ISSN 1214-8725
Číslo/Ročník/Rok: 1–2/IX/2012 - Spring 2012

‘The World as a Paratactic Aggregate’ – Feyerabend’s interpretation of Archaic Age (Článek)

Autor: Luděk Brouček
Abstract: Svět jako parataktický agregát – Feyerabendova interpretace archaického věku. (Article) – Text se zaměřuje na Feyerabendovu interpretaci archaického řeckého myšlení. Feyerabend předkládá pre-racionální epistemologický rámec pojetí „parataktického agregátu“. Feyerabendova myšlenka je založena na analýze pozdního geometrického figurativního umění a na vývoji lingvistického výzkumu Snellova v oblasti homérské psychologie. Podle Feyerabenda, „souhrnným pohledem na svět“ Homér představuje otevřenou a dynamickou formu reality, která je složena z relativně samostatných jednotek. Feyerabend staví tento popis reality v opozici k „substančnímu pojetí světa“ staré a klasické řecké filosofie, nebo západnímu racionalismu obecně. Substanční svět je popisován jako hierarchické uspořádání několika látek, které tvoří více či méně statický a harmonický celek. Feyerabend vyzdvihuje tento původní archaický světový názor a vysvětluje vzestup racionality v klasickém Řecku především jako výsledek komplexního osobitého sociálně-historického procesu, ne jako pokrok ve vývoji lidského uvažování. Koncept parataktického agregátu hrající zásadní roli v pozdější Feyerabendově filosofii zůstal, bohužel, až do teď téměř úplně nereflektovaný. Účelem tohoto článku je ukázat, jak se Snellův a Feyerabendův výklad archaického pohledu na svět vyvíjí ve Feyerabendově filosofii.

Keywords: Feyerabend, archaic knowledge, structure of myth, paratactic aggregate, pluralistic epistemology


Klíčová slova: Feyerabend, archaické vědění, struktura mýtu, parataktický agregát, pluralitní epistemologie


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The work of Austrian born philosopher, Paul K. Feyerabend (1924–1994), receives attention mainly in the field of philosophy science, philosophy and history of quantum mechanics. Feyerabend is also a very influential figure in the field sociology of scientific knowledge. But Feyerabend’s comparative philosophy, or later thoughts in general, which presents him as a great scholar and very interesting interpreter and historian of Greek philosophy, display hardly any philosophical reflection. The relationship between Myth, Philosophy and Science is described in many papers and books written in Feyerabend’s later philosophical stage. [1] Feyerabend’s long-life interest was to interpret Myth as a fully developed world-view and to introduce an example of paradigm-shift from Myth to Philosophy. Feyerabend further argues that science, myth and religious doctrines share many features, and that this refutes naive empiricist accounts, according to which science started when people stopped speculating and started observing or experimenting. (Feyerabend 1999: 59)


“Myth, Philosophy, Science – are neither strictly detached nor they are found always in this order. The Myth anticipate the science, the science has a mythical features, Philosophy, Science and Myth once friendly live with each other, once they deny each other the right for existence. Superstitions and prejudices can be found everywhere.” (Feyerabend 2009: 41, author’s transl.)


This work focuses mainly on Feyerabend’s book Naturphilosophie (2009), which represents Feyerabend’s recently discovered unfinished project of initially planned three volumes covering the History of Philosophy of Nature from Paleolithe until 20th century. Feyerabend worked on this manuscript from late 1960s to early 1970s at the same period of time as his notoriously famous work, Against Method (1975). Naturphilosophie introduces Feyerabend’s radical change in his work and is consequently perceived as a missing chain between Feyerabend’s two separate stages – theoretician of science and historian of science. (Heit, Oberheim ed. note in Feyerabend 2009: 8)


Naturphilosophie demonstrates two of Feyerabend’s foremost aims: criticism of predominant view of anthropological theories of 19th and 20th century that places superior western rationalism above another cultures, theories and forms of life and Feyerabend’s attempt to introduce historical example of his presumption that conceptual changes of two world-views affects our language and thought and even bring perceptual changes of our external world as it was happening, according to Feyerabend, in transition from Archaic Greece (8–6 century BC) to the Classical Greece (5–4 century BC).


Feyerabend’s later philosophical and political approach is regarded mainly as criticism of superiority of western culture, imperialism and the excellence of western science, that also started in the mid-to-late 1960s in Berkeley, where Feyerabend ran into the Free Speech Movement. He also encountered the “student revolution” during this time at Berkeley, as well as in London and Berlin. Feyerabend also reacts to Popper’s critical rationalism. According to Feyerabend, Popper’s philosophy forms a totality. Feyerabend describes two different methods of collectively answering an issue, which he calls guided exchange and an open exchange respectively. A rational debate (including critical rationalism) is a special case of the guided debate that is not entirely free; one has to play the game of intellectuals.


Analyzing transition from earlier to later wider theory or cosmology, Feyerabend often employs hidden reductio ad absurdum argumentation, making his arguments difficult to grasp and comprehend. On the other hand, Feyerabend developed the interpretation of Archaic pre-rational epistemological frame-work over a 30 years time span and this topic receives significant attention in his later work. Feyerabend basically adopts his interpretation of archaic thought structure to his later philosophy. The structure of paratactic aggregate affects apart from methodology and epistemology, Feyerabend’s later ontological states as well. In his last and unfinished work entitled, characteristically, Conquest of Abundance (1995), Feyerabend’s ontology represents a dynamical and multifaceted Being, which influences and reflects the activity of its explorers.


“It was once full of Gods; it then became a drab material world; and it can be changed again, if its inhabitants have the determination, the intelligence, and the heart to take the necessary steps.” (Feyerabend 1999: 146)


This Feyerabend’s position is also regarded to be a form of social-constructivism (Preston 1998), which was enormously influenced by Feyerabend; however, he never wanted to be a part of that.


Feyerabend’s Interpretation of Archaic Knowledge of The Nature


Feyerabend starts his History of Philosophy of Nature with interpretation of Paleolithic knowledge. Feyerabend assumes that already from the Upper Paleolithe there exists already fully developed homo sapiens who exhibit equal intellectual and mental abilities like we have today. The man of the Stone Age or Bronze Age, is according to Feyerabend, a man of modern type and not primitive or childish stage of human development as usually stated in most previous theories. For Feyerabend it is doubtless that archaic man possessed detailed factual knowledge in many fields of nature such as: astronomy, mathematics, botany, zoology, biology, medicine, sociology and theology.


Feyerabend’s interpretation of Paleolithic art argues against religious or fertility enhancing explanations of that time (see Breuil 1952; Leroi-Gourham 1964; Marshack 1972). Feyerabend claims that the attention of researchers should be aimed on evidence about the knowledge of the Nature of Paleolithic man and that scientific community should take it seriously without prejudices and that various scientific discipline should focus on description of this knowledge.


