraphrase the "first thesis of the first argument" of Zeno's work as follows: "if being is many, it must be both like and unlike, and this is impossible, for neither can the like be unlike, nor the unlike like."
According to Proclus in his Commentary on Plato's Parmenides, Zeno produced "not less than forty arguments revealing contradictions", but only nine are now known.
Zeno's arguments seem to be the first examples of a method of proof called reductio ad absurdum, Zeno's paradoxes have puzzled, challenged, influenced, inspired, infuriated, and amused philosophers, mathematicians, and physicists for over two millennia. The most famous are the so-called "arguments against motion" described by Aristotle in his Physics.


13.  Empedocles was a native of Akragas, now Agrigento, in Sicily. Although acquainted with the theories of the Eleatics and the Pythagoreans.  Empedocles did not belong to any one definite school. An eclectic in his thinking, he combined much that had been suggested by Parmenides, Pythagoras, and the Ionian schools, which were cosmologically oriented. Attracted to the Orphic mysteriiss, he was also a scientific thinker. 

Empedocles, like the Ionian philosophers and the later atomists, tried to find the basis of all change. In this connection, he posited four ultimate elements, which compose the structures of the world: fire, air, water, and earth.  The different proportions in which these four indestructible and unchangeable elements are combined with each other yield the profusion objects and processes we actually experience.   Nothing new comes or can come into being; the only change that can occur is a change in the marriage of element with element. For the next two thousand years this analysis of the four elements reigned as the standard account.

The four elements are subjected to an unending process in which they are both eternally brought into union and parted from one another.  This occurs through a competition of two divine powers, Love and Strife. Love is responsible for the attraction of different forms of matter, and Strife causes their separation. Love and Strife are attractive and repulsive forces, respectively, which is plainly observable in human behavior, but also pervade the universe. The two forces wax and wane their dominance but neither force ever wholly disappears as a result of the imposition of the other., 

In recent times, Strife has gained more sway.  Still, the actual world is full of contrasts and oppositions, due to the combined action of both principles. Empedocles attempted to explain the separation of elements, the formation of earth and sea, of Sun and Moon, of atmosphere. He also dealt with the first origin of plants and animals, and with the physiology of human beings. As the elements entered into combinations, there appeared strange results – heads without necks, arms without shoulders.Then as these fragmentary structures met, there were seen horned heads on human bodies, bodies of oxen with human heads, and figures of double sex. Yet most of these products of natural forces disappeared as suddenly as they arose; only in those rare cases where the parts were found to be adapted to each other, did the complex structures last. Thus the organic universe sprang from spontaneous aggregations, which suited each other as if this had been intended. Soon various influences reduced the creatures of double sex to a male and a female, and the world was replenished with organic life. 

Empedocles noted the limitation and narrowness of human perceptions. We see only a part, but fancy that we have grasped the whole. But the senses cannot lead to truth; thought and reflection must look at the thing on every side. It is the business of a philosopher, while laying bare the fundamental difference of elements, to display the identity that exists between what seem unconnected parts of the universe.  
Diogenes Laertius records the legend that Empedocles died by throwing himself into an active volcano (Mount Etna in Sicily), so that people would believe his body had vanished and he had turned into an immortal god.  While this purported event is sometimes represented in literature, as by Friedrich Hölderlin and Matthew Arnold, it is generally discounted as a legend by modern historians.


14.  Anaxagoras of Claxomenae ranks as the first to bring philosophy to Athens, where he was closely associated with Pericles  Unlike Socrates who was condemned to death on similar charges, Anaxagoras was permitted to retire into exile in Lampsacus.

Responding to the claims of Parmenides which suggested the ultimate impossibility of change, Anaxagoras described the world as a mixture of primary imperishable ingredients, where material variation was never caused by an absolute presence of a particular ingredient, but rather by its relative preponderance over the other ingredients; in his words, "everything is in everything". He introduced the concept Nous (Mind) as an ordering force, which moved and separated out the original mixture, which had been homogeneous, or nearly so.


15.  Democritus of Abdera was something of an outlier, as he was born as late as 460 BCE. His father was from a noble family and of great wealth, and contributed largely towards the entertainment of the army of Xerxes on his return to Asia. As a reward for this service the Persian monarch gave and other Abderites presents and left among them several Magi or wise men.  According to Diogenes Laertius, Democritus was instructed by these savants in astronomy and theology. 

After the death of his father he traveled in search of wisdom, devoting his inheritance to this purpose.  Reputedly, Democritus visited Egypt, Ethiopia, Persia, and India. Whether, in the course of his travels, he visited Athens or studied under Anaxagoras is uncertain. During some part of his life he was instructed in Pythagoreanism, and was a disciple of Leucippus. 

