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Fictional portrait of Xenophanes from a 17th century engraving

Xenophanes von Kolophon ( Greek Ξενοφάνης ὁ Κολοφώνιος Xenophánēs ho Kolophṓnios ; * around 580/570 BC in Kolophon , Ionia ; † in the early 5th century BC in southern Italy) was an ancient Greek philosopher and poet. He is counted among the pre-Socratics .


The birth of Xenophanes in Colophon in Asia Minor is reported in recent research around 570 BC. Dated, partly set in the period 580–577. At the age of 25 he was driven from his hometown and then led an erratic wandering life. He wandered through the Greek lands for 67 years, perhaps even to Egypt. He moved to Elea in southern Italy , which was settled by Greeks, and was probably active as a rhapsode , that is, as a reciter of the old epics (especially Homers ). Presumably he also recited his own works, which, however, have not survived. He also always wrote his philosophical works in the lyrically bound form of elegies and silloi .

The death of Xenophanes is traditionally placed in the time around 475, because he is said to have maintained personal contact with the tyrant Hieron of Syracuse , who came to power in 478. Accordingly, he would have been over ninety or even over a hundred years old. Xenophanes was known to be unusually long-lived in antiquity, but some research doubts that it actually reached such a great age.

Meaning, teaching, effect

As a representative of a time of change, the dawn of classical Hellas , Xenophanes abolishes the legacy of the pre-classical world in the spirit of Hegel ; he is the first to do this in a tangibly systematic way, the “petrel of the Greek Enlightenment”, who developed the first ideas of an Enlightenment critique of religion and rationalism . It is no coincidence that Xenophanes is, as Werner Jaeger says, “the first Greek thinker who can be grasped as a personality”.

Xenophanes' teaching was already quite unclear to Plato and Aristotle . Already Heraclitus had said about him that getting to know many things not understanding had taught him and Aristotle held him simply for something. Otherwise we have hardly any evidence from antiquity; Little is known about his philosophy either. The modern debate, on the other hand, is complex and controversial. The fascination of the fragmentary increases the possibility of creative interpretation with all its dangers.

Xenophanes wrote analytically and satirically, among other things, about the multitude and human resemblance of the Greek gods . He thus criticized the anthropomorphic concept of gods by Homer and Hesiod . Therefore Albert Regenfelder described him as "anti-Homer in the garb of the Homeric singer". According to Xenophanes' approach to sociology of religion , it was not the gods who created the people, but the people who created the gods (“If the horses had gods, they would look like horses”). In his main philosophical work On Nature , he advocates a monotheism whose god is eternal, uniform, immobile and of perfect form, whereby the pantheon of originally and pre-Homerically local deities is preserved.

Karl Popper considered Xenophanes to be a forerunner of critical rationalism . For Xenophanes, human knowledge consists of guesswork ( opinion ). The truth is not recognizable as such , but it is possible to gradually approach it: "It is not from the beginning that the gods have shown mortals everything that is hidden, but gradually they find what is better."

In Parmenides of Elea, this conception then leads to a strict distinction between the true world that cannot be perceived by the senses and the world of appearances (path of opinion). Xenophanes' rationalism led him to an agnostic position with regard to the gods. Although he did not question their existence, he judged that man could never know anything certain about the gods.

Until the 1950s - due to incorrect doxographic tradition since antiquity, including Aristotle - it was often assumed that Xenophanes was an Eleatic philosopher, since he was also in Elea (Roman Velia ) on the Great Greek coast of Lucania (southern Italy) has worked. According to the current state of research, however, he is not directly connected with the Eleates, not even with Parmenides or even Zenon von Elea , as Friedrich Nietzsche had already recognized: presence in the same place is not sufficient as evidence.

Xenophanes concluded from fossil finds on a mountain that the water must once have covered the whole earth (see Neptunism ). He said that everything arose out of water and earth (primordial mud) and eventually went back to water. He wrote about the earth: “Everything is made of earth and everything ends as earth.” The earth is swept away by the water and then arises again. The sea is also the origin of the clouds; Sun and stars would in turn arise from these clouds. The rainbow is a special kind of cloud.


