Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.01.07

Alexander P. D. Mourelatos, The Route of Parmenides: revised and expanded edition; with a new introduction, three supplemental essays, and an essay by Gregory Vlastos (originally published 1970).   Las Vegas:  Parmenides Pub., 2008.  Pp. lix, 408.  ISBN 9781930972117.  $42.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Marina N. Volf, Novosibirsk State University, Russia (
Word count: 3413 words

Alexander Mourelatos's book The Route of Parmenides does not require any special introduction since it has become a classic in Parmenides studies. Now, thanks to "Parmenides Publishing", we have both a new reprint of this remarkable book and an opportunity to look at it from new angles.

The Route, being already part of philosophical history, has a history of its own. This explains its structure with a new preface and afterword written for this edition and its overall composition. The book has three parts with nine chapters, four appendixes and detailed explanatory notes. The first part is a new edition of The Route originally published in 1970. As Mourelatos explains, "the revisions ... are modest: mostly corrections of misprints; altering or adjusting some misleading formulations; editing some egregiously dated phrases;... and the like" (p. xi).

The Route starts with a detailed and informative table of contents which allows easy navigation around the book. In the preface entitled Returning to Elea: Preface and Afterword to the Revised and Expanded Edition of "The Route of Parmenides" Mourelatos recounts the history of his studying the Parmenidean poem and writing The Route, starting with a critical discussion of the main ideas of his dissertation on Parmenides written in 1963. Then he recounts the problems raised in The Route and the initial feedback just after its publication (1963-1968). He also considers transformation of some of his points of view expressed in the 1970s. Finally, Mourelatos discusses the prospects of the conception stated in The Routes of 2008. It is a very intimate section of the book in which we get to know Mourelatos as a scholar and a person.

As we can see from the preface (and, to some extent, from the dedication of the book to Wilfrid Sellars, the first supervisor of Mourelatos), the combination of a strict analytical approach with classics methodology isn't accidental in Mourelatos's work. He was able not only to successfully integrate the methodology of classics studies and analytic philosophy which might seem incommensurable but also pass on this new approach to his followers.

The genre of review doesn't allow mentioning all aspects and relations between the terms, concepts, and their meaning which follow from the analysis of the Greek text of the poem. Each reader has to do this work and estimate the importance of Mourelatos's contribution to this field on their own. We are able to offer only brief remarks and a general conclusion on the content of the book.

Parmenides wrote not a philosophical treatise but a poem in hexameters. And it is evident to Mourelatos that before analyzing Parmenides as a philosopher we must put him in the contextual background of classical texts of Homer, Hesiod etc. This could give us "a key toward understanding the syntax and semantics,... the precise sense of his metaphors and images, and the wider context of his mythical allusions" (p. 1). This is the point of the first chapter "Epic Form" in which Mourelatos analyzes composition, vocabulary, and epic phraseology and points out some exact parallels with Homer (Iliad, Odyssey and Homeric Hymns) and a number of other parallels similar to Homeric formulae. Mourelatos also points out a number of epic motifs in the poem and focuses on the The-Journey motif present both in Odyssey and in Parmenides. Parmenides's hexameter is specifically analyzed in Appendix I.

In the second chapter "Cognitive Quest and the Route" special attention is given to fragments B2.3 and B2.5. Mourelatos thinks that, since 1960s, the interpreters of the poem have come to a consensus about this fragment on three points: 1) ἐστι and εἶναι have an existential force; 2) the absence of the subject for these verb-forms; 3) these verb forms are not "impersonal" (p. 47). The criticism of Mourelatos is directed against the existential force of ἐστι. The interpretations of the subjectless ἐστι is stated more extensively in Appendix II.

Mourelatos formulates his objection analyzing different meanings of the verb ἐστι. First of all, it was a "veridical use of 'is'" formulated by Charles Kahn: ("εἶναι when used without predicates does not mean 'to exist' but 'to be so', 'to be the case', 'to be true'" (p. 48)). Secondly, he considers G. Calogero's point of view who argues that "ἐστι represents no more than the form of "judgment" or "affirmation"" (p. 51). In the logical sense it means that we don't have any proposition but just a sentence frame. Calogero's position that "only positive propositions are possible" is vulnerable as is vulnerable, according to Mourelatos, any other interpretation "based on an initial confusion of copulative and existential predication" (p. 54). Further, Mourelatos discusses 'speculative' predication. According to him, Parmenidean predication must answer the question "What is it?", and thus mean "rather for a complete exposure of, and insight into, the identity of a thing to such an extent and in such a manner that no further questions with respect to that thing need or may arise" (p. 57) and "the subject fully explains itself, and in terms of itself. Predication so understood is at once analysis, explication, and explanation" (Ibid.). Interpretation like this deals with "reality" and is quite available for the Parmenidean doctrine.