After several years of traveling, Democritus returned to Abdera, with no means of subsistence. His brother Damosis, however, took him in. According to the law of Abdera, whoever wasted his patrimony would be deprived of the rites of burial. In hopes of avoiding this disgrace, Democritus gave public lectures. He acquired fame with his knowledge of natural phenomena, and predicted changes in the weather. He used this ability to make people believe that he could predict future events. They not only viewed him as something more than mortal, but even proposed to put him in control of their public affairs. He preferred a contemplative to an active life, and therefore declined these public honors and passed the remainder of his days in solitude.

Credit cannot be given to the tale that Democritus spent his leisure hours in chemical researches after the philosopher's stone -- the dream of a later age; or to the story of his conversation with Hippocrates concerning Democritus's supposed madness, based on spurious letters. 
Democritus expanded the atomic theory of Leucippus. He maintained the impossibility of dividing things ad infinitum. From the difficulty of assigning a beginning of time, he argued the eternity of existing nature, of void space, and of motion. He supposed the atoms, which are originally similar, to be impenetrable and have a density proportionate to their volume. All motions are the result of active and passive affection. He distinguished between primary motion and its secondary effects, that is, impulse and reaction. This is the basis of the law of necessity, by which all things in nature are ruled. The worlds which we see -- with all their properties of immensity, resemblance, and dissimilitude -- result from the endless multiplicity of falling atoms. The human soul consists of globular atoms of fire, which impart movement to the body. 
Maintaining his atomic theory throughout, Democritus introduced the hypothesis of images or idols (eidola), a kind of emanation from external objects, which make an impression on our senses, and from the influence of which he deduced sensation (aesthesis) and thought (noesis). He distinguished between a rude, imperfect, and therefore false perception and a true one. In the same manner, consistent with this theory, he accounted for the popular notions of Deity; partly through our incapacity to understand fully the phenomena of which we are witnesses, and partly from the impressions communicated by certain beings (eidola) of enormous stature and resembling the human figure which inhabit the air. We know these from dreams and the causes of divination. He carried his theory into practical philosophy also, laying down that happiness consisted in an even temperament. From this he deduced his moral principles and prudential maxims.
CONCLUSION.  Looking back over this gallery of bold, innovative thinkers as single theme - or pair of themes - stands out.  That is the contrast between unity and multiplicity.  In their quest for a single primordial element the early Ionian thinkers voted for unity.  Heraclitus might seem to be a pluralist, but still in his emphasis on the pervasive role of change, he turned out to be, very largely at least, a monist.  
It was Empedocles, with his four elements and two forces, who first devised a compromise between the two approaches of unity and multiplicity.

Then Anaxagoras, with his concept of an infinitely divisible series of substances, tipped the scales for multiplicity.

The atomism of Democritus may be regarded as having achieved a reconciliation.  On the one hand, there are many types of atoms - multiplicity.  And yet the atomic principle itself - unity - pervades everything.

Presocratic themes

I.  The earliest philosophers of ancient Greece were the first thinkers in the Western tradition to pose fundamental questions regarding the nature of the universe, together with the reliability - or not - of our efforts to ascertain this knowledge.  In their work they showed that both empirical observation and reasoning were necessary, though the balance differed from one thinker to another.
Modern studies of ancient Greece’s earliest philosophers focused initially on issues of nomenclature and periodization.  Here the pivotal figure was Socrates.  Did his appearance signal a new departure, relegating his predecessors to a superseded phase of thought?  That idea goes back at least as far as Cicero, who held that Socrates had achieved an epochal advance by bringing philosophy down from the heavens to the world of humanity (Tusculan Disputations, prologue to book 5).  Or was Socrates the last of the early philosophers, leaving Plato to enjoy the honor of initiating the new era?
In 1788 the Berlin Lutheran pastor Johann Augustus Eberhard introduced the expression “die Vorsokratiker” (the Presocratics) in his Allgemeine Geschichte der Philosophie. In this usage he was followed by his famous pupil Friedrich Schleiermacher, who was inspired to produce a study of  one of the major figures: “ Herakleitos der dunkle von Ephesos: dargestellt aus den Trümmern seines Werkes und den Zeugnissen der Alten”  (1807). 
A different interpretation was advanced by Wilhelm Traugott Krug, who in his 1815 Geschichte der Philosophie alter Zeit presented Socrates as the concluding figure of his first chapter, starting a new chapter with Plato.  The new approach appeared in the title of a Latin series by the Dutch philologist Simon Karsten, Philosophorum Graecorum Veterum praesertim qui ante platonem Floruerunt operum Reliquiae (1830-38).  Finally, in 1872 Friedrich Nietzsche offered a series of lectures on “Pre-Platonic Philosophy.”  Never published in the author’s lifetime, these lectures have been reconstructed in modern editions, based on the philosopher’s notes (see, Friedrich Nietzsche, The Pre-Platonic Philosophers, Urbana and Chicago, 2000). 
Nietzsche’s approach has been revived from time to time.  Among its advantages is that it addresses the anomaly of classifying Leucippus and his pupil Democritus as “pre-Socratic,” when they were in fact contemporaries of Socrates.  However, the difficulty does not disappear entirely, in as much as Democritus is supposed to have died ca. 370 BCE.  Plato seems to have begun composing his dialogues shortly after the death of Socrates in 399, so that some overlap persists.
At all events, Nietzsche’s approach did not prevail.  In fact it was already becoming sidelined in his own time as a result of Eduard Zeller’s influential Die Philosophie der Griechen in ihrer geschichtliche Entwicklung (first edition, 1844-52, with several enlargements in subsequent years).  Zeller’s preference was for the Presocratic concept.  His choice was duly ratified by the standard work of Hermann Diels, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, with the first edition appearing in 1903 (again revised and reprinted several times).
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “Pre-Socratic” was introduced into English in 1871 by Alexander Campbell Fraser in his Life and Letters of George Berkeley.
Recently, the distinguished Swiss philologist Walter Burkert has stated his preference for “Preplatonics” (n his contribution to P. Curd and D. W. Graham, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Presocratic Phllosophy, 2008, p. 55).  He does not seem to have been widely followed.
As we have seen, the arguments for this preference are significant.  Should one adopt it?  Probably not, because the the term "Presocratic" has become fixed.  After all, we still speak of Gothic architecture, even though we know that it was not created by the Goths; and of the West Indies, even though they are not located in India.

