Chapter 1

Socrates, Zeno, and Parmenides

by Plato Icon

PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: Cephalus, Adeimantus, Glaucon, Antiphon, Pythodorus, Socrates, Zeno, Parmenides, Aristoteles.

Cephalus rehearses a dialogue which is supposed to have been narrated in his presence by Antiphon, the half-brother of Adeimantus and Glaucon, to certain Clazomenians.

We had come from our home at Clazomenae to Athens, and met Adeimantus and Glaucon in the Agora.

Adeimantus Welcome, Cephalus. is there anything which we can do for you in Athens?
Cephalus Can you tell me the name of your half brother, which I have forgotten. He was a child when I last came from Clazomenae. His father’s name was Pyrilampes, right?
Adeimantus Yes. The name of our brother is Antiphon
Cephalus Some philosopher countrymen of mine have heard that Antiphon was intimate with a certain Pythodorus, a friend of Zeno. Antiphon remembers a conversation between Socrates, Zeno, and Parmenides many years ago which Pythodorus often recited it to him.
Adeimantus When he was a youth, he carefully studied the piece. Like his grandfather, Antiphon is devoted to horses. But, if that is what you want, let’s look for him. He dwells at Melita, which is quite near.

We saw Antiphon and asked him to repeat the dialogue. At first he was not very willing, and complained of the trouble, but at length he consented.


He told us that Pythodorus described Parmenides and Zeno when they came to Athens at the great Panathenaea.

Parmenides was then about 65 years old, very white with age, but well favoured.

Zeno was nearly 40 years of age, tall and fair. In his youth, he was reported to have been beloved by Parmenides. He said that they lived with Pythodorus in the Ceramicus, outside the wall.

Socrates, then was a very young man. He came to see them, and many others with him. They wanted to hear the writings of Zeno, which had been brought to Athens for the first time on the occasion of their visit.

These Zeno himself read to them in the absence of Parmenides. He had very nearly finished when Pythodorus entered with Parmenides and Aristoteles.


What do you mean, Zeno?

Do you maintain that if being is many, it must be both like and unlike, and that this is impossible, for neither can the like be unlike, nor the unlike like?

And if the unlike cannot be like, or the like unlike, then according to you, being could not be many; for this would involve an impossibility.

In all that you say have you any other purpose except to disprove the being of the many? and is not each division of your treatise intended to furnish a separate proof of this, there being in all as many proofs of the not-being of the many as you have composed arguments?

Zeno No, you have correctly understood my general purpose.

I see, Parmenides, that Zeno would like to be not only one with you in friendship but your second self in his writings too;

he puts what you say in another way, and would fain make believe that he is telling us something which is new.

For you, in your poems, say The All is one, and of this you adduce excellent proofs. He on the other hand says There is no many; and on behalf of this he offers overwhelming evidence.

You affirm unity, he denies plurality.

And so you deceive the world into believing that you are saying different things when really you are saying much the same. This is a strain of art beyond the reach of most of us.


Yes, Socrates, said Zeno.

You are as keen as a Spartan hound in pursuing the track. But you do not fully apprehend the true motive of the composition, which is not really such an artificial work as you imagine.

For what you speak of was an accident; there was no pretence of a great purpose; nor any serious intention of deceiving the world.

The truth is, that these writings of mine were meant to protect the arguments of Parmenides against those who make fun of him and seek to show the many ridiculous and contradictory results which they suppose to follow from the affirmation of the one.

My answer is addressed to the partisans of the many, whose attack I return with interest by retorting upon them that their hypothesis of the being of many, if carried out, appears to be still more ridiculous than the hypothesis of the being of one. Zeal for my master led me to write the book in the days of my youth, but some one stole the copy; and therefore I had no choice whether it should be published or not; the motive, however, of writing, was not the ambition of an elder man, but the pugnacity of a young one. This you do not seem to see, Socrates; though in other respects, as I was saying, your notion is a very just one.


I understand.

But tell me, Zeno, don’t you think that there is an idea of likeness in itself, and another idea of unlikeness?

The latter is the opposite of likeness. “Many” participates in likeness and unlikeness

  • things which participate in ’likeness’ become ’like’ in that degree and manner
  • things which participate in ‘unlikeness’ become in that degree unlike
  • both like and unlike become in the degree in which they participate in both.

All things can partake of both opposites, and be both like and unlike because of this participation.

If a person could prove the absolute ’like’ to become ‘unlike’, or the absolute ‘unlike’ to become ’like’, then it would be a wonder. But there is nothing extraordinary in showing that the things which only partake of likeness and unlikeness experience both.


If a person were to show that all is one by partaking of one, and at the same time many by partaking of many, would that be very astonishing.

But if he were to show me that the absolute one was many, or the absolute many one, I should be truly amazed.

And so of all the rest= I should be surprised to hear that the natures or ideas themselves had these opposite qualities; but not if a person wanted to prove of me that I was many and also one. When he wanted to show that I was many he would say that I have a right and a left side, and a front and a back, and an upper and a lower half, for I cannot deny that I partake of multitude; when, on the other hand, he wants to prove that I am one, he will say, that we who are here assembled are seven, and that I am one and partake of the one.

In both instances he proves his case. So again, if a person shows that such things as wood, stones, and the like, being many are also one, we admit that he shows the coexistence of the one and many, but he does not show that the many are one or the one many; he is uttering not a paradox but a truism.

If however, as I just now suggested, some one were to abstract simple notions of like, unlike, one, many, rest, motion, and similar ideas, and then to show that these admit of admixture and separation in themselves, I should be very much astonished.

This part of the argument appears to be treated by you, Zeno, in a very spirited manner; but, as I was saying, I should be far more amazed if any one found in the ideas themselves which are apprehended by reason, the same puzzle and entanglement which you have shown to exist in visible objects.

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