Empedocles

Empedocles

Overview
Empedocles was a Greek
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 pre-Socratic philosopher
Pre-Socratic philosophy
Pre-Socratic philosophy is Greek philosophy before Socrates . In Classical antiquity, the Presocratic philosophers were called physiologoi...

 and a citizen of Agrigentum
Agrigento
Agrigento , is a city on the southern coast of Sicily, Italy, and capital of the province of Agrigento. It is renowned as the site of the ancient Greek city of Akragas , one of the leading cities of Magna Graecia during the golden...

, a Greek city in Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

. Empedocles' philosophy is best known for being the originator of the cosmogenic
Cosmogenesis
Cosmogenesis is the origin and development of the cosmos. This term "Cosmogenesis" was used by Helena P. Blavatsky to describe the content of Volume I of her two-volume The Secret Doctrine, published in 1888; volume II was called "Anthropogenesis" or the origin of humanity.-Teilhard...

 theory of the four Classical elements. He also proposed powers called Love and Strife which would act as forces to bring about the mixture and separation of the elements. These physical speculations were part of a history of the universe which also dealt with the origin and development of life.
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Encyclopedia
Empedocles was a Greek
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 pre-Socratic philosopher
Pre-Socratic philosophy
Pre-Socratic philosophy is Greek philosophy before Socrates . In Classical antiquity, the Presocratic philosophers were called physiologoi...

 and a citizen of Agrigentum
Agrigento
Agrigento , is a city on the southern coast of Sicily, Italy, and capital of the province of Agrigento. It is renowned as the site of the ancient Greek city of Akragas , one of the leading cities of Magna Graecia during the golden...

, a Greek city in Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

. Empedocles' philosophy is best known for being the originator of the cosmogenic
Cosmogenesis
Cosmogenesis is the origin and development of the cosmos. This term "Cosmogenesis" was used by Helena P. Blavatsky to describe the content of Volume I of her two-volume The Secret Doctrine, published in 1888; volume II was called "Anthropogenesis" or the origin of humanity.-Teilhard...

 theory of the four Classical elements. He also proposed powers called Love and Strife which would act as forces to bring about the mixture and separation of the elements. These physical speculations were part of a history of the universe which also dealt with the origin and development of life. Influenced by the Pythagoreans, he supported the doctrine of reincarnation
Reincarnation
Reincarnation best describes the concept where the soul or spirit, after the death of the body, is believed to return to live in a new human body, or, in some traditions, either as a human being, animal or plant...

. Empedocles is generally considered the last Greek philosopher to record his ideas in verse. Some of his work survives, more than in the case of any other Presocratic philosopher. Empedocles' death was mythologized by ancient writers, and has been the subject of a number of literary treatments.

Life



Empedocles was born, c. 490 BC, at Agrigentum (Acragas) in Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

 to a distinguished family. Very little is known about his life. His father Meto seems to have been instrumental in overthrowing the tyrant of Agrigentum, presumably Thrasydaeus
Thrasydaeus
Thrasydaeus, tyrant of Agrigentum, was the son and successor of Theron. Already during his father's lifetime he had been appointed to the government of Himera, where, by his violent and arbitrary conduct, he alienated the citizens, so that they were close to revolt...

 in 470 BC. Empedocles continued the democratic tradition of his house by helping to overthrow the succeeding oligarchic government. He is said to have been magnanimous in his support of the poor; severe in persecuting the overbearing conduct of the aristocrats
Aristocracy
Aristocracy , is a form of government in which a few elite citizens rule. The term derives from the Greek aristokratia, meaning "rule of the best". In origin in Ancient Greece, it was conceived of as rule by the best qualified citizens, and contrasted with monarchy...

; and he even declined the sovereignty of the city when it was offered to him.

His brilliant oratory, his penetrating knowledge of nature, and the reputation of his marvellous powers, including the curing of diseases, and averting epidemics, produced many myths and stories surrounding his name. He was said to have been a magician and controller of storms, and he himself, in his famous poem Purifications seems to have promised miraculous powers, including the destruction of evil, the curing of old age, and the controlling of wind and rain.