Feyerabend’s view corresponds with present approach and interpretations in paleoarchaeology which shows that it has become increasingly apparent that the Upper Paleolithic was a period of almost constant technological change not unlike the last 12,000 years. (Hoffecker 2005)


“Peoples of the Upper Paleolithic invented sewn clothing, portable lamps, and watercraft. They also designed heated shelters, fishing equipment, baking ovens, refrigerated storage pits, and artificial memory systems. Upper Paleolithic folk used rotary drills, shaped musical instruments, mixed chemical compounds, and constructed kilns to fire ceramics. They were the first to create mechanical devices, including spear-throwers and bows and arrows, and to domesticate another living species.” (Hoffecker 2005)


Even contemporary interpretation of Paleolithic cave art supports Feyerabend’s effort. For example Professor Guthrie, in his monumental volume The Nature of Paleolithic Art (2005), found that all ages and both sexes were making art, not just senior male shamans. The cave painting was largely produced by adolescent males and is somewhat akin to modern teen graffiti. Their art seems, according to Guthrie, more focused on complicated earth-bound subjects, diverse everyday interests and wonders. Guthrie describes Paleolithic artist-hunters as they were keen students of natural history in close touch with the details of a complex earth and addictive watchers of large mammals. Guthrie, as a zoologist asserts that from fossils and living animals we know that the artists were drawing the literal truth signified when he states: “Reindeer cows are antlered now and were 30,000 years ago.” (Guthrie 2005: 16)


Furthermore, Guthrie claims that these images record informative details about the nature of mortal wounds made by Paleolithic weapons because they are most effective if penetrate deeply into a large mammal’s thorax.


“Many images disclose the artists’ keen awareness of the efficacy of thoracic shots and the risk to the hunter from wounded animals after improper spear hits. This kind of knowledge continues after the Pleistocene into Holocene times. For example we have physical evidence from Mesolithic (the period directly following the late Paleolithic), in the form of projectile point pieces embedded in bone and indications of point impacts on bone, that Mesolithic people also actively aimed for the thorax.” (Guthrie 2005: 241)


Astronomical knowledge in Paleolithe demonstrates for example luni-solar calendar on Thaïs bone, (Marshack 1972) or representations of the Pleiades and Hyades in cave art at the Hall of the Bulls at Lascaux cave in France. (Rappenglück 2004) Feyerabend’s interpretation of prehistoric artifacts, art and mythologies follows mainly an astronomical scope because of his life-long interest in the astronomy. Feyerabend is convinced that there existed a highly developed and internationally known astronomy in the old Stone Age. Astronomical knowledge is expressed in sagas, legends and myths in sociological, rather than in mathematical terms and is often unrecognized because of insufficient astronomical knowledge of myth collectors, translators and interpreters. (Feyerabend 2009: 76–77)


In spite of modern astronomy, Feyerabend believes that the ancient astronomy was factually adequate as well as emotionally satisfying, because it solved both physical and social problems and it was tested in very simple and ingenious ways (stone observatories in England or in the South Pacific). (Feyerabend 2009: 77) For Feyerabend, astronomical and other archaeological heritage, art and myths points to the characteristic feature of archaic man’s world-view, which has dynamic structure with focuses on natural processes and changes. (Feyerabend 2009: 71–81)


The Structure and Function of Myth


Myth is the story that manifests some aspect of the cosmic order and provides a world-view or vision of the basic structure of reality. In the original meaning of this term it is not a false story, how is word usually often colloquially used. The interpretation of Myth as a Fable begins already with some rationalists of the classical Greek period and continues in this sense through Romans, Christians, Enlightenments and Positivists interpreters. Contemporary religious and anthropologist interpreters present function of myth, for example, as manifestation of Holy (Otto 1917), a verbal form of ritual (van der Leeuw 1933), or an ‘eternal return’ to the Sacred’s first appearance (Eliade 1971). Feyerabend emphasizes cognitive content of myth. According to him the myths have twofold function: to present knowledge and to utilize the knowledge for furthering social and cosmic harmony.


Already from the 6th century BC many exegetic schools existed and efforts to interpret Homers’ epics in the allegorical way. For example, the mythologist, Hesiod, who attempted to rationalize Myth by dividing it into three generations of gods and their antithetical relations. According to Feyerabend, the Theogony of Hesiod contains a very sophisticated and ‘modern’ cosmology:


“The world, including the laws that govern its main processes, is the result of a development, the laws themselves are neither eternal, nor comprehensive but come from a dynamical equilibrium between opposing forces so that there is always a danger of disruptive changes (the giants may break their fetters, overpower Zeus, and introduce their own laws), and the entities it contains have a twofold aspect, they are dead matter, but they are also capable of acting like things alive.” (Feyerabend 1991: 114)


After attacking Homer by Heraclitus and Xenophanes, western philosophical tradition did not have very much understanding for myths. For the western world, myths were just a matter of fantasy and had nothing whatever to do with forms of thought. For centuries, stories from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey were used for inspiration, or to explain the qualities of true heroism, and nobody thought them to be more than delightful pieces of fiction until end of 19th century amateur archaeologist Henry Schliemann found Troy by assuming certain parts of the Iliad to be literally true. One of the first philosophers to take non-rational thought seriously, was Ernst Cassirer, in the 20th century. From the second half of the 20th century, anthropological and philosophical theories held new attitudes, which leads, in various ways, to the rehabilitation of myth. As Vernant claims:


“Its ‘absurdity’ was no longer denounced as a logical scandal; rather, it was considered as a challenge scientific intelligence would have to take up if this other form of intelligence represented by myth was to be understood and incorporated into anthropological knowledge.” (Vernant 1980: 186)


The first scholarly theories of myth appeared during the second half of the 19th century. These theories were heavily influenced by Darwin’s theory of evolution and Comte’s ‘Positive Philosophy’. Culture was usually perceived as progressive, developing from simple ‘primitive’ forms of society and ‘primitive’ form of thought to culminate to the most complex form. Myth, at that time, was often interpreted as the primitive counterpart of modern science. Primitive man was in these theories represented as a childish, crude, prodigal, and comparable to animals and imbeciles. Herbert Spencer asserts that the mind of the primitive man is unspeculative, uncritical, incapable of generalizing, and with scarcely any motions save those yielded by the perceptions. Then, again, he says that in the undeveloped vocabularies and grammatical structures of primitives only the simplest thoughts can be conveyed. (Evans-Pritchard 1965: 198)


Victorian scholar, Tylor, introduced unilinear progressive model of development treating mankind as homogenous in nature, though placed in different grades of civilization. (Tylor 1903: 7) Tylor divided this universal development of culture into three steps: savage, barbaric and civilized. (Tylor 1903: 26) This theoretical model, even if not focusing on evolutionary theory, heavily influences many other approaches emerging in the nineteenth or early twentieth century as seen in the work of Frazer, Marx, and to some extend Freud. (Kunin, Miles-Watson 2006: 14) Tylor argued that Myth was product of the human intellect in its early childlike state. (Tylor 1903: 284)


Based on over a century of ethnology and research in psychology, genetics, and other disciplines, scholars now accept that humans from all eras and parts of the world have equal intellectual capacity and potential. The evolutionary theory of culture development was criticized from the point that the empirical data (from ethnographic studies) suggested that there was no single path of development, nor are particular forms of religion clearly associated with any form of technology or social structure. The final and most significant critique is that of ideology. “Both the collection of data and the theorists were complicit in colonial or imperialistic systems. The theory thus serves as an ideological justification for the domination or even eradication of societies seen as evolutionary inferior.” (Kunin, Miles-Watson 2006: 15)


Feyerabend claims, that the most sophisticated nature-myth theory at that time is structuralism of Claude Lévi-Strauss and adopts its logic. According to Levi-Strauss, myth, like the rest of language, is made up of constituent units. But unlike ordinary language, these constituent units belong to a higher and more complex order. Levi-Strauss calls these higher units, which differentiate myth from other forms of speech, “gross constituent units” (Levi-Strauss 1955: 431) or “mythemes”. The true constituent units of a myth are not the isolated relations but bundles of such relations, and it is only as bundles that these relations can be put to use and combined so as to produce a meaning of a myth.


