Angelo Tonelli

Parmenides, priest of Apollo Oúlios, and the mystic-shamanic roots of Western philosophy

Translated by Olga Faccani.

Note: This essay is an excerpt from the book, “Parmenides On the Origin” (Feltrinelli 2023, by kind permission of the publisher, Feltrinelli). Where necessary for clarity, minor additions and clarifications have been made within the text and supplemented in footnotes.


Abstract *

This essay delves into the mystic-shamanic roots of Western philosophy through the life and teachings of Parmenides, pre-Socratic Greek philosopher and priest of Apollo Oúlios. In doing so, Tonelli underscores the synthesis of mysticism, rational thought, and political acumen in shaping Parmenides’ philosophical contributions. By highlighting his role as a conduit between the sacred and the rational, the essay suggests that Parmenides’ work laid the groundwork for logical principles while remaining deeply intertwined with the cosmic intuition of Noûs. The discussion reorients our perspective on ancient wisdom, arguing for its relevance in addressing contemporary intellectual and societal challenges: it advocates for a rediscovery of these sapiential traditions as a means to enrich our collective understanding and to foster a more enlightened community. With this essay, Tonelli invites a reconsideration of knowledge and wisdom, proposing a reengagement with the spiritual disciplines that could lead to an enlightened societal transformation.

— — — — — — — — — — — —

In limine

Why should we turn to Parmenides, priest of Apollo Oúlios [Endnote 1]?

Why should we retrace the path that led him to the threshold of the visible world, until he crossed the Door of Night and Day, to clasp the hand of the nameless Goddess in the Great Beyond, and to hear the winged words of Wisdom that can be heard only by the ears of those who are initiated to the rites?

At least a couple of major philosophers of the last century have returned to Parmenides, to engage in hand-to-hand combat with his revelations and to translate them into refined, and often misleading, paths of thought.

In addition, Parmenides has been anointed as the father of philosophy both by Plato and by his disciple Gorgias, who unforgivably reversed the title of his work, On What Is, into the opposite (On What Is Not), thereby expunging the notion of “Absolute” from the sphere of consciousness and paving the way for a desacralization of Wisdom that continues to bear its poisoned fruit still (and especially) today, in the age of transhumanist decadence.

Thus, I turn to Parmenides precisely in order to do him justice and to restore, through him, a mystical and luminous gaze on life and on its source, a gaze unencumbered by intellectual hypertrophies and capable of grasping the “flower of intuition” that Parmenides, through the millennia, passed down to us: an enlightened and illuminating state of consciousness, unified, as befits a “superhuman philosopher,” following Giorgio Colli’s definition (in his 1975 volume, La nascita della filosofia, The Birth of Philosophy).

One cannot decipher Parmenides with merely philosophical glasses, without obliterating his essence, for Parmenides was not a mere philosopher, but so much more.

He was a priest of Apollo Oúlios, Apollo the Healer, a hiatromancer [Endonote 2] and master-shaman of all things sacred, much like his counterparts of the East (Hindus, Taoists, Buddhists). For this reason, one cannot understand Parmenides unless one reconnects the thread that, already in the age of orally handed down wisdom, connected the sophía (wisdom) of the West with that of the East.

Moreover, Parmenides was an enlightened politician in the manner of the Pythagoreans, and a very refined investigator of Nature. He was the first to provide a model for the rational articulation of thought through the use of the principle of non-contradiction, third exclusion, and others (building on the dialectic method and practice). For Parmenides, ratio (rational thought) and “science” were handmaidens of the knowledge that can only be obtained through vision and touch. According to Parmenides, the highest achievable level of knowledge is the result of noûs, intended as metaphysical intuition, which is the true center of cognition: the rest, while it can be significant, is periphery.

Thus, to turn back again to Parmenides with a renewed gaze means to take an active part in the evolution of individuals, as a species otherwise condemned to extinction due to irreversible noetic {Endnote 3] blindness and the absence of adequate models of reference.


If Philosophy is a method of ascertaining the truthful efficacy of thought processes and deliberating on a vision of the world, Wisdom, instead, is a way of being, which transcends the “all-too-human human,” and seals within itself a state of enlightened consciousness. And the age of Wisdom in Greece flourished and culminated between the VI and V centuries B.C., and is best represented by the figures of Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Empedocles, Parmenides, and others.

With Parmenides, Greek Wisdom in the form of writing was born, though perhaps intended for a small circle of reader-disciples, and within it dwells the root of the philosophy of the West. And the philosophy of the West, through Parmenides, finds its roots in shamanic healing, Apollonian hiatromancy (healing power) and visionary mysticism, and in its proximity to the Wisdom of the East.

In 1962 Peter Ebner published four epigraphical inscriptions that were found during the excavations of Insula II, and that we can trace back, in all probability, to the Asklepieîon of Elea [Endnote 4]. The first epigraph was engraved on the base of a statue of a figure dressed in a toga, the other three on acephalous herms (stone pillars without heads), dated after the first century A.D.

They read as follows:


Oúlis son of Eusinus, Hyelétes, physician phólarchos, [Endnote 5] year 379 [Endnote 6]

Oúlis son of Ariston, physician phólarchos, year 280

Oúlis son of Hieronymus, physician phólarchos, year 446

Parmenides son of Piraeus, Ouliádes, physikós (healer)

On the basis of the set of these inscriptions, and particularly the fourth, it can be inferred that Parmenides was a priest of Apollo Oúlios, or Apollo the Healer, and thus consecrated to the tutelary deity of the Medical School of Elea, which was very famous in antiquity. Significantly, the epigraphic inscriptions were part of a set in which the terms iatrós (physician), and phólarchos (of caves) recur, referring to three figures addressed as Oúlis, a name that is perhaps used to replace their own and that indicates the prominent role they assumed in the Eleatic medical community.

Phólarchos is a hapax term (meaning it only ever appeared in one text and author, and is not found anywhere else in the body of ancient literature), referring to pholeós, which means “den” or “cave,” but can also carry the meaning of “school.” We may think of it as an indicator of a place where private cultic communities gathered, in all likelihood akin to – or connected with – the caves in Samos and Croton that were used by Pythagoras as a mystical retreat. We may also suggest a connection between the Medical School of Elea and the Pythagorean School of Croton (both Elea and Croton are cities in Southern Italy, which in antiquity was Greek territory).

Therefore, we may be rather certain, on the basis of the fourth epigraph, that Parmenides was a medical healer and a priest of Apollo Oúlios, and in all probability was familiar with the practices of cave incubation known and performed by the Pythagoreans.

Moreover, to Parmenides should also be attributed the notion of health as eukrasía, intended as a “good mixture” of the natural elements that make up our psycho-physical reality, as well as the notion of a “physics of mixture” (krásis) that influenced the Hippocratic doctrine and the thought of Empedocles, Leucippus, Democritus, and Anaxagoras. In all likelihood, Parmenides coined the notion of isonomía (although some scholars attribute it to Alcmeon of the Pythagorean school). According to this notion, health arises from a condition of symmetry, that is, from the “right balance between the different forces that make up the organism.” [Endnote 7].

