Empedocles biography
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Empedocles biography

Empédocles of Agrigento (484 b.C. – 424 b.C.) philosopher and poet. He was born in Agrigento, Sicily. He came from a well-to-do family, so his education was of the highest quality. His father, Metón, intervened in the overthrow of the tyrant Trasideo in the year 470 a. C. His grandfather, also called Empedocles, was a horse breeder, and he won the horse races at Olympia during the LXXI Olympiad. He lived his childhood in his hometown, which at that time lived a splendid situation thanks to the government of the tyrant Terón, who was interested in the arts and religion, thus embodying the concerns of the Agrigentino people. After the death of Terón, a period of tyranny imposed by his son Trasideo started.

Later this was overthrown and there was a political transformation, in this process, the philosopher was very active, one of the actions was the dissolution of an oligarchic organization known as the assembly of the thousand. In his speeches, he affirmed to the inhabitants of Agrigento that it was necessary to abandon the struggles between parties and to cultivate political equality, for that reason he rejected any offered position. Empedocles made many enemies for his democratic ideals and perhaps for his extravagance, on one occasion tried to prevent access to Agrigento.

His figure has been related to that of a magician and prophet, author of miracles and revealer of hidden truths and hidden mysteries. He was a multifaceted man, while he was the head of the democratic faction of his hometown, he was also a famous scientist and doctor-thaumaturge. As we can see, thanks to his social position and his intelligence, he was able to obtain important positions in public life. If we talk about his works we must say that few are known: Politicians, the treatise On medicine, the poem On nature (incomplete) and the Purifications. He wrote his works in the form of poems. His doctrine seems to be influenced by Parmenides, who is said to have met while traveling to Elea.

The philosophy of Empedocles represents the first attempt to harmonize both positions: that of the philosophers of Miletus and that of the school of Pythagoras. In his works, Empédocles begins, like Parmenides, establishing the necessity and permanence of the being; His originality consists in reconciling this necessity with becoming. For this, the philosopher raised four constitutive principles, the four natural elements: water, air, earth, and fire. Unlike philosophers such as Thales, Anaximenes, Xenophanes, and Heraclitus, the roots of Empédocles remain qualitatively unchanged: although they are combined in different proportions to form all things, in their individuality they are immutable and eternal.

According to Empedocles, Love and Hate are two cosmic forces that cause continuous change. The first tends to unite the four elements, as the attraction of the different; while Hate acts as a separation from the like. When Love predominates totally, a pure and perfect sphere is generated, all of it equal and infinite. Hate then begins his work, undoing all harmony until achieving complete separation from chaos. Thus the two forces, in their cyclical strife, give life to the various manifestations of the cosmos.

For the Greek man is also formed by the four elements. In that sense, Empédocles devoted great interest to the observation of nature in all its splendor, and exhibited innovative visions on the evolution of living organisms or the circulation of blood; He also established the thesis of the seat of thought in the heart, medicine received it for a long time. From the above there arises a theory called metempsychosis: it ensures that only men who achieve purification can escape completely from the circle of births and return to dwell among the gods.

Although Empedocles does not figure among the greats of Greek philosophy, his theory of the “four roots” was very popular twenty centuries later: it was adopted by Aristotle. However, at the time of the founding of chemistry as modern science, by the hand of Antoine Lavoisier, it was necessary for the discovery of the “elements”. The Greek philosopher was the first of the thinkers of pluralist eclecticism who tried to reconcile the opposing visions of reality established by Parmenides and Heraclitus.

Empedocles also wrote about the soul, knowledge and sensation, the cosmic cycle and the generation of living beings. The end of his life was spent in exile in the Peloponnese. Actually, the reason for his death is a mystery. Several versions were conceived in relation to his death, the best known of which is that according to which he would have committed suicide, at approximately 60 years of age, throwing himself into the Etna volcano in order to be venerated as a god by his fellow citizens. What is admirable in this man was his wisdom not so much intellectual but spiritual.

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