Roman frieze

“Philosophical Material: Parmenides’ theory of matter and the material context of its composition”
Jody Valentine (University of Southern California)

In this paper I will excavate the materiality of Parmenides' fifth-century philosophical poem and two contemporary sanctuary sites in Elea, the Greek city in South Italy where the poem was composed. In the fifth century, the region of Elea was an area of complex social interaction of people from throughout the Mediterranean as well as the location of rapid cultural and material change: some poleis were born and grew, with great new temple complexes and political buildings, while others decayed and disappeared. Parmenides' poem, however, denies the reality of change and elevates true being to the metaphysical. Yet, despite relegating the material to the world of doxa, Parmenides constructs a highly material philosophical poem that centers on a pertinent goddess. This paper asks how this paradox may be illuminated by looking at the form of matter in the poem alongside the forms of ceramic material recovered from the local sanctuaries of the goddesses Hera and Aphrodite. This paper aims to extricate Parmenides' poem from the history of philosophy and use it for a cultural and social history of this dynamic and complex period, thus demonstrating the exciting potential of inquiry that accounts for both the literary and archaeological remains of antiquity.

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