II.   BEFORE THALES

1. Orpheus and Orphism.  
In ancient Greece Orpheus was a legendary musician, poet, and prophet.  He was noted for his magical ability to enchant all things with his music.  Poets such as Simonides of Ceos claimed that Orpheus's music and singing could charm the birds, fish. and wild beasts, coax the trees and rocks into dance, and even divert the course of rivers.  The most poignant episode of his career was his failed attempt to retrieve his wife, Eurydice from the underworld.  After this loss he renounced the love of women.  According to Ovid and other sources, his death came at the hands of Thracian women who were angry at his abandonment of heterosexuality and his efforts to seduce their husbands.  Because of this last phase of his career, Orpheus was sometimes regarded in antiquity as the founder of the institution of pederasty.
As an archetype of the inspired singer and poet, Orpheus ranks one of the most significant figures in the spread of classical mythology in Western culture, figuring in countless works of art and popular culture in several media, including poetry, film, opera, and painting.

For the Greeks, Orpheus was a founder and prophet of the “Orphic mysteries.”  He was credited with the composition of the Orphic Hymns. Shrines containing purported relics of Orpheus were venerated as oracles.  Because of the story of Orpheus’s descent into Hades, the Orphic tradition is associated with death, and with Persephone, who annually descended into the Underworld and then returned. Orpheus was sometimes honored as the inventor of the Mysteries of Dionysus.

The earliest literary reference to Orpheus is a two-word fragment of the sixth-century-BCE lyric poet Ibycus: onomaklyton Orphēn ("Orpheus famous-of-name"). Neither Homer nor Hesiod mentions him.  The fifth century BCE offers more abundant evidence of distinctly Orphic beliefs, including graffiti."  Classical sources, such as Plato, refer to "Orpheus-initiators" (Ὀρφεοτελεσταί), and rites associated with them, although how far "Orphic" literature in general related to these rites is not certain.  As in the Eleusinian mysteries, initiation into Orphic rites promised advantages in the afterlife.

Differing from popular ancient Greek religion, Orphism showed the following main features.  This faith (as it probably should be called) regarded human souls as divine and immortal, though destined to live (for a period) in a "grievous circle" of successive bodily lives through metempsychosis or the transmigration of souls. Orphism prescribed an ascetic way of life which, together with secret initiation rites, was supposed to guarantee not only eventual release from the "grievous circle" but also communion with gods. Finally, it possessed sacred texts relating the origin of the gods and human beings.

Distinctively Orphic views and practices are attested as early as the works of Herodotus, Euripides, and Plato. Found in 1962 and recently published, the Derveni papyrus offers evidence of the Orphic theology dating back to the fourth century BCE, and it is probably even before.  Inscriptions found in various parts of the Greek world attest the early existence of a movement with the core beliefs associated with the name of Orphism.

The Orphic theogonies are genealogical works similar to Theogony of the poet Hesiod, but the details are different. They may reflect the influence of Near Eastern models. The main narrative is as follows.  Dionysus (in his incarnation Zagreus) is the son of Zeus and Persephone. Zeus gives his inheritance of the throne to the child.  The Titans are enraged over the proclamation of attendance and under Hera's instigation decide to murder the child, The Titans then beguile Dionysus with a mirror and children's toys; they then murder and devour him. Yet Athena saves the heart and relates the crime to Zeus who in turn hurls a thunderbolt at the Titans. The resulting soot, from which sinful mankind is born, contains the bodies of the Titans and Dionysus. The soul of man (the Dionysus factor) is therefore divine, while the body (then Titan factor) holds the soul in bondage. Thus it was declared that the soul returns to a host ten times, bound to the wheel of rebirth.

