Of the various qualities attributed to Empedocles, humility was not one of them. He is quoted as saying:
“I am among you as an immortal god, no longer mortal, honored by you all, wreathed in garlands and crowns.”
As a physician, he earned this reputation by performing some noteworthy feats such as saving the Sicilian town of Selinus from a plague.1 Through sorcery and magic arts, he claimed the power to control winds and storms, to reverse aging, and to ward off evil. He dressed flamboyantly and went from town to town performing his healing arts as well as miracles. He wrote:
“To whatever famous town I go, I am praised by men and women, accompanied by thousands, who thirst for deliverance, some asking for prophecies, and some to be cured by all kinds of diseases.”
Empedocles was born in the 5th century B.C. in Acragas (modern day Agrigento) on the southwestern coast of Sicily to a wealthy aristocratic family. Acragas was founded in 581 B.C. by Greek colonists from Gela, which was about 45 miles to the east.2 His grandfather, who was also called Empedocles, had the distinction of winning the horse racing event of the Olympic Games of 496 B.C.3
Sixth century Acragas was mainly dominated by tyrants, of which Phalaris is most notorious – he enjoyed roasting men alive inside a bronze bull, their tormented shrieks of pain akin to bellowing. Yet Acragas also flourished as a cultural arts center during this time, with artists of sculptures, paintings, metalwork, and mosaics. In summary, it was a city full of diverse activities.
In 470 B.C., Acragas became a democracy. This is the world that Empedocles knew for most of his life for he was about 20 years old when this occurred. Even though he favored democracy, he never gave up his flamboyant, aristocratic ways.
As a philosopher, Empedocles is most known for teaching that the universe was controlled by the opposing forces of Love and Strife. Either he had some profound insight or he was just projecting the state of his marriage onto the universe. Empedocles’ views on Love and Strife had a significant influence on subsequent theories of philosophy, medicine, mysticism, cosmology, and religion.4Continue reading “48. Empedocles – Love and Strife”