Next, Mourelatos considers the notions φύσις and ἀλήθεια. In his opinion, the latter is more suitable for the Parmenidean doctrine. If the philosophy of Parmenides was a cognitive quest, then its aim was inquiry into the ἀλήθεια not the φύσις which was the aim of the previous philosophy. It also confirms etymology of the word: "ἀ (privative) + ληθ + noun-suffix: the denial of a state or condition of λανθάνειν, "to escape notice, detection"" (p. 64), i.e. non-latency. Thus it is the route from "the proximate but "latent" to the transcendent but "non-latent" identity of things" (p. 67). Although Mourelatos concludes that it was better to translate this word as "truth" and it was a warranted and common translation, his arguments show that ἀλήθεια and τὸ ἐόν were equivalent in Parmenides and he uses these words in the sense of "the real" and "reality". He also discusses the use of the words δίζησις and νοεῖν as more suitable for speculative predication. "The routes presented by the goddess are open to mind (νοῆσαι) in its quest (δίζησις) for reality (ἀλήθεια)" (p. 70).

Finally, the last argument for the rejection of the existential force of the verb "is" is the translation of "ὅπως ἔστιν" (p. 70-71). Usually, it was translated as "that it is" and it was typical for the existential reading. Mourelatos suggests the translation "how it is" and this variant takes us from mere designation of the existence ("X exists") to the predicational force of the statement ("X is Y" or "X is really F").

In the third chapter "The Vagueness of What-Is-Not" Mourelatos shows why "the rejection of the negative route is not a rejection of negative predication in general" (p. 75) and "it is rather a rejection of negative attributes in answer to speculative, cosmological questions" (Ibid.). Mourelatos considers "what-is-not" from the position of literary analysis (p. 75-78), logical analysis (p. 78-80) and shows that entities which can be invoked in answers to the speculative question about reality cannot be opposites because if one of them counts as ἐόν, "the other is no more than the indefiniteness of empty, unbounded, range" (p. 80). Then, Mourelatos analyzes the weaknesses of other translations of B8.54 different from his own, and the problems related to the interpretation of the Parmenidean doctrine as monism or dualism. Mourelatos offers his own translation of B8.54 about two perceptible forms, "one of which it is not right to name" and gives a detailed proof of this variant (p. 81-85).

In Chapter 4 "Signposts" Mourelatos examines B8. His purpose is to show that all signs of "what-is" were included in the proof of the positive route of "Truth" and they were "programmatic announcement" and proofs for each sign. If the motion along the true route is possible only due to special marks -- signposts or milestones in some sense, so what are these marks? Parmenides used in B8 two types of arguments: the indirect proof (which is the same as the reduction to absurdity) and the diagnosis of infinite regress. The first proof is "Ungenerable" (p. 96-111). The proof has three stages and seven hypotheses (p. 99). Exploring the structure of first stage, Mourelatos reconstructs and presents a detailed scheme of the whole proof. The important point which he substantiates is: "there are a number of uses of "is" which are correctly understood as tenseless", i.e. truth contained in such is-assertions is necessary like in the assertion "seven is a prime number" (p. 103-104). If we add "was and will be" to these assertions they will become meaningless. "The domain of tenseless propositions is the domain of necessary truths, and so it includes definitions, classificatory truths, and logical entailments" (p. 104). If ἐστι is tenseless, then these assertions must possess the characteristics of speculative predication; they must be be assertions about reality. Mourelatos argues that Parmenides not only realized tenselessness of the ἐστι, but intentionally included this construction in his proof and it was probably in contrast to B8.5 and B30 of Heraclitus and to a number of the epic formulae (p. 105-107). The second proof which Mourelatos examines in this chapter was "Indivisible".

In the fifth chapter "The Bounds of Reality" Mourelatos continues examining the arguments, notably the third proof "Immobile". First of all, he pays attention to the analysis of the verb κινέω and concludes that the meaning of this verb is not "locomotion" but rather "egress" (= self-alienation) (p. 119). Next he discusses the proof of "Complete" (B8.32-33 and B-38.42-49), shows that here that we are dealing with a valid proof and demonstrates its logical structure (p. 125). This passage contains four definitions of a sphere, "unusual, but perfectly valid" (p. 127). Mourelatos shows that "the comparison with a sphere becomes an argument for the completeness of what-is" (p. 128) and argues that Parmenides "does not say that it is a sphere" (p. 124). "Metaphor... is the appropriate concept" (p. 124). At the end of the chapter Mourelatos again raises the question about Parmenidean monism or dualism (as a special case of pluralism) and is in favor of monism, but such that is "compatible with numerical plurality", i.e. "that it is "one", ... unique as an individual of cosmic scale" (p. 133).

