), of Acragas (Agrigentum), in Sicily, flourished about Olymp. 84, or B. C. 444. (D. L. 8.74
; comp. 51, 52; Simon Karsten, Empedoclis Agrigent. Carmin. Reliquiae,
p. 9, &c.) His youth probably fell in the time of the glorious rule of Theron, from Ol. 73 to Ol. 77; and although he was descended from an ancient and wealthy family (D. L. 8.51
), Empedocles with enthusiasm joined the revolution--as his father, Meton, had probably done before--in which Thrasydaeus, the son and successor of Theron, was expelled, and which became the watchword for the other Greek towns to shake off the yoke of their monarchs. (D. L. 8.72
.) His zeal in the establishment of political equality is said to have been manifested by his magnanimous support of the poor (ibid.
73), by his inexorable severity in persecuting the overbearing conduct of the aristocrats (Timaeus, apud Diog. L.
8.64, comp. 65, 66), and in his declining the sovereignty which was offered to him. (Aristot. ap. Diog.
8.63; compare, however, Timaeus, ibid.
66, 76 ) His brilliant oratory (Satyr apud Diog.
8.58; Timaeus, ibid.
67), his penetrating knowledge of nature and of circumstances, and the reputation of his marvellous powers, which he had acquired by curing diseases, by his successful exertions in removing marshy districts, averting epidemics and obnoxious winds (D. L. 8.60
; Plut. de Curios. Princ.
p. 515, ad v. Col.
p. 1126; Plin. Nat. 36.27
, and others), spread a lustre around his name, which induced Timaeus and other historians to mention him more frequently. Although he himself may have been innocent of the name of "averter" or "controller of storms" (κωλυσανέμας
) and of a magician (γόης
), which were given to him (Karsten, l.c.
p. 49, &c.), still he must have attributed to himself miraculous powers, if in the beginning of his Καθαρμοί
he said of himself--he may, however, have been speaking in the name of some assistant daemon--" An immortal god, and no longer a mortal man, I wander among you, honoured by all, adorned with priestly diadems and blooming wreaths; to whatever illustrious towns I go, I am praised by men and women, and accompanied by thousands, who thirst for deliverance, sone being desirous to know the future. others remedies for diseases," &c. (Karsten, p. 142, 5.392, &c.; compare the accounts of the ostentation and haughtiness of Empedocles, p. 29, &c.)
In like manner he promises remedies against the power of evil and of old age; he pretends to teach men how to break the vehemence of the unwearied winds, and how to call them forth again; how to obtain from dark rainy clouds useful drought, and tree-feeding rivers from the drought of summer (ibid.
5.425, &c.),-- promises and pretensions, perhaps, expressive of his confidence in the infant science, which had only commenced its development, rather than in his own personal capability.
With equal pride he celebrates the wisdom of the man-the ancient historians themselves did not know whether he meant Pythagoras or Parmenides--who, possessed of the richest mental and intellectual treasures, easily perceived everything in all nature, whenever with the full energy of his mind he attempted to do so (Ibid.
The time was one of a varied and lively mental movement, and Empedocles was acquainted or connected by friendship with the physicians Acron and Pausanias (D. L. 8.60
; Plut. de Is. et Os.
p. 383; Plin. H. N.
29.3; Suid s.v. comp. Fragm. 5.54, 433, &c.), with Pythagoreans, and it is said with Parmenides and Anaxagoras also (D. L. 8.55
, &c.; comp. Karsten, p. 47, &c.); and persons being carried away by that movement, believed themselves to be the nearer the goal the less clearly they perceived the way that led to it, and they regarded a perfect power over nature as the necessary consequence of a perfect knowledge of it.
Timaeus and Dicaearchus had spoken of the journey of Empedocles to Peloponnesus, and of the admiration which was paid to him there (D. L. 8.71
; Athen. 14.620
); others mentioned his stay at Athens, and in the newlyfounded colony of Thurii, B. C. 446 (Suid s. v. Ἂκρων
; D. L. 8.52
); but it was only untrustworthy historians that made him travel in the east as far as the Magi. (Plin. H. N.
