Short Biography and theological views of Zenon of Elea

Here we present a short biography of Zenon of Elea, his theological views and life stance, for which the Philosopher was martyred.


Diogenes Laertius delivers: «Zenon had Parmenides as teacher. Aristotle refers to him as the deviser of Dialectics and Empedocles as deviser of Rhetoric. He engaged in Philosophy and politics. Zenon despised grandeur, the same as Heraclitus did. He preferred his poor city, where worthy men had been its only product, rather than the Athenian arrogance»

From the Souda or Suda Lexicon we learn that he had written the following works: ‘Disputes’, ‘Explanation on Empedocles’, ‘To Philosophers’, ‘On Nature’. He attempted to overthrow Elea’s tyrant, Nearchos (or Diomedon) and was arrested. While interrogated he cut his tongue with his teeth and spitted it on the face of the tyrant. Then, he was thrown at millstones and was crushed by their pressure.

Plutarch delivers that Pericles has been a student of Zenon.

Diodorus of Sicily mentions that Zenon was tortured so that he confesses the conspirators to the tyrant. In the end, not only he didn’t confess, but pretending to be ready to do so but only in the ear of the tyrant, he bit it and never let it until he was slaughtered. An example of courage/spirit/daring, as Diodorus calls it.

Plutarch delivers: «in his failed attempt to kill the tyrant Demulus, in the fire he made clear the value of Parmenides’ teaching, as if it had been for gold clean and tested, and proved practically that shame (obscenity) is a terrifying thing for the important/excellent man and that pain is feared only by children, petty women and men with a petty woman’s soul»

(NovoScriptorium: From the sources it is clear that Zenon had been a distinctive personality, Parmenides’ student, deviser of Dialectics and teacher of Pericles. In his attempt to defend justice he despises the men of Power, pain, torturing, even his own life –literally, not theoretically. We see that he placed Freedom and Justice above anything else. He despises grandeur and arrogance and preaches frugality/self-sufficiency. It is clear that all the above fully agree with the Philosophers’ teachings we have examined so far (see previous articles in our ‘Philosophy’ section). Materialism, Pride, Voluptuousness, Lust for power, Injustice, Evilness are condemned without a second thought. Because of this fact, we are allowed to suppose that Zenon was among those people who preached a life with God in its center)

Platon delivers that the book of Zenon: «constitutes some kind of support for Parmenides’ theory against all those who attempt to mock him by claiming that, if ‘one’ exists, then with his theory one comes to many contradictions and ridiculousness. So, this text refutes all those who claim that ‘many’ exist and returns them the same and much more, willing to declare that their hypothesis can reach far greater ridiculousness, the one that supports ‘multiplicity’, than the other which claims that there is ‘one’, in the case where someone examined it thoroughly»

Eudemos delivers: «Zenon used to say that if someone could explain him what ‘one’ is, then, he could speak for the many things that exist»

(NovoScriptorium: So, Zenon defends the opinion that the Being is unique/’one’, i.e. he defends the belief/perception of One God. He declares ignorance about the Substance of the Being –what it ‘is’-, a fact which is rather logical and self-evident. In general, he declares the inability of Man to understand things in their full depth; he recognizes that Man cannot explain the Whole with ‘human terms’)

Philon delivers this apothegm of Zenon: «it is easier for one to sink a skinbag full of air rather than persuade whichever remarkable/considerable man to forcibly do something he doesn’t want»

Tertyllianus delivers: «Zenon of Elea, when asked by Dionysius which philosophy he prefers, answered ‘the contempt of death’»

(NovoScriptorium: this one shows how much he honored Freedom. He considers one as ‘remarkable/considerable’ or ‘worthy’ exclusively in the case where this person is never forced to do anything that goes against his will. Analogously, the contrary is also valid; he considers as ‘unworthy’ whoever accepts to be forced to do things against his will. And why does he identify Philosophy with the contempt of death? As we have seen in many of our previous articles, Philosophy and the Philosopher are very specific things; whoever follows the path of Philosophy, the path of God and the Virtues, while remaining adamant about Faith, Truth, Justice and Freedom, will be persecuted on Earth, even up to death. But there is no dilemma for Zenon; Death is preferable rather than betrayal)

Isidoros Aggelos

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