Authority claims in early Greek cosmologies
: a study on Xenophanes, Heraclitus, Parmenides, and Empedocles

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The aim of this thesis is to examine the nature of the expertise which the first Greek cosmologists pursued, and the way in which they introduced a new area of knowledge. It is also investigates the way in which these early thinkers expressed their personal views, and the way in which they attempted to claim public attention in order to establish themselves as experts in society. The knowledge which they wished to divulge in the community is quite distinct from the knowledge which was disclosed by other prestigious individuals, such as the epic poets or the seers. However, there are significant respects in which the authority claims of the first cosmologists resemble the authority claims of these individuals. This thesis proposes an interpretation of these similarities in light of the oral nature of archaic communication, which the discussions of these texts often neglect. The need to persuade a live audience had a considerable impact on the way in which the first cosmologists presented themselves to their audience, since they could use traditional material differently in order to reach out for a larger audience. Tradition was thus appropriated to new ends and to a new way of self-projection. At the same time, however, the content of the knowledge which the individual disclosed did not exactly fit to traditional standards. This thesis examines the relation of the Presocratics with tradition and the respects in which they differ and attempt to mark a new area of expert knowledge. This in turn helps us re-evaluate the authority claims of the Presocratics and to interpret them in connection with the circumstances under which these texts were published rather than in connection with our modern expectations about what qualifies for theoretical investigation.
Date of Award3 May 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMichael Trapp (Supervisor) & Hugh Bowden (Supervisor)

Cite this