It is also worth looking at the mystical-meditative disciplines of the Pythagoreans, since Parmenides was in contact with one of them, as we can read in the work of Diogenes Laertius:


[…] According to what Sotion [Endnote 8] says, Parmenides met with the Pythagorean Aminia, son of Diochete, a poor but excellent man; precisely for this reason Parmenides respected him and followed him even more, and when Aminia died, Parmenides – since he was of an illustrious and rich family – erected a funeral monument in his honor. Moreover, it was Aminia, and not Xenophanes, the one who initiated Parmenides to the practice of bringing peace to the mind… (Test. 1, 28A 1 DK)


Pythagoreanism spread in Magna Graecia (Southern Italy) beginning with the advent of Pythagoras in Crotone (a port city in Calabria, Southern Italy). Pythagoras settled in Crotone around 532 B.C., after leaving the island of Samos, where he was born around 572 B.C. Between 490 and 480 B.C., he resided permanently in the city of Metapontum, where he died. In addition to Croton and Metapontum, we can find Pythagorean circles in the cities of Tarentum, Phlippus, Catania, Reggio, Imera, Syracuse, Agrigento, and Sybaris. Moreover, the Pythagoreans profoundly influenced the political life, medicine, spirituality, and culture of virtually all of Magna Graecia.

Pythagoreanism, as a philosophy and as a way of life, was characterized by its explicit recourse to spiritual practices, such as the discipline of silence imposed on neophytes in the first years of apprenticeship in the school (often considered an individual exercise that fosters self-knowledge). Another spiritual practice was incubation in caves (the practice of sleeping in a sacred area with the intention of experiencing a divinely inspired dream or cure), in order to perfect concentration and the capacity for anámnesis, that is, the ability to recall in the mirror of memory both the daily events of life and, further back and deeper in memory, the chain of successive reincarnations of the soul.

The Poem of Parmenides seals in its words a profoundly visionary and meditative experience, rooted in a regular practice of introspection aimed at overcoming the ordinary mind, which is often distracted and agitated by sensations, impressions, perceptions, and thoughts. On the other hand, the purpose of meditative practices is to achieve hesychía, “stillness of the mind,” which is also achievable through meditation techniques handed down from the Buddhist tradition.

The meditative practice is rooted in a deep focus on the breath, which becomes the center of inwardness. It involves the process of “touching and letting go,” while simultaneously remaining centered in the awareness of any sensation, impression, perception, or thought. These sensations and perceptions appear and disappear in the mirror of the mind without leaving a trace, like clouds in the sky, which form and disintegrate, while the sky always remains blue and unchanged in the background.

Let us now examine a foundational myth tied to the Dionysian initiatory experience as a possible Greek counterpart of the meditation practice centered on being present in awareness:


In antiquity the mirror was regarded as a symbol of the fullness of the All. That is why it is said that the blacksmith god Hephaestus fabricated a mirror for Dionysus and that Dionysus, looking into it and contemplating his own image, soared to the creation of the plurality of human existence. (Procl., in Plat., Tim. 33b)


The Whole is the One, and the mirror represents a symbol of the connection between the “individual” noûs and the universal fullness of the One-All, because the noûs is both the intuitive function of the individual (who perceives the unity of all things while transcending space and time) and the metaphysical background unifying all things.

Dionysus, in turn, represents the Absolute that becomes Multiple by fragmenting itself into a plurality of reflections or appearances that perpetually originate from it: “changing, it rests”, to quote Heraclitus (22B84a DK).

Through the practice of meditation and awareness, in which Apollo and Dionysus are connected, the Wise Man recomposes the fragmented Dionysus in the noûs, abandoning the state of individual consciousness, and instead placing himself in between the universality of the god’s gaze and his pluralized image in the mirror of the world, or of the worlds. Through this meditative practice the Wise Man can overcome the dualism between manifest and non-manifest, the Absolute and the Relative, as reported in the last verses of the preface to Parmenides’ Poem. The “stillness of the mind,” to which Aminia initiated Parmenides, most likely refers to this form of meditation or another meditative practice similar to it.

Moreover, this meditative practice allows the Wise Man to walk through the threshold between the invisible and the visible, the absolute and the relative. That is why Parmenides is referred to as physikós in Epigraph 4, because Phýsis is the Origin of all things, the invisible and perpetually generative matrix of the visible world, a natural force that generates and that is generated in turn.

Parmenides’ origins and his philosophy are strictly connected to the ancient city of Elea, in Southern Italy:


And wanderers who turn that way will encounter a city, founded by the Phocians and named by them ‘Yele,’ while others also refer to it as ‘Ele,’ after the name of a spring. This city is now known as ‘Elea.’ From this city came Parmenides and Zeno, both Pythagoreans. It seems to me that this city always had good laws thanks to them. (Test. 12, 28A12 DK)


The city of Elea, known today as Velia, was a colony founded in Magna Graecia by settlers from Phocaea, who, just like the Sami and Milesian people, had breathed in the culture of the Eastern people when the Persian emperor Cyrus invaded Media, thus opening up the Mediterranean coast to the Wise Men of the East, known as the Magi.  

Parmenides, son of Piretes, a wealthy aristocrat, was born in Elea in the second half of the VI century BC and died in the first half of the V century BC. The dating of his birth and the age of his death are objects of debate among scholars, especially for those who consider the meeting between Socrates and Parmenides (narrated by Plato in Parmenides 127a-128e) as historical. According to Plato’s account, during the Great Panathenae of the Eighty-second Olympiad in the year 450-449 BC, Parmenides must have been sixty-five years old, indicating that he would have been born no later than 515 BC. Some scholars maintain that we cannot be certain about the chronology of this event if we assume that Parmenides visited Athens with the philosopher Zeno, with whom he had a relationship of discipleship and perhaps of love as well.

Equally uncertain is Parmenides’ relationship with Xenophanes and Anaximander, traditionally described as his teachers [Endnote 9]. Parmenides was certainly influenced by their wisdom and teachings, but this does not imply a close discipleship relationship with these two thinkers. To mention just one example, while the close connection between Eleatic monism and Xenophanean mono-polytheism is well recognized by scholars, Xenophanes’s approach can be described as theological, whereas Parmenides’ can be described as ontological, and Parmenides differs significantly from Xenophanes in his discussion of the notion of doxa (popular opinion). Moreover, despite the fact that Parmenides was almost a contemporary of Heraclitus, who lived in Ephesus in Asia Minor probably between 520 and 460 BC, recent criticism tends to rule out the possibility that the two thinkers influenced each other or criticized each other’s theories in their texts.

