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On the function of the sphere simile in Parmenides’ poem

I’m currently working on my chapter on Parmenides. The interpretation I would like to put forward is that the craftsmanship images of the proem, notably the chariot (B1) and the gates of Day and Night (B1), serve to represent in an analogical mode the linguistic and epistemological relations existing between the two parts of the poem, namely ontology and cosmology. Thus, the mythical images of the proem are the key to the unity of the whole composition. But what about the function of the sphere simile (B8.42-49), which marks the frontier between these two discourses?

The sphere is the only image in the poem to be thematized as such (through the Homeric adjective enalígkios, B8.43). It appears at a very specific moment of the argument, when to eon has already received all the attributes that define it, without apparently adding any new determination to it. That is why modern interpretations have either reduced this comparison to a rather purposeless symbol of to eon itself (Deichgräber, Fränkl, Cordero, Taran), or erroneously reified the symbol, taking it as a proof of the sphericity of “reality” (Zeller, Diels, Burnet, Hölscher). Among contemporary scholars, Mourelatos stands apart as he interprets the sphere as a “speculative metaphor” of to eon. I’m currently examining the possibility of widening the scope of Mourelatos’ reading: the hypothesis is that the sphere is not only a metaphor conceived to speculate on some fundamental aspects of to eon, its most prominent function as a metaphor is in fact the creation of an analogical correspondence between the two theses contained within the same poem, that is, the ontological and the physical.

As a result of the comparison of to eon to a sphere, Parmenides obtains the only possible spatial representation for this purely logical concept. Far from implying its reification, the comparison explicitly states the status of the sphere as a reflexive substitute for to eon. The philosophical advantage of creating an image of to eon is that, as representation, it entails the possibility of establishing formal relations with the object of the cosmology (which actually happens to be spherical) without compromising the essential attributes of to eon in the comparison. I believe that because of the epistemological discontinuity between the two parts in the poem (B8.50-52), relations between their objects can only be legitimately conceived through analogies.

Thus, although there is a strong articulation between the two parts of Parmenides’ poem, I would not suggest that their connection is to be based on the supposition that they both relate to basic physical entities. On the contrary, I believe that the poem posits two distinct forms of cognition corresponding to two distinct modes of being. This analysis of the sphere simile may lead to an alternative conception of the articulation between the two parts of the poem.

One Response to On the function of the sphere simile in Parmenides’ poem

  1. Cher Leopoldo,
    Je suis tout à fait convaincu par ton analyse. Pour continuer dans le même esprit, on pourrait rajouter que cette image de la sphère, outre qu’elle fait office d’intermédiaire entre l’ontologie et la cosmologie, se situe à mi-chemin entre les cosmogonie sur le modèle de l’enfantement et de la filiation, et celle sur le modèle technique: la sphère, n’est-ce pas l’oeuf orphique remodelé selon des normes géométriques qui seules permettent l’avènement d’une production technique capable de rendre raison de ses étapes et de son résultat?
    A très bientôt,
    Alexis

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