Throughout the extant fragments, Parmenides uses two different terms to refer to his Goddess: he uses the term θέα once only at 1.22, and he uses the term δαίμων twice at 1.3 and 12.3, respectively. Most translators of Parmenides, such as McKirahan, Hermann, Gallop, and Tarán, translate both words as referring to the same entity: the “Goddess,” It is my contention that Parmenides intended a distinction in the role of his Goddess by the use of his terms.
While throughout the history of Greek literature the meaning of θέα has remained unchanged, δαίμων has a much more complex history. Homer’s meaning of δαίμων refers mainly to an unidentified divinity in an anthropomorphic form, while the θέος can be clearly identified as a specific divinity. For Hesiod, it is implied that there is a difference in rank and power in that the word θέος refers to gods of the rank of the Olympian gods, whereas the word δαίμων refers to divinities of a lesser power and status, such as the many named personified abstractions. In lyric poetry, the meaning of δαίμων seems to be either the driving force behind a man’s destiny or the destiny itself. However, this varied history of the meaning of δαίμων begs the question of which meaning Parmenides means when he refers to his Goddess. I suggest that he intended a meaning of δαίμων that intermingles some of the previously established uses of δαίμων. By using this mixed meaning of δαίμων, I also suggest that Parmenides distinguishes the Goddess as playing a role as a θέα, and a separate role as a δαίμων.
Through a close reading of each of the fragments where the Goddess is mentioned, her specific roles can be determined. As a θέα, Parmenides’ Goddess is the authority behind the pact made with the youth through their handclasp, while she plays the role normally attributed to a δαίμων by hosting the mortal youth. As a δαίμων, the Goddess fulfils both the role of guide for the youth along his path, and as a helmsman for all things that is the agent behind the youth’s destiny. Parmenides uses each of these terms where he intends to specify the role that the Goddess is playing at that particular part of the poem.
The Next Generation: Papers by Undergraduate Classics Students