Parmenides was a priest of Apollo Oúlios, and, therefore, regardless of his relationship to Pythagoreanism, he must also have been an iatrómantis (a healer-seer) and probably a phólarchos (a lord of the cave, connected to initiation rituals).   

Moreover, an ancient commentator of Plato informs us that Parmenides was also a great politician: “Parmenides, was a true politician: that is why Plato compares him to Pericles, who is famous precisely as a politician.” (Schol. in Alcib. I, 119 A). Ancient author Diogenes Laertius further informs us that Parmenides “gave laws to his fellow citizens.” (Diog. Laert., IX, 23)

Furthermore, ancient author Plutarch writes: “Parmenides brought order to his country with excellent laws, to such an extent that every year the magistrates made the citizens swear an oath that they would keep observing the laws of Parmenides.” (Plut., Adv. Colot. 32, p. 1126 A)

It seems that Parmenides, with his lawmaking, had succeeded in bringing harmony between the settlers and the natives, strengthening the polis (city state) through good governance. As a result, his city was able to achieve victory against the Lucanians and Posidonians, despite its numerical inferiority. Moreover, it seems plausible that Parmenides governed the city by striving for isonomia, a perfect combination of balance and health, promoting legislation that was moderate and capable of integrating and harmonizing the various political factions for the common good and Justice (Díke).

Of Parmenides’ work, entitled Perì Phýseos (On the Origin), we are left with only 150 authentic verses, although his work must have been far more extensive. What we have left of Parmenides’ writings was passed down to us thanks to both Sextus Empiricus, who transcribed the Proem (fr. 1) in the second-third century CE, and the ancient scholar Simplicius, who, in the VI century CE, in his commentary on Aristotle’s Physics, reported almost in full frr. 7-8, totaling 52 verses. Simplicius was well aware that very few copies of Parmenides’ work were circulating at his time, and therefore very few people would have been able to compare Simplicius’ writings to Parmenides’ originals.

Parmenides’ Perì Phýseos is written in verse, at a time when – starting from the first half of the VI century – prose had gradually begun to spread (for example, with the writings of Ferecides, Acusilaus, Anaximander, Anaximenes, and the aphorisms of Heraclitus). In addition to myth-telling, anecdotal expressions, and reflections on Phýsis (nature), prose was also adopted in the writing of historiographical and geographical accounts, as seen in the works of Hecataeus of Miletus and Scylax of Carianda. 

Parmenides’ choice of writing in verse, and not in prose, occurred during a phase of transition from oral communication (which left a trace in hexameter writing due to its ability to facilitate retention in memory with repeated musical patterns) to philosophical prose, which would become firmly established in the V-IV centuries BC.

Parmenides’ writing is inspired by the language of Homeric epic and of Hesiodic didactic poetry, through a formal and rhythmic twisting of hexameters, in which he modulates verses capable of combining the visionary, intuitive, and rational dimensions of thought. In this way Parmenides managed to pass down his mystical way of thinking to the students of his School – who participated in the esoteric communication of the teachings – and to disseminate his writings to the wider circle of readers of the time.

Below is Burnet’s translation of Parmenides’ poem Perì Phýseos [Endnote 10]



Fragment 1 (verses 1-32)

The steeds that bear me carried me as far as ever my heart

Desired, since they brought me and set me on the renowned

Way of the goddess, who with her own hands conducts the man

who knows through all things. On what way was I borne

along; for on it did the wise steeds carry me, drawing my car,

and maidens showed the way. And the axle, glowing in the socket –

for it was urged round by the whirling wheels at each

end – gave forth a sound as of a pipe, when the daughters of the

Sun, hasting to convey me into the light, threw back their veils

from off their faces and left the abode of Night.

There are the gates of the ways of Night and Day, fitted

above with a lintel and below with a threshold of stone. They

themselves, high in the air, are closed by mighty doors, and

Avenging Justice keeps the keys that open them. Her did

the maidens entreat with gentle words and skillfully persuade

to unfasten without demur the bolted bars from the gates.

Then, when the doors were thrown back,

they disclosed a widening, when their brazen

hinges swung backwards in the

sockets fastened with rivets and nails. Straight through them,

on the broad way, did the maidens guide the horses and the car,

and the goddess greeted me kindly, and took my right hand

in hers, and spoke to me these words:

“Welcome, noble youth, that comes to my abode on the car

that bears you tended by immortal charioteers! It is no ill

chance, but justice and right that has sent you forth to travel

on this way. Far, indeed, does it lie from the beaten track of

men! Meet it is that you should learn all things, as well

the unshaken heart of persuasive truth, as the opinions of

mortals in which is no true belief at all. Yet none the less

shall you learn of these things also, since you must judge

approvedly of the things that seem to men as you go

through all things in your journey.



Fragment 2 (verses 1-8)

Come now, I will tell you – and do you hearken to my

saying and carry it away – the only two ways of search that

can be thought of. The first, namely, that It is, and that it is

impossible for anything not to be, is the way of conviction,

for truth is its companion. The other, namely, that It is not,

and that something must needs not be, – that, I tell you, is a

wholly inscrutable path. For you cannot know what is

not – that is impossible – nor utter it;

Fragment 3

For it is the same thing that can be thought and that can be.

Fragment 4 (verses 1-4)

Consider how far things have a strong presence to mind:

in fact [the mind] will not separate

the being which holds narrow

to the being either [when it appears]

fully scattered everywhere in the cosmos

or [when it appears] joined together.

Fragment 5 (verses 1-2)

To me it does not matter whence I will begin:

in fact, there I will return again.

Fragment 6 (verses 1-9)

It needs must be that what can be thought and spoken of is;

for it is possible for it to be, and it is not possible for, what is

nothing to be. This is what I bid you ponder. I hold you

back from this first way of inquiry, and from this other also,

upon which mortals knowing naught wander in two minds; for

hesitation guides the wandering thought in their breasts, so that

they are borne along stupefied like men deaf and blind.

Undiscerning crowds, in whose eyes the same thing and not the

same is and is not, and all things travel in opposite directions!

Fragment 7 (verses 1-6)

For this shall never be proved, that the things that are not

are; and do you restrain your thought from this way of inquiry.

Nor let habit force you to cast a wandering eye upon this

devious track, or to turn thither your resounding ear or your

tongue; but do you judge the subtle refutation of their

discourse uttered by me.

Fragment 8 (verses 1-61)

One path only is left for us to

speak of, namely, that It is. In it are very many tokens that

what is, is uncreated and indestructible, alone, complete,

immovable and without end. Nor was it ever, nor will it be; for

now it is, all at once, a continuous one. For what kind of origin

for it will you look for? In what way and from what source

could it have drawn its increase? I shall not let you say nor

think that it came from what is not; for it can neither be

thought nor uttered that what is not is. And, if it came from

nothing, what need could have made it arise later rather than

sooner? Therefore, must it either be altogether or be not at

all. Nor will the force of truth suffer ought to arise besides

itself from that which in any way is. Wherefore, Justice does

not lose her fetters and let anything come into being or pass

away, but holds it fast.