Empedocles was acquainted or connected by friendship with the physicians Acron
Acron
Acron, son of Xenon, was an eminent Greek physician born at Agrigentum. His exact date is not known; but, as he is mentioned as being contemporary with Empedocles, who died about the beginning of the Peloponnesian war, he must have lived in the fifth century BC...

 and Pausanias
Pausanias of Sicily
Pausanias was a native of Sicily in the 5th century BC, who belonged to the family of the Asclepiadae, and whose father's name was Anchitus. He was a physician, and an eromenos of the philosopher Empedocles, who dedicated to him his poem On Nature...

, who was his eromenos; with various Pythagorean
Pythagorean
Pythagorean means of or pertaining to the ancient Ionian mathematician, philosopher, and music theorist Pythagoras. See:-Philosophy:* Pythagoreanism is a term used for the esoteric and metaphysical beliefs purported to have been held by Pythagoras....

s; and even, it is said, with Parmenides
Parmenides
Parmenides of Elea was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the southern coast of Italy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides...

 and Anaxagoras
Anaxagoras
Anaxagoras was a Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. Born in Clazomenae in Asia Minor, Anaxagoras was the first philosopher to bring philosophy from Ionia to Athens. He attempted to give a scientific account of eclipses, meteors, rainbows, and the sun, which he described as a fiery mass larger than...

. The only pupil of Empedocles who is mentioned is the sophist and rhetorician Gorgias
Gorgias
Gorgias ,Greek sophist, pre-socratic philosopher and rhetorician, was a native of Leontini in Sicily. Along with Protagoras, he forms the first generation of Sophists. Several doxographers report that he was a pupil of Empedocles, although he would only have been a few years younger...

.

Timaeus
Timaeus (historian)
Timaeus , ancient Greek historian, was born at Tauromenium in Sicily. Driven out of Sicily by Agathocles, he migrated to Athens, where he studied rhetoric under a pupil of Isocrates and lived for fifty years...

 and Dicaearchus
Dicaearchus
Dicaearchus of Messana was a Greek philosopher, cartographer, geographer, mathematician and author. Dicaearchus was Aristotle's student in the Lyceum. Very little of his work remains extant. He wrote on the history and geography of Greece, of which his most important work was his Life of Greece...

 spoke of the journey of Empedocles to the Peloponnese
Peloponnese
The Peloponnese, Peloponnesos or Peloponnesus , is a large peninsula , located in a region of southern Greece, forming the part of the country south of the Gulf of Corinth...

, and of the admiration which was paid to him there; others mentioned his stay at Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

, and in the newly-founded colony of Thurii
Thurii
Thurii , called also by some Latin writers Thurium , for a time also Copia and Copiae, was a city of Magna Graecia, situated on the Tarentine gulf, within a short distance of the site of Sybaris, whose place it may be considered as having taken...

, 446 BC; there are also fanciful reports of him travelling far to the east to the lands of the Magi
Magi
Magi is a term, used since at least the 4th century BC, to denote a follower of Zoroaster, or rather, a follower of what the Hellenistic world associated Zoroaster with, which...

.

According to Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

, he died at the age of sixty, (c. 430 BC) even though other writers have him living up to the age of one hundred and nine. Likewise, there are myths concerning his death: a tradition, which is traced to Heraclides Ponticus
Heraclides Ponticus
Heraclides Ponticus , also known as Herakleides and Heraklides of Pontus, was a Greek philosopher and astronomer who lived and died at Heraclea Pontica, now Karadeniz Ereğli, Turkey. He is best remembered for proposing that the earth rotates on its axis, from west to east, once every 24 hours...

, represented him as having been removed from the Earth; whereas others had him perishing in the flames of Mount Etna.

A contemporary Life of Empedocles by Xanthus
Xanthus (historian)
Xanthus of Lydia was a native Lydian historian and logographer who, during the mid-fifth century BC, wrote texts on the history of Lydia known as Lydiaca . Xanthus also wrote occasionally about geology. It is believed that Xanthus was the earliest historian to have written a significant amount on...

 has been lost.