The asteroid (6026) Xenophanes and a moon crater are named after him.

Source collections

  • Hermann Diels , Walther Kranz (ed.): The fragments of the pre-Socratics . 6th edition, reprint Georg Olms Verlag, 2004, ISBN 3-615-12201-1 (digitized: 1st edition, Berlin 1903, pp. 38–58 metadata PDF ; DK 21)
  • Laura Gemelli Marciano (Ed.): The pre-Socratics . Volume 1, Artemis & Winkler, Düsseldorf 2007, ISBN 978-3-7608-1735-4 , pp. 222–283 (Greek source texts with German translation, explanations and an introduction to life and work)
  • Bruno Gentili , Carlo Prato (ed.): Poetarum Elegiacorum Testimonia et Fragmenta. Vol. 1. Teubner, Leipzig 1988, ISBN 3-322-00457-0 (best Greek text)
  • Ernst Heitsch (ed.): Xenophanes: The fragments . Munich 1983 (bilingual edition with detailed commentary)
  • James E. Lesher (Ed.): Xenophanes of Colophon, Fragments. A Text and Translation with a Commentary. University of Toronto Press, Toronto / Buffalo / London 1992, ISBN 0-8020-5990-2 (bilingual edition with extensive commentary).


Overview representations in manuals


  • Wolfgang Drechsler, Rainer Kattel: Man and God in Xenophanes. In: Markus Witte (ed.): God and man in dialogue. Festschrift for Otto Kaiser on his 80th birthday. De Gruyter, Berlin 2004, pp. 111-129, ISBN 3-11-018354-4
  • Hermann Fränkel : Xenophanes Studies. In: Hermes 60, 1925, pp. 174-192 ISSN  0018-0777
  • Ernst Heitsch : Xenophanes and the beginnings of critical thinking. Academy of Sciences and Literature, Mainz 1994, ISBN 3-515-06592-X
  • Otto Kaiser: The one God and the gods of the world. In: Between Athens and Jerusalem. Studies on Greek and Biblical theology, their characteristics and their relationship. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2003, 135–152, ISBN 3-11-017577-0 .
  • Rainer Kattel: The Political Philosophy of Xenophanes of Colophon. In: Trames 1, 1997, pp. 125-142 ISSN  1406-0922
  • Christian Schäfer : Xenophanes von Kolophon. A pre-Socratics between myth and philosophy. Teubner, Stuttgart / Leipzig 1996, ISBN 3-519-07626-8
  • Hartmut Westermann: Religious and double poetry. Critique of gods and concept of god in Xenophanes and in the myth of the origins of culture in Sisyphus (DK 88, B 25) . In: Guido Löhrer, Christian Strub, Hartmut Westermann (eds.): Philosophical anthropology and the art of living - Rainer Marten in discussion . Fink, Munich 2005, pp. 81-98, ISBN 3-7705-4059-X
  • Konrat Ziegler : Xenophanes von Kolophon, a revolutionary of the spirit. In: Gymnasium 72, 1965, pp. 289-302 ISSN  0342-5231

Web links

Wikisource: Xenophanes  - Sources and full texts
Commons : Xenophanes  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Geoffrey S. Kirk , John E. Raven, Malcolm Schofield (eds.): Die vorsokratischen Philosophen , Stuttgart 2001, p. 179; Christian Schäfer: Xenophanes von Kolophon , Stuttgart / Leipzig 1996, pp. 95–97.
  2. Diogenes Laertios 9:19.
  3. Wolfgang Schadewaldt : The beginnings of philosophy among the Greeks .
  4. Geoffrey S. Kirk, John E. Raven, Malcolm Schofield (eds.): Die vorsokratischen Philosophen , Stuttgart 2001, p. 179; Christian Schäfer: Xenophanes von Kolophon , Stuttgart / Leipzig 1996, p. 98 f.
  5. Aristotle, Metaphysics 986b26.
  6. ^ Karl Popper, L. Bennett: In Search of a Better World. Lectures and Essays from Thirty Years , 1996, p. 192 ; Karl Popper, A. Friemuth Petersen, J. Mejer: The World of Parmenides. Essays on the Presocratic Enlightenment , 1998, p. 46ff.