“Is it or is it not?” Surely it is adjudged, as it needs must

be, that we are to set aside the one way as unthinkable and

nameless (for it is no true way), and that the other path is real

and true. How, then, can what is be going to be in the

future? Or how could it come into being? If it came into

being, it is not; nor is it if it is going to be in the future. Thus is

becoming extinguished and passing away not to be heard of.

Nor is it divisible, since it is all alike, and there is no more

of it in one place than in another, to hinder it from holding

together, nor less of it, but everything is full of what is.

Wherefore all holds together; for what is; is in contact with what is.

Moreover, it is immovable in the bonds of mighty chains, without

beginning and without end; since coming into being

and passing away have been driven afar, and true belief has cast them away.

It is the same, and it rests in the self-same place, abiding in itself.

And thus, it remains constant in its place; for hard necessity

keeps it in the bonds of the limit that holds it fast on every side.

Wherefore it is not permitted to what is to be infinite;

for it is in need of nothing; while, if it were infinite,

it would stand in need of everything. It is the

same thing that can be thought and for the sake of which the thought exists;

for you cannot find thought without something that is, to which it is

betrothed. And there is not, and never shall be, any time other, than that which

is present, since fate has chained it so as to be whole and immovable.

Wherefore all these things are but the names which mortals

have given, believing them, to be true –

coming into being and passing away, being and not being,

change of place and alteration of bright color.

Where, then, it has its farthest boundary, it is complete on

every side, equally poised from the center in every direction,

like the mass of a rounded sphere; for it cannot be greater or

smaller in one place than in another. For there is nothing

which is not that could keep it from reaching out equally, nor

is it possible that there should be more of what is in this place

and less in that, since it is all inviolable. For, since it is equal

in all directions, it is equally confined within limits.


Here I shall close my trustworthy speech and thought about the truth.

Henceforward learn the opinions of mortals,

giving ear to the deceptive ordering of my words.

Mortals have settled in their minds to speak of two forms, one of which

they should have left out, and that is where they go astray from the truth.

They have assigned an opposite

substance to each, and marks distinct from one another. To the

one they allot the fire of heaven, light, thin, in every direction

the same as itself, but not the same as the other. The other is

opposite to it, dark night, a compact and heavy body. Of these

I tell you the whole arrangement as it seems to men,

in order that no mortal may surpass you in knowledge.

Fragment 9 (verses 1-4)

Now that all things have been named light and night; and the things

which belong to the power of each have been assigned to these

things and to those, everything is full at once of light and dark night,

both equal, since neither has ought to do with the other.

Fragment 10 (verses 1-7)

And you shall know the origin of all the things on high,

and all the signs in the sky, and the resplendent works of the

glowing sun’s clear torch, and whence they arose. And you shall

learn likewise of the wandering deeds of the round-faced

moon, and of her origin. You shall know, too, the heavens

that surround us, whence they arose, and how Necessity took

them and bound them to keep the limits of the stars . . .

Fragment 11 (verses 1-4)

[You shall] how the earth, and the sun, and the moon, and the sky that is

common to all, and the Milky Way, and the outermost Olympos,

and the burning might of the stars


Fragment 12 (verses 1-6)

The narrower circles are filled with unmixed fire, and those

surrounding them with night, and in the midst of these rushes

their portion of fire. In the midst of these circles is the divinity that directs

the course of all things; for she rules over all painful birth and all begetting,

driving the female to the embrace of the male, and the male to that of the female.

Fragment 13

She [the goddess] contrived Eros first of all the gods.

Fragment 14

Shining by night with borrowed light, wandering round the earth.

Fragment 15

Always straining her eyes to the beams of the sun.

Fragment 16 (verses 1-4)

In fact, as each man governs a mixture of organs subject to errors,

so, a mind governs men;

in fact, the same thinking thing in men,

both in all and in each,

is the structural substance of the organs, whose main part is the thought.

Fragment 17

[in the uterus] on the right boys; on the left girls.

Fragment 18 (verses 1-6)

When the female and the male mix together the seeds of Venus,

the shaping force in the veins from different blood,

if maintains a proportionate mix, forms well built bodies.

If instead the forces, when the seeds are mixed,

 contrast between them and do not form a unit in the body formed of a mixture,

terrible will torment the nascent sex because of the dual seed.

 Fragment 19 (verses 1-3)

Thus, according to men’s opinions,

did things come into being, and thus they are now.

In time (they think) they will grow up and pass away.

To each of these things men have assigned a fixed name.


The Poem of Parmenides represents a revelation of the “Goddess,” a word that is an enigma in the Poem, and that compels the reader to think about the different levels of perception of the world. These levels of perception strive to achieve a “super-truth,” one that brings together within itself alétheia (truth) and doxa (popular opinion) and can distinguish between “apparent things” (fr. 1, v. 31: tà dokoûnta) and false “opinions of mortals in which there is no true certainty” (fr. 1, v. 30).

Parmenides’ Perì Phýseos is the product of a mystical experience of the author, as it is also initiatory, effectively introducing the reader to an enlightened mode of experiencing reality and state of consciousness, much like the aphorisms of Heraclitus (who explicitly signaled the sacredness of his book by displaying it in the temple of the goddess Artemis at Ephesus).

The image of the mares leading the initiate (fr. 1, v. 3: eidóta phôta, “the man who knows”) on the chariot to the Great Goddess is shamanic and visionary. The Great Goddess (Daímon) in the poem pervades the cosmos with herself, forming the divine spark of the Self within the man of Wisdom: the term Daímon indicates the Divine that can dwell in the human (if we think, for example, of Socrates’ daimónion), and in this way, the Proem of Parmenides’ Poem reveals that the initiate is summoned by a divinity who is also his inner Divinity, that is, the divine part of man, in obvious affinity with the Eastern identification of Atman (the individual Self) with Brahman (the cosmic Self): 


“This Atman is in truth the Brahman…” (Brhad-aranyaka Upanishad IV, 4, 5) [Endnote 11]

That which is called Brahman is the space external to man, but this space which is external to man, / this space is the same as that which is within man, and this space which is within man / is the same as that which is within the heart. It is the full, the unchanging. (Chandogya Upanishad III, 12, 7-9)

Truly the Brahman was originally all this universe: he knew himself (arìtman): ‘I am Brahman,’ he said, and it was the Whole… At the same time, even today, he who thus knows, ‘I am Brahman,’ this one is the All, and the gods themselves cannot restrain him, for he becomes the Self (Atman) of the gods themselves. (Brhad. I, 4)

He who worships a deity considering that it is other <from himself, from the Atman,> and who thinks that ‘Other is the god, and other is I,’ he does not know. To the gods he is like a beast. (Brhad. I, 10)


The “man who knows,” meaning, in Parmenides’ poem, the young initiate, is escorted by mares who follow the path indicated by “maidens” (fr. 1, v. 5: koûrai), the “Daughters of the Sun” (fr. 1, v. 9: Helíades koûrai), who remove the veil from their heads. This gesture symbolizes the transition from darkness to light, or it also signifies the acquired enlightenment.