In examining these relations between mythemes, Levi-Strauss concludes that a myth consists of binary oppositions and claims that the human mind thinks fundamentally in these binary oppositions and their unification. Levi-Strauss asserts that the “kind of logic in mythical thought is as rigorous as that of modern science”, (Levi-Strauss 1955: 444) the difference lying “not in the quality of the intellectual process, but in the nature of the things to which it is applied”. (Levi-Strauss 1955: 444) Levi-Strauss concludes that the “same logical processes operate in myth as in science, and that man has always been thinking equally well; the improvement lies, not in an alleged progress of man’s mind, but in the discovery of new things to which it may apply its unchangeable abilities”. (Levi-Strauss 1955: 444)


Feyerabend saw in Levi-Strauss’ structuralism a successful attempt of progressing beyond naive view of earlier nature-myth theories, which is, as he claims, in parallel to theories in science comparable to more complex forms of empiricist theories in philosophy of science. Feyerabend also believes that myth embodies some kind of structure for understanding and possessing nature. (Feyerabend 2009: 97) The question is – how far does myth make it possible and how does it hinder the possession of nature?


Feyerabend emphasizes a peculiar feature in composition, very typical for myth, which is a lack of difference between main and subordinate clauses. The same composition, which inspired him, Feyerabend have found in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922). (Feyerabend 2009: 102) The compositional style of such a text is called paratactic style. Nominalist Wittgenstein wrote his Tractatus strictly in this paratactic juxtaposition of atomic sentences.


Feyerabend adopts this nominalist constructivism and asserts that the structure of myth is, same like Wittgenstein Tractatus, the paratactic aggregate without any substance. Feyerabend believes that such a structure of myth describes the world, nature and events analogically, as an open dynamic aggregate of things and events without any substances. (Feyerabend 2009: 103) Also, Feyerabend’s eliminative materialism states that the only entities existing in the world are atoms and aggregates of atoms. Therefore, the only properties and relations are the properties of, and the relations between, such aggregates.


According to Feyerabend, more sophisticated version of nature-myth theory can be found, for example, in linguistic approach of Benjamin Whorf. American linguist, Whorf, does not exactly create any theory of myth but analyses metaphysics of mesoamerican tribe, Hopi. Whorf’s linguistic analysis claims that objective reality is something merely given, but reality is shaped by our native language. “The categories and types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do not find there because they stare every observer in the face; on the contrary, the world is presented in a kaleidoscopic flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds – and this means largely by the linguistic systems in our minds.” (Whorf 1959: 212–213) According to Whorf, formulation of ideas is not an independent process, strictly rational in the old sense, but is part of a particular grammar, and differs, from slightly to greatly, between different grammars.


“It was found that the background linguistic system (in other words, the grammar) of each language is not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas but rather is itself the shaper of ideas, the program and guide for the individual’s mental activity, for his analysis of impressions, for his synthesis of his mental stock in trade.” (Whorf 1959: 212–213)


Feyerabend argues in favour of the Kantian idea that the theories we subscribe to influence our language, our thought, and maybe even our perception. Thus Whorf’s linguistic analysis supports Feyerabend’s theory of constructional character of mind where theories co-constitute the phenomena we experience. Feyerabend found this assumption that our perceptual world is mental construct also in Nietzsche’s philosophy of nature in his book, Wahrheit und Luge im Aussemoralische Sinn (1873). Feyerabend attempts to demonstrate that also “scientific theories are ways of looking at the world and their adoption affects our general beliefs and expectations, and thereby also our experiences and our conception of reality. We may even say that what is regarded as a ‘nature’ at a particular time is our own product in the sense that all the features ascribed to it have first been invented by us and then used for bringing order into our surroundings”. (Feyerabend 1981: 45)


Archaic world as Paratactic Aggregate


Feyerabend’s interpretation of archaic structure of thought (epistemology, form of life) is based mainly on Snell’s analysis of Homer’s epic poem, Iliad, and on the analysis of late Geometric figurative art of the end of the Greek Dark Ages. The period of time of Feyerabend’s interest is about from 800 BCE to 600 BCE. The epics, Iliad and Odyssey, originated around 800 BCE in southwest of Asia Minor. Iliad refers about event happened around 1200 BCE when the coalition of Greek states fight for ten years in front of Troy. Few weeks in the final year of the war is described in the Iliad. This war signifies the historical division line between Bronze Age and Iron Age and between Mycenae culture and later Greek culture. The younger epic, Odyssey, refers to Odysseus, who survived 12 years on a dangerous sea voyage home after the Trojan War. The original poem was composed in an oral tradition by rhapsodists (professional performer), and was more likely intended to be sung than read.


The aim of Feyerabend’s analysis is to present remarkably parallel features of archaic vocabulary, syntactical grammar, literary style, pre-scientific and pre-philosophical thoughts, and various kinds of visual art. Feyerabend claims that these features advert to fully developed world-view of Archaic man. Feyerabend calls Greek Archaic world-view the ‘paratactic Aggregate’.


The term parataxis was introduced to scientific nomenclature, by the German philologist Friedrich Thiersch in his Greek Grammar, of 1831. Thiersch examined 12 different dialects in Greek Language from Epic to Romaic (Modern Greek) and noticed a curiosity about lack of subordinate clauses in syntax of the earliest dialects, for example of Homer dialect. According to Thiersch, from this simple syntax of parataxis was developed more sophisticated syntax of hypotaxis. The doctrine of parataxis was further stated by Lange in his paper of 1852, and the word has since become an accepted syntactical term in opposition of term of hypotaxis. (Morris 1901: 113) Parataxis is often realized by one of the conjunctions and, so, either… or, neither …nor, but. The most common hypotactic conjunctions include if, while, because, when.


From the beginning of discussions about parataxis there is some disagreement among grammarians and it is problematic to come through with a narrow definition of this term. A number of definitions have emerged, often conflicting but briefly parataxis gives what is generally known as a coordination, or juxtaposition, of two simple sentences, while hypotaxis represents subordination. Metaphorically these two terms could be expressed expressed, for example as rail (parataxis) and ladder (hypotaxis). Parataxis is commonly thought as a kind of melting together of two independent sentences, placing side by side like beads on a string, and associated with a stream of thought or a train of thought. A classic example of a paratactic sentence is Caesar’s boast as reported by the historian, Suetonius. Veni, vidi, vici. (Suetonius, Julius Caesar, sect. 37) “I came, I saw, I conquered.”