30.1, &c.; comp. Karsten, p. 39, &c.) His death is said to have been marvellous, like his life : a tradition, which is traced to Heracleides Ponticus, a writer fond of wonderful things, represented him as having been removed from the earth, like a divine being; another said that he had perished in the flames of mount Aetna. (D. L. 8.67
; Hor. ad Pison.
464, &c.; comp. Karsten, p. 36, &c.)
But it is attested by the authority of Aristotle, that he died at the age of sixty, and the statements of later writers, who extend his life further, cannot be set up against such a testimony. (Apollon apud Diog. Laert.
8.52, comp. 74, 73.) Among the disciples of Empedocles none is mentioned except Gorgias, the sophist and rhetorician, whose connexion with our philosopher seems to be alluded to even by Plato. (D. L. 8.58
; Karsten, p. 56,&c.)
Among the works attributed to Empedocles, and which were all metrical compositions (see the list in Karsten, p. 62, &c.), we can form an opinion only on his Kaqarmoi/
and his didactic poem on Nature, and on the latter work only from the considerable fragments still extant.
It consisted of 2000 hexameter verses, and was addressed to the above-mentioned Pausanias,--its division into three books was probably made by later grammarians. D. L. 8.77
: Karston. p. 70. &c.) The Καθαρμοί
, a poem said to have consisted of 3000 verses, seems to have recommended particularly a good moral conduct as the means of averting epidemics and other evils. (See the fragments in Karsten, p. 144, vers. 403, &c.; comp. Aristot. Eth. Nic.
7.5; Eudem. 6.3.) Empedocles was undoubtedly acquainted with the didactic poems of Xenophanes and Parmenides (Hermiipp. and Theophrastus apud Dioq. Laert.
8.55, 56)--allusions to the latter can be pointed out 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; so that Aristotle, though, on the one hand, he acknowledged only the metre as a point of comparison between the poems of Emnpedocles and the epics of Homer, yet, on the other hand, had characterised Empedocles as Homeric and powerful in his diction (Poet.
1, apud Diog. Laert.
8.57.) Lucretius, the greatest of all didactic poets, speaks of him with enthusiasm, and evidently marks him as his model. (See especially Lucret. 1.727, &c.)
We are indebted for the first comprehensive collection of the fragments of Empedocles, and of a careful collection of the testimonies of the ancients concerning his doctrines, to Fr. W Sturz (Empedocles Agrigentinus, Lipsiae, 1805)
, and lately Simon Karsten has greatly distinguished himself for what he has done for the criticism and explanation of the text, as well as for the light he has thrown on separate doctrines. (Philosophorum Graecorum veterum reliquiae, vol. ii., containing Empedoclis Agrigentini Carmin. Reliquiae, Amstelodami, 1838.)
Acquainted as Empedocles was with the theories of the Eleatics and the Pythagoreans, he did not adopt the fundamental principles either of the one or the other schools, although he agreed with the latter in his belief in the migration of souls (Fragm.
vers. 1, &c., 380, &c., 350-53, 410, &c.; comp. Karsten, p. 509, &c.), in the attempt to reduce the relations of mixture to numbers, and in a few other points. (Karsten, p. 426, 33, 428, &c., 426; compare, however, Ed. Zeller, die Philosophie der Griech.
p. 169, &c., Tübingen, 1844.)
With the Eleatics he agreed in thinking that it was impossible to conceive anything arising out of nothing (Fragm.
vers. 81, &c., 119, &c., 345, &c.; comp. Parmenid. Fragm.,
ed. Karsten, vers. 47, 50, 60, &, 66, 68, 75), and it is not impossible that he may have borrowed from them also the distinction between knowledge obtained through the senses, and knowledge obtained through reason (Fragm.
49, &c., 108; Parmenid. Fragm.
49, 108.) Aristotle with justice mentions him among tire Ionic physiologists, and he places him in very close relation to the atomistic philosophers and to Anaxagoras. (Metaphys.
