Empedocles (c. 492/0 BC – c. 430 BC) was a Greek presocratic philosopher and a citizen of Agrigentum also known as Acragas, a Greek colony in Sicily.

He maintained that all matter is made up of four classical elements (which he called roots): water, earth, air and fire. In addition to these, he postulated something called Love (philia) to explain the attraction of different forms of matter, and of something called Strife (neikos) to account for their separation. This theory was endorsed and developed by Aristotle and remained in place until the Renaissance.

Though, having much in common with Heraclitus ontology, Empedocles is considered to be more tolerant and soft in his outlook. That fact served as a matter of mentioning him by Plato in famous "Sophist" dialogue as a "gentle muse":

Then there are Ionian, and in more recent times Sicilian muses, who have arrived at the conclusion that to unite the two principles is safer, and to say that being is one and many, and that these are held together by enmity and friendship, ever parting, ever meeting, as the-severer Muses assert, while the gentler ones do not insist on the perpetual strife and peace, but admit a relaxation and alternation of them; peace and unity sometimes prevailing under the sway of Aphrodite, and then again plurality and war, by reason of a principle of strife. (Plato, Soph.).

Empedocles was also a mystic and a poet, and some consider him the inventor of the study of rhetoric. Gorgias of Leontini was his student, and it is probably from Empedocles that Gorgias developed the notion of rhetoric as magic.

As a person he was somewhat arrogant, dressing himself in purple and claiming that by the virtue of the knowledge he possessed he had become divine and could perform miracles. Yet his actions and teaching betrayed an egalitarian streak, he fought to preserve Greek democracy and allowed that through his teaching others could also become divine. He even went so far to suggest that all living things were on the same spiritual plane, indicating he was influenced by Pythagorean spirituality. At the same time, he is said not only to have claimed to be a deity, but the story goes that in order to prove his immortality he threw himself into an active volcano (Mount Etna in Sicily), where he died. (There is, however, some evidence that he actually died in Greece.)

Empedocles is considered the last Greek philosopher to write in verse and the surviving fragments of his teaching are from his two poems, Purifications and On Nature.

Empedocles is also the subject of Friedrich Hölderlin'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.


  • M R Wright, Empedocles: The Extant Fragments, 1995

  • Peter Kingsley, Ancient Philosophy, Mystery and Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition, 1986
  • Anthony Gottlieb, The Dream of Reason: A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance , 2001
  • Kirk, Raven, and Schofield, The Presocratic Philosophers, 1983
  • A. A. Long, The Cambridge Companion to Early Greek Philosophy, 1999
  • Bertrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy, 1945
  • David Sedley, Lucretius and the New Empedocles; Leeds International Classical Studies 2.4 (2003) ISSN 1477-3643 (http://www.leeds.ac.uk/classics/lics/)


Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry
Empedocles at Philosophical Dictionary
Empedocles Fragments and Commentary
Empedocles (of Acragas) at Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Empedocles of Agrigentum at Peithô\'s Web

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