On Diogenes Laertius’s Biography of Parmenides

Parmenides is a native of Elea and he was either a student of Xenophanes or Anaximander, however he was most influenced by the Pythagoreans. From them he was persuaded to pursue the contemplative life. Parmenides was the first to declare the earth is spherical, but unlike the Pythagoreans he thought the earth was located at the center of the cosmos (the Pythagoreans thought the earth orbited around a “central fire”).

Parmenides committed his doctrines to verse like Empedocles and Hesiod. Curiously, Diogenes Laertius devotes minimal time to discussing Parmenides (his biography does not even last the length of a page). Diogenes does, however, make mention of the Platonic dialogue (simply called the Parmenides) which features an elderly Parmenides and a young Socrates in conversation thus it is all the more puzzling why he did not discuss inn greater detail such an eminent, influential philosopher.

For this reading I used the ‘Compact Edition’ of the Lives of the Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertes translated by Pamela Mensch and edited by James Miller.

In the preface to the Compact Edition the editors note: “Our common goal has been to make Lives as accessible as possible to English-speaking readers -and at the same time to convey some of the essential strangeness of what philosophy once was, in hopes that readers may wonder anew at what philosophy might yet become” (xiii).

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