These mares lead the young initiate on a journey towards the goal his thymós (heart) desires (fr. 1), and that is the way that leads eis pháos (“to the light”: fr. 1, v. 10) and to the “gate of the ways of Night and Day” (fr. 1, v. 11). The young initiate (fr. 1, v. 24: koûros) stands before the metaphysical gateway of Night and Day (fr. 1, v. 11). That is, he stands in the metaphysical place where opposites meet, and where, according to the will of Díke, the Great Goddess rules in her form as the guarantor of cosmic justice.  

At the same time, the initiatory goal lies beyond, in the high road (fr. 1, v. 21: amaxitón), which is removed entirely from light-dark dualism, leading to the Goddess (fr. 1, v. 22: theá), who is both the synthesis and the absence of opposites. Here, in close analogy with the Eastern conception of the unity of Atman and Brahman, the union between human and Divine is represented by the contact between the hand of the Goddess and the right hand of the young initiate (fr. 1, v. 24: koûros). When the journey along the esoteric path is concluded (fr. 1, v. 27: “for it is far / from the path of humans”), the young initiate, who has been guided by justice (symbolized by Thémis and Díke, reminiscent of the Eastern concept of karma), can know the truth of truth.  

The unifying Goddess reveals “all things” (fr. 1, v. 28: pánta), thus, in a way, representing the movement of knowing in its totality, which consists of three forms of knowledge, two positive and one negative:

The first form of knowledge, which is positive, is the knowledge of the “unshaken heart of persuasive truth” (fr. 1, v. 29): it is the intuition of the unity of all things and of all things as unity, symbolized by the sphere.

The second form of knowledge, which is negative (although recognizing its negativity and unfounded nature constitutes a form of positive knowledge), pertains to the “opinions of mortals” (fr. 1, v. 30: brotôn dóxai), devoid of credibility as they are detached from Alétheia (truth) and thus incapable of recognizing the One-Everything.

The third form of knowledge, despite the very fragmentary text, which makes reconstruction difficult, is undoubtedly a positive form of knowledge, one that reevaluates the world as the totality of perceivable appearances (fr. 1, vv. 31-32: tà dokoûnta, akin to the maya in Eastern thought): perceivable appearances serve as the foundation of truth, and one can in fact “acknowledge that they are” by exploring them in depth, rather than merely grasping them in their exteriority and separation from the All that is One, that is, from tò eón, of which One is an attribute (fr. 1, v. 32).

Thus ends the Proem, in which Parmenides presents a mystic revelation that describes three forms of knowledge: one absolute, one relative, and one negative (which turns away from Truth). Through this revelation of the three ways, Parmenides presents a non-dualistic view of reality, characteristic of Eastern and tantric philosophies such as Advaita Vedanta and the Upanishads (which culminates in later Tantrism):


According to the True <absolute> (satya), this (tad, the sensible world) is that (etad, the transcendent world, the Brahman). He who knows this great primeval miracle, he who knows that Brahman is all reality, he himself is the Lord of the worlds. How could the one who knows the great primeval miracle, the one who knows that Brahman is reality, be defeated? For Brahman is the Real (satya). (Brhad. V, 4, 1)

All creatures, beloved, have in Being their root; they reside in Being; they rest in Being. (Chand. VI, 8, 4)

All that exists is Brahman. (Chand. III, 14, 1)

To make honey, my beloved, the bees gather the juices of the most diverse plants and bring them to unity in one juice: the different juices are no longer distinguished, one as the juice of such a plant, the other as the juice of another plant; equally, in truth, O my friend, all creatures, though deeply rooted in Being, are ignorant that they are rooted in Being. (Chand. VI, 9, 1-2)


Fragment 2 of Parmenides’ Poem opens with the Goddess continuing to speak in the first person, calling her own word mýthos, because it embodies the revelation and synthesis of truth. Parmenides’ text unveils a radical alternative between two ways of seeking, which are irreconcilable with each other. The first is the way “for which it is and for which it is not possible to not exist” (fr. 2, v. 3), and this is the path of Persuasion (Peithoûs) and Truth (fr. 2, v. 4: Aletheíei gàr opedeî). The second is the path of seeking “for which it is not and for which it is necessary to not exist” (fr. 2, v. 5), and this path is deemed “inscrutable” (fr. 2, v. 6: panapeuthéa), because “that which is not” (fr. 2, v. 7: tó ghe mè eón) can neither be known nor communicated.  

For the first time in the history of thought, Parmenides, positing himself as the lawgiver of reason and the communicator of intuition/revelation, employs the principles of non-contradiction and transposition, and thus laying the foundations for what will become Western logos and thought, as evident in the rationalistic writings of Plato and especially Aristotle (this rationalistic notion of lógos differs from the notion of lógos as the intuition of the sense of the universe, which can be found in the Poem of Parmenides and in Heraclitus). Moreover, Parmenides centers the alternative of what is and what is not around a deliberately indeterminate subject, which can be none other than the One-All in its absoluteness, the (it), to which perhaps the Goddess alluded when naming the “the unshaken heart of persuasive truth” (fr. 1, v. 29).

When transferred to the sphere of representation, (it) can possess no other attribute than eón (to be), that is, of “it” it can only be said to “be,” since anything to the contrary would reduce the universe to pure Nothingness. Similarly, the only true path is the one leading to the statement: “what is, is,” while the path that leads to the statement: “what is, is not” is devoid of truth and knowability, because “what is not” (fr. 2, v. 7: tó ghe mè eón) is neither knowable nor sayable (fr. 2, vv. 7-8).

In this way, Parmenides would seem to ascribe truth and metaphysical grounding only to that which can be known and spoken of. However, there is an unknowable and unspeakable being – the – that dwells behind the scenes of the knowable and the sayable, and it presents similarities to the unspeakable and unknowable nature of the tó mè eón (“that which is not”), without, however, coinciding with it. There is a strange metaphysical fraternity between tó eón (“that which is”) and tó mè eón (“that which is not”), because one of the terms of tó eón, namely , participates in its unspeakable nature. After all, even the word “being,” no matter how much one wants to force its absolute valence, always retains a predicative trait that refers to the Other, predicated by its very existence. 

Closely connected to fragment number 2 in both content and form is the enigmatic fragment number 3, on which rivers of ink have been spilled and which has often been interpreted in an idealistic vein. Parmenides, in asserting the identity between being and thinking, implicitly refers to the preceding fragment where he stated that the path towards tó is not is to be avoided, because “what is not” is neither knowable nor communicable in words. Conversely, “being” is associated with thinking in the form of thinking to the extent that their mutual identity is affirmed.  

