Phronesis 23 (1):1-21 (1978)

Xenophanes of Colophon (fl. 530 BC) is widely regarded as the first skeptic in the history of Western philosophy, but the character of his skepticism as expressed in his fragment B 34 has long been a matter of debate. After reviewing the interpretations of B 34 defended by Hermann Fränkel, Bruno Snell, and Sir Karl Popper, I argue that B 34 is best understood in connection with a traditional view of the sources and limits of human understanding. If we hold that mortal beings can achieve certain knowledge only with the assistance of divine powers, while rejecting any possibility of bridging the divine-human gap, a broad skepticism concerning the prospects for human knowledge becomes inevitable. It is therefore of some relevance that Xenophanes repudiated the practice of divination through signs (mantikê) and offered entirely naturalistic explanations of phenomena popularly regarded as indications of the divine will (thunder, lightning, eclipses, rainbows, etc.).
Keywords theory of knowledge  archaic Greek poetry  skepticism
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DOI 10.1163/156852878x00181
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