There are two Orphic stories of the rebirth of Dionysus.  In one of them the heart of Dionysus is implanted into the thigh of Zeus.  In the other he has impregnated the mortal woman Semele,resulting in Dionysus's literal rebirth. 

We have evidence of several Orphic scriptures.  One is the "Protogonos Theogony," lost, composed ca. 500 BCE; it is known through the commentary in the Derveni papyrus, and references in classical authors (Empedocles and Pindar).The "Eudemian Theogony," is also lost: composed in the fifth century BCE, it stems from a syncretic Bacchic-Koureetic cult. The "Rhapsodic Theogony," also lost, was composed in Hellenistic times, incorporating earlier works. It is known through summaries in later neo-Platonist writers.  Finally, the Orphic Hymns are 87 hexametric  poems of a shorter length composed in the late Hellenistic or early Roman period.

Gold-leaf tablets found in graves at various sites coming from the fourth century BCE and after) give instructions to the dead. Although these thin tablets are often highly fragmentary, collectively they present a consistent account of the passage into the afterlife. When the deceased arrives in the underworld, he is expected to confront obstacles. He must take care not to drink of Lethe ("Forgetfulness"), but to imbibe at the pool of Mnemosyne ("Memory"). The initiate is provided with formulaic expressions with which to present himself to the guardians of the afterlife.

A number of texts from Pindar, Empedocles, Heraclitus, Euripides, and Plato seem to show the influence of Orphic ideas about the nature and fate of soul. There are particular affinities with the salvationary aspects of Pythagoreanism.

Some modern scholars have expressed doubt that there was any single unified Orphic doctrine. Instead, different Orphic texts and practitioners propounded various and often conflicting ideas about the origin, metaphysics, physics, and fate of the soul. In this revisionist view, the ideas expressed in some of these texts seem hard to square with the idea that transmigration and the immortality of the individual soul figures as a permanent and central doctrine of Orphism. It may be that different Orphic texts reflect overlapping but divergent conceptions of salvation, founded on divergent conceptions of the soul.

Orphic concepts and practices show parallels with elements of Pythagoreanism.  As yet, though, there is too little evidence to determine the extent to which one movement may have influenced the other.

Mentioned above, the Derveni papyrus ranks as the most substantial papyrus to have been found on Greek soil. It, and is dated roughly between 340 and 320 B.C. The name derives from the site where it was discovered, some six miles north of the city of Thessaloniki, in whose Archaeological Museum it is now preserved. It was found in a tomb among the remnants of a funeral pyre.  Once the material was recovered, scholars faced the exacting task of unrolling and separating the layers of the charred papyrus roll, and then of joining the numerous fragments together again.  As a result, 26 columns of text were recovered, all with their bottom parts missing, as they had perished on the pyre.
The book, which seems to have been compiled toward the end of the fifth century BCE, purports to contain the eschatological teaching of a mantis or inspired prophet.  The content is divided between religious instructions pertaining to sacrifices to gods and souls, and allegorical commentary on a theogonic  poem ascribed to Orpheus. 
The author’s outlook is philosophical, displaying, in particular, a physical system recalling those of Anaxagoras, the Atomists, and Diogenes of Apollonia. His allegorical method of interpretation is sometimes reminiscent of Socrates’ playful mental and etymological  acrobatics as seen in Plato’s Cratylus. The authorship is a matter of  dispute among scholars; it will probably never be known. 

2. Hesiod.  The poet Hesiod is generally thought by scholars to have been active between 750 and 650 BCE, about the same time as Homer.  His is the first European poetry in which the poet regards himself as a topic, an individual with a distinctive role to play  Ancient authors credited him and Homer, perhaps somewhat extravagantly, with establishing Greek religious customs. Modern scholars consult Hesiod as a major source for Greek mythology, legendary history, farming techniques, early economic thought, and ancient time-keeping.

Hesiod’s Theogony addresses the origins of the world (cosmogony) and of the gods (theogony).  Cosmogony is of course an interest he shared with the Presocratic thinkers, though they were generally dismissive of his florid polytheism. 

The creation myth in Hesiod has long been held to show Eastern influences, such as the Hittite Song of Kumarbi and the Babylonian poem known as the Emuma Elish.   In all likelihood, the setting for this cultural crossover was the eighth- and ninth-century Greek trading colonies such as Al Mina in North Syria. 