Works


Empedocles is considered the last Greek philosopher to write in verse and the surviving fragments of his teaching are from two poems, Purifications and On Nature. Empedocles was undoubtedly acquainted with the didactic poems of Xenophanes
Xenophanes
of Colophon was a Greek philosopher, theologian, poet, and social and religious critic. Xenophanes life was one of travel, having left Ionia at the age of 25 he continued to travel throughout the Greek world for another 67 years. Some scholars say he lived in exile in Siciliy...

 and Parmenides
Parmenides
Parmenides of Elea was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the southern coast of Italy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides...

 - allusions to the latter can be found in the fragments, - but he seems to have surpassed them in the animation and richness of his style, and in the clearness of his descriptions and diction. Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 called him the father of rhetoric
Rhetoric
Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...

, and, although he acknowledged only the meter
Meter (poetry)
In poetry, metre is the basic rhythmic structure of a verse or lines in verse. Many traditional verse forms prescribe a specific verse metre, or a certain set of metres alternating in a particular order. The study of metres and forms of versification is known as prosody...

 as a point of comparison between the poems of Empedocles and the epics of Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

, he described Empedocles as Homeric and powerful in his diction. Lucretius
Lucretius
Titus Lucretius Carus was a Roman poet and philosopher. His only known work is an epic philosophical poem laying out the beliefs of Epicureanism, De rerum natura, translated into English as On the Nature of Things or "On the Nature of the Universe".Virtually no details have come down concerning...

 speaks of him with enthusiasm, and evidently viewed him as his model. The two poems together comprised 5000 lines. About 550 lines of his poetry survive, although because ancient writers rarely mentioned which poem they were quoting, it is not always certain to which poem the quotes belong. Some scholars now believe that there was only one poem, and that the Purifications merely formed the beginning of On Nature.

Purifications


We possess only about 100 lines of his Purifications. It seems to have given a mythical account of the world which may, nevertheless, have been part of Empedocles' philosophical system. The first lines of the poem are preserved by Diogenes Laërtius
Diogenes Laertius
Diogenes Laertius was a biographer of the Greek philosophers. Nothing is known about his life, but his surviving Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers is one of the principal surviving sources for the history of Greek philosophy.-Life:Nothing is definitively known about his life...

:

Friends who inhabit the mighty town by tawny Acragas

which crowns the citadel, caring for good deeds,

greetings; I, an immortal God, no longer mortal,

wander among you, honoured by all,

adorned with holy diadems and blooming garlands.

To whatever illustrious towns I go,

I am praised by men and women, and accompanied

by thousands, who thirst for deliverance,

some ask for prophecies, and some entreat,

for remedies against all kinds of disease.


It was probably this work which contained a story about souls, where we are told that there were once spirits who lived in a state of bliss, but having committed a crime (the nature of which is unknown) they were punished by being forced to become mortal beings, reincarnated
Reincarnation
Reincarnation best describes the concept where the soul or spirit, after the death of the body, is believed to return to live in a new human body, or, in some traditions, either as a human being, animal or plant...

 from body to body. Human
Human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

s, animals, and even plants are such spirits. The moral conduct recommended in the poem may allow us to become like gods
Pantheon (gods)
A pantheon is a set of all the gods of a particular polytheistic religion or mythology.Max Weber's 1922 opus, Economy and Society discusses the link between a...

 again.

On Nature


There are about 450 lines of his poem On Nature extant, including 70 lines which have been reconstructed from some papyrus scraps known as the Strasbourg Papyrus. The poem originally consisted of 2000 lines of hexameter
Hexameter
Hexameter is a metrical line of verse consisting of six feet. It was the standard epic metre in classical Greek and Latin literature, such as in the Iliad and Aeneid. Its use in other genres of composition include Horace's satires, and Ovid's Metamorphoses. According to Greek mythology, hexameter...

 verse, and was addressed to Pausanias
Pausanias of Sicily
Pausanias was a native of Sicily in the 5th century BC, who belonged to the family of the Asclepiadae, and whose father's name was Anchitus. He was a physician, and an eromenos of the philosopher Empedocles, who dedicated to him his poem On Nature...

