Xenophanes

John Bjarne Grover


- The fragments after the philosopher-poet composed into a single poem -



The idea I have followed here is the same as for Heraclitus - that history has preserved the fragments which are telling of the way it looks upon itself. For Xenophanes, it would be about the relation between history and eternity. However, the purpose with a substantial part of this translation is to show that the longer fragments could be conceived as doubtful as to authenticity - the theory arises that they could be of recent date. I dont know the authenticity of the sources they are taken from. The translation serves to give emphasis to this theory and is not the way I would translate it normally. The apparently jocular style of parts of the longer fragments seems difficult to harmonize with the more serious poetic-philosophical matter. I had added some comments to this translation here earlier but they were perhaps not so interesting.

I have used (or discussed at the end) the extant fragments (type B) in Diels 1922, but not the references type A. There are two long fragments - #1 and #2, and #3 is also something - after Xenophanes: Part 2 is fragment #1, part 3 is fragment #2 and part 4 contains fragment #3 plus some other fragments. The rest (around 30 fragments) are in part 1.



Part 1

Now again in various ways will I turn my poetic logic around
for pointing out the path ahead.

Once when passing by the maltreatment of a young dog
I felt compassion for it and pronounced the following:
"Stop, don't beat him, if love of humans is in your
soul: for eternity has heard his cries".

Since people have learnt everything according to Homer,
and since Homer and Hesiod have assigned to the gods
everything which counts as dishonorable by humans,
- theft and adultery and other tricks -
the mortals appear to have become gods,
having their own clothes and voice and bodies.
Most of the godless works of these gods cry out loud
'theft and adultery and other tricks!'.
From the beginning these gods have shown everything to the mortals,
but in the course of time they'll find something better.

If cattle and horses and lions had hands
and could write with them and do their work like humans,
the horses would assign horselike and the cattle cattlelike ideas to the gods -
and in their sculptures create substance as if it were their own bodies.

One god among gods and humans is the greatest,
nothing like mortals in body or mind.
You step down on the calf of a kid
and you lift the foot of a milk-fatted bull:
You are the chosen one of your people
for the news set high over Hellas
for the new poetic substance
with the eternal song of your people.

The sun-dial goes high over the sky
while it warms the earth on its surface.
The earth reaches upwards towards the feet of the visible air,
downwards towards its endless entanglement.
Ethiopians turn their darkness upwards
while Thrakians are more like silvery redhair fishes.

And there was this girl who was called Iris the Rainbow
- a cloud - and after she had grown this ppretty bright
dark-gleaming purple crimson and greenish-yellow look,
indeed many of the mortals have been seen in revelations.

Such a man can neither see clearly
nor will he become clearly visible
in what is around the gods
or in my poetic logic,

for if one should come to accomplish something in poetry
one could have difficulties with finding the parallel text
and over everything there is a sort of crisscrossing maya.
This appearance is similar to the real things.

It is with integrity that one sees, that one thinks and hears.
There is a smell of smoke and pine around the house.
Far away the thoughts of the mind tremble in labour, shaking everything,
while it always remains motionless in itself, nor does it appear in other times or places.

The endless sea is the source of water and the source of wind:
It is not in the darkness from within
were it not for the great ocean
and the pomegranate trees at the river
and the water of the summer rain.
The large open sea is the creator of the clouds, the winds and the river.

Earth and water are as they were when they had just been created.
For earth and water have leaped and become conventional
and in certain caves the water drips down.
Nobody would in a drinking-cup first pour in wine for mixing it with water,
but would pour in the water first and on top of that the wine.


Part 2 - (Diels fragment 1)

Now with the land clean-swept
and hands everywhere
and the cups:
Plaited around with straps

and other sweet-smelling perfumes
in bowls prolonged,
a vessel stands filled with cheerfulness.

Wine is at hand
which never to say
would wish to betray
with gently repressed odours
of pottery vessel.

In our middle
the censer sends forth
the purest smell of the earth,
the water cold and sweet and clean.

Next to it wheat buns of pretty bright
dark-gleaming chestnut auburn and golden-yellow look
at the National Bank
brimming over with cheeses and heavy-sleek honey.

An altar is raised,
dedicated to half of everything that is enwrapped in time on both sides
with houses and garden parties.

But first the nocturnal folks
must sing to the god
wellwrapped words of holy silence
and spotless reasons,
promising peace and praying to do what is right
for reaching their goals.

This being quickly accomplished,
it is no hubris to gulp down the gullet as much drink as one can
and then go meandrically homewards
without the support from that serviceman,
without being very old.

The one who was talking of humans
reappeared in a stoutly drunk state,
while the two at the memorial
were stretching well round the two-sided virtue:

Never arrange battles for titans, giants or kentaurs
claymodelled before the earliest times and places,
nor vehement steadfastness (without servicemen)
of promethean gods:

Always have goodness.


Part 3 - (Diels fragment 2)

If one of the quickest on human feet
should lift the wreath of victory,
or one in the pentathlon does it,
there could be an excellent piece of land there,

at the stream of Pisa,
in Olymp,
either in the struggling
of in the grief of the folding.

There was a mighty exercise
of wrestling and folding combined
with other fellows watching,
nobler and nobler,

with close attention
to the manifest
in the arena of raising
as if it were public property!

Then from the turnup there suddenly came a donation
of what had been stored in the heirloom.
Had it been in the horserace
it could have been the entire fate going out!

Nobody ever was more worthy than I am!
Wisdom is the forte
of our better men
and horses...

This habit of mine is a pure coincidence
and it is of course wrong to prefer
the strenght
of the bravery of wisdom

for neither is it a good pugilist
who goes inbetween
nor is it in pentathlon
nor in the wrestler's art

nor in the quicker feet.
The one who's the stronger body
in respect of human work:
It is in the struggle it rises.

Therefore it better would be
in a wellordered set to be:
Small is the joy of the turnup -
would be in the goodenough reason.

If someone is wrestling for a prize and wins it,
the stream of Pisa, its banks,
does not enrich
the innermost women's apartments.


Part 4

Feebler than an aged man
was the sound which the Jews first pressed into matter.

'A waist of time' was learnt from the Jews
in order to be free of hated tyranny.

They were in the parliament and in the marketplace,
all Phöeneticians with small quiver pamphlets filled with plowsives and arrows,
no less than thousands on the average,

boastful, with long-flowing hair, glorifying, good-looking
fitnessfolks soaked in their smelly unguents.

If [...] wrote poetry,
many would find 'Figs in motion' much more interesting.

It is now already 76 years that I have been tossing about
and thinking out things on Greek soil.
Counted from birth there are another 25 years in addition,
if I know how to tell these things in a true way.
One must tell these things at the fireplace in the wintertime
when reclining on soft cushions and being quite full
while drinking sweet wine and secretly eating chips:
"Who among people are you, o stoutest?
How old were you when the Medes arrived?"




Source for the translation
Diels, Hermann: "Die Vorsokratiker", Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, Berlin 1922.

See also
Mansfeld, Jaap: "Die Vorsokratiker", Reclam 1983, 1999, 2005.
Kirk, G.S., Raven J.E. and Schofeld, M.: "The presocratic philosophers". 2nd ed. Cambridge 1957, 1983.




© John Bjarne Grover
On the web 7 august 2007
Last updated 1 july 2014