3.  Connections with the ancient Near East and Egypt.  

Initially the Greeks came into contact with the Western fringes of the ancient civilization of the Middle East in Phoenicia in the Levant and on the Western coast of Anatolia, a region where the Hittite Empire had once flourished.  Gradually, however, they became aware of the centrality of Mesopotamia, the site of one of the oldest civilizations in the world.  Here, in the fourth millennium BCE the Sumerians developed the first city states, using cuneiform writings for record keeping and also to preserve religious and poetic texts.  The Sumerian language has no known relatives.  People in the northern part of Mesopotamia, known as Akkad, spoke a Semitic language related to Canaanite and Hebrew.
Babylonia emerged when Hammurabi (flourished ca. 1728–1686 BCE) created a large realm by unifying the territories of Sumer and Akkad.  Together with the related people, the Assyrians, the Babylonian rulers cultivated scientific observation, especially in the field of astronomy.  Later, the Greeks were to benefit from this accumulation of knowledge.
In due course, the Neo-Babylonian Empire arose, lasting from the revolt of Nabopalassar in 626 in BCE. The empire was conquered by the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great in 539 BCE.  Gradually, under the Achaemenid dynasty the Persians extended their power westwards, extending their sway over the Greek cities of Ionia on the western coast of Anatolia.  While the Persians failed to conquer continental Greece, this period saw a great deal of cultural interchange.  At the height of its power, the Achaemenid dynasty encompassed approximately 8.0 million square kilometers, held the greatest percentage of world population to date, and territorially ranked the largest empire of classical antiquity.
The connections linking Greece with pharaonic Egypt were less dramatic.  Still, Greeks traveled there as traders and also in some cases for learning as well.  
A commonplace theme in cultural history is that, with the Presocratic thinkers the Greeks made a crucial transition from mythos to logos.  The first was associated with the venerable realms of the ancient Near East and Egypt, the latter being incarnated in the Greek Enlightenment. The two, it is held are fundamentally different and irreconcilable.
All the same, it is reasonable to ask whether it may not be the two modes are not so different as usually supposed, and that early Greek thought owes a debt to its eastern and southern neighbors.  This research has been spurred by the extensive finds and translation of the cuneiform literature that began in the middle of the nineteenth century.

The older civilizations cherished a genre of wisdom literature, consisting of proverbial sayings and pithy observations, generally pertaining to ethical and other issues of daily life. These texts are found in both the ancient Nr East and Egypt.  They are also represented in some books of the Hebrew Bible, such as Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon.  This tradition surely lies behind the tendency of some Presocratics such as Heraclitus and Empedocles to present key ideas in the form of short, gnomic sayings.

Another area of legacy is represented by the accounts of creation found in the older civilizations.   In Egypt, for example, there is the Memphite theology; in Mesopotamia, the Enuma Elish.

There are also scientific elements, such as the astronomical observations of the Babylonians.  The “Pythagorean theorem” was actually first discovered by the Egyptians.  Significantly, Pythagoras is supposed to have traveled to Egypt.

Finally, one should note the somewhat speculative theory of E. R. Dodds, to the effect that Eurasian shamanism contributed to the mantic or prophetic tradition of ancient Greece.

III.  SOURCES
Unfortunately not one complete work survives from the writings of the Presocratic philosophers. Only fragments of their own utterances. together with reports and testimonies of their theories have come down to us.  
While Plato alludes to Presocratic thinkers, especially Parmenides, he uses them for his own purposes and cannot be relied on as a basic source.  Matters are quite different withs his successor Aristotle, who discusses some of them in detail, though some aspects of the veracity of his account have been questioned by modern scholars.  Still, his interest fostered further observations and quotations from his followers and commentators. There has also been interest on the part of Neoplatonic writers and even among some early Christian authors, such as Clement of Alexandria. 
In some instances, these writers seem to have access to complete treatises by the Neoplatonics - treatises that were subsequently lost.  In other cases they seem to have borrowed from anthologies consisting of techniques deemed by the compiler to have been representative.
Over the course of several generations, modern scholarship has carefully sifted these sources in order to reconstruct Presocratic thought. The following discussion outlines the main sources that have been exploited to mine the Presocratic fragments and testimonies.
Aristotle (384-322 BCE) terms them “investigators of nature” (physiologoi), tacitly backing the notion that Socrates had achieved a revolution in thought by bringing philosophy down from the heavens to the human world.  His discussions appear in his Physics and Metaphysics (most notably), as well as in On the Heavens and On the Soul.  In an influential monograph of 1935, Harold Cherniss argued that Aristotle had persistently distorted the views of the Presocratics because he analyzed them for the purposes of his own arguments.  More recently, a balanced approach has emerged in which Aristotle is perceived as presenting a consistently evolutionary theory of thought, whereby the Presocratics take honored places as precursors.
The Opinions of the Physicists by Aristotle’s pupil Theophrastus (ca. 371-ca. 287) also contains some useful material. 
The somewhat mysterious Aetius (second or first century BCE) created a book in 130 chapters containing opinions of many thinkers, reduced to a sort of capsule form.  The contents of his work have been partially reconstructed from other sources.
Diogenes Laertius (early to middle third century CE) takes a biographical approach.  His accounts figure significantly in the testimonia section of the sources.
A good deal of information can be gleaned from the prolific work of Plutarch (ca. 50-120 CE).
Some other bits can be found in the early Christian writers Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus, and Eusebius.
Finally, the commentaries of Simplicius (sixth century CE) offer useful material.
All this disparate material must be examined according to the reliability of the quotation or summary, and placed in the context of the authors’ interest and biases.
IV.  THE DRAMATIS PERSONAE