. It was this poem which outlined his philosophical system. In it, Empedocles explains not only the nature and history of the universe, including his theory of the four classical element
Classical element
Many philosophies and worldviews have a set of classical elements believed to reflect the simplest essential parts and principles of which anything consists or upon which the constitution and fundamental powers of anything are based. Most frequently, classical elements refer to ancient beliefs...

s, but he describes theories on causation, perception, and thought, as well as explanations of terrestrial phenomena and biological processes.

Philosophy



Although acquainted with the theories of the Eleatics
Eleatics
The Eleatics were a school of pre-Socratic philosophers at Elea , a Greek colony in Campania, Italy. The group was founded in the early fifth century BCE by Parmenides. Other members of the school included Zeno of Elea and Melissus of Samos...

 and the Pythagoreans, Empedocles did not belong to any one definite school. An eclectic
Eclecticism
Eclecticism is a conceptual approach that does not hold rigidly to a single paradigm or set of assumptions, but instead draws upon multiple theories, styles, or ideas to gain complementary insights into a subject, or applies different theories in particular cases.It can sometimes seem inelegant or...

 in his thinking, he combined much that had been suggested by Parmenides
Parmenides
Parmenides of Elea was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the southern coast of Italy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides...

, Pythagoras
Pythagoras
Pythagoras of Samos was an Ionian Greek philosopher, mathematician, and founder of the religious movement called Pythagoreanism. Most of the information about Pythagoras was written down centuries after he lived, so very little reliable information is known about him...

 and the Ionian schools. He was both a firm believer in Orphic mysteries
Orphism (religion)
Orphism is the name given to a set of religious beliefs and practices in the ancient Greek and the Hellenistic world, as well as by the Thracians, associated with literature ascribed to the mythical poet Orpheus, who descended into Hades and returned...

, as well as a scientific thinker and a precursor of physical science
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

. Aristotle mentions Empedocles among the Ionic philosophers, and he places him in very close relation to the atomist
Atomism
Atomism is a natural philosophy that developed in several ancient traditions. The atomists theorized that the natural world consists of two fundamental parts: indivisible atoms and empty void.According to Aristotle, atoms are indestructible and immutable and there are an infinite variety of shapes...

 philosophers and to Anaxagoras
Anaxagoras
Anaxagoras was a Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. Born in Clazomenae in Asia Minor, Anaxagoras was the first philosopher to bring philosophy from Ionia to Athens. He attempted to give a scientific account of eclipses, meteors, rainbows, and the sun, which he described as a fiery mass larger than...

.

Empedocles, like the Ionian philosophers and the atomists, tried to find the basis of all change. They did not, like Heraclitus
Heraclitus
Heraclitus of Ephesus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, a native of the Greek city Ephesus, Ionia, on the coast of Asia Minor. He was of distinguished parentage. Little is known about his early life and education, but he regarded himself as self-taught and a pioneer of wisdom...

, consider coming into existence
Existence
In common usage, existence is the world we are aware of through our senses, and that persists independently without them. In academic philosophy the word has a more specialized meaning, being contrasted with essence, which specifies different forms of existence as well as different identity...

 and motion as the existence of things, and rest and tranquillity as the non-existence. This is because they had derived from the Eleatics the conviction that an existence could not pass into non-existence, and vice versa. In order to allow change to occur in the world, against the views of the Eleatics, they viewed changes as the result of mixture and separation of unalterable substances. Thus Empedocles said that a coming into existence from a non-existence, as well as a complete death and annihilation, are impossible; what we call coming into existence and death is only mixture
Mixture
In chemistry, a mixture is a material system made up by two or more different substances which are mixed together but are not combined chemically...

 and separation of what was mixed.

The four elements


It was Empedocles who established four ultimate elements which make all the structures in the world - fire
Fire (classical element)
Fire has been an important part of all cultures and religions from pre-history to modern day and was vital to the development of civilization. It has been regarded in many different contexts throughout history, but especially as a metaphysical constant of the world.-Greek and Roman tradition:Fire...