Hypotaxis is mostly defined as the relation between a dependent element and its dominant, the element on which it is dependent. Contrasting with this is parataxis, which is the relation between two like elements of equal status, one initiating and other continuing. (Butler 2003: 260 cites Halliday 1994: 218)


Linguists of the beginning of the 20th century who observed paratactic sentences from Sanskrit, Greek and early Latin writers served the theory of evolutionary development of human language and regarded paratactic sentence-structure as a primitive stage of undeveloped human thought. “Order was gradually brought into the chaos of the mind, and man became able to correlate and classify.” (Wallin 1910: 10) Because the field of parataxis is wider in the spoken languages they presupposed that there is a discrimination tone and by sentence-accent which does suggest subordination. (Morris 1901: 123)


Parataxis was detected as the main characteristic of compositional technique for pre-literate archaic cultures. As far as we can know it occurs in Mycenaean court poetry which can be traced to the poetry of eastern courts (Sumerian, Babylonian, Hurrian, Hethitic, Phoenician). This style was developed from highly formal royal correspondence. (Webster 1977: 207) As paratactic composition significantly appears in Homeric epic poems it is introduced in theory of oral-formulaic composition in 1920s by Parry and Lord (see for example Parry 1971; Lord 1960; Foley 1988). Parataxis heavily influenced written literature after Homer untill the fifth century Greek prose. Homer exhibited this stylistic phenomenon also called ‘the adding style’ (Parry 1971) or ‘the cumulative technique’ (Kirk 1991). Feyerabend adopted Webster’s term ‘paratactic aggregate’ which combines Homer’s style and geometric figure scenes. (Webster 1977: 207)


Parataxis in Geometric art


The first scholar who documented difference between archaic-paratactic and classical-hypotactic statuary was German specialist in ancient art, particularly sculpture, Gerhard Krahner in 1931. Classical art attempts for realistic description of things and events with perspective, while archaic, formal art describes an event by the aggregation of elements. The elements of such an aggregate are all given equal importance, the only relation between them is sequential, there is no hierarchy, no part is presented as being subordinate to and determined by others. (Feyerabend 2009: 117) The early art style is described as follows:


“The early geometric system of decoration was elaborated in two ways: first by a structural alteration in the ornamental scheme-the division of the main zone by means of verticals into rectangular fields; and secondly by the introduction of animal and human figures… The chief animals are birds, horses, deer: the scenes are mostly battles, often at sea or on the seashore, and funerals. The figures are schematized silhouettes. The men, for example, are very tall and thin, the trunk a triangle tapering to the waist, the head and a knob with a mere excrescence for the face: towards the end of the style the head is lit up – the head-knob is drawn in outline, and dot signifies the eye.” (Beazley, Ashmole 1932: 3)


“The silhouettes present a number of postures: they stand, march, row, drive, fight, die, lament, etc. But always their essential structure must be clear, and this is one of the legacies which remains in archaic and classical art.” (Webster 1977: 205)


According to Webster, Attic Geometric art should not be called primitive, although it does not have the kind of photographic realism that literary scholars appear to demand in painting. Webster argues that it is highly sophisticated art with its own conventions that serve its own purposes. Feyerabend gives as an example in his analysis of two pictures: a kid half swallowed by lion and charioteer standing in a carriage. According to Feyerabend, these pictures do not represent an illusory account of situation, but a visual catalogue, a list, which is supposed to ‘read’ rather than ‘see’. The lists are organized sequentially; that is, the shape of an element does not depend on the presence of other elements. (Feyerabend 2009: 117–121)


Lions are ferocious, kids are peaceful. The kid on the picture looks peacefully even being swallowed by a lion because the picture ‘reads’: ferocious lion, peaceful kid, swallowing of kid by lion. A charioteer standing in the carriage is painted as standing above the floor by the purpose that everything can clearly be seen. The elements of the aggregate may be physical parts, states of affairs or actions. Feyerabend maintains that these formal features of geometric style represent predominant habitual description of a world that consists of the elements.


Geometric art was in the same degree of inner perfection like in many aspects more realistic Classical Greek art. They both represents, in Feyerabend’s interpretation, a fully developed world-view. Feyerabend is aware that the argument for archaic “elemental” ontology can never be conclusive but it can be detected in many aspects of archaic common sense and socio-cultural aspects of archaic society. Nevertheless, Feyerabend argues that if these idiosyncrasies of particular style of painting are found also in statutary, in the grammar, poetry, popular saying, common law, philosophical principles which declare the idiosyncrasies to be features of the world and when they are part of normal perception, then we may assume that we are dealing with a coherent way of life. (Feyerabend 2009: 124) In Against Method, Feyerabend refers to the research of Piaget and his school, and even claims that people involved in this way of life perceive the world in the same way in which we now see their pictures. (Feyerabend 1975: 168) Such claims were often a point of criticism for Feyerabend’s (Preston 1997, Clark 2001).


Feyerabend makes paralells between the change of styles in Greek and in transition from Midle Age to Renaissance, which is also considered to be the rise of Western rationalism and the origin of science and scientific method. (Feyerabend 1984: 1999) Feyerabend notices parataxis in medieval Byzantine art where the figures and their schematic formation are placed in a paratactic manner without regard to perspective. Still the Renaissance pictorial allegories of the years around 1500 have a paratactic, aggregate structure where in each of these pictures, bodies and objects are juxtaposed in unexpected ways. The figures and things are elements that might make perfect sense in one context, but baffle when transferred to an unexpected context (Wood 2009).


Vasari and his followers attributed this anti-naturalistic character to a decline in artistic skills and standards, which had in turn been revived by his contemporaries’ painters in the Italian Renaissance. Feyerabend opposes progressivism in artistic description of nature of reality and states that the Italo-Byzantine style may have caught an element of reality that had disppeared by the time of Renaissance paintings with central perspective, natural posture, character, emotions. According to Feyerabend, new schema and stereotypes arrived as the result of an almost accidental transference of rules implicit in one practice to another. (Feyerabend 1999: 97–99) One view, or all-pervasive theory, is placed side by side with the idiosyncratic historical process. The same argumentation is used in Feyerabend’s famous analysis of the Galileo experiment and paradigmatic change in Renaissance. For Feyerabend, nature as described by scientists is a work of art that is constantly being enlarged and rebuilt by them.


Snell’s Concept of Homeric Man as Aggregate


Feyerabend fully adopted Snell’s linguistic analyses of Early Greek expressions for body and mind from Snell’s provocative and influential work, Die Entdeckung des Geistes (1946), The discovery of Mind (1953). Snell expresses an interpretation of the unique iliadic view of man as an aggregate of parts of the body, with similar features extending to understanding of the self and of the world. This Snell’s interpretation supports Feyerabend’s idea that the Archaic world-view prevails epistemological and ontological basis in dynamic paratactic aggregation of things and events. In his biography Feyerabend writes:


“I still remember the excitement I felt when reading Snell on Homeric notion of human being. This was not a theory formulated to bring order into material that could stand on its own feet; it was a set of habits that pervaded everything – language perception, art, poetry, as well as various anticipations of philosophical thought. Acting accordingly, the early Greeks seemed to live in a special and self-contained world.” (Feyerabend 1995: 140)


Snell’s methodology was meant to explain Homer strictly his own terms. “The more carefully we distinguish between the meanings of Homer’s words and those of the classical period, the clearer grows our vision of the gulf which lies between the two epochs, and of the intellectual achievement of the Greeks.” (Snell 1953: 1)


Expressions for operation of sight in Homer


The typical feature of archaic languages is their lack of abstraction. Homer’s language uses a number of verbs for the operation of sight: horan, idein, leussein, athrein, theasthai, skeptesthai, ossesthai, derkesthai, paptainein. But only two verbs for seeing are used in the language of antic Greece: blepein and theorein.


