DOI: 10.30443/POI2020-0005

Perspectival Transitions in Parmenides’ Didactic Poem

Massimo Pulpito


In order to look into the expressive forms of philosophy in history, investigating the methods of communication adopted at the dawn of ancient Greek thought turns out to be highly useful as well as intriguing. A crucial step in this history was constituted by the work of the so-called Eleatics, and in particular by the poem of their most representative figure: Parmenides. Beyond the choice of the poetic medium and the use of mythical imagery, the rhetorical structure of Parmenides’ book is an aspect that deserves particular attention. Parmenides, in fact, not only resorts to different expositive styles – from mythical narrative, to naturalistic explanation and argumentative discourse – but exhibits a skilled strategic use of variations of points of view within his text. It is possible to trace some transitions in perspective, in the poem, involving the three main characters of the story: the narrator, the Goddess and the mortals. Changes in perspective and style appear functional to producing specific effects in the audience: from identification, through distancing, to reflective and informative relationship. The meaning of this complex form of writing derives from the very contents of Parmenides’ doctrine, as evidenced by the fruitful comparison with the work and doctrine of Melissus. While the latter endorses an absolute monism that entails a disenchanted vision of physical reality (since physical reality is illusory and unchangeable) and translates it into an impersonal and objective treatise, Parmenides’ open monism admits the existence of this world and therefore the possibility of understanding it more or less correctly. Hence the transformative purpose of the poem, which is dialectically aimed at questioning the traditional viewpoint of the common man on the world.

Keywords: Eleaticism, Parmenides, Melissus, Monism, Rhetoric

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