, air
Air (classical element)
Air is often seen as a universal power or pure substance. Its supposed fundamental importance to life can be seen in words such as aspire, inspire, perspire and spirit, all derived from the Latin spirare.-Greek and Roman tradition:...

, water
Water (classical element)
Water is one of the elements in ancient Greek philosophy, in the Asian Indian system Panchamahabhuta, and in the Chinese cosmological and physiological system Wu Xing...

, earth
Earth (classical element)
Earth, home and origin of humanity, has often been worshipped in its own right with its own unique spiritual tradition.-European tradition:Earth is one of the four classical elements in ancient Greek philosophy and science. It was commonly associated with qualities of heaviness, matter and the...

. Empedocles called these four elements "roots", which, in typical fashion, he also identified with the mythical names of Zeus
Zeus
In the ancient Greek religion, Zeus was the "Father of Gods and men" who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He was the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His Roman counterpart is Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart is Tinia.Zeus was the child of Cronus...

, Hera
Hera
Hera was the wife and one of three sisters of Zeus in the Olympian pantheon of Greek mythology and religion. Her chief function was as the goddess of women and marriage. Her counterpart in the religion of ancient Rome was Juno. The cow and the peacock were sacred to her...

, Nestis
Persephone
In Greek mythology, Persephone , also called Kore , is the daughter of Zeus and the harvest-goddess Demeter, and queen of the underworld; she was abducted by Hades, the god-king of the underworld....

, and Aidoneus
Aidoneus
Aidoneus was a mythical king of the Molossians in Epirus, who is represented as the husband of Persephone. After Theseus, with the assistance of Pirithous, had carried off Helen and concealed her at Aphidnae, he went to Epirus to procure for Pirithous Kore, the daughter of Aidoneus, as a reward...

. Empedocles never used the term "element" (stoicheion), which seems to have been first used by Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

. According to the different proportions in which these four indestructible and unchangeable elements are combined with each other the difference of the structure is produced. It is in the aggregation and segregation of elements thus arising, that Empedocles, like the atomists, found the real process which corresponds to what is popularly termed growth, increase or decrease. Nothing new comes or can come into being; the only change that can occur is a change in the juxtaposition of element with element. This theory of the four elements became the standard dogma
Dogma
Dogma is the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or a particular group or organization. It is authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted, or diverged from, by the practitioners or believers...

 for the next two thousand years.

Love and Strife


The four elements are, however, simple, eternal, and unalterable, and as change is the consequence of their mixture and separation, it was also necessary to suppose the existence of moving powers - to bring about mixture and separation. The four elements are eternally brought into union, and eternally parted from each other, by two divine powers, Love
Love
Love is an emotion of strong affection and personal attachment. In philosophical context, love is a virtue representing all of human kindness, compassion, and affection. Love is central to many religions, as in the Christian phrase, "God is love" or Agape in the Canonical gospels...

 and Strife. Love explains the attraction of different forms of matter, and Strife accounts for their separation. If the elements are the content of the universe, then Love and Strife explain their variation and harmony. Love and Strife are attractive and repulsive forces which the ordinary eye can see working amongst people, but which really pervade the universe. They alternately hold empire over things, - neither, however, being ever quite absent.

The sphere of Empedocles


As the best and original state, there was a time when the pure elements and the two powers co-existed in a condition of rest and inertness in the form of a sphere. The elements existed together in their purity, without mixture and separation, and the uniting power of Love predominated in the sphere: the separating power of Strife guarded the extreme edges of the sphere. Since that time, strife gained more sway and the bond which kept the pure elementary substances together in the sphere was dissolved. The elements became the world of phenomena we see today, full of contrasts and oppositions, operated on by both Love and Strife. The sphere being the embodiment of pure existence is the embodiment or representative of god. Empedocles assumed a cyclical universe whereby the elements return and prepare the formation of the sphere for the next period of the universe.

