Is Parmenides really the speculative philosopher he has come to be presented as in western philosophical tradition? If we leave aside the ‘philosophical’ assumptions that underlie modern interpretations and read his poem as what the author himself tells us it is — a divine revelation, together with all that this implies — and if we place it in its historical and cultural context of Velia and Magna Grecia, the answer is no. Parmenides describes very vividly the experience of a profoundly real and transformative catabasis guided by the goddess. Through her performative language, consisting of sounds and images and ‘verbal chains’, the goddess carries the poet beyond every human distinction and separation into a different state of consciousness, into absolute stillness, to the experience of existence itself. This is Parmenides’ ‘philosophy’.
Against this background of lived wisdom, Zeno’s paradoxes also appear in a very different light. Far from being the intellectual games they are usually presented as, they reveal themselves to be an intrinsic part of the cathartic and transformative practice which aims at overcoming unconscious concepts or collective forms of thought and preparing the individual for the experience of real being as described in Parmenides’ poem.
The lively debate that follows over the text of Laura Gemelli’s Eleatic lectures not only bears witness to the vitality of Parmenides’ and Zeno’s teaching. It also opens the way into new interpretative vistas.