Foible and Consequence to Living of the Gods (Photo Essay Book 19)
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Dylan Thomas, born last month more than a years ago, is remembered more for his bohemian life than his poetry. But his metaphors are still magical and his dilemmas of negotiating a colonial predicament still real, especially for Anglophone Indian poets. A book, Splendours of Ganjifa Art, documenting this fading art form has just been released.
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Given its complex history, as two books reveal, how will a resolution of the decades-old conflict work? With each tribe having a distinct voice, who is going to define a vision for the future? From judges to lawyers, adjournments to verdicts, a journalist spares no one in his appraisal of the judiciary. Many testimonia credit Xenophanes with an interest in meteorological and astronomical phenomena.
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Not only are these comments of interest in their own right, they also present us what was arguably his single most important scientific contribution--his contention that clouds or cloud-like substances play a basic role in a great many natural phenomena. Having accounted for the formation of clouds in mechanistic terms through processes of vaporization and compression Xenophanes proceeds to make use of clouds to explain a large number of meteorlogical and astronomical phenomena.
The sort of fires that appear on ships--whom some call the Dioscuri [St. The sun consists of burning clouds…a mass of little fires, themselves constructed from the massing together of the moist exhalation A All things of this sort [comets, shooting stars, meteors] are either groups or movements of clouds A Flashes of lightning come about through the shining of the clouds because of the movement A As it happens, clouds are natural candidates for the explanans in a scientific account. Since they are midway in form between a solid and gaseous state they are easily linked with solids, liquids, and gases of various kinds.
And since they occupy a region midway between the surface of the earth and the upper regions of the heavens, they are well positioned to link the two basic substances of earth and water with many astronomical phenomena. Having deprived the gods of human form and clothing and removed the divine to some permanent and distant location, Xenophanes proceeds to strip a wide range of natural phenomena of all vestiges of religious or spiritual significance.
His de-mythologized account of natural phenomena is, in short, the logical complement to his thoroughly de-naturalized account of the divine nature. Anaxagoras followed his lead on the nature of the rainbow cf. One factor that may have contributed to this chilly reception was the absence of any expression by Xenophanes of the kind of commitment to teleology that both Plato and Aristotle regarded as essential to a proper understanding of the cosmos.
Many centuries would have to pass before an emphasis on direct observation and the use of entirely natural causes and forces would become the scientific orthodoxy. Portions of these remarks were quoted, and thereby preserved for posterity, by the ancient skeptics who hailed Xenophanes as the founder of their particular variety of philosophical skepticism.
Recent interpretations of B34 reject the skeptical interpretation in favor of other less extreme readings.
On some accounts, B34 is concerned to deny only a direct perceptual awareness. Others find in his comments a distinction between natural science, where only probabilities can be achieved, and theology, where certainty is possible. Since the gods were believed to inhabit a realm far removed from that of mortal beings, it would be natural for Xenophanes to hold that no account of their nature and activities could possibly be confirmed on the basis of first-hand observation, hence known for certain to be correct.
And since the pioneering cosmological accounts put forward by his Milesian predecessors held that a single material substance underlay phenomena in all places and times it would be equally impossible for any individual to confirm such a universal claim on the basis of first-hand observation, hence know for certain that it was true—even if in fact it was true. The sentiments expressed in lines three and four can be read as reinforcing this cautionary sentiment. Their point would be that no one moreover should be credited with knowledge of the certain truth concerning the gods or the nature of all things simply on the basis of having correctly described, perhaps even predicted, individual events as they take place perhaps a reference to self-styled paragons of wisdom and predictors of events such as Epimenides and Pythagoras.
By Platonic standards, opinion—even when correct—would be an inferior possession, unstable and subject to removal through persuasion.
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The full sense of B36, however, may never be determined. Perhaps Xenophanes was seeking to set an upper limit to the range of things that can be known by human beings i. But it is equally possible that the remark was intended as B32 above to encourage the members of his audience to explore and inquire on their own i. Yet none of the other surviving fragments reflects such an optimism and several e.
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While he believed that inquiry in the form of travel and direct observation was capable of yielding useful information about the nature of things, he remained sufficiently under the influence of an older piety to want to caution others against seeking to understand matters that lay beyond the limits of all human experience. But the Xenophanes who speaks to us in the surviving fragments is a combination of rhapsode, social critic, religious teacher, and keen student of nature.
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In the Republic , Plato shows himself the spiritual heir of Xenophanes when he states that the guardians of his ideal state are more deserving of honors and public support than the victors at Olympia, criticizes the stories told about the gods by the poets, and calls for a life of moderate desire and action. A pronounced ethic of moderation, sometimes bordering on asceticism, runs through much of ancient Greek ethical thought, beginning with Solon and Xenophanes and continuing through Socrates and Plato to the Epicureans and Cynics.
Bayle then assembled a set of texts in support of the view that in fact the amount of evil in the universe far exceeds the amount of good. Xenophanes may also be credited with expanding the range of topics considered appropriate for philosophical inquiry and discussion. Although many aspects of his thought remain the subject of scholarly debate, Xenophanes was clearly a multi-dimensional thinker who left his mark on many aspects of later Greek thought.
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