Cosmogony


Since the time of the sphere, Strife has gained more sway; and the actual world is full of contrasts and oppositions, due to the combined action of both principles. Empedocles attempted to explain the separation of elements, the formation of earth and sea, of Sun and Moon, of atmosphere. He also dealt with the first origin of plants and animals, and with the physiology
Physiology
Physiology is the science of the function of living systems. This includes how organisms, organ systems, organs, cells, and bio-molecules carry out the chemical or physical functions that exist in a living system. The highest honor awarded in physiology is the Nobel Prize in Physiology or...

 of humans. As the elements entered into combinations, there appeared strange results - heads without necks, arms without shoulders. Then as these fragmentary structures met, there were seen horned heads on human bodies, bodies of oxen with human heads, and figures of double sex. But most of these products of natural forces disappeared as suddenly as they arose; only in those rare cases where the parts were found to be adapted to each other, did the complex structures last. Thus the organic universe sprang from spontaneous aggregations, which suited each other as if this had been intended. Soon various influences reduced the creatures of double sex to a male and a female, and the world was replenished with organic life. It is possible to see this theory as an anticipation of Darwin
Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...

's theory of natural selection
Natural selection
Natural selection is the nonrandom process by which biologic traits become either more or less common in a population as a function of differential reproduction of their bearers. It is a key mechanism of evolution....

, although Empedocles was not trying to explain evolution
Evolution
Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

.

Perception and knowledge


Empedocles is credited with the first comprehensive theory of light and vision. He put forward the idea that we see objects because light streams out of our eyes and touches them. While flawed in hindsight, this became the fundamental basis on which later Greek philosophers and mathematicians, such as Euclid
Euclid
Euclid , fl. 300 BC, also known as Euclid of Alexandria, was a Greek mathematician, often referred to as the "Father of Geometry". He was active in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy I...

, would construct some of the most important theories on light, vision and optics.

Knowledge is explained by the principle that the elements in the things outside us are perceived by the corresponding elements in ourselves. Like is known by like. The whole body is full of pores, (and hence respiration
Cellular respiration
Cellular respiration is the set of the metabolic reactions and processes that take place in the cells of organisms to convert biochemical energy from nutrients into adenosine triphosphate , and then release waste products. The reactions involved in respiration are catabolic reactions that involve...

 takes place over the whole frame). In the organs of sense these pores are specially adapted to receive the effluences which are continually rising from bodies around us; and in this way perception
Perception
Perception is the process of attaining awareness or understanding of the environment by organizing and interpreting sensory information. All perception involves signals in the nervous system, which in turn result from physical stimulation of the sense organs...

 is explained. Thus in vision, certain particles go forth from the eye to meet similar particles given forth from the object, and the resultant contact constitutes vision. Perception is not merely a passive reflection of external objects.

Empedocles noted the limitation and narrowness of human perceptions. We see only a part, but fancy that we have grasped the whole. But the senses cannot lead to truth; thought and reflection must look at the thing on every side. It is the business of a philosopher, while laying bare the fundamental difference of elements, to display the identity that exists between what seem unconnected parts of the universe.

Respiration


In a famous fragment, Empedocles attempted to explain the phenomena of respiration
Respiration (physiology)
'In physiology, respiration is defined as the transport of oxygen from the outside air to the cells within tissues, and the transport of carbon dioxide in the opposite direction...

 by means of an elaborate analogy with the clepsydra
Water thief
This term refers to three devices: one ancient and two modern.1. A water thief is a rubber fitting that attaches to an unthreaded faucet on one end and a common garden hose on the other. It is commonly used to fill fresh water tanks in recreational vehicles when a threaded hose bib is not...

