Xenophanes of Colophon (570 - 480 BCE) was a philosopher and poet who lived in various parts of the Greek world. Only fragments of his work survive, but they include lots of criticism and satire. He slammed hero-worship of successful athletes, something as common in ancient Greece as in the present day, and he was very critical of religion:

  • Homer and Hesiod attributed to the gods all things which are disreputable and worthy of blame when done by men; and they told of them many lawless deeds, stealing, adultery, and deception of each other.
  • But mortals suppose that the gods are born (as they themselves are), and that they wear man's clothing and have human voice and body.
  • And Greeks suppose the gods to be like men in their passions as well as in their forms; and accordingly they represent them, each race in forms like their own, in the words of Xenophanes Ethiopians make their gods black and snub-nosed, Thracians red-haired and with blue eyes; so also they conceive the spirits of the gods to be like themselves.
  • But if cattle or lions had hands, so as to paint with their hands and produce works of art as men do, they would paint their gods and give them bodies in form like their own-horses like horses, cattle like cattle.

In other words, people create gods in their likeness, whatever that likeness might be.

About Pythagoras's belief in reincarnation, he stated:

  • Now, however, I come to another topic, and I will show the way. . . They say that once on a time when a hound was badly treated a passer-by pitied him and said, 'Stop beating him, for it is the soul of a dear friend; I recognised him on hearing his voice.'

For his part, he thought that there was a single supreme god that is very unlike humanity, and that may be a pantheist world-soul:

  • God is one, supreme among gods and men, and not like mortals in body or in mind.
  • But without effort he sets in motion all things by mind and thought.


  • For all things come from earth, and all things end by becoming earth.
  • All things that come into being and grow are earth and water.
  • For we are all sprung from earth and water.


  • Accordingly there has not been a man, nor will there be, who knows distinctly what I say about the gods or in regard to all things, for even if one chances for the most part to say what is true, still he would not know; but every one thinks he knows.


This article was originally at the Beacon Library (now defunct).