It is generally agreed that Thales of MIletus, who is thought to have lived from ca. 624 to 546 BCE, is the earliest Presocratic thinker. (All dates are approximate, though fairly well established in terms of sequence).  Thales was succeeded by two younger Milesian colleagues, Anaximander (ca. 610-546) and Anaximenes (ca. 585-525).  The Milesian pioneers stressed cosmology, a concern that left a lasting effect.  Some see in this concern the remote origins of modern science.  They also illustrated what has been termed Material Monism.  Thales thought that water was the primal element, while Anaximenes assigned that role to air.
Pythagoras, a somewhat shadowy figure, may be placed at ca. 580-ca. 500.  Pythagoreanism was significant in antiquity and long after, because it blended a mystical element with mathematics.
Xenophanes of Colophon, who lived ca. 570-480, was a kind of pro-hippie poet and philosopher who roamed about the Greek lands.  He is best remembered for his iconoclastic views of the gods.
His surviving writings display a skepticism that became more common during the fourth century.  Xenophanes mocked traditional religious views of his time as human projections.  He directed his critique at the polytheistic religious views of earlier Greek poets and of his own contemporaries 
The bold innovator Heraclitus of Ephesus belonged to a new generation, living from ca. 535 to 475.   His witty, often paradoxical utterances of Heraclitus are both beguiling and frustrating. It is generally believed that Heraclitus wrote a single book which supplied the fragments available to us.  According to Diels-Kranz there are 126 authentic fragments.  In his edition Miroslav Marcovich recognizes 122. .
Throughout the surviving passages Heracliitus shows an unwavering self-confidence, bordering on arrogance and even megalomania.  Although all human beings are immersed in the Process (or Logos), very few have the wit to understand  or even recognize their situation.  Heraclitus shows disdain for such predecessors as Hesiod, Pythagoras, and Xenocrates.  In their ignorance they are scarcely better than the common herd.  There are social consequences as well, as when he recommends that the adults of his naive Ephesus should simply hang themselves, so miserable is the mess they have made of the city’s affairs.
Heraclitus’ utterances about opposites rank among his most seminal and challenging observations  First are contraries that stem from different points of view (perspectivism).  For example, “[t[he sea is the purest and most polluted water; to fishes drinkable and bringing safety; to humans undrinkable and destructive.” (fr. 61)  Or, “[t]he most beautiful of apes is ugly in comparison with the human race.” (fr. 82)
Parmenides of Elea (ca. 515-450) is sometimes regarded as a disciple of Xenophanes, though the connection seems tenuous. Seemingly, Parmenides wrote after Heraclitus, and in conscious opposition to him..According to Plato (in his dialogue “Parmenides”), he visited Athens in his sixty-fifth year,  where he encouraged the youthful Socrates. The truth of this account has been doubted. Yet there can be no doubt that Parmenides influenced Plato’s theory of Forms.
Parmenides is commonly viewed as the thinker who contradicted every aspect of our perception of the world by suggesting that change does not occur. This description is surely an oversimplification, and addressing the complexity of Parmenides is a task that continues to engage some of the best minds working on the Presocratics.  He is justly remembered as the founder of the discipline of metaphysics.
Zeno (ca. 490-ca. 430) was the pupil of Parmenides. Zeno is noted for his paradoxes. Melissus, though born on Samos ca. 500 (death date unknown), ranks as the third Eleatic thinker.
Empedocles came from Akragas (ca. 492-432).  He addressed the Milesian preoccupation with his quaternion of earth, air, fire, and water.  For 2000 years this analysis of the basic elements of the universe was to prevail in Western civilization.
A new new note was introduced by Anaxagoras of Clazomenae (ca. 500 – 428), who ranks as the first to bring philosophy to Athens, where he was closely associated with Pericles  Unlike Socrates who was condemned to death on similar charges, Anaxagoras was permitted to retire into exile in Lampsacus.

Responding to the claims of Parmenides which suggested the ultimate impossibility of change, Anaxagoras described the world as a mixture of primary imperishable ingredients, where material variation was never caused by an absolute presence of a particular ingredient, but rather by its relative preponderance over the other ingredients; in his words, "everything is in everything". He introduced the concept Nous (Mind) as an ordering force, which moved and separated out the original mixture, which had been homogeneous, or nearly so.


Democritus of Abdera is something of an outlier, as he was born as late as 450 BCE and died about 370.  He is primarily remembered today for his formulation of the atomic theory of the universe.

His exact contributions are difficult to disentangle from those of his mentor (or associate) Leucippus, as texts often cite them together.. Their speculation on atoms bears more than a passing and partial resemblance to the nineteenth-century understanding of atomic structure.  In consequence many consider Democritus to be the "father of modern science." 

