14. Empedocles: A Single Project, Two Theologies*

Recent discussions, in part linked to the publication of the Strasbourg papyrus in 1999, [1] encourage a reconsideration of the relation between Empedocles’ two poems, On Nature, or The Origins, and The Purifications. [2] My own position on the issue had not yet been resolved when the papyrus appeared, which is why I published my commentary on the first poem separately. The very existence of an endlessly renewed debate was quite striking in itself. The discussion was going around in circles, just like the arguments about the cosmological cycle. Readings oscillated between two contradictory poles, or poles acknowledged as irreconcilable, whereas the debate led historians to analyze biases that had been implicit since the mid-nineteenth century. Were Empedocles’ poems works of science or religion? It seems to me that the problem became much more amenable to solution when the conditions under which Empedocles’ work was produced began to be considered more freely within the context of his social and political ambitions. The viewpoint of cultural and religious sociology came to the fore. [3]
I have not been persuaded by the attempt on the part of the editors of the papyrus to introduce a demonology into the cosmological poem, a text that I myself published earlier. The editors believed that they could harmonize new testimonies (fragments, paraphrases, summaries)—although these are not so much explicit as deduced—with the current state of research (as represented by Nicolaas van der Ben [1975] or Catherine Osborne [1987]). They conclude that, at the heart of the “interpenetration” (a term that is incontestable in itself, since we are dealing with a single, coordinated undertaking), “the distance between the theory of physics and the theory of demonology is reduced even further” [4] —a claim that cannot be supported by any means. Nevertheless, I was able to draw, from what I took to be a quotation in the papyrus from fragment 139 of The Purifications, evidence of a reference, perhaps a crucial one, made to that poem in The Origins. [5] In any case, this hypothesis allowed me to maintain, as a matter of logic, that the political project of the exoteric poem represented a primary aim of the poet’s overall program. Instead of positing a relation of analogy between the two poems, we might, as a first step, consider their referential function. The intertextual references are significant as such: the author’s viewpoint allows him to include in his current text indications of his attitude toward something he has written elsewhere, in another text with which he assumes his readers will be familiar. We have proof of this in the fact that the quotations always imply an obvious, if sometimes minimal, modification of the utterance in question. There is always an adaptation, a specification, an extension, or even a correction. The writing becomes richer in its verbal substance.

The purified myth of the divine in living beings

From the difference between the addresses, so strongly marked in each of the two poems, a coherence of conception and of languages could be discerned. An ambitious cultural project lay behind the difference between the two texts in the choice of subject treated and in the way the subject was presented. We thus see a return to the principle of distinction that guided nineteenth-century editors, from Stein (1852) to Diels (1901). This classification was worth keeping; it appears to be largely accurate. Our task today is to reach a better understanding of the way The Purifications is organized and the specific way in which the philosophical speculations expressed in it are used.
Perhaps we should not speak of homology—the problem of the relation between the two poems no doubt has to be posed differently—but rather of a shift from one order to another. By means of a verbal re-composition, as it were, we pass from the construction of a world in the text to an intentionally cultural or political application. The orders are not the same: there is nature on the one hand, human history on the other. Empedocles’ language, entirely reconceived, clearly remains the same for the most part; it has a structure that can be deciphered in harmony at every point with the subject matter that it is deciphering. In the presentation, it is clear, too, that the formation of the world precedes the fall of divinity; the gods exist in their natural habitat before they split apart or divide as necessary, with the break being necessarily the same on both sides, ontologically and theologically. [6] The two poems were very probably intended to shed light on one another precisely in their difference. Even homology could be found.
A different society is being invented, one with different beliefs, in harmony with the study of bodies and their faculties. The members of Empedocles’ inner circle were erudite scholars, experienced in drawing truths from texts hallowed by tradition. The first-person plural in the papyrus could also refer to a group studying the constitution of human forms. [7] Its textual practice (writing, reading, exegesis) was not burdened with the eschatological promise that prevailed in the Orphic communities. In The Purifications, the traditional subject matter is recast in political terms so that it too is commensurate with human needs in the here and now. Everyday life dominates in all its dimensions—religious, ethical, and political. In the account of the daimons’ fall, the world is already in place: it is here, fully formed, ready to encompass the divine and human history that unfolds in it. [8] In this sense, the proper realm of nature, with its geneses, logically precedes polities and societies; however, this perspective is only valid from within. It reproduces the viewpoint of the author and his group of friends, gathered together around the exegesis of a text that is being written and commented upon in the process. But the actions of the group and those of the rhapsodes who gave public recitations of the esoteric works can also be foregrounded. Other people, those who dwell in the cities of this world, are not directly touched by the bold and sometimes enigmatic speculations, whether philosophical or cosmological, in which the group engaged in private. The mythic retranslation of these speculations is complex; logically in second place, it comes first in intrinsic worth. The old myth is reinvented, countering all the myths of the cultural tradition; the new myth is supreme, for it deals with man and his potential divinization. God for god; nothing could be more critical.