At the same time, Parmenides establishes an identity between noeîn (to think) and eînai (to be) – which is not the same as tó eón (to be), as it lacks the explicit reference to immediacy enclosed in tó, of which it is said to be. Thus, eînai (to be) alludes precisely to the world as representation – sayable, knowable – deprived of the unspeakable and unknowable from which it originates.

The connection between being and thinking testifies to the overcoming of the ego/world, inner/outer relationship: the world is composed of knowledge, and knowledge is constituted by the world, in an absolute, psycho-cosmic non-dualism between consciousness and existence. When the man who Knows walks in the world, he also walks within himself.

Parmenides’ text shares similarities with Chand. III, 18, 1 (though there is a substantial difference, because in the Indian sapiential text, the identity between Brahman and thought (manas) exists only at the individual level):


It must be recognized that Brahman is thought (manas): this from the individual point of view (adhyatmam). As it relates, however, to the cosmic point of view (adhidevatam), one must recognize that Brahman is space (akasa).


In Fragment 4, Parmenides provides a perfect definition of the function of nóos [thinking, intuition]: it serves as the organ – human and divine – for perceiving the continuity of tò eón (“that which is”), because it excludes the process of differentiation inherent in rational thought, which is based on the principles of identity and noncontradiction. Intuition (nóos) captures the homogeneity of all things in relation to the tò eón, because all things are inherent in it.


And for this reason, he who knows, being calm, detached, patient, collected within himself, sees himself in the Atman and sees the Atman in all things… (Brhad. IV, 4, 23)


In fragment 5 of Parmenides’ text (“To me it does not matter whence I will begin:
in fact, there I will return again.”), the man who Knows can grasp the circularity of the connection between being and thinking, since he recognizes the identity of all things in The One and of The One in all things. As Heraclitus would say, “in a circle, the beginning and the end are the same.” (Heraclitus, fr. 22B 103 DK).

In fragment 6 – reminiscent of sapiential didactic literature, particularly of Empedocles – Parmenides provides an explanation of the that indicates the One-Everything in its extra-representative immediacy. In this fragment, he declares that only of tó eón (what is) can it be predicated and understood that it is (fr. 6, v. 1: émmenai), because Being (eînai) is (ésti), whereas to Nothingness (medén) the predicate ésti (“is”) is not applicable (fr. 6, v. 2).

At this point in Parmenides’ text, the Goddess invites the initiate to steer clear of two paths: the path that affirms that Nothingness is, and a second path (the path of doxa, popular opinion), which initially connects and then disconnects being and non-being, thus deviating from the only true form of knowledge rooted in the certainty that “what is” is. At this point, Parmenides, having refuted the path that affirms that “Nothing is” and the path that mixes “what is” and “what is not,” can move forward into a mystical-theoretical explanation of the “unshaken heart of persuasive truth,” as mentioned in fr. 1, v. 29, and which in the extended fragment 8 is named through utterances (the sémata) that revolve around an unspoken subject.

In verses 3-6 of fragment 8, Parmenides describes the signs (sémata) of the way that is: the way itself – hodós – coincides with the of which it is said to be, because and/or tò eón are encountered on the path of life-knowledge and are not objects of thought or discourse.

In Parmenides’ language, we can clearly identify a form of mystical and initiatory communication: the use of the word séma, meaning sign, indicating attributes beyond the scope of sensible experience, suggests that the man who Knows is communicating something about an object that only those who have intuitively experienced it (or who have shared kindred spiritual experience) can recognize.

The sémata (signs) allude to a Principle that is “[…] uncreated and indestructible, alone, complete, immovable (atremés)” (fr. 8A, vv. 3-4), with an adjective that harks back to the “unshaken heart of persuasive truth” mentioned in fr. 1, v. 29, echoing the Eleusinian experience of initiation.

The Principle “Nor was it ever, nor will it be; for now it is, all at once, a continuous one” (fr. 8, v. 5), as it is pure instantaneity (nýn) is removed from any temporal dimension. If the (“the it which exists”) were in the present time, it would open itself to the possibility of “not being,” since the present also implies the past and the future, which are, respectively, “what is no longer” and “what is not yet”: what subsists in the “non-being” of existing in the past and “what is” subsists in the “non-being” of having yet to exist in the future, thus representing the generation and corruption of what cannot be generated nor corrupted. 

Parmenides counterposes the lack of spatial-temporal determination with the unity (hén) and continuity (synechés) of the Principle, which exhibits strong associations with the image of the sphere in Br. 1, v. 29 and Br. 8, v. 43 (“resembling the mass of well-rounded sphere”).

Based on Parmenides’ text, it follows that the Principle cannot have an origin or a development (fr. 8, vv. 6-7). It cannot arise from the “non being” (vv. 7-8: ek mè eóntos), because “it can neither be thought nor uttered that what is not is” (vv. 8-9), nor from “that which is” (v.12 : ek toû eóntos), since the “force of persuasion” would not allow it. After all, such an origin would imply the subsistence of a pair of tò eón, which would clash with the intuition of the unity and continuity of the Principle.

By the effect of cosmic law (Díke), the Principle is not born and does not die, and precisely because birth and death are excluded, the Principle remains eternally true (fr. 8, vv. 13-15).

Chand. VI 2, 1-3 presents striking analogies with the thought and language of Parmenides:


In the beginning, beloved, there was nothing but being (sat), unique and without an Other. Some, in truth say, “In the beginning there was non-being (a-sat), one and without an Other; from this non-being was born being.”

 How, however, could it be so, beloved? How could being come into being from non-being? Truly, it is being that existed in the beginning of things, being alone and without an Other.

 Then <being> thought, “May I become many (bahu syam). May I generate.”


And again:


Brahman is the Self! (Brhad. II, 6, 3 et ibid. IV, 6, 3)

Truthfully, this great and uncreated Atman, without old age, without death, immortal, fearless, is Brahman. Truthfully, the Brahman is happiness and becomes the Brahman himself, who is happiness, he who thus knows. (Brhad. IV, 4, 25)

We must conceive it as Unity / this Immeasurable, Stable, Infinite / Immaculate, beyond ethereal space / Atman is non-created, great, eternal. (Brhad. IV, 4, 20)


Tò eón (being) is pure present-ness without past or future; it was never born and will never be extinguished, nor is it divisible, for it is all “equal to itself” (Br. 8, v. 22: homoîon), “all cohesive” (Br. 8, v. 25: xynechès pân), and “all full of essence” (Br. 8, v. 24: pân d’émpleón estin eóntos).

We can compare Parmenides’ text with Brhad. V, 1, 1:


Om. That is full, this is full, / from the full we can draw the full; / when we draw the full from the full / the full remains full.


Therefore, tò eón (being) is without past or future, without birth or extinction, indivisible, equal to itself, all cohesive and full, still (fr. 8, v. 26: akíneton), without beginning or end in time, (fr. 8, v. 27: ánarchon ápauston). Tò eón (being) is a place to itself (fr. 8, v. 29), immobilized in the embrace of Anánke (the immanent and cosmic necessity), and enclosed “in the constraints of the limit that closes around it” (fr. 8, v. 31), sealed in a circular completeness beyond all shortcomings (fr. 8, v. 33).

 Towards the end of his Poem Perì Phýseos, Parmenides presents his readers with an enigma sealed in two verses, which he had already formulated in a similar way in fr. 3: “For it is the same thing that which can be thought and that which can be.” Only “that which is” can be the object of thinking, while “that which is not” cannot be. Moreover, in the following text, Parmenides writes: “because without what is, by which it is expressed, you will not find thinking,” or “because without what is, you will not find the thinking in which it is expressed.”

In this passage, Parmenides establishes a connection between the ancient Greek verbs noeîn (to think) and eînai (to be), reinforcing the idea that there is no noeîn without eînai, and vice versa. There is no thinking (noeîn) of tò eón (“that which is”) as the Origin of the world, and therefore, there is also no universe without it being caused by tò eón; and there is no Origin-Universe without it being caused by noeîn (thinking), thus resulting in a complete identification between the two terms, human and cosmic, parallel to the identification of Atman and Brahman, referred in Brhad. IV, 5, 11 as the “Great Being.”

Outside the tò eón (“that which is”), “nothing is or will be… / because the Moira bound it to be whole (oûlon) and immovable (akíneton)” (Br. 8, vv. 37-38).

Everything is in the tò eón, and that is why its vicissitudes involving birth, extinction, and change of place and color “will all be names (ónoma)” that mortals (brotoí, defined as mortals, since they are still un-initiated) have used, “believing them to be true” (vv. 38-41).

This passage in Parmenides is crucial for understanding the relationship between tò eón (“that which is”) as immediacy-origin and tò eón as manifestation-expression. The perceivable forms of tò eón are its names, which humans believe to be true (alethê). Just as the name we give a thing, while pointing to the thing, is not the thing itself, so, too, the perceivable forms of the tò eón, while manifesting or expressing that which is, do not coincide with it. Instead, they are both a symbol for it, a veil that hides what is: “The Atman is the immortal, veiled by the real – tad etad amrtam, satyena channam – the name – nama – and the form – rupa – are reality, and by these two, the breath of reality is veiled” (Brhad. I, 6, 3).

 This very contrast between the identity of the Principle, and the names by which we call it, can be found in Brhadaranyaka Upanishad:


The word is Brahman. (Brhad. I, 3, 20)

Truthfully, the word, O king, is the supreme Brahman. (Brhad. IV, 1, 2)

The whole world was still unmanifest (avyakrta). He made it manifest both by name and form: ‘This is called such; this has such form.’ In the same way, even today by name and form, we determine everything: ‘This has such a name; this has such a form.’ In this world, he himself is rooted deeply, like a razor enclosed in its sheath, or the visvambara in its nest, to the point that one does not see him: when he breathes one calls him breath, when he speaks one calls him voice, when he looks one calls him eye, when he hears one calls him ear, when he thinks one calls him mind. These, however, are only the names that are given to his actions (Karma-nahmani). If we consider them in isolation, we cannot truly know these actions, for he is only partially manifested by this and that action. One must recognize <first the Atman> because in him is the unity of all things. (Brhad. I, 4, 7)


The perceivable world is the expression, manifestation, symbol, and at the same time, it is the concealment, negation, and the veil of the Absolute. The Absolute resembles a two-faced Janus, [Endnote 12] with one face () directed towards the hidden immediacy (cf. with Heraclitus, fr. 22 B 123 DK: “The Origin loves to hide itself”), while the other (eón) is directed towards the outward manifestation, perceived as the visible world.

 Parmenides, in fragment 8, v. 40, alongside the antithetical pair “coming into being and passing away,” presents us with the pair “to be and not to be” (eînaí te kaì ouchí). In this way, Parmenides reverses the conventional opposition between “being” and “not being” (which typically attributes subsistence to the former and denies it to the latter). Instead, he places “being” and “not being” on the same level. If “being” and “not being” are regarded as mere “names,” neither can be identified as the Principle itself, which therefore lies beyond the realm of the thinkable and the sayable. “Being” and “not being” are in fact mere “names,” because the Principle contains in itself a mystérion, an unspeakable quality.


The Brahman identified by the words “no! no!” (na-iti, na-iti) is elusive because it cannot be grasped, and is indestructible because it cannot be destroyed, and is irrefutable because it is refuted by nothing. (Brhad. III, 9, 26)


Parmenides’ writings suggest that the Absolute is mystery and that to gain initiatory Wisdom, one must “undergo an emotion (patheîn) and be in a certain state (diatethénai), only after becoming capable of doing so,” as Aristotle writes regarding the Eleusinian initiatory experience.

 And yet, Parmenides’ goal is not to celebrate silence, but rather to compile an ontology of the speakable. For this reason, before examining the notions of alétheia (truth) and doxa (popular opinion), he revisits a discussion on the notion of tò eón (that which is), emphasizing its completeness and asserting that “that which is” is a limit to itself and equal to itself in its sphericity (the sphere being the archetypal form of perfection and totality).

 Thus, tò eón does not permit quantitative variations (fr. 8, vv. 44-45), as these would imply a lack of homogeneity within it, introducing difference and thus opening the possibility for “non-being.” Drawing on the mystical-mysteric tradition, Parmenides defines “that which is” as ásylon, “inviolable,” characterized by perfect homogeneity and limitation imposed upon it by its spherical form (fr. 8, v. 48). In his effort to define the Principle in both intuitive and rational terms, Parmenides turns once again to the sacred and initiatory dimension of the Mysteries.

Lastly, after Parmenides concludes his reflections on the “unshaken heart of persuasive truth,” he goes on to introduce his reflections on the “opinions of mortals in which there is no true belief at all” (fr. 8, v. 51: dóxas… broteías = fr. 1, v. 30: brotôn dóxas). From now on (fr. 8, vv. 52 ff.), the order of his words will be “deceptive” (apatelón), since he will expound the “opinions of mortals”; but he will do so from a perspective that recognizes such opinions as relative, although he generally tends to anchor them in tò eón [being], in accordance with the third way enunciated in fr. 1, vv. 31-32; and he will do so, as Giorgio Colli says, to offer his disciples the ability to triumph in the agon of knowledge, on all levels:


Thus, it cannot be denied that “doxa” is consistently presented as a negative notion: nevertheless, the goddess teaches it to Parmenides all the same, which can lead us to suggest an agonistic intention. On the one hand, the goddess teaches Parmenides what pertains to true persuasion (which constitutes the rational sphere), and on the other hand she provides him with the tools that will enable him to prevail over other men (this, too, though at a lower level, can be seen as part of education). (Colli, GP 142)