Largely ignored in ancient Athens, Democritus was nevertheless well known to his fellow northern-born philosopher Aristotle,  

Examined more broadly, the Presocratic thinkers fall into four groups.  First, came the early PIONEERS (the Milesians Pythagoras, and Xenophanes).  Then there were the two great INNOVATORS, Heraclitus and Parmenides.  After them came the CONSOLIDATORS (Zeno, Empedocles, Anaxagoras and a few lesser lights).  Finally, there was the CONCLUDER, Democritus, noted for his thorough exposition of the atomic theory.
Not included in this list are the Sophists.  Although there has been a revival of interest in them in recent years, in my view they do not rank either with the Presocratics or with the classical triumvirate of Socrates, Plato, and AristotleAn earlier section raised the issue of a  possible role of Eastern thought (Babylonian and Persian) on the Ionian cities.  It is possible, for example, that Heraclitus’ emphasis on fire reflects Zoroastrian thought. Yet such links remain speculative.
Shared locations favored linkage in successor groups.  Clearly this is the case with the three Milesians, Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes.  Somewhat less certain is the role ascribed to Xenophanes in forming the Eleatic school, distinguished by Parmenides, Zeno, and Melissus.
There were also lover pairs, such as Parmenides and Zeno in Elea.  In his youth Zeno had been the eromenos of Parmenides.  Later, as a mature philosopher he faithfully sought to bolster the arguments of his lover with his famous paradoxes.  
Empedocles of Akragas had a less prominent lover, a certain Pausanias, about which little is known.  For his part, Empedocles is known to have discouraged heterosexual copulation, because it tended to disturb the ideal balance of love and strife, the two forces that ruled his universe.  Tacitly, he approved of homosexual unions, for he formed at least one.

V.  GEOGRAPHY 
Where did they come from? Ionia, with the Greek cities in Asia Minor, what is now the Western coast of Turkey was extraordinarily productive.  Miletus provided the earliest thinker, Thales, as well as his successors Anaximander and Anaximenes.  Ephesus was the hometown of Heraclitus, while Colophon produced Xenophanes.
Moving westward, the island of Samos just off the coast of Asia Minor was the homeland of Pythagoras (though his existence remains shadowy) and Melissus.
Finally, the Greek colonies of southern Italy and Sicily were important: Elea in lower Italy, with Parmenides and Zeno; Akragas in Sicily, with Empedocles; and Croton in southern Italy, with Philolaus.
Only with the chronological outlier Democritus (a native of Abdera) does continental Greece become significant.  Of course with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, Greece in the narrow geographical sense of the peninsula projecting from the European landmass, become dominant.  The general pattern then is initial concentration on the two extremes, the Greek colonies on the coast of Anatolia and those of Sicily and southern Italy.  Did their status as settler societies foster innovation?  
We have previously noted the possible role of Eastern thought (Babylonian and Persian) on the Ionian cities?  It is possible, for example, that Heraclitus’ emphasis on fire reflects Zoroastrian thought. Yet such links remain speculative.

VI.  UNITY AND PLURALITY

“When we look at the world around us. we seem to see it as made up of a lot of different things. There are trees and stones, houses and squirrels; there are words and flavours, water and grandeur; there are kind actions and major emergencies; birth, deaths, and stereotypes.  All these things seem to be real and observable; all of them (and many others, too) are different kinds of things.  When we divide reality up into chunks like that, we might wonder how many bits there are, and whether we could ever count them.  Are there onlyso many separate things in the world, just this many and no more?  Or if there are no definite natural divisions, perhaps it is really all one?  Could it be all one with no divisions whatever?  The consequences in that case would seem to bve rather strange, as Parmenides and Zeno deftly show.”  (Catherine Osborne, Presocratic Philosophy, Oxford, 2004, p. xvi).

The Founders, the Milesians felt a strong pull towards unity, towards monism.  Thus Thales identified water as the first principle; Anaximenes, air.  The middle figure, Anaximander was a little more cagey, naming only an indefinite stuff as the primordial feature. Heraclitus, their fellow Ionian, singled out fire, though he held that it could morph into water and earth.

The most thoroughgoing monist was Parmenides who held that the perception of plurality was a dangerous illusion.  There is only one thing, perfect, complete and unchangeable.  In this ultramonism, he was followed by Zeno and Melissus.

Empedocles worked out a compromise.  Taking a leaf from the Milesians with their interest in elements, he proposed four “roots”: earth, air, fire, and water.  Governing by two overarching principles, love and strife, these constituent elements could enter into various combinations, producing the multiplicity of our perceived world.  Empedocles also posited a dynamic, temporal dimension, for there was a time when the elements were not as clearly differentiated as they are now; a similar situation will prevail in the future.
Anaxagoras, the adviser of Pericles, posited numerous infinitely divisible components. 
Finally, the atomists Leucippus and Democritus assumed the existence of numerous indivisible components, known as atoms - as well as the void.

