Zeno of Elea

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Zeno of Elea (pronounced /ˈziːnoʊ əv ˈɛliə/, Greek: Ζήνων ὁ Ἐλεάτης) (ca. 490 BC? – ca. 430 BC?) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher of southern Italy and a member of the Eleatic School founded by Parmenides. Aristotle called him the inventor of the dialectic.[1] He is best known for his paradoxes, which Bertrand Russell has described as "immeasurably subtle and profound".[2]



Little is known for certain about Zeno's life. Although written nearly a century after Zeno's death, the primary source of biographical information about Zeno is the dialogue of Plato called the Parmenides.[3] In the dialogue, Plato describes a visit to Athens by Zeno and Parmenides, at a time when Parmenides is "about 65," Zeno is "nearly 40" (Parmenides 127b) and Socrates is "a very young man" (Parmenides 127c). Assuming an age for Socrates of around 20, and taking the date of Socrates' birth as 469 bc. gives an approximate date of birth for Zeno of 490 bc. ad

Plato says that Zeno was "tall and fair to look upon" and was "in the days of his youth … reported to have been beloved by Parmenides" (Parmenides 127b).

Other perhaps less reliable details of Zeno's life are given by Diogenes Laërtius in his Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers,[4] where it is reported that he was the son of Teleutagoras, but the adopted son of Parmenides, was "skilled to argue both sides of any question, the universal critic," and that he was arrested and perhaps killed at the hands of a tyrant of Elea.

According to Plutarch, Zeno attempted to kill the tyrant Demylus, and failing to do so, "with his own teeth bit off his tongue, he spit it in the tyrant’s face."[5]


Although many ancient writers refer to the writings of Zeno, none of his writings survive intact.

Plato says that Zeno's writings were "brought to Athens for the first time on the occasion of" the visit of Zeno and Parmenides (Parmenides 127c). Plato also has Zeno say that this work, "meant to protect the arguments of Parmenides" (Parmenides 128c), was written in Zeno's youth, stolen, and published without his consent (Parmenides 128e). Plato has Socrates paraphrase the "first thesis of the first argument" of Zeno's work as follows: "if being is many, it must be both like and unlike, and this is impossible, for neither can the like be unlike, nor the unlike like" (Parmenides 127d,e).

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