If Horses Could Draw


“But if cattle and horses or lions had hands, or were able to draw with their hands and do their work that men can do, horses would draw the forms of the gods like horses, and cattle like cattle, and they would make their bodies such as they each had themselves.”

Xenophanes of Colophon


Xeonophanes, a free thinker and poet, was a contemporary and outspoken critic of Pythagoras. He mocked the idea of transmigration of souls and scoffed at the possibility that a human soul could inhabit another animal.  Like Thales before him, Xenophanes argued for the principles of natural phenomena.  Thales believed the first principle to be water, whereas Xenophanes argued for the possibility of mud.  We may smile at this thought; however his proof was in the fossil remains of sea-creatures embedded in the earth.  It seemed that the earth was at one time in a muddy state before drying up.

What was even more forward thinking, in my opinion, was his anticipation of Socrates’ caution regarding claims of certain knowledge.  He stated that “no human being will ever know the Truth, for even if they happen to say it by chance, they would not even known they had done so.”

Xenophanes’ influence was keenly felt by those who followed him, especially given his criticism of the Homeric gods still revered throughout the Hellenistic world. He eschewed their shameful traits that imitated the flaws of humanity.  He considered that they were simply a reflection of the prevailing society, undeserving of respect or worship.  He declared, “If horses could draw, they would draw their gods like horses.” 

One thing is certain; Xenophanes had a way with words and was not afraid to use them.

“It takes a wise man to recognize a wise man.”

Xenophanes of Colophon