VIII.   OPPOSITES  
In everyday speech we are familiar with antonymic pairs.  Some, such as hot and cold, shallow and deep, are a fairly straightforward matter of perception.  Others, such as good and bad, beauty and ugliness, involve value judgments.
Such pairs are sometimes termed binarisms.  The tendency to assemble them is sometimes decried - as by postmodernism - are representing an oversimplification of complex reality. With his doctrine of the mean, Aristotle asserted that the truth sometimes lies between two extremes, in the way, for example, that moderation stands between abstention from alcohol and drunkenness.
To Aristotle is also due the locus classicus of this mode: a table of ten opposed pairs (Metaphysics,986a22):
limit vs. unlimiited
odd vs. even
one vs. plurality
right vs. left
male vs. female
at rest vs. moving
straight vs. crooked
light vs. darkness
good vs. bad
square vs. oblong

Aristotle seems to wish to ascribe this table to the Pythagoreans.  It may have some different origin.  In any case it is a useful list, a kind of summation of several generations of though.
The first thinker whose writings enable us to recover efforts along these lines is the Milesian Anaximander.
Heraclitus famously sought to reformulate the idea with his speculations about the identity of opposites, though in some instances this is only sequential.
Parmenides is generally regarded as a unitary thinker.  However, he does posit two paths of knowledge: the way of truth and the way of opinion.
For his part, Empedocles posited two dominant forces in the universe: love and strife.
Democritus and the atomists may be said to evade the problem by their concept of atoms which are potentially infinite in number.  Yet modern nuclear scientists do recognized opposing positive and negative particles
Cross-cultural parallels have been detected in ancient China and in tribal societies.  The Zoroastrians held that the world was a battleground between the opposing forces of good, headed by Ahura Mazda, and evil, headed by Ahriman.
Nonetheless, the tendency to think in terms of opposites does seem to be particularly characteristic of the early Greek thinkers.

APPENDIX:    KEY WORDS  

Several general themes have emerged in these investigations.  The first is the variability of meaning over time.  In many cases a term (such as logos) begins with a limited, everyday meaning, which then expands.  Because this is a dynamic process, it can be difficult to discern in a given passage whether the older, simpler meaning prevails, or instead the broader, more expansive (and more philosophical) one (e.g. physis in Herclitus). 

ALETHEIA - truth, a key term for Parmenides.
APEIRON - When first used by Anaximander, it meant something like limit, boundary.  I could also be used for a trajectory on a circle; hence the idea of unceasing.  For A. it replaced the primal element (or arche) of water in the system of Thales. This background seems to have led to the meaning of infinite in Aristotle.
ARKHE - the beginning.  Sometimes used for first principle among the Ionian monists.  The source of our terms archaic and archaeology.
DOXA - mere opinion as distinct from ascertained truth.
ELENCHOS - inquiry
ERIS - strife.  Empedocles contrasts with Storge, or love
ESTI - “it is” in Parmenides. Much discussed, it gave rise to the philosophy of Being.
ENANTIA  -  twin, mirror image.  Hence a term for opposites.
The tendency to think in terms of polar opposites is found in many human societies. In some, probably more than most.  At all events the tendency pervades the Presocratics. On need only think of the famous set that Aristotle ascribes to Pythagoras. The tendency is already evident in Thales.  Parmenides shows two: one pertaining to epistemology: aletheia vs. doxa; the other constituting the structure of the universe; Light (Fire?) vs. Night. 
Heraclitus showed the intimate relationship of the opposites, how some phenomena such as the road up + the road down, showed their fusion, while others such as ice vs. water morphed, the one into the other.
Aristotle’s idea of the mean.
There is a heritage in the coincidentia oppositorum of the German mystics (probably going beyond what Heraclitus maintained).  Freud’s held that in the early stages of human language a single word could combine two opposite meanings.
HEN - one
KOSMOS - It originally meant ordering, as in a well-drawn up military formation.  In the sense of ornament, decoration it could also refer to a woman’s well-managed toilette (hence the modern term cosmetics).  The idea of ordering led to the broad sense of the universe, conceived of as ruled by an ordering principle.  Sometimes it meant simply the earth, as distinct from the heavens.  This last sense survives in our term cosmopolitan.
LOGOS - originally word(s), utterance, it came to refer to the ordering principle of the universe.  Both senses may be said to persist in the adjective logikos.
NOOS  - mind.  What is its status? it is more than an abstract noun but less than a personification.
PHYSIS -   Nafure.  In a single instance in Homer, the term is applied to a psychodelic plant.  This suggests that the original meaning was something like “characteristic appearance which permits identification” or perhaps “efficacy.”  The association with the verb phuo, to grow, made it seems suitable in relation to plants.  Yet this connection also facilitated a broader sort of meaning.  Many things grown, and if the world is in some sense alive, then it is universally applicable.  Hence the sense of nature, which is dominant in Plato.  Plato’s later works, such as The Laws, show another shift: at first descriptive, it could be normative (so that something could be “against nature,” even though it is part of nature in the descriptive sense).  The Latin equivalent, natura, has a different set of nuances, stemming from the verb nasci, to be born.
TAXIS - ordering, lineup.