The Mythological Dimension of Parmenides' Thought

Dissertation, Boston College (2001)

This dissertation attempts to identify the presence and role of myth in Parmenides' philosophical poem. It is argued that the myths of the poem are neither extrinsic to, nor entirely in service of, Parmenides' reasoned account. By virtue of the traditional significance which they possess, the myths of the poem determine both the form and content of Parmenides' philosophical presentation, with the result that Parmenides' philosophy should be viewed as an attempt to sustain traditional tales with philosophical argumentation. Primarily two myths are identified as operative in the poem. The first is that of a mortal's chariot-journey on the path of the sun to a region of life, light and understanding. It is in the context of this archaic myth that a number of otherwise puzzling features of the poem are explained, including the detailed imagery of the prelude, the presentation of the search for knowledge as a "path," the goddess' advice on "ways of seeking," and the characterization of the poem's argumentation as "signs along the way." The second myth takes its point of departure from the first. Parmenides' conception of reality is, at its core, a mythological view of the cosmos as a whole, as associated with the vantage-point of the all-seeing sun at the apex of the sky. A dose examination of the "signs" of what is in Fr. 8 reveals that Parmenides' argumentation constitutes a defense of the notion of the cosmos as a single, animate, corporeal, possibly sentient, being. Mortal ignorance is accordingly explained as an error of perspective for Parmenides, i.e., the inability of charioteer-mind to arrive at an insight into the cosmic whole, the enduring unity from which all things come and into which they return. It is suggested that Parmenides does not deny change and plurality at the level of the phenomena; what he does deny is that change and plurality have reality from the perspective of the unity and totality of all things, in so far as that totality is conceived as a single, ever-living being
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