In The Origins, the elements are called “gods” (daimones). The traditional names of the deities, such as Zeus or Hera, are attributed to them; these are new gods that have emerged from the One, in a more purely physical theogony following the tradition of Hesiod. [9] However, there are also “gods” on the side of products. Like everything else, these figures are produced by the element-gods; they have their place on the scale where all beings of this world are arrayed. Theirs are the greatest honors. These are not the beings venerated in traditional beliefs. It is hard to attribute a place to them except among the stars, at the confines of the ether, near the new Olympus of the heavenly dome. [10]
There is no reason to imagine gods in flesh and blood; these do not exist, and if we situate ourselves on the scale of beings that have come into existence rather than on the scale of formative principles, we find no better candidates for divinity than the quasi-transcendent concentrations of fire, fire being the privileged element in Empedocles, according to Aristotle. [11] A place for them among the stars was there to be defined and filled. Divine entities were not always already here; they came into being, like all living things, like everything that is, after the sphere was broken. [12] Their superiority is secondary and relative, in terms of ontological speculation, properly speaking; the antagonism between Strife and Love succeeds the One and gives birth to the elements, which give birth in turn to all that is formed, everything that comes to be. In The Purifications, in contrast, we do not go so far back. We are dealing with our own world, with everything that has to do with the life of human beings here and now. There is no construction of a god Sphairos who reigns separated from the world. “Necessity” leads to a complete alteration of the existing order, at the risk of a universal massacre. The entrance into becoming, the change of state that follows a rupture and an irruption, has to be viewed as the common accident; [13] it is on this point, in particular, that the two poems come closest to converging in their conception. Here, no doubt, is the principal analogy, offering an orientation to the events reported in the narrative.
In the case of the light shed by the stars, the renunciation of an earlier state can only be conceived spatially in the form of a spark that escapes and falls into the infra-celestial shadows; there are no Hells, no Hades, no darkness in the world but that of the earth. [14] The break that intervenes with the idea of an initial murder cannot be separated from this reversal of a parcel of luminous divinity. If, with the gods, we are in the astral world, [15] the indefinite masculine pronoun in fragment 115, “the one whatsoever,” might designate as such a form of incarnation corresponding to an individual or personalized human nature (something that distinguishes a singular incarnation); the association of a plural form with the “daimons” would show that the passage, which initially concerned the order of the one living alone, is suddenly and unmistakably extended to include the entire set of human beings. It is not clear how else one might explain the nature of the fall that is represented by the intrusion of the divine into a world that is foreign to it. Transcendence resides in light. It is light that transcends itself. The heavens are of another nature, although they are visible. Here is the paradox of this quasi-immanent beyond that is manifested and revealed in the ether and transmitted to the rest of the world. A difference unfolds within the limits of the world, at its outer edges. According to The Purifications, this at once unattainable and visible divinity was communicated one day to men when it let itself go. The rupture hollowed out an opening in which the dispersion and the systole of a return were inscribed.
It is not that the stars furnish in themselves a truer idea of what the gods are. On the contrary, divinity, whose place and nature are illustrated in the narrative, is more abstract than is usually supposed; it can be found, retranslated, in the symbolic form of light. Nor is the god Sphairos of The Origins any more real; he has taken on the aspect of the sphere in the logic of a reflection on the composition of bodies. The question raised always remains tied to the question of how best to adapt the representations that have been transmitted by language.