Derkesthai is etymologically connected to dracon – ‘the seeing one’, the snake. The meaning of this verb is to have a particular look in one’s eyes: to stare, to glare, or to glaze. In Homer, this is used as derkesthai of the Gorgon; of the eagle; of the Patroclus when Achilles blames him to look like crying girl who begs her mother to take her in her arms (i.e. 16.10); and of the Odysseus when missing his homeland in exile, his fixed glance continually travelled forth’ across the sea (Od. 5.84 and 158). Snell infers that Homer’s derkesthai refers, not so much to the function of the eye, as to its gleam as noticed by someone else. (Snell 1953: 2–3)


Paptainein represents ‘looking about’ inquisitively, carefully, or with fear. For paptainein, as well as for derkesthai, there is no evidence of using it in the first person in Homer’s works. This mode of looking is noticed in others. According to Snell, paptainein denotes a visual attitude, and does not hinge upon the function of sight as such. (Snell 1953: 4)


Leussein is derived from leukos, which means gleaming or white, and the translation of the verb leussein is to see something bright. This verb, inspite of the previous two, appears as leusso (first person sg.) and connotes certain sensations experienced in the act of seeing of specific objects like fire or shining weapons. Snell regards that this term too derives its special significance from a mode of seeing; not the function of sight, but the object seen, and the sentiments associated with the sight, give the word its peculiar quality. (Snell 1953: 3)


Ossesthai it means to have a threatening impression, and thus it approximates to the meaning ‘suspect’. Once more, as in the previous instances, Snell claims that the object and the attending sentiment determine the seeing. Theasthai means to look with one’s mouth wide open, i.e. ‘to gape’ or ‘stare’. This verb of sight bases its significance upon gesture and feeling. (Snell 1953: 4)


Theorein is a new verb in Ionic Greek derived from a noun: Theoros, its basic meaning is ‘to be a spectator’ like watching from the distance for example Olympic games. Soon, however, it came to mean: ‘to look on’, ‘to contemplate’ without reflecting an attitude or an emotion. The stress lies on the fact that the eye apprehends an object. Only theorein, together with another later Ionic verb, idein, were further used in antic Greek in the meaning of the real substance of the operation known as ‘sight’. The others verbs disappeared except of paptainein, which survived in imperfective form as periblepesthai ‘to look around’ (Snell 1953: 4).


According to Snell, Homeric men took no decisive interest in what we justly regard as the basic function, the objective essence, of sight; and if they had no word for it, it follows that as far as they were concerned it did not exist. (Snell 1953: 4)


Expressions for body in Homer


The word in fifth century Greek, which refers to the body, is soma. but already Alexandrian scholar, Aristarchus, noticed, that in the Homer word soma is never used with reference to a living being; soma is the corpse. Aristarchus expressed the opinion that for Homer, demas was the live body. The expression demas: refers to a live body, but as Snell regards, only in the accusative of specification for example ‘His body was small’ appears in Homer, and ‘his body resembled a god’s’. It means ‘in structure’, ‘in shape’ such as: to be small or to resemble someone. (Snell 1953: 5)


Homer’s other expressions for ‘body’ are ‘limbs’; guia are the limbs as moved by the joints, melea the limbs in their muscular strength. Snell gives many examples where limbs were translated as a body: ‘his body became feeble’; ‘his whole body trembled’; ‘sweat poured from his body’ etc. (Snell 1953: 5)


Chros, ‘the skin’ is other word in which Homer describes the whole body: ‘to wash a body’ or ‘the sword pierced his body’. But according to Snell, chros is not a skin as an anatomical substance but the skin that can be peeled off – that is derma – but the skin as surface, as the outer border of the figure of man, as the foundation of color, and so forth. (Snell 1953: 6) Snell sums up that among the early expressions designating what was later rendered as soma or ‘body’, only the plurals guia, melea, etc. refer to the physical nature of the body; for chros is merely the limit of the body, and demas represents the frame, the structure, and occurs only in the accusative of specification.


Snell adds considerable account of examples from Homer for the presumption that the Homeric Greeks perceive body as a sum of limbs showing that Homer frequently speaks of fleet legs, of knees in speedy motion, of sinewy arms etc. Snell also saw that the same concept of human body, which contains Homeric language, appears on the vases of the geometric period. Man figures were painted with clearly distinguished limbs from each other with huge unrealistic muscles, while the joints are on the other hand presented as extraordinarily thin.


“As it is, early Greek art actually corroborates our impression that the physical body of man was comprehended, not as a unit but as an aggregate. Not until the classical art of the fifth century do we find attempts to depict the body as an organic unit whose parts are mutually correlated. In the preceding period the body is a mere construct of independent parts variously put together.” (Snell 1953: 6)


The unity of body was neither designated by words, nor perceived or known for the Homeric man. Man was perceived and described by the most conspicuous elements of his appearance as the sum total of his limbs. As Sullivan summarizes, Snell’s demonstration that the early Greeks did not yet have a unitary concept of the body has been often criticized, corrected, supplemented, and refined, but not superseded, by later scholars. Snell’s view that soma only means the corpse follows for example, Vivante 1955; Herter 1957; Koller 1958; Krafft 1963. In opposition to this view of soma as a corpse state for example, Hirzel 1914; E. Bickel 1926; Harris 1960; West 1978; Renehan 1979. Sullivan argues that soma means “body” in Homer and can refer either to a living body or to a corpse. (Sullivan 1988: 2)


Snell’s interpretation of Homeric “Soul” or “Mind”


As Snell further demonstrates, the iliadic vocabulary lacks a single word for the concept of soul, consciousness, or mind. This fact was treated in detail by many classical philologists of the past century (see Dodds 1951; Onians 1951; Fränkel; 1962; Adkins 1970; Bremmer 1987; Robinson 1989; Taylor 1989; Sullivan 1988; Caswell 1990; Griffin, 1980; Gaskin, 1990; Pelliccia, 1995; Clarke, 1999; Williams, 1993; Porter, 2006).


According to Dodds, the Archaic concept of the soul was replaced in Greek with a new and revolutionary conception of the relation between body and soul appearing at the end of the Archaic Age. For Dodds, this new development was due to trade and colonization that had brought the Greeks in contact with the shamanistic culture of Black Sea Scythians in seventh century. (Dodds 2004: 136)


In later Greek, the word for soul is psuche. For Homer, psuche is the force that keeps the human being alive and it leaves its owner when he is dying, or when he loses consciousness. The word psuche is akin to psuchein: ‘to breathe’. Homer says that the psuche is risked in battle when battle is fought for it because one wishes to save his psuche. (Il. 21.569) The psuche usually leaves the body through the mouth (Il. 9.409) or through a wound (Il. 14.518; 16.505). Bremmer distinguishes between two types of psuche in Homer: the free soul, which possessed no psychological attributes and was active only outside the body, as in dreams, swoons, and the afterlife; and the body soul, which endowed a person with life and consciousness. (Bremmer 1987: 8)

The other words for the ‘mind’ that Snell elaborates are thumos and noos. According to Snell, in Homer, thumos is the generator of (e)motion or agitation (joy, pleasure, love, sympathy, anger), while noos is the cause of ideas and images. (Snell 1953: 9) Thumos, the mental organ that provides motion for the bones and limbs leaves the limbs at the point of death, but thumos does not continue to exist after death unlike psuche, which goes down to Hades. The death of an animal is described in Homer also by loosing thumos – the death of a horse (Il. 16.469), of a stag (Od. 10.163), of a boar (Od. 19.454) or of a dove (Il. 23.880).