In the sixth chapter "Persuasion and Fidelity" Mourelatos analyzes "the family of πειθ-words" (p. 136) in Greek from Hesiod where they first occur. These words have, according to Mourelatos, "varying but logically distinct aspects of the relationship of agreeable commitment" or "persuasion-compliance" relationship (p. 139). Mourelatos counted six such aspects (p. 139-140). His diagram "The logic of πείθειν" on p. 143 clearly shows the relationship between these aspects. Then he begins the analysis of πείθειν in Parmenides in order to demonstrate the logical relation between πίστις and δόξα. The route of positive predication is the "course of Persuasion" and the man following this course is "sensitive to the πειθώ which the goddess Πειθώ herself has bestowed on the real" (p. 160). Mourelatos argues that the divinity or goddess who leads Kouros on the route of truth and who controls the reality of what-is has four faces or hypostases: Constraint (Ἀνάγκη), Fate (Μοῖρα), Justice (Δίκη) and Persuasion (Πειθώ) (p. 160). To avoid misunderstanding Mourelatos emphasizes that "this analysis of πειθ-words in Parmenides serves primarily to articulate a speculative metaphor. The only reality for Parmenides' metaphysics is the what-is. In none of her four faces or hypostases is the goddess an element of the ontology. The four faces of the polymorph deity are aspects of the modality of necessity that controls what-is..." (p. 161). The many-faced deity guaranteed the reality of what-is, so if we forgot our commitments we'd find ourselves on a route of doxa and start wandering (p. 163).

In the seventh chapter "Mind's Commitment to Reality" Mourelatos analyzes the most difficult fragment of Parmenides -- B8.34. In the beginning of the chapter he discusses the function of νοεῖν in Parmenides: noting that this is, first of all, epistemic terms, not psychological ones. "To know" or "to understand" is a more suitable translation for this term but Mourelatos prefers a more familiar variant -- "to think". Then he provides a detailed analysis of a number of difficulties in reading and translating B8.34-38 and proposes his own interpretation by reduction of the fragment to a logical structure of six steps, which resulted in this statement: "So ἐόν is not only a possible but a necessary object of mind" (p. 175). But Mourelatos asserts that even though we speak about the "necessary" relationship between mind and reality, it is incorrect to think that necessity attaches to what-is. Reality does not exist alongside the mind; men should reach it through challenging argument. Mourelatos clarifies his interpretation by some parallels with logical atomism (pp. 177-178) and ancient parallels with Plato and Heraclitus (pp. 178-180).

The next question of this chapter was a question of reading ὀνόμασται in B8.38ff. Mourelatos clarifies the logic of the Greek concept of "naming" or "calling" (p. 183) and draws the conclusion: "Parmenides is telling us: No matter what it is that mortals say, they must say it with reference to what-is" (p. 185). He also draws here on the parallel with Empedocles B8-9.

The next chapter "Doxa as Acceptance" is devoted to examining the meaning of δοκ-words in Greek and in the Parmenidean poem. So, the δοκ-words are synonyms of φαιν-words, but φαιν-words have phenomenological sense while the δοκ-words -- criteriological. Therefore, doxa isn't "appearance" or "opinion"; it is "acceptance" and men have some criteria to accept it. Further in the chapter Mourelatos discusses the sense of χρῆν in B1.31-32, proposes his variant of translation of this fragment and its philosophical significance.

In the next chapter "Deceptive Words" Mourelatos analyzes "amphilogy" or "equivocation", "ambiguity" -- those words used by mortals. He emphasizes that the goddess, characterizing doxa, used the same deceptive words as the mortals but put some irony into them (p. 228). The analysis of 8.53 shows that the irony was put by Parmenides into the grammatical stricture of statement. There is ambiguity in B8.60, too.

There are many illustrative tables in this chapter. First, is the extensive table "Verbal and Conceptual Contrasts between "Doxa" and "Truth"" (pp. 232-234). The phrases and words of doxa are compared to denials in truth (p. 232). Mourelatos presents the seventeen paired ideas in opposition (p. 234). Another table is "Ambiguity in the Attributes of the Contraries" (pp. 242-243) which provides analysis of the notions Light and Night with their positive and negative associations. The third table "One-Many Contrariety of the Attributes of Lights and Night" (p. 245) presents the multiple meanings of those attributes. The last table is "Similarities-with-a-Difference between "Doxa" and "Truth"" (pp. 248-249). All the passages in the left doxa column show verbal resemblance with passages from the right truth column (p. 248). And, finally, the conclusion that the poem style and the speculative use of ambiguity, paradoxes and irony reminds us of the dialogic practice of Socrates or early aporetic dialogues of Plato (p. 263) looks quite convincing.