The divine can spread from a single point to unite with all that is living, while retaining its separateness. The “daimons” of The Purifications necessarily keep their extra-physical alterity and their astral specificity. We can recognize in them a different—that is, immaterial—ethereal nature, provided that we represent the vanishing point of matter as a concentration of light. The daimons are not associated with any of the body’s physiological functions; they constitute doubles of living bodies—noetic replicas, as it were, without flesh or blood. [16] Intelligence alone is involved, or an abstract cognitive faculty; nothing else can lead beings to a form of non-eschatological accomplishment and deliverance. If daimons accompany higher human destinies, they have in the end the extraordinary opportunity to find one another again and to rejoin the circle of the gods of light. The “Olympians,” then, are men of the highest rank, among the purified; they ensure the governing of matters according to the laws granted to Olympus, the vault of the heavens. The proper understanding of the imagistic terms—the gods’ “table” where they gather, as well as the “hearth” that invests them with a center—has to be allegorical if it reveals the astral reality and detaches itself from the world through purity of thought. [17] Reversing the perspective, we could just as well say of the divine that it is accomplished in a negation of itself by means of a necessary transgression. Divinity can thus “make gods” of men who recognize it and identify with it.
The original murder reproduces—if we think about the constitution of bodies in The Origins—the physical and material division in the social order. It is the intrusion of an all-powerful evil, which is potentially propagated to all creatures. There is no remedy other than abstinence, rejection of bloodshed, and purifications, which constitute an end in themselves. In this theodicy, divinity leads beings to itself; it offers them the path of divinization through perfection alone, without any eschatological promise. It is close to being a replica of life itself.
From this point on, there is no place for any other god in this world. There is no god who is concerned with anyone at all, anywhere. The reign of the Olympians is abolished. Cypris [18] has neither flesh nor bones; she is a presence of Love in organisms, a translation of the law that governs the course of the universe. Around city-states there remain divine and immortal men, men who have become gods on earth. Divinity is simply a participation in the thought that shines throughout the universe. These god-men have become immortal through knowledge: they have become intellectual or (there is no difference) spiritual beings. If we pursue Empedocles’ struggle against anthropomorphism to its logical end, the divine will have no body, or else it will have a capacity that distinguishes it from all other forms of biological life. The Epicureans would oppose Empedocles’ views, judging from their own standpoint that his purified theology was mythical in its turn, although it was developed in opposition to all the traditional mythic representations that they themselves will leave in place. [19]
Located beyond the classic mind-body division, this intellectualized vision of the world cannot easily be situated within a history of religious spirituality. In a sense, it is opposed to the very existence of such a spirituality, and thus it remains hard to classify. Its governing principle, that of an order of ascension, was introduced among men in relation to scholarly exercises that were developed in the context of a communitarian way of life. This vision allowed men to enhance their ordinary capacities and to seek ways of struggling effectively against despair and wretchedness. The generous morality of the strong, and the succor it brings, are substituted for established beliefs. The traditional aspiration to salvation, to a higher life in a better world, is now satisfied with the “divine” resources that are offered to man. He succeeds in perfecting himself; he becomes divine here below. Nothing else can be expected. The fall has been legitimized in the teleology of a reparation engendered by the fall itself. No future is open in some other existence, in some form of the world other than the one encompassed by its astral closure. Perfection is reached in a limit crossed during the course of a lifetime.
We might return from here to the other poem and the problem of the cycle according to which living beings come to be, but not in order to reopen the discussion of a double cosmogony or zoogony, under the sign of two antagonistic forces, as has often been done. It is impossible to see what meaning the symmetrical duality might have (I still think that the question need not have been raised; I have dealt with this topic in another context, where I titled the section devoted to this cycle “the false problem”). [20] Strife does not lead to the creation of any differentiated organism; concomitantly, it is fair to say that Love creates nothing without Strife. They collaborate so closely that we do well to see them together, an indissoluble pair of contrary and separate forces. [21]
Interaction is paramount. However, once we have acknowledged the single course of evolution, leading from the rupture of the original sphere to its reconstitution, we confront the question of the future of the world and the infinite repetition of the cycle. The schema potentially invites us to conceive of an unlimited repetition starting from the same basis. The presentation offered in certain testimonies may be marked by Aristotelian theory; the biological model, transferred to the birth of the worlds, would confirm the idea of repetition. [22] The fact remains that we have no indication that the poem included an episode containing the description of a “cosmophthory,” [23] and the general context of The Purifications, despite the difference in the nature of the bodies or quasi-bodies implied, could well lead us to accept the existence of this lack.