According to Snell, it is evident that people were averse to ascribing the psuche that a human being loses when he dies, also to an animal. They therefore invented the idea of a thumos which leaves the animal when it expires. (Snell 1953: 10) Caswell enlarged categories of function of thumos to – loss of consciousness – death, the cognitive or intellectual function, the emotional function, the deliberative function and the function of motivation. For Caswell thumos was either the blowing breath or the flowing blood. (Caswell 1990: 25)


Noos is akin to noein which means ‘to realize’, ‘to see in its true colors’; and often it may simply be translated as ‘to see’, but it stands for a type of seeing which involves not merely visual activity but the mental act which goes with the vision. As Snell says: “It is the mind as a recipient of clear images, or, more briefly, the organ of clear images.” (Snell 1953: 12) The noos of Zeus is ever stronger than that of men. (Il. 16.688) However, Snell notices that there is no clear distinction between noos and thumos, and they overlap in many cases. In Homer there can be found examples for knowing something by emotion (thumos) or to have a joy as a mental reflection. Agammenon rejoiced in his noos when Achilles and Odysseus quarreled with each other for the distinction of being the best man. (Od. 8.78)


Snell discussed the concept of ‘soul’ and ‘mind’ mainly by the notions of psuche, thumos and noos. After Snell, other scholars continued to analyze additional psychic entities, which, in Homer, carried emotional and mental activity – phrenes or prapis – presumably the inflating lungs and etor, kradie, ker: heart. (Sullivan 1988: 196)


These mental events are not necessarily private and may belong to a different individuals altogether. Snell and many other scholars argues that, in Homer, we never find a personal decision, a conscious choice made by an acting human being. Even where a hero is shown pondering two alternatives, the intervention of the gods plays the key role. Mental and spiritual acts are due to the impact of external factors, and man is the open target of a great many forces that impinge on him, and penetrate his very core. (Snell 1953: 20) Onians says that Homer’s heroes, with all their magnificent vitality and activity feels themselves at very turn not free agents but passive instruments or victims of other powers. (Onians 1988: 303)


“A man felt that he could not help his own actions. An idea, an emotion, an impulse came to him; he acted and presently rejoiced or lamented. Some god had inspired or blinded him.” (Onians 1988: 303)


Hermann Fränkel has aptly termed the Homeric man “ein offenes Kraftfeld” an “open-field of energy”, that divine forces can readily enter or leave. (Sullivan 1988: 9) Feyerabend speaks about the Homeric man conceptually and optically like rag dolls and functioning as transit station for events (ideas, dreams, feeling). “[H]e finds himself involved in one series actions rather than in another and his life develops accordingly.” (Feyerabend 1987: 97)


“The heroes of the Iliad, however, no longer feel that they are the playthings of irrational forces; they acknowledge their Olympian gods who constitute a well-ordered and meaningful world. The more the Greeks begin to understand themselves, the more they adopt of this Olympian world and, so to speak, infuse its laws into the human mind.” (Snell 1953: 21)


Homer has also many words for our term ‘force’ and the meaning of each of these words is precise, concrete, and full of implications; so far from serving as abstract symbols of force, as do the later term dunamis which may be used of no matter what function. (Snell 1953: 20) Menos is the force in the limbs of a man who is burning to tackle a project. Alke is the defensive force that helps to ward off the enemy. Sthenos is the muscular force of the body, but also the forceful sway of the ruler. Kratos is supremacy, the superior force. Bie could be the original term of menos. Snell explains that Homeric man has not yet awakened to the fact that he possesses in his own soul the source of his powers, but neither does he attach the forces to his person by means of magical practices; he receives them as a natural and fitting donation from the gods. (Snell 1953: 21)


The same aggregation exists with the verbs concerning knowledge. None of the verbs that could be translated as ‘to know’ means a personal mental activity when a man tries to understand something. Gnonai, in Homer, is to recognize someone, sunienai – notice something by hearing from someone’s speech, eidenain – to have seen, sophos – someone who has a skill (carpenter), histor – witness, manthanein – get to use to something, epistasthai – to be practically good at something, noein – notice. Homer uses the prefix polu- to express an increase of knowledge: polufron and polumetis, ‘much pondering’ and ‘much-knowing’. As Snell highlights, quantity, not intensity, is Homer’s standard of judgment and of knowledge. (Snell 1953: 18) Quantity of knowledge comes simply from exposure to many parts of the world; there is no essence to be grasped behind appearances. In fact there are no appearances of things in this world. There are simply the things themselves. (Feyerabend 1975: 260–261) Later distinction between essence and appearance brings about a radical reordering of thinking structure.


Critical response to Snell’s view


Snell’s provocative linguistical research of the Homeric man as an aggregate, both physically and psychologically, appears somewhat unusual or counterintuitive. As it was said above, some scholars shake the assumption that soma only means a corpse, (Sullivan 1988) but main critical analysis concerns Snell’s view of Homeric pluralistic or fragmented psychology. For example that the absence of a single word encapsulated notions like self, mind, soul or consciousness in Homer should not be taken as an evidence that the concept of a unified soul or self was lacking. (Sullivan 1988: 2) Homer’s works contains only words that fit into dactylic hexameter. Thus, it may well be that Greek vocabulary in the time of Homer was far greater than the words we encounter in his poems. (Sullivan 1988: 3) On the other hand, there is no controversy among scholars that Homeric vocabulary intrinsically lacks abstract notions.


Sullivan also believes that Homeric heroes are strong personalities with distinctive traits. The name of heroes, as Sullivan argues, also point to separate individuals relating to their inner structure and further refers about the use of both the first personal pronoun and the first singular reflexive. (examples that refer to “I myself”: Il. 1.271, 5.495, 6.446, 7.101, 16.12)


For example, when Agamemnon, explaining how he came to be angry with Achilles, admits: “I myself (autos) took away his prize.” (Il. 19.89) According to Sullivan, such linguistic usage points to a capacity for self-awareness, even though this may not have been accompanied by conscious reflection about the self. (Sullivan 1988: 4)


On the other hand, this part of Homer used Dodds for explaining irrationality in early Greek. Agamemnon declares that it was not him who took Achilles’ mistress: “Not I was the cause of this act, but Zeus and my portion and the Erinys who walks in darkness: they it was who in the asserably put wild ate in my understanding, on that day when I arbitrarily took Achilles’ prize form him. So what could I do? Deity will always have its way.” (Il. 19.86) According to Dodds: “It would be a misunderstanding of the Greek concept of divine temptation or infatuation (ate) to read these words of Agamemnon as a weak excuse or evasion of responsibility.” (Dodds 2004: 3)


However, many other contemporary scholars and classicists disagree with Snell’s concept. Gaskin contends that Homeric decision-making stands up as a fully self-conscious, autonomous activity. (Gaskin 1990) Or even more that Homeric Greeks are recognisably unified selves, just like us. (Williams 1993) Pelliccia opposes to Snell’s view by demonstrating that Homeric organs like thumos in Homer recognizes the functions peculiar to them but subordinates them to the speaking person as parts of a whole. (Pellicia 1995: 27) Clarke seeks unitary concepts that are articulated in varying ways to produce a range of images. According to Clarke, relationship between mental life and the body in the Homeric poems is best characterised in terms of unity, (Clarke 1999: 12) whereas Porter assumes that Snell’s approach is loaded by prejudices of German Romantism about the Homeric mind. (Porter 2006)


Snell’s concept of paratactic aggregation of body and mind in Homer may be perceived as reductive, (Lateiner 2006) one-sided and an exaggerated explanation of Homeric psychology. On the other hand, Snell’s research and Feyerabend’s effort to aggregate all relevant interpretations of Archaic Greek supporting this view, indeed reveals some unique and significant aspect or archetype pattern of understanding the world.


