c. 492-432 BC

Empedocles was a Sicilian philosopher, poet, and physician. He had different reputations among contemporaries. He was regarded as a mystic, a scientist, a healer, and even as a living god. He, along with Pythagoras, is said to have invented the four-element theory of matter (earth, air, fire, and water) that Hippocrates took up later as a structure around which to develop his humor theory of bodily functions. Aristotle credited Empedocles with inventing rhetoric, and with the idea that light moves at a finite speed.

Empedocles’ saw the world as being made up of a cycle of eternal change, growth and decay in which two personified cosmic forces, love and strife, fight out an eternal battle for supremacy.

As a follower of Pythagoras, Empedocles adopted the Pythagorean view of the transmigration of souls, and Pythagoras’s vegetarianism and pacifism.

As can be seen in the following fragment of his writings, Empedocles claimed to be immortal, to be able to control the wind and rain, and to bring back the dead.

Cures for evils whatever there are, and protection against old age shalt thou learn, since for thee alone will I accomplish all these things. Thou shalt break the power of untiring gales which rising against the earth blow down the crops and destroy them; and, again, whenever thou wilt, thou shalt bring their blasts back; and thou shalt bring seasonable drought out of dark storm for men, and out of summer drought thou shalt bring streams pouring down from heaven to nurture the trees; and thou shalt lead out of Hades the spirit of a man that is dead. (Fairbanks, 1898, p. 159)

Empedocles methods for healing included sacred incantations and ritual purifications. Through these he is said to have overthrown a plague and restored a contaminated water supply.

For more on Empedocles, see:


Empedocies (2010) http://history.hanover.edu/texts/presoc/emp.htm

Fairbanks, A. (Ed & Translator) (1898). The First Philosophers of Greece (pp. 157-234) London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner. Retrieved from http://history.hanover.edu/texts/presoc/emp.htm, January 11, 2010.

Mourelatos, A. P. D. (1980) Empedocles of Acragas. Dictionary of Scientific Biography (C.C. Gilespie, ed.). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

Trépanier, S. (2004) Empedocles: An Interpretation. NY: Routledge.