Either we view the world as a great living thing that dies and reproduces itself, or else we distinguish a phase of atemporality in evolution. In the first case, the reign of the god Sphairos might represent a form of being required for the existence of the world, a world that would eventually be threatened with the loss of the demiurgic power that brought it into being, a world that would be weakened as a function of its distance from its origin. Neikos, the antagonist, might have his hour of destruction once again, before being banished to the outer regions; this is a conceivable stage in evolution, even if the destruction of the whole has already occurred. The alternative is to acknowledge that the god of origins, who allowed himself to be fragmented, has only let his empire go “for a time,” the time of a temporality, living the birth of time with the stars, and that he later takes hold of himself once more in his center in order to blend all things together outside of this world-time. The idea of the One would thus find mythic expression in a regularly renewed divinization of matter—a form of eschatological monotheism.
We may also reverse the perspective and remain with the model we already know, one in which the origin has bequeathed to the world that is forming a perfection that survives, dispersed and present in the least parcel of matter. Men would experience the divine in every object of knowledge; they would rediscover the primal unity in their intellectual activities. Viewed from this angle, The Origins is no less a “religious” poem than The Purifications, but it is situated within the framework of the esoteric practice of study. In the poem on physics, the god has bequeathed and delegated his radiance to the six agents of the cosmogony. They are seven altogether, a heptad. Through these intermediaries the supreme god is manifested in the world. The divine genealogy retranslates the traditional theogonic structures and reorganizes them. Through the presence, emphasized in the poem, of a transcendence that appears in phenomena, [24] the relation between the god and the world is analyzed in depth as one of true coexistence rather than simple succession.

Philosophical “Theology” in the formation of the world

The relation established between The Origins and The Purifications, converted into a confrontation, leads us to see considerable differences between the two texts. [25] The exercises that bring the lives of certain men closer to divine perfection in The Purifications localize the divine in the ordering of the heavens, which become a substitute for all the sanctuaries erected on earth. This astral ordering manifests the majesty of the world; it embodies universal justice. Here we are obliged to recognize the application of a science acquired elsewhere and in another way. The transfer shows that this science is broadly beneficent within the social order. The initiates in Agrigento have acquired it by study, in the exchanges of an intimate circle. They have learned to decompose and then to recompose the elements of nature. They teach the public at large that an absolute divinity exists, a divinity unified at the outset by the “thought” that recognizes itself in it. This divinity is called by the name “divine” alone, as if no other were worthy of sanctification. [26] The designation introduced and its conceptual determination could not be further removed from anthropomorphic representations.
In discussions among the initiates, the physical forces themselves are identified and observed in the objects of study, and in the process they are invested with divinity to such an extent that study itself logically becomes divine in turn. In The Origins, strictly speaking, neither practices nor beliefs are at issue. Its reading grid corresponds to a system of references that are harmonized with the divinization of the world. The god is presented at the heart of the investigation. What distinguishes the friendship of the “friends” is not the direct propagation of a doctrine—which would necessarily be political, exoteric, broadly subversive—but the affirmation of a limited finality: science serves the purpose of forming masters, and the masters will transform life. Thus it became possible to transform a different theology, to integrate it into a single, universal science; it was to be an exclusive theology tolerating no higher knowledge, no rival of any sort. The exhaustive explanation of the universe, carried to an extreme by Empedocles in all its aspects, from astronomy to psychology, can be better understood if we take into account the openly competing substitutions that the new quasi-scholastic (scholastically exemplary) gods introduced, substitutions that gave new meanings to the ancient names and to the representations associated with them.
We progress in the study of the relation between the two parts of the enterprise by methodically comparing the two poems’ quite distinctive approaches to the subject of the gods. In the reformed belief system presented in The Purifications, the divine is manifested in the visible order of the world. This is the “law” that emanates from the stars, “that which makes the law” in the universe (note the neuter to nomimon) and which imposes its rules on human society, a law written in the sky. [27] For men, this law would entail a peace agreement that they would establish among themselves if they could succeed in harmonizing their actions with this absolute good, which they see gleaming before them like a book, far from the Olympus of Homer and Hesiod and its power struggles. The form given to the good within the limits of this world is exempt from differences and from the avatars of becoming; it thus deserves the attribute of non-mortality, an attribute that was usually assigned to the anthropomorphic (or theriomorphic) gods. Certain men become non-mortals in the end, abstracting themselves in their luminosity, when they succeed in dematerializing themselves and allow themselves to be penetrated by the quasi-immaterial clarity of mastery over the course of things; this divinity is like a retranslation of the liberating and humanitarian activities they carry out in the life that they lead without other gods, activities that are more energetic and inventive, more just, than others.