Feyerabend’s World of Archaic Age as a Paratactic Aggregate


Already Snell attempts to describe the whole Archaic world-view and Feyerabend further develops the idea that Archaic man understood the entire world in the principles of paratactic aggregate as described above. For example, Feyerabend indicates paratactic treatment of events in the case of human motion when Achilles drags Hector along in the dust. (Il. 22.298) The process of dragging also contains the state of lying as an independent part, which together with other such parts, constitutes the motion. For the poet, time is composed of moments, similarly like Zeno argument of the arrow. (Feyerabend 1975: 180) The view that things, ideas, actions, and processes are agreggates of (relatively independent) parts becomes clear, according to Feyerabend, also from funeral inscriptions, passages of comedy, sophistic debates or medical and historical treatises. (Feyerabend 1999: 38)


The same is for world views. Archaic religion offers an opportunistic eclecticism that does not hesitate to add foreign gods to those already accepted. Greek myth is not one story but an aggregate of many stories and myths (often foreign). According to Levi-Strauss, what constitutes a myth is not the individual versions, but all the versions together. These versions can fundamentally, or in details, contradict to each other. For example, there are many places of birth and tombs of immortal gods. Such contradictions were not perceived as a problem in Archaic Age. It appears to be point of criticism in six century BC for Hecataeus and for philosophers as Heraclitus and Xenophanes. Greek Pantheon was an aggregate of generations of gods where foreign gods were added as well (Apollo). Every God manifested a special field of being, which were all together in dialectical relation. The natural world is subdivided into qualitatively different regions that are subjected to different laws. Poseidon says in Ilia’s 15,187ff [Lattimore tr.]:


…Since we are three brothers born by Rheia to Kronos,

Zeus and I and the third is Hades, lord of the dead men.

All was divided among us three ways, each given his domain.

I when the lots were shaken drew the grey sea to live in

Forever; Hades drew the lot of the mists and the darkness,

And Zeus was allotted the wide sky, in the cloud and the bright air.

But earth and high Olympos are common to all three. Therefore

I am no part of the mind of Zeus. Let him in tranquility

And powerful as he is stay satisfied with his third share.


The third generation of Olympic gods also gives a well-defined part of the world as their field of action – for example, Artemis is Goddess of archery and hunting, Athena is goddess of wisdom and war, Hephaestus is god of the forge, and Hermes is messenger god. Consequently, the list of the favored twelve gods sometimes changed, omitting one god in favor of another.


Dodds uses Murray’s metaphor “the inherited Conglomerate” for his description of religious growth of Archaic Greece. Its principle is agglomeration, not substitution. The Inherited Conglomerate was at the end of Archaic Age, historically intelligible as the reflex of changing human needs over many successive generations, but intellectually a mass of confusion. (Dodds 2004: 180) There was no Established Church to assure you that this was true and the other false. There was no “Greek view”, but only a muddle of conflicting answers. (Dodds 2004: 180)


“A new belief pattern very seldom effaces completely the pattern that was there before: either the old lives on as an element in the new-sometimes an unconfessed and half-unconscious element-or else the two persist side by side, logically incompatible, but contemporaneously accepted by different individuals or even by the same individual.” (Dodds 2004: 179)


Religious thought of Archaic Greek has an open and dynamic structure that lacks compactness, abstract and eternal principles of deity, and dogmatic statement about gods, humans and nature. An expression does not exist for “god-fearing” in the Iliad (Dodds 2004: 35) and there is no social stratum of priests in society, but still, Olympian gods constitute a well-ordered and meaningful world.


Achilles shield offers another possible example of paratactic logic and dynamic differenication of global order. (Il. 18.478–608) Achilles shield represents the view of the world and gives detailed description of the imagery starting from the shield’s center and moving outward, circle layer by circle layer. The shield is laid out as follows: the Earth, sky and sea, the sun, the moon and the constellation (Il. 18.484–89). “Two beautiful cities full of people”: in one a wedding and a law case are taking place; (Il. 18.490–508) the other city is besieged by one feuding army and the shield shows an ambush and a battle. (Il. 18.509–40) A field being ploughed for the third time. (Il. 18.541–49) A king’s estate where the harvest is being reaped. (Il. 18.550–60) A vineyard with grape pickers. (Il. 18.561–72) A “herd of straight-horned cattle”; the lead bull has been attacked by a pair of savage lions which the herdsmen and their dogs are trying to beat off. (Il. 18.573–86) A picture of a sheep farm. (Il. 18.587–89) A dancing-floor where young men and women are dancing. (Il. 18.590–606) The last circle represents the great stream of Ocean. (Il. 18.607–608)


German scholar, Wolfgang Schadewaldt, points out the principle of dichotomies and trichotomies of situations pictured on Achilles shield, arguing that these antitheses show the basic forms of a civilized, essentially orderly life. (Schadewaldt 1978: 56) Schadewaldt analyses that: all things, animals, carriages, cities, geographical regions, historical sequences, entire tribes are presented with a great sense for detail and for description of various processes. (Schadewaldt 1991: 59) In fact, Archaic world is indeed described in Homer in additive manner as aggregate of things and events without essence or substances and allows Feyerabend’s presumption that Archaic epistemological framework or logic is based on paratactic aggregate structure.


On the other hand, focusing on this effort, Feyerabend may be preceived as one-sided and in some aspects a naïve interpreter. The paratactic aggregate explanation of the Archaic age has its own limits. Clark concludes that Feyerabend’s own account is something like a myth. For example, Vernant (whom Feyerabend misses) claims that Greek theogonies and cosmogonies accorded with creation tales that told of the progressive emergence of an orderly world and, above all, were myths of governity. (Vernant 1982: 108) According to Vernant, the universe was a hiearchy of powers, which could not be represented by purely spatial schema or described in terms of position, distance, or movement but it is a complex and rigorous order expressed relations between agents. (Vernant 1982: 115) However, Feyerabend belives that this order which was established in a dramatic fashion so that there is always a danger of disruptive changes.




