, , ,

Go to the Index of 120 Philosophers Squared

Empedocles (490 BC – 430 BC) was the pre-Socratic Greek creator of the Cosmogenic theory. The nature of God is a circle of which the center is everywhere and the circumference is nowhere


Empedocles was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher.

Quotes of Empedocles from sources: GoodReads, EGS,

No mortal thing has a beginning, nor does it end in death and obliteration; there is only a mixing and then separating of what was mixed, but by mortal men these processes are named “beginnings.”

Happy is he who has gained the wealth of divine thoughts, wretched is he whose beliefs about the gods are dark.

What is right may well be said – even twice

But for base men it is indeed possible to withhold belief from strong proofs ; but do thou learn as the pledges of our Muse bid thee, and lay open her word to the very core.

Joining one heading to another in discussion, not completing one path (of discourse) . . . for it is right to say what is excellent twice and even thrice.

Blessed is he who has acquired a wealth of divine wisdom, but miserable he in whom there rests a dim opinion concerning the gods.

The nature of God is a circle of which the center is everywhere and the circumference is nowhere.

But when Strife was grown great in the limbs of the god and sprang forth to claim his prerogatives, in the fulness of the alternate time set for them by the mighty oath,….for all the limbs of the god in turn quaked.

Two branches do not spring from his back, he has no feet, no swift knees, no fruitful parts; but he was spherical and equal on every side.

For they prevail in turn as the circle comes round, and pass into one another, and grow great in their appointed turn.

There (in the sphere) are distinguished neither the swift limbs of the sun, no, nor the shaggy earth in its might, nor the sea, — so fast was the god bound in the close covering of Harmony, spherical and round, rejoicing in his circular solitude.

But he was equal on every side and quite without end, spherical and round, rejoicing in his circular solitude.

Hear first the four roots of all things: bright Zeus, life-giving Hera (air), and Aidoneus (earth), and Nestis who moistens the springs of men with her tears.

Fools! for they have no far-reaching studious thoughts who think that what was not before comes into being or that anything dies and perishes utterly.

For from what does not exist at all it is impossible that anything come into being, and it is neither possible nor perceivable that being should perish completely; for things will always stand wherever one in each case shall put them.

A man of wise mind could not divine such things as these, that so long as men live what indeed they call life, so long they exist and share what is evil and what is excellent, but before they are formed and after they are dissolved, they are really nothing at all.

But, ye gods, avert the madness of those men from my tongue, and from lips that are holy cause a pure stream to flow. And thee I pray, much-wooed whitearmed maiden Muse, in what things it is right for beings of a day to hear, do thou, and Piety, driving obedient car, conduct me on. Nor yet shall the flowers of honour [Page 161] well esteemed compel me to pluck them from mortal hands, on condition that I speak boldly more than is holy and only then sit on the heights of wisdom.

But come, examine by every means each thing how it is clear, neither putting greater faith in anything seen than in what is heard, nor in a thundering sound more than in the clear assertions of the tongue, nor keep from trusting any of the other members in which there lies means of knowledge, but know each thing in the way in which it is clear.

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.

There is no discord and no unseemly strife in his limbs.

This thou mayest see in the heavy-backed shell-fish that dwell in the sea, in sea-snails and the stony-skinned turtles. In them thou mayest see that the earthy part dwells on the uppermost surface of the skin.

Come now, hear how the Fire as it was separated caused the night-born shoots of men and tearful women to arise; for my tale is not off the point nor uninformed. Whole-natured forms first arose from the earth, having a portion both of water and fire. These did the fire, desirous of reaching its like, send up, showing as yet neither the charming form of the limbs, nor yet the voice and parts that are proper to men.

Many creatures with faces and breasts looking in different directions were born; some, offspring of oxen with faces of men, while others, again, arose as offspring of men with the heads of oxen, and creatures in whom the nature of women and men was mingled, furnished with sterile parts.

There are these alone; but, running through one another, they become men and the tribes of beasts. At one time they are all brought together into one order by Love; at another, they are carried each in different directions by the repulsion of Strife, till they grow once more into one and are wholly subdued. Thus in so far as they are wont to grow into one out of many, and again divided become more than one, so far they come into being and their life is not lasting; but insofar as they never cease changing continually, so far are they evermore, immovable in the circle.

But when light is mingled with air in human form, or in form like the race of wild beasts or of plants or of birds, then men say that these things have come into being; and when they are separated, they call them evil fate; this is the established practice, and I myself also call it so in accordance with the custom.

Upon her do thou gaze with thy mind, nor yet sit dazed in thine eyes; for she is wont to be implanted in men’s members, and through her they have thoughts of love and accomplish deeds of union, and call her by the names of Delight, and Aphrodite; no mortal man has discerned her with them (the elements) as she moves on her way. But do thou listen to the undeceiving course of my words.

For these (elements) are equal, all of them, and of like ancient race; and one holds one office, another another, and each has his own nature. . . . For nothing is added to them, nor yet does anything pass away from them; for if they were continually perishing they would no longer exist. . . Neither is any part of this all empty, nor over full. For how should anything cause this all to increase, and whence should it come? And whither should they (the elements) perish, since no place is empty of them? And in their turn they prevail as the cycle comes round, and they disappear before.

For they two (Love and Strife) were before and shall be, nor yet, I think, will there ever be an unutterably long time without them both.

These [elements] never cease changing place continually, now being all united by Love into one, now each borne apart by the hatred engendered of Strife, until they are brought together in the unity of the all, and become subject to it.

It is astonishing that these mythic wanderings are the height of sophisticated reasoning in pre-Socratic Greece. Empedocles died in 430 BC and only a hundred years later there are the works of Aristotle, who died in 322 BC. Aristotle’s thinking is modern in so many ways except for the details supplied by our more exact science. Empedocles did say some things that seem to jibe with modern theoretical physics and astronomy, but it feels more like we are projecting our well-defined concepts onto his nebulous clouds of blather. The statement The nature of God is a circle of which the center is everywhere and the circumference is nowhere seems to make some obscure sense in relation to our modern astronomical theory of the Big Bang and Universal expansion, and yet it doesn’t mean anything without a substantiated context. It’s like a single word from an unknown language wafting through the air, without context; it is meaningless.

Perhaps these poetical ramblings appeared to be a clearly stated beginning for the Greeks, because they were in a culture with far worse ones. Empedocles’ statements were clear enough that the other thinking people could find obvious flaws in them, and then offer other more rational explanations, and those may not have been very satisfactory either, and so even better explanations were given. It was a fast-moving evolutionary process of evolving ideas into better ones, and everyone was doing it. In this small country for a brief time there was an openness of thought that generated many geniuses in many fields. It is impossible that there was a burst of high IQ, so what had to have been happening was a charged intellectual environment where people were permitted, even encouraged, to think and to say publicly what they thought.

When we read of the face-to-face encounters of Alexander the Great with Diogenes of Sinope, a filthy quick-witted tramp living in a barrel, it becomes obvious there was a very open intellectual environment. None of our modern leaders would put up with such insults as Diogenes uttered, without their followers putting a permanent end to such behavior, probably putting the “sick” fellow into an institution of some sort, or worse.

The freedom to think and express one’s thought publicly stimulates a society to greatness.