A Reader Submission
The Ancient Greek Concept of Non-Being
What do chimeras, pegasus, centaurs, and other composite mythical creatures share with the philosophical concept of non-being?
by Michael Bakaoukas M.Sc., Ph.D. University of Piraeus, Greece
My paper on the ancient Greek concept of non-being is an excerpt from my book Nothing Exists. A History of the Philosophy of Non-Being (Xlibris, Philadelphia, USA, 2002 - not yet published) -- a book which in general belongs to the species philosophical, loosely ruminative and comparative-historical rather than to the species strictly argumentative, systematic-analytical. The philosophical issue of non-being has stayed alive down the centuries. Ancient Greek philosophers used to treat not-being as chimera. The chimera is philosophers' choice of example when they need a composite non-existent mythological animal (Iliad 6.181). As a matter of fact, Aristotle prefers the goat-stag (tragelaphos) and the centaur. In the Hellenistic period, the centaur, the scylla and the chimera are the standard examples. In medieval texts the chimera is more popular than any of the other composite animals. For centuries philosophers have used not-being and chimera as experimental BEINGS, keeping them on a minimum of being. In a way, not-being and chimera owe them their "life." Do Centaur, Goat-Stag and Pegasus, who are not-being's kin, exist? They do certainly have a place in man's memory. The first philosophical analysis of "not-being" found in the treatise On What is Not, was written by Gorgias the sophist in the 5th c. BC. Gorgias' treatise is the origin and the beginning of the philosophical debate over non-being, which continues to take place up to the present day.
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