After research on the Homeric style from last century the paratactic discourse or logic was mentioned in many other archaic and antic orality and early writings. For example, in Hesiod’s Theogony, and Herodotus’ Histories, (Johnson 2004); Heraclitus, among other Ionian philosophers of Nature, in Xenophanes’s poems, Solon’s first elegy, Seminides’ poem on women, Pindaric ode, in dramas of Aeschylus, Euripides, in the poems of Empedocles and Parmenides, even in Plato’s Phaedrus. (Notopoulos 1999: 100–101)


Research in ethnomusicology regards logic and technique of parataxis as common ground structure of Greek traditional music. (Sarris et al. 2010; Holzapfel, Stylianou 2010) Parataxis was understood also in relation to the premonetary economy which is pervasively manifest in actual catalogue of list of places, gifts, generations of men, goods used in payment, etc. (Seaford 2004: 243) Paratactical organization is for example, also episodic narrative style of the Pentateuch and the Deuteronomy or Mark’s Gospel. (Aune 1987)


The Homeric world described as paratactic aggregate was, according to Feyerabend, gradually replaced under specific and highly idiosyncratic historical developments to new hypotactic thinking structure, which is substantial world of Ancient and Classical Greek philosophy. For example, the emergence of rational thought, is also very closely linked to changes in the social environment that characterized life in the Greek polis. (Vernant 1982) Feyerabend concludes that:


“In politics, abstract groups had replaced neighbourhoods (and the concrete relationships they embodied) as the units of political action (Cleisthenes); in economics, money replaced barter with its attention to context and detail; the relation between military leaders and their soldiers became increasingly impersonal; local Gods merged in the course of travel, tribal and cultural idiosyncracies were evened out by trade, politics and other types of international exchange, important parts of life became bland and colorless, and terms tied to specifics accordingly lost in content, or in importance, or they simply disappeared.” (Feyerabend 1999: 14)


This exaggerated assertion corected by Clark (2001) points to Feyerabend’s effort to giving account by enumerating instances that Archaic world-view and its change interferes every aspect of life. The transition can be traced, according to Feyerabend, already to Achilles’ anger when he had been offended by Agamemnon in the book 9 of Iliad. Achilles crosses the boundaries separating the rewards of honor from honor itself. (Feyerabend 1999: 21)


Feyerabend believes that it was history and not argument (Xenophanes’s immovable One) that replaced the earlier ideas about Olympic gods. (Feyerabend 1999: 57) Feyerabend calls this process ‘The Odyssey of Occidental Metaphysics’ and claims that rationalism and science started with Parmenides. (Feyerabend 2009: 186) One of the main characteristics of Feyerabend’s later philosophy is the opposition against the rationalist approach of objective reality grasped by eternal principles firstly introduced by Parmenides.


Pre-Socratics were introduced to the philosophy of science by Popper’s essay, Back to Pre-Socratics (1958). Feyerabend repeats Popper’s view about pre-Socratics and their contribution to the development of the natural science. According to both Popper and Feyerabend science, as a critical enterprise, begins with the pre-Socratics but they are different in evaluation. Both also unfortunatelly exhibits rather one-sided and oversimplified interpretations of pre-Socratic philosophy, particularly of Ionian thinkers.


Parmenides made an assumption that Being is and not-Being does not exist. The statement Being is –, is according to Feyerabend, the first conservation principle of the west. Parmenides’s One is the ultimate Being and ultimately identical with thinking. Parmenides argued that only Being exists and that change is an illusion. Since the only possible transformation of Being is into non-Being, but since non-Being does not exist, there can be no change. Being can have no subdivisions, hence Being is continuous.


Feyerabend urges those who find Parmenides’s arguments “primitive and linguistically absurd” to consider how many modern scientists repeat his general ideas without his rigor and coherence. “Nineteenth century point mechanics posited a ‘real’ world without colors, smells, etc.” (Feyerabend 1990) Feyerabend blames that Parmenides’s concept of Being and his rejection “of becoming” in philosophy stops the historical and dynamic world of nature of archaic Greek and Ionian philosophers for almost twenty-three centuries till the rise of evolutionary theories in biology and quantum theory in physics. (Feyerabend 1991: 114)


Feyerabend projects archaic paratactic thought to his philosophy and to postmodern framework of the 20th century. Postmodern ethos indeed shows affinity and interest to archaic cultures. Parataxis reveals again in visual art like in cubism, expressionism, and collages or in Dadaism. In poetry and in literature, parataxis is perceived to be the dominant mode of postindustrial experience. (Perelman 1993) Parataxis is one of the characteristics of postmodern world. North American critic, Ihab Hasan, provided a list of binary distinctions standing for the difference between modernism and postmodernism: purpose/play, design/chance, distance/participation, hypotaxis/parataxis, selection/combination, determinacy/indeterminacy. (Bertens 1997) Parataxis arises in films and video arts, in music, rhetoric, medias, cyberspace etc. Professor Walter Ong uses the term “secondary orality” for the paratactic character of our media-dominated world and contemporary electronic culture. (Ong 1982: 136)


Feyerabend states to not have any philosophy or theory of science in a strict sense. Nevertheless, Feyerabend’s pluralistic approach to philosophy of science, epistemology or to philosophy in general represents nothing else than paratactic aggregate. Science is, from Feyerabend’s historical point of view, an anarchistic enterprise without any strict rules and methodologies. Science is not coherent, but a collection of heterogeneous subjects, both in diachronic and synchronic sense. There is no “scientific world-view”, just that there is no uniform enterprise “science” except in the minds of metaphysicians and schoolmasters. (Feyerabend 1975: 249)


Feyerabend’s anarchistic epistemology means coordination instead of subordination and possess exactly the same structure as Feyerabend’s theory of myth, which is paratactic aggregate. Feyerabend explains his epistemological anarchism as a form of “dada” or “collage”, which are both paratactic techniques. Even Feyerabend’s own philosophical development reminds paratactic features with his continually changing of philosophical positions from logical positivism and nominalism to realism and than to various forms of relativism. Even Feyerabend’s biography, Killing Time (1995), describes that in his life he placed his career as opera singer, astronomer, soldier, theatre theoretician, theoretician of science, historian of science, professor of philosophy constantly moving from one academic appointment to another. (Feyerabend 1995)


Feyerabend’s publications constitute only collages of his texts and one book of three philosophical dialogues. (Feyerabend 1991) As author, Feyerabend perceives himself much often in the role of “storyteller” than “theoretician” and humour (the purest form of paratactic aggregate) was always a part of his writing and his life.


Feyerabend’s work, rhetoric argumentation, methodology, epistemology, ontology, his logic, social political opinions and whole world-view embodies the concept of paratactic aggregate. In Feyerabend’s pluralistic philosophy, the world that is the aggregate of relatively independent regions, absolutely opposes universal standards, universal laws, universal morals.




[1] Knowledge without Foundation (1961); On the Improvement of the Sciences and the Arts, and Possible Identity of the Two (1967); Against Method (1975); Lets Make More Movies (1975); Rationalism, Relativism and Scientific Method (1977); Science in a Free Society (1978); Wissentschaft als Kunst (1984); Farewell to Reason (1987); Three Dialogues on Knowledge (1991); Conquest of Abundance: A Tale of Abstraction Versus the Richness of Being (1999); Naturphilosophie (2009) and The Tyranny of Science (2011).




Aune, David E. The New Testament in its literary environment. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1987. ISBN 0-664-25018-1.


Beazley, John D., Ashmole, Bernard. Greek Sculpture and Painting. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1932. ISBN 0-521-11804-2.


Bertens, Hans (ed.). International postmodernism: theory and literary practice. Amsterdam: John Benjamin Publishing, 1997. ISBN 978-90-272-3445-2.


BREMMER, Jan. The early Greek concept of the soul. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987. ISBN 0-691-10190-6.


BUTLER, Christopher S. Structure and Function. Philadelphia: Benjamin B. V., 2003.

ISBN 978-1-58811-360-3.


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(Mgr. Luděk Brouček is a Ph.D. student in Department of Philosophy and History of Science at Charles University.)