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According to Antiphon, then, this was Pythodorus' account. Zeno and Parmenides once came to Athens for the Great Panathenaea, Parmenides was a man of distinguished appearance. By that time he was well advanced in years, with hair almost white; he may have been sixty-five. Zeno was nearing forty, a tall and attractive figure. It was said that he had been Parmenides' favorite. They were staying with Pythodorus outside the walls in the Ceramicus. Socrates and a few others came there, anxious to hear a reading of Zeno's treatise, which the two visitors had brought for the first time to Athens. Socrates was then quite young. Zeno himself read it to them; Parmenides at the moment had gone out. The reading of the arguments was very nearly over when Pythodorus himself came in, accompanied by Parmenides and Aristoteles, the man who was afterwards one of the Thirty; so they heard only a small part of the treatise. Pythodorus himself, however, had heard it read by Zeno before.

When Zeno had finished, Socrates asked him to read once more the first hypothesis of the first argument. He did so, and Socrates asked:

'What does this statement mean, Zeno? If things are many, you say, they must be both like and unlike. But that this is impossible; unlike things cannot be like, nor like things unlike. That is what you say isn't it?'

'Yes,' replied Zeno.

'And so, if unlike things cannot be like, or like things unlike, it is also impossible that things should be a plurality; if many things did exist, they would have impossible attributes. Is this the precise purpose of your arguments - to maintain, against everything that is commonly said, that things are not a plurality? Do you regard every one of your arguments as evidence of exactly that conclusion, and so hold that, in each argument of your treatise, you are giving just one more proof that a plurality does not exist? Is that what you mean, or am I understanding you wrongly?'

'No,' said Zeno, 'you have quite rightly understood the purpose of the whole treatise.'

'I see, Parmenides,' said Socrates, 'that Zeno's intention is to associate himself with you by means of his treatise no less intimately than by his personal attachment. In a way, his book states the same position as your own; only by varying the form he tries to delude us into thinking that his thesis is a different one. You assert, in your poem, that the all is one, and for this you advance admirable proofs, Zeno, for his part, asserts that it is not a plurality, and he too has many weighty proofs to bring forward. You assert unity; he asserts no plurality; each expresses himself in such a way that your arguments seem to have nothing in common, though really they come to very much the same thing. That is why your exposition and his seem to be rather over the heads of outsiders like ourselves.'

'Yes, Socrates,' Zeno replied, 'but you have not quite seen the real character of my book. True, you are as quick as a Spartan hound to pick up the scent and follow the trail of the argument, but there is a point you have missed at the outset. The book makes no pretense of disguising from the public the fact that it was written with the purpose you describe, as if such deception was something to be proud of. What you have pointed out is only incidental; the book is in fact a sort of defense of Parmenides' argument against those who try to make fun of it by showing that his supposition, that there is a one, leads to many absurdities and contradictions. This book, then, is a retort against those who assert a plurality. It pays them back in the same coin with something to spare, and aims at showing that, on a thorough examination, their own suppositions that there is a plurality leads to even more absurd consequences than the hypothesis of the one. It was written in that controversial spirit in my young days, and someone copied it surreptitiously, so that I had not even the chance to consider whether it should see the light or not. That is where you are mistaken, Socrates; you imagine it was inspired, not by a youthful eagerness for controversy, but by the more dispassionate aims of an older man, though, as I said, your description of it was not far wrong.'
'I accept that,' said Socrates, 'and I have no doubt it is as you say.'

© Plato, The Collected Dialogues - Bollingen Series LXX1 - Princeton, pp. 921 - 923; Editors: Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns.

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