08 September 2005

Evidence of Body?

Does the following fragment imply that, for Xenophanes, the deity has a body or not?

170 One god, greatest among gods and men, in no way similar to mortals either in body or in thought.
ei}=j qeo/j, e)/n te qeoi=si kai\ a)nqrw/poisi me/gistoj,
ou)/ti de/maj qnhtoi=sin o(moi/oj ou)de\ no/hma.

KRS say that it does: "The one god is unlike men in body and thought--it has, therefore (and also in view of 172), a body; but it is motionless, for the interesting reason that it is 'not fitting' for it to move around."

The other fragments that KRS are referring to are these:
171 Always he remains in the same place, moving not at all; nor is it fitting for him to go to different places at different times, but without toil he shakes all things by the thought of his mind.

ai)ei\ d' e)n tau)tw=| mi/mnei kinou/menoj ou)de/n
ou)de\ mete/rxesqai/ min e)pipre/pei a)/llote a)/llh|,
a)ll' a)pa/neuqe po/noio no/ou freni\ pa/nta kradai/nei.
172 All of him sees, all thinks, all hears.

ou(=loj o(ra=|, ou(=loj de\ noei=, ou(=loj de/ t' a)kou/ei.
But here's a problem about 170. It seems to contain at the start a contradiction: there is only one God, it says, but there are also many gods.

Commentators handle this by saying that the phrase "among gods and men" is used by Xenophanes poetically, as a 'polar opposition'. That is, he picks out extremes in order to pick out an entire dimension, of which these are extremes. Thus, "among gods and men" means, formulaically, something like "in the universe" or "in the realm of life".

Very well. But then why should we interpret "either in body or in thought" any differently? Why isn't that phrase, too, an example of 'polar opposition'? (It's possibly even a better candidate for it.) In that case it means something like "in nature", and all that Xenophanes would be saying in the fragment, in a poetical way, is that the deity is one, and that the deity is very much unlike us (and the gods also, as these are usually understood).

I don't see that the one opposition can be interpreted so lightly and the other so demandingly, as the KRS interpretation requires.

One might add that it's not clear that 'mortals' (qnhtoi=sin) means 'men'. If it means 'mortal creatures' generally (as seems preferable, because then the new contrast does not overlap with the preceding one) it would be even clearer that the fragment is merely emphasizing the distinctness of the deity from other things.

Moreover,172 cannot have the implication KRS claim. Presumably their line of reasoning is: seeing and hearing require sense organs, which implies a body. Yet in the fragment Xenophanes puts seeing, hearing, and thinking all on the same level, and that line of reasoning wouldn't evidently work for thinking. Also, surely Xenophanes denies that the deity has human or animal-like sense organs. But if so, then all bets are off: why suppose that he believes that these require a sense organ at all? (Maybe he does, after all, but you can't get that from 172.)

As for 171, doesn't that imply, rather, that the deity does not have a body? As KRS themselves point out, if the deity had a body, it would be the 'stuff' of the entire universe, and yet that is rotating. And if he had wanted, perhaps, to claim (strangely) that, although the universe was rotating, its 'stuff' (the divinity within) was not, it would be odd to express this as he does, by saying that it would be unseemly for the divinity to travel from place to place (a phrase which is clearly meant to evoke the wanderings on earth of Homeric deities).