There are four appendixes at the end of the first part. Some of them I've already mentioned. Appendix II seems to be very interesting because here Mourelatos examines "logically possible constructions of a bare (subjectless and predicateless) ἐστι or "is"" (p. 269). Mourelatos considers six distinct patterns, analyzes them in detail and exemplifies, when possible, those interpretations which correspond to each of the six examples. Appendix IV contains the fragments of Parmenides's Greek text of the poem. Supplementary List of Works Cited in Part I ends the first part.

The second part is entitled Three Supplemental Essays. This part continues and concludes the position stated in The Route. The first essay "Heraclitus, Parmenides, and the Naïve Metaphysics of Things" goes on to discuss the question about the opposites raised in Chapter Nine of The Route. Mourelatos introduces the concept Naïve Metaphysics of Things (NMT) and defines NMT as "metaphysics of opposed and cognate characters-powers, in three postulates or requirements: (a) thinghood; (b) equality of status and independence; (c) recognition of affinities and polarities" (p. 303). The author concludes that Heraclitus and Parmenides would have had distinct reactions to NMT, but they would have unmistakably recognized the NMT language-game as "paradigm of the world view of "mortals"" (p. 306).

Mourelatos discusses some texts of Hesiod and Anaximander in which the world's view as NMT is reflected to the best advantage, although Anaximander's text was a philosophical text. These texts are clearly contrasted with the doctrines of Heraclitus and Parmenides, but these philosophers were also in contrast to each other. Heraclitus was an anti-realist, and Parmenides was an extreme realist. "Doxa" is a perfect model of NMT" (p. 324). After Mourelatos's arguments it is impossible to speak about Doxa without its connection with Truth, so we shouldn't understand the negative route as mere rejection of one of the opposites. The negative route is "totally uninformative". Mourelatos argues that from this point of view the Heraclitean logos became a very important notion and is connected to the doctrines of these two philosophers. The world, according to this conception, is not to be understood as world of things, a mixture, or thinghood, but "the world we reach through language", "a conceptual or logos-textured world... articulated in logical space" (p. 328).

The next essay "Determinancy and Indeterminancy, Being and Non-Being in the Fragments of Parmenides" continues the theme of Chapter Two and Appendix II discussing the copulative, existential or veridical sense esti in B2. Mourelatos considered that "Parmenides' subjectless esti in B2 is best understood as (syntactically) a bare copula, with both its subject and its predicate complement deliberately suppressed" (p. 334). He analyzes arguments justifying this construction and discusses the meaning of negative predication in Parmenides. Next, he examines a variety of α-negative adjectival and nominal compounds in the poem, and notes the similarity of these constructions with Greek poetry, drama and rhetoric, pointing out that they were a commonplace in Greek literature. Finally, he discusses the contrast between Truth and Doxa.

In the third essay of this part "Some Alternatives in Interpreting Parmenides" Mourelatos formulates four brief theses which, in the 1960s and 1970s, formed a consensus in interpreting Parmenides in English language scholarship. He defines the content of these theses as "Standard Interpretation" (SI) and points out that the prototype of SI was Owen's famous article "Eleatic Question" (1960). According to Mourelatos, SI has some advantages but a weak methodology. He formulates five theses pointing out these weak positions of SI (pp. 354-355). Then Mourelatos discusses his interpretation and those points in which it differs from SI, and very briefly repeats the basic statements of The Route.

The third part includes the previously unpublished essay of Gregory Vlastos ""Names" of Being in Parmenides". In this essay, G. Vlastos discussed B8.38-41, notably variants of reading πάντ' ὄνομ(α) ἔσται or πάντ' ὀνόμασται, as "names" or "have been named" and after discussing both variants argues for the second one. Vlastos's position is close to Mourelatos's point of view recounted in Chapter Seven. This essay supplements Mourelatos's commentary about the significance of this reading. Mourelatos also discusses why Vlastos never published this text although it was known that he had sent a draft of the essay to many scholars.

The book ends with detailed Indexes including references to Parmenides's fragments, other ancient texts, Greek words previously discussed, and names.

This paperback edition is attractive-looking, is of excellent printing quality and has a nice design. I found only one misprint on p. 208.

The book is of importance for all interested in Presocratic philosophy, not only Parmenides and Heraclitus, their doctrines and notions but also for later ancient philosophy and classics as well. It can also be used by students as a great didactic manual for early Greek philosophy. The book contains a great amount of Greek etymology, accurate, original and well-founded translations, and some discussion of secondary literature. All this remains topical now in spite of almost forty years since the first edition. For those familiar with the first edition this one is also of an exceptional interest because, in addition to the main text, the reader gets extended commentary in the preface and the last two parts of book, and has an opportunity to trace both the transformations of the main theses of the book and their prospects.

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