Elea’s past in Ascea: fugitives, philosophers, and poets
Ascea, in the province of Salerno (Campania), is home to the ruins of Elea – also known as Velia –, an ancient Greek colony founded in the 6th century BC by the people of Phocaea, who ran away from Ionia (part of modern day Turkey) rather than submit to Persian rule. The ancient town is where the school of philosophy of Xenophanes of Colophon, Parmenides, Zeno and Melissus of Samos was founded.
Here is how one of Italy’s greatest poets, Giuseppe Ungaretti, described it:
“So this is Elea, the city founded by fugitives; this is Velia, where Cicero was running to when he was killed? A hill, and up above, a castle that looks like the great carcass of a rooster between two towers – that’s all? […] Elea, this is Elea, the city of fugitives where even the world ended up being an absence: this is Elea, oh, absent city! Oh, rhapsode Xenophanes who came here from your invaded Ionia, the fragments that remain of your works are no larger than the terracotta chips from the first and fourth century that we can pick up by the handful climbing up…”
“There can be no space – or emptiness, your disciple Parmenides would insist with you. He will look out from this high ground, just like me, and he will see […] the horizon-less sky merge with the sea in the same, infinite gray; he will have new proof that the infinite, just like the finite, is an illusion. And if there can be no space, if there can be no emptiness, if the only real substance takes up everything, non-being is a delusion of the senses; even death is a fallacy, like movement, or change.”
“And you, desperate city, and you, first open eyes, oh Eleates, nothing is left but a little dust? Your mortal form is an illusion, just like you said, Parmenides; but I can hear your voice in this silence: what was immortal matter within you, is immortal. Even in this short-lived body of mine” (translated from G. Ungaretti, “Viaggio nel Mezzogiorno”, Alfredo Guida Editore, Naples 1995).