Empedŏcles in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities

(Ἐμπεδοκλῆς). A native of Agrigentum in Sicily, who flourished about B.C. 450. He was distinguished not only as a philosopher, but also for his knowledge of natural history and medicine, and as a poet and statesman. After the death of his father Meto, who was a wealthy citizen of Agrigentum, he acquired great weight among his fellow-citizens by espousing the popular party and favouring democratic measures. His consequence in the State became at length so great that he ventured to assume several of the distinctions of royalty, particularly a purple robe, a golden girdle, a Delphic crown, and a train of attendants. The skill which he possessed in medicine and natural philosophy enabled him to perform many wonders, which he passed upon the superstitious and credulous multitude for miracles. He pretended to drive away noxious winds from his country and thereby put a stop to epidemic diseases. He is said to have checked, by the power of music, the madness of a young man who was threatening his enemy with instant death; to have restored a woman to life who had lain breathless thirty days; and to have done many other things, equally astonishing, after the manner of Pythagoras. On account of all this he was an object of universal admiration. Besides medical skill Empedocles possessed poetical talents. The fragments of his verses are scattered throughout the ancient writers; and Fabricius is of opinion that he was the real author of those ancient fragments which bear the name of the "Golden Verses of Pythagoras," and may be found printed at the end of Göttling's edition of Hesiod. His principal works were a didactic poem on Nature (Περὶ Φύσεως), and another entitled Καθαρμοί, which seems to have recommended virtuous conduct as a means of averting disease. Gorgias of Leontini, the well-known orator, known as "the Nihilist," was his pupil, whence it may seem reasonable to infer that Empedocles was no inconsiderable master of the art of eloquence. According to the common account he threw himself into the burning crater of Aetna, in order that the manner of his death might not be known, and that he might afterwards pass for a god; but the secret was discovered by means of one of his brazen sandals, which was thrown out from the mountain in a subsequent eruption of the volcano. This story is rejected, however, as fictitious by Strabo and other writers. According to Aristotle he died at sixty years of age. His views in philosophy are variously given. By some he is called a Pythagorean, in consequence of a resemblance of doctrine in a few unessential points. But the principles of his theory evidently show that he belongs to the Eleatic School. Empedocles taught that originally All was one, a God eternal and at rest; a sphere and a mixture (σφαῖρος, μίγμα), without a vacuum, in which the elements of things were held together in undistinguishable confusion by love (φιλία), the primal force which unites the like to like. In a portion of this whole, however, or, as he expresses it, in the members of the Deity, strife (νεῖκος), the force which binds like to unlike, prevailed, and gave the elements a tendency to separate themselves, whereby the first became perceptible as such, although the separation was not so complete but that each contained portions of the others. Hence arose the multiplicity of things. By the vivifying counteraction of love, organic life was produced, not, however, so perfect and so full of design as it now appears; but, at first, single limbs, then irregular combinations, till ultimately they received their present adjustments and perfection. But, as the forces of love and hate are constantly acting upon each other for generation or destruction, the present condition of things cannot persist forever, and the world which, properly, is not the All, but only the ordered part of it, will again be reduced to a chaotic unity, out of which a new system will be formed, and so on forever. There is no real destruction of anything, but only a change of combinations. Of the elements (which he seems to have been the first to describe as four distinct species of matter), fire, as the rarest and most powerful, he held to be the chief, and, consequently, the soul of all sentient and intellectual beings which issue from the central fire, or soul of the world. The soul migrates through animal and vegetable bodies in atonement for some guilt committed in its unembodied state when it is a daemon, of which he supposed that an infinite number existed. The seat of a daemon, when in a human body, is the blood. Closely connected with this view of the objects of knowledge was his theory of human knowledge. In the impure separation of the elements it is only the predominant one that the senses can apprehend; and, consequently, though man can know all the elements of the whole singly, he is unable to see them in their perfect unity, wherein consists their truth. Empedocles therefore rejects the testimony of the senses, and maintains that pure intellect alone can arrive at a knowledge of the truth. This is the attribute of the Deity, for man cannot overlook the work of love in all its extent; and the true unity is open only to itself. Hence he was led to distinguish between the world as presented to our senses (κόσμος αἰσθητός) and its type, the intellectual world (κόσμος νοητός). Lucretius, who praises Empedocles highly even while criticising his philosophy, appears to have taken him as a model. (Cf. Lucret. i. 716 foll.) The fragments of Empedocles have been published, with a commentary, by Sturz (1805); by Peyron (1810); Karsten (1838); Stein (1852); and Bergk (2d ed. Leipzig, 1866). Good monographs are those by Lommatsch (1830); Reynaud (1848); Hollenberg, Empedoclea (Berlin, 1853); Gladisch, Empedocles und die Aegypter (Leipzig, 1858); and Winnefeld, Die Philosophie des Empedocles (Rastatt, 1862).

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