, an ancient device for transmitting liquids from one vessel to another. This fragment has sometimes been connected to a passage in Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

's Physics
Physics (Aristotle)
The Physics of Aristotle is one of the foundational books of Western science and philosophy...

where Aristotle refers to people who twisted wineskins and captured air in clepsydras to demonstrate that void
Vacuum
In everyday usage, vacuum is a volume of space that is essentially empty of matter, such that its gaseous pressure is much less than atmospheric pressure. The word comes from the Latin term for "empty". A perfect vacuum would be one with no particles in it at all, which is impossible to achieve in...

 does not exist. There is however, no evidence that Empedocles performed any experiment with clepsydras. The fragment certainly implies that Empedocles knew about the corporeality
Matter
Matter is a general term for the substance of which all physical objects consist. Typically, matter includes atoms and other particles which have mass. A common way of defining matter is as anything that has mass and occupies volume...

 of air, but he says nothing whatever about the void. The clepsydra was a common utensil and everyone who used it must have known, in some sense, that the invisible air could resist liquid.

Reincarnation


Like Pythagoras
Pythagoras
Pythagoras of Samos was an Ionian Greek philosopher, mathematician, and founder of the religious movement called Pythagoreanism. Most of the information about Pythagoras was written down centuries after he lived, so very little reliable information is known about him...

, Empedocles believed in the transmigration of the soul, that souls can be reincarnated between humans, animals and even plants. For Empedocles, all living things were on the same spiritual plane; plants and animals are links in a chain where humans are a link too. Empedocles urged a vegetarian lifestyle, since the bodies of animals are the dwelling places of punished souls. Wise people, who have learned the secret of life, are next to the divine
Divinity
Divinity and divine are broadly applied but loosely defined terms, used variously within different faiths and belief systems — and even by different individuals within a given faith — to refer to some transcendent or transcendental power or deity, or its attributes or manifestations in...

, and their souls, free from the cycle of reincarnations, are able to rest in happiness for eternity.

Death and literary treatments



Diogenes Laërtius
Diogenes Laertius
Diogenes Laertius was a biographer of the Greek philosophers. Nothing is known about his life, but his surviving Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers is one of the principal surviving sources for the history of Greek philosophy.-Life:Nothing is definitively known about his life...

 records the legend that he died by throwing himself into an active volcano (Mount Etna
Mount Etna
Mount Etna is an active stratovolcano on the east coast of Sicily, close to Messina and Catania. It is the tallest active volcano in Europe, currently standing high, though this varies with summit eruptions; the mountain is 21 m higher than it was in 1981.. It is the highest mountain in...

 in Sicily), so that people would believe his body had vanished and he had turned into an immortal god; the volcano, however, threw back one of his bronze sandals, revealing the deceit. Another legend maintains that he threw himself into the volcano to prove to his disciples that he was immortal; he believed he would come back as a god among men after being devoured by the fire.

In Icaro-Menippus, a comedic dialogue written by the second century satirist Lucian of Samosata, Empedocles’ final fate is re-evaluated. Rather than being incinerated in the fires of Mount Etna, he was carried up into the heavens by a volcanic eruption. Although a bit singed by the ordeal, Empedocles survives and continues his life on the Moon, surviving by feeding on dew.

Empedocles' death has inspired two major modern literary treatments. Empedocles' death is the subject of Friedrich Hölderlin
Friedrich Hölderlin
Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin was a major German lyric poet, commonly associated with the artistic movement known as Romanticism. Hölderlin was also an important thinker in the development of German Idealism, particularly his early association with and philosophical influence on his...

's play Tod des Empedokles (Death of Empedocles), two versions of which were written between the years 1798 and 1800. A third version was made public in 1826. In Matthew Arnold
Matthew Arnold
Matthew Arnold was a British poet and cultural critic who worked as an inspector of schools. He was the son of Thomas Arnold, the famed headmaster of Rugby School, and brother to both Tom Arnold, literary professor, and William Delafield Arnold, novelist and colonial administrator...

's poem Empedocles on Etna, a narrative of the philosopher's last hours before he jumps to his death in the crater first published in 1852, Empedocles predicts:
To the elements it came from
Everything will return.
Our bodies to earth,
Our blood to water,
Heat to fire,
Breath to air.


In 2006, a massive underwater volcano off the coast of Sicily was named Empedocles
Empedocles (volcano)
Empedocles is a large underwater volcano located 40 km off the southern coast of Sicily named after the Greek philosopher Empedocles who believed that everything on Earth was made up of the four elements....

.

Further reading


External links