1.3, 4, 7, Phys.
1.4, de General. et Corr.
1.8, de Caelo,
3.7.) All three, like the whole Ionic physiology, endeavoured to point out that which formed the basis of all changes, and to explain the latter by means of the former; but they could not, like Heracleitus, consider the coming into existence and motion as the existence of things, and rest and tranquillity as the nonexistence, because they had derived from the Eleatics the conviction that an existence could just as little pass over into a non-existence, as, vice versâ,
the latter into the former.
In order, nevertheless, to establish the reality of changes, and consequently the world and its phaenomena, against the deductions of the Eleatics, they were obliged to reduce that which appears to us as a coming into existence to a process of mixture and separation of unalterable substances; but for the same reason they were obliged to give up both, the Heracleitean supposition of one original fundamental power, and the earlier Ionic hypothesis of one original substance which produced all changes out of itself and again absorbed them.
The supposition of an original plurality of unalterable elementary substances was absolutely necessary. And thus we find in the extant fragments of the didactic poem of Empedocles, the genuineness of which is attested beyond all doubt by the authority of Aristotle and other ancient writers, the most unequivocal statement, made with an evident regard to the argumentation of Parmenides, that a coming into existence from a non-existence, as well as a complete death and annihilation, are things impossible; what we call coming into existence and death is only mixture and separation of what was mixed, and the expressions of coming into existence and destruction or annihilation are justified only by our being obliged to submit to the usus loquendi. (Fragm.
77, &c., 345, &c.)
The original and unalterable substances were termed by Empedocles the roots of things (τέσσαρα τῶν πάντων ρ́ιζώματα
vers. 55, &c., 74, &c.) and it was he who first established the number of four elements, which were afterwards recognized for many centuries, and which before Empedocles had been pointed out one by one, partly as fundamental substances, and partly as transition stages of things coming into existence. (Aristot. Metaphys.
1.4, 7, de Generat. et Corr.
2.1; comp. Ch. A. Brandis, Handbuch d. Gesch. der Griech. Röm. Philos.
i. p. 195, &c.)
The mythical names Zeus, Hera, Nestis, and Aidoneus, alternate with the common terms of fire, air, water, and earth; and it is of little importance for the accurate understanding of his theory, whether the life-giving Hera was meant to signify the air and Aidoneus the earth, or Aidoneus the air and Hera the earth, although the former is more probable than the latter (Fragm.
55, &c., 74, &c.; comp. Brandis, l.c.
As, however, the elementary substances were simple, eternal, and unalterable (Karsten, p. 336, &c.), and as change or alteration was merely the consequence of their mixture and separation, it was also necessary to conceive them as motionless, and consequently to suppose the existence of moving powers--the necessary condition of mixture and separation--as distinct from the substances, and equally original and eternal.
But in this manner the dynamic explanations which the earlier physiologists, and especially Heracleitus, had given of nature, was changed into a mechanical one.
In order here again to avoid the supposition of an actual coming into existence, Enipedocles assumed two opposite directions of the moving power, the attractive and repulsive, the uniting and separating, that is, love and hate (Νεῖκος
), as equally original and elementary (Fragm.
88, &c., 138, &c., 167, &c.; Aristot. Metaphys.
1.4; Karsten, p. 346, &c.); whereas with Heracleitus they were only different manifestations of one and the same fundamental power.
But is it to be supposed that those two powers were from the beginning equally active ? and is the state of mixture, i. e.
the world and its phaenomena, an original one, or was it preceded by a state in which the pure elementary substances and the two moving powers co-existed in a condition of repose and inertness? Empedocles decided in favour of the latter supposition (Fragm.
vers. 88, &c., 59, &c.; comp. Plat. Soph.
p. 242; Aristot. de Coel.
1.10, Phys. Auscult.
1.4, 8.1), which agreed with ancient legends and traditions.
This he probably did especially in order to keep still more distinctly asunder existences and things coming into existence; and he conceived the original co-existence of the pure elementary substances and of the two powers in the form cf a sphere (δφαῖρος
; comp. Karsten, p. 183, &c.), which was to indicate its perfect independence and self-sufficieney.
As, however, these elementary substances were to exist together in their purity, without mixture and separation, it was necessary to suppose that the uniting power of love predominated in the sphere (Aristot. Metaphys.
B. 1.4, A. 21, (de Generat. et Corr.
1.1), and that the separating power of hate was in a state of limited activity. or, as Empedocles expresses it, guarded the extreme ends of the sphere (Fragm.
vers. 58, comp. 167, &c.) When the destructive hate rises into activity, the bond which keeps the pure elementary substances together in the sphere is dissolved (vers. 66, &c.); they separate in order partly to unite again by the power of love: and this is the origin of our world of phaenomena.
But that the elementary substances might not be completely absorbed by this world and lose their purity, Empedocles assumed a periodical change of the sphere and formation of the world (Fraym.
vers. 88, &c., 167, &c.); but perhaps also, like the earlier Ionians, a perpetual continuance of pure fundamental substances, to which the parts of the world, which are tired of change, return and prepare the formation of the sphere for the next period of the world. (H. Ritter in Wolf's Analect.
ii. p. 445, &c., Gesch. der Philos.
i. p. 555, &c.; but comp. Zeller, l.c.
p. 191, &c.)
The sphere being the embodiment of pure existence was with him also the embodiment or representative of the deity, either conceiving the deity as a collectivity, or mainly as the uniting power of love (Fragm.
vers. 70; comp. Aristot. de Generat. et Corr.
B. 4, de Anim.
But as existence is not to be confined to the sphere, but must rather he at the foundation of the whole visible world, so the deity also must be active in it. But Empedocles was little able to determine the how
of this divine activity in its distinction from and connexion with the activity of the moving powers: he, too, like the Eleatics (Xenophan Fragmn.
1, 2, 3, 5, 6, ed. Karsten), strove to purify and liberate the notion of the deity: " not provided with limbs, He, a holy, infinite spirit, passes through the world with rapid thoughts," is the sublime expression of Empedocles (Fragm.
vers. 359, &c., comp. 317.) Along with this, however, he speaks of the eternal power of Necessity as an ancient decree of the gods, and it is not clear whether the necessary succession of cause and effect, or an unconditional predestination, is to be understood by it; or, lastly, whether Empedocles did not rather leave the notion of Necessity and its relation to the deity in that mysterious darkness in which we find it in the works of most philosophers of antiquity.
We perceive the world of phaenomena or changes through the medium of our senses, but not so its eternal cause; and although Empedocles traced both sensuous perception and thought to one and the same cause, his six original beings (Aristot de Anim.
32,, &c., 315, &c., 313, 318, &c.), still he clearly distinguished the latter as a higher state of development from the former; he complains of the small extent of our knowledge obtainable through our body (Fragm.
32, &c.), and advises us not to trust to our eves or ears, or any other part of our body, but to see in thought of what kind each thing is by itself (Fragm.
49, &c., comp. 108, 356, &c.) but he attributes the thinking cognition to the deity alone (Fragm.
32, &c., 41, &c., 354, 362, &c.) We are, however, by no means justified in supposing that Empedocles, like the Eleatics, considered that which is perceptible through the senses, i. e.
the world and its phenomena, to be a mere phantom, and the unity of the divine sphere, that is, the world of love, which is arrived at only by thought, to be the sole existence. (H. Litter in Wolf's Analect.
i. p. 423, &c., Gesch. der Philos.
i. p. 541, &c.; Brandis, in the Rheinisch. Museum,
iii. p. 124; comp. Zeller, l.c.
p. 184, &c.)
Further investigations concerning Empedocles's derivation of the different kinds of sensuous perception, and of the mutual influence of things upon one another in general, from the coincidence of effluxes and corresponding pores, as well as the examination of the fragments of his cosmologic and physiologic doctrines, must be left to a history of Greek philosophy.