The first part is a proem, in which Parmenides describes the journey of a young many on a chariot, going from darkness to light. The image, which we find also in the works of Plato, was a recurrent one also in ancient Buddhism; it may hence witness a kinship between the Western and the Indian philosophical traditions. The chariot is lead by the daughters of the sun to the temple of a goddess, that we may identify with nature of wisdom. It is the goddess to speak in the rest of the work.
The second part speaks about the way of truth. This is the most philosophically poignant section. It is here that Parmenides draws the utterly simple but extremely profound distinction between what there is and what is not, or between being and not being. Being is all that there is; not being cannot be. Under many respects, part two of Parmenides’s poem marks the birth of Western philosophy.
The third part lays down the way of opinion. This is the way in which most humans live their life, according to Parmenides: they believe in what appears to them, without properly using their reason to see below the surface. Philosophy is a way of life: philosophers go beyond the surface of appearance, they travel from the darkness of commonplace to the light of truth. In order to carry on their journey, they use reason to prove seemingly incredible conclusion. Parmenides’s attitude will be shared also by most of the subsequent Ancient Greek philosophers, including Plato and Aristotle. Just think of Plato’s allegory of the cave.
Further Online Readings:
The life of Parmenides as narrated by Diogenes Laërtius: