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

Lighthouse

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

23 thoughts on “If Horses Could Draw

  1. I suspect early man worshiped the beasts and elements ( at least cave paintings hint at that ), I wonder about horses, if they feared us or loved us so symbiotic as we have become. Perhaps revere might be the word.

    As for drawing, horses do draw… carriages.

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  2. Then the rhyme came, “if wishes were horses beggars would ride…..” 16 th century maybe.
    Then came another famous derivation from a famous analyist, ” If wishes were horses they would be carrying the coffins of your dearest friends, and closest relatives.” Rollo May? Not sure.
    Why since the quotation stays with me, am I forgetting the author…
    I wonder if they all riffed on this original quotation?
    Does the word xenophobia came from xenophane, who I have never heard of, btw?
    Kudos Rebecca. You’re making me think, which I tend to avoid at all costs.

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    • You are absolutely right!!!

      “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride” is an English language proverb and nursery rhyme, originating in the 16th century. It means that results are achieved through action, not by wishing. I have a feeling Xenophanes would agree. I can’t find a connection to xenophobia…

      Here is the modern version (according to Wikipedia)
      If wishes were horses

      Beggars would ride:
      If turnips were bayonets
      I would wear one by my side

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  3. Being a german, it is hard for me to understand this language. But another thing is certain: you have a way with words and you are not afraid to use them. Thank you.

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    • Vielen Dank für Ihre freundlichen Worte und für den Besuch meines Blogs. Ich bin froh, dass wir über den angeschlossenen “Blogger Meilen.” Ich freue mich auf unsere weitere Diskussion. Ich kann nicht Deutsch sprechen, damit ich den Google Übersetzer verwenden. Mein Sohn ist das Studium der deutschen Sprache an der Universität. Eines Tages werde ich nach Deutschland zurück und nehmen Sie ihn mit, wie mein Dolmetscher.

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  4. Hello Rebecca,

    This Gods V Humans thing again!

    A lot of directions you turn in these days have some form of this topic coming through?

    The discovery channel covers this by going into the Aliens created us all, very very very questionable area – why they do this is a puzzle in its self?

    To me this could all be cleared up if we know who these people thought the GODS were?

    Rebecca : Do you have any idea who they thought their GODs to be + who where they to draw ?

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