According to classical scholar Pasquinelli, in this passage, Parmenides attempts to provide his disciples with the ability to triumph in the agon of knowledge:


Mortals have named two forms, and their error – the error of human knowledge, which sees things in their distinction and within the limits of birth and death – is not the admission of a duality, but the fact itself that they have named forms: duality, opposition, contradiction, only ensue as a result. Mortals, then, should “name” none, and stick to the absoluteness of “is.” In this way, the rigor of alétheia (truth) is preserved, and the phenomenon is explained as a phenomenon, with a clear awareness of the error – an error which is precisely that of human knowledge. [Endnote 13]


The error of mortals who have not been initiated to the mystical rituals lies in not knowing how to discern the unity in the tò eón (being) of forms, even in the most basic and universal ones, such as Fire-Light and Night-Shadow. Mortals incur in an error when they posit two forms and perceive them as opposites (such as Light and Shadow), as they assign signs to each (fr. 8, v. 55: sémata) to confirm their separateness and opposition (naming one Light and the other Shadow, thus creating opposites). Uninitiated mortals fail to recognize that opposites are unified in Phýsis/tò eón (Nature, which encompasses all that exists).

 Parmenides, on the other hand (thanks to the revelation he received from the Goddess who communicated to him the unity of all things), can recognize all things as they appear in themselves and remain in the truth precisely because of his recognition of appearances. What Parmenides discusses in his work, therefore, is not the mistaken cognition of mortals but rather relative truths of the initiates, grounded in the knowledge of the tò eón, which transcend any belief (fr. 8, v. 61: gnóme) held by mortals, even though they are by definition inferior to absolute truth and thus considered “deceptive” and “apparent.”

 In his Poem, Parmenides criticizes the view of those who fail to recognize the unity in the tò eón of the two dynámeis, “light” and “unseen night,” describing both as manifestations of the Phýsis/tò eón, that is, of that which is. This passage in Parmenides presents clear connections to Taoism:


When, in the world, everyone recognizes beauty as such, / then ugliness is already present. / When everyone recognizes goodness as such, / then badness is already present. / Therefore, being and non-being generate each other, / difficult and easy complement each other, / long and short define each other, / high and low hang one toward the other, / voice and music harmonize with each other, / first and last follow each other… (Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Milan 2011, II)


In his Poem, Parmenides also discusses the nature (phýsis) of the ether (fr. 10, v. 1) and the moon (fr. 10 vv. 4-5); the invisible works (érg’aídela) of the sun (fr. 8, vv. 2-3) and their origin, as well as the works (érga) of the moon; the origin (énthen éphy) of the sky that embraces all things (fr. 8, vv. 5-6), and, moreover, of the earth (fr. 11, v.1) and the Milky Way (fr. 11, v. 2). Phýsis is thus the essential Nature of things, substantiated by Light and Night, and érga are the manifestations of this essential Nature.

 In Parmenides’ cosmology, circular crowns of Fire and Night represent the powers that constitute the sensible universe under the rule of “a Goddess (Daímon) who rules everything” (fr. 12, v. 3). The Goddess, identified as the universal power immanent in all things and referred to as the Lady of Mixtures in Simpl., Phys, 39, 12, is also recognized as the “cause of the gods.” All that is generated in the visible world is her own work (in fr. 13, she is acknowledged as the mother of Eros, the god of Love).

 In fragment 16, Parmenides defines nóos as the essential unity of reality and humanity, a psycho-corporeal-cosmic unity that encompasses the realms of thinking, feeling, and living. Furthermore, in fragment 17 (handed down to us by Simplicius), Parmenides declares the law of existence, growth, and extinction of all sensible things (fr. 17, v. 2), that is, of animate and inanimate organisms subject to the principium individuationis (principle of individuality).

 That “which does not die” itself eludes being named and being thought: the invisible and unspeakable face of tò eón (that which is), the Phýsis, the Absolute as the object of Eleusinian experience cannot be spoken about or described in words. It is an experience we may never fully understand, but it nonetheless does reside within us and has lived within us since the beginning of time.     


* Abstract by Olga Faccani. We thank Enes Sütütemiz for proofreading the entire article.

1. From the Greek οὔλιος, epithet of God Apollo and goddess Artemis, meaning “healing.”

2. From ancient Greek ἰᾱτρός, iatros, meaning one who heals, a physician or surgeon.

3. From ancient Greek νοῦς, nous, “mind,” meaning: relating to, or based on the intellect or on the mind.

4. The Asklepieîon of Elea is a temple dedicated to Asclepius, the roman god of medicine, located in Southern Italy (known in antiquity as Magna Graecia). The temple serves the memories of an old medical school, which goes back to Parmenides.

5. Phólarchos in this context means “of caves,” associated with Apollo and healing rituals in sacred caves.

6. It is possible that the dating system used in these epigraphs starts from the year of the consecration of the hierón (priest) of Apollo or of Asclepius, by whom the phólarchoi were employed and may have worked in a medical school annexed to the temple.

7. L. Ruggiu, Parmenide, (Milan, 2011), p. 367.

8. Sotion, the Peripatetic philosopher from the IV-III century BC, was the author of the Succession of Philosophers often used by Diogenes Laertius.

9. According to ancient traditions, Xenophanes was the teacher of Parmenides, but the relationship between the two thinkers is as problematic as ever. So much so that some modern critics reverse the relationship, suggesting that it was Xenophanes who learned and popularized certain aspects of Parmenides’ thought.

10. The single known work by Parmenides is a poem whose original title is lost, but which is usually referred to by scholars as Περὶ Φύσεως, Perì Phýseos, On Nature (Angelo Tonelli’s translation of the title, On the Origin, emphasizes the meaning of φύσις, phýsis, as “origin”). Only fragments of Perì Phýseos survive. In this poem, Parmenides offers two views of reality. The first one, the Way of Aletheia or truth, describes how all reality is one, change is impossible, and existence is timeless and uniform, while the second view, the way of Doxa, or popular opinion, describes how all reality is appearances, in which one’s perceptions are false and deceitful.

11. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (In Sanskrit: बृहदारण्यक उपनिषद्, Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad) is one of the first Upanishadic scriptures of Hinduism, probably composed around the VII-VI century BCE, excluding some parts estimated to have been composed after the Chandogya Upanishad (also occasionally quoted in this essay). The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is a treatise on Ātman (Self), includes passages on metaphysics, ethics and a yearning for knowledge that influenced various Indian religions, and ancient and medieval scholars.

12. Janus, in ancient Roman mythology, is the god associated with beginnings, transitions, time, doorways, passages, and endings. Typically depicted with two faces, he lends his name to the month of January (Ianuarius).

13. A. Pasquinelli, I Presocratici. Frammenti e testimonianze, (Turin, 1958), p.407, n. 52.