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Title: Presocratic poetics : Parmenides, Empedocles and literary form
Author: Mackenzie, Kenneth Thomas Munro
ISNI:       0000 0004 6498 4942
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2015
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This thesis aims to locate the poems of Parmenides, Empedocles and, to a lesser degree (due to paucity of evidence), Xenophanes in their literary context, and to begin to explain the ways in which they are designed to perform their didactic function. Chapters 1-4 focus on their generic status, as it is indicated by their form, content, and use of intertextuality. I suggest that the work of all three poets can be seen to draw upon the distinctive traditions of hexameter poetry on the one hand, and Ionian prose on the other. Moreover, Parmenides' type of narrative, with its detailed first person description of a supernatural journey, and its use of a divine narrator for the majority of the poem, seems unprecedented in canonical Greek hexameter texts, although this type may have occurred in more obscure, fragmentary poems such as those attributed to Aristeas and Epimenides. I argue that Empedocles' fragments come from a single poem which seems to invert this narrative pattern: instead of a mortal leaving the familiar world to meet a deity, a deity comes to the familiar world to meet with mortals. Chapters 5 and 6 aim to reconstruct Parmenides and Empedocles' theories of knowledge-acquisition: as the aim of both texts appears to be to bring their audiences from ignorance to knowledge, these theories can provide an explanation for the desired effect of the poems. Both Parmenides and Empedocles present knowledge as being from a divine source, which may offer an explanation for their choice of verse and use of divine narrators. Moreover, I argue that both present the acquisition of knowledge as one of purifying the divine component of the soul from its mortal component. This process may provide an explanation for the religious imagery of the poems, in particular the use of imagery that evokes initiation into mystery cults. In Empedocles' case, this process can also account for some of the ways in which the narrator comments on and characterizes the text itself: the poem is presented, in physical terms, as being composed of Love, the substance responsible for the acquisition of knowledge. Chapter 7 then explores some of the consequences of Parmenides and Empedocles' epistemological theories for their use of language and of certain formal literary features. It argues that differences between their uses of intertextuality can be explained as a consequence of differences in their epistemologies. A further consequence of their philosophical theories is that the two poets describe the world from both a divine and from a mortal perspective. I suggest that this leads them to employ a more developed and self-conscious form of allegory than anything found in earlier Greek literature: we are encouraged to interpret the 'mortal' sections of the text allegorically, by rejecting the literal meaning of the vocabulary and understanding the terms as referring to something else. An epilogue outlines some further literary-critical aspects of these texts which could be explored to specify the role that the two poets played in the history of the didactic genre, and of Classical literature in general.
Supervisor: Reinhardt, Tobias ; Currie, Bruno Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available