Turning toward the communitarian side, toward the protected and privileged practice of the initiates, we find that there is no room for the gods except in natural objects and in quasi-professional analyses of those objects. The book being written will be more closed, more difficult as well, despite its programmatic openness toward the beauty of the research undertaken. When it succeeds, study leads to a particular mastery and to a quasi-divine domination in exercises of thaumaturgy. [28] Candidates for this elevation encounter the system of divinities distributed among the natural objects that they learn to make or refashion. They learn—or deduce or invent, it makes no difference—the constitution of these objects. From their vantage point, the world does not lie before them, as it does in The Purifications; they seek to understand how the world is made in order to know what it is. They are participants in an ongoing process, and they learn to identify the demiurgic forces at work. These forces are in matter, which is divinized from within.
The four elements have their basic distinguishing names, for example, “fire” or “water.” In addition, they can take on the names given to deities in the traditional belief systems; they are the equivalent of those deities, absorbing the representation of the power that had been attached to the gods. [29] This is in a sense the major substitutive stratum in the divine reading. From the differences among the elements, all else proceeds; their power to create the qualitative differentiations inherent in things is virtually limitless.
The presence of a divisive force such as Strife is inherent in the separation of the components. The complex interactions presupposed by the formation of living bodies cannot be explained without this positive adversity, this division in the face of union, this separateness from unity. These two divine forms also have their own names and their own capacity to integrate the traditional representations of the superhuman and universal powers. Philotes works with everything that Neikos has decomposed and virtually dissociated. The disciple learns to understand and to analyze this other type of interaction, which results from strictly contrary interventions. The union of differentiated elements can only be achieved by relying on work already accomplished by the other force, which would thus be primary, as it were, although the success of an encounter can really be attributed only to Love. Every existing form, whatever it may be, proceeds simultaneously from the one and the other. Harmony results from antagonism. Death is part of life. Life will never be absent either. There is no non-life.
At a third level of the discovery of principles, the reflection is situated closer to the origin. Division is relegated to the circumference. A unique case of stereometry is envisaged, in which only the perfect form, sphericity, exists. This will be Sphairos; the god who is supreme by virtue of his unicity has no name but this, a new name made to order for him. He traverses matter and supplies the object of a particular meditation. An absolute model, revealing ontological difference in his own way, he shows in what form Being can be conceived, maintaining himself in the being of the world. He has the power to reunite and to encompass absolutely, integrating everything, including division, which surrounds him and holds everything together. Even the external boundary is integrated; it is the product of concentration. The force of unification reigns alone; distinction falls. In this abstract meditative and analytic vision, probably the ultimate one in the undertaking rather than the starting point, there are neither four god-elements nor Love-and-Strife, but only the concentration that makes the Being-One. The idea proceeds from a progression. It forms an angle of vision. We are no longer dealing with the destitute theogonies, which are deemed mythical; there are no gods who die in battles of succession between one stage and another. Visions coexist, analyses persist and are superimposed.
The god Sphairos, in his concentration of life, is distinguished negatively, in the contrast of a privation on which the text insists. He is the authentic living entity with his own virtual components, but he is deprived of the members that constitute the bodies of the not yet constituted beings. [30] This distinction brings out a global capability. Sphairos is what he is going to be, and what, held in reserve, is not yet. His form leads to an understanding of this higher principle, separately embodying the principle of fitness and that of homogeneity as a condition of life. Other, and apart from life, he must himself nevertheless be alive, paradoxically, with an isolated power of unification that does not reunite differences in order to hold them together; this god brings together in himself elements that are already identical; we might well say “identically ones.” In his roundness he “rejoices in” himself; his unicity is doubled. The god encompasses himself and what surrounds him. [31] Circularity is the condition of this doubling; the limit that the sphere gives itself leads, as if in the second place, to awareness of its roundness. Thought is anchored in the perfection of an enclosure and an empire over the self. Equality can be measured in terms of itself, in its limits. In a complementary fashion, the limitless, rather than extending into space, closes in on itself and unfolds in the absence of any internal limit. The adverb πάμπαν [32] can be read in more than one way: first of all as “completely” (πάμπαν ἀπείρων), but also as “at the heart of a reiterated totality,” marking the doubling.
The ontological definition brings the attributes of physical speculation back to a rethought origin and applies them to a divine figure. This abstract figure is animated by a personalized force. It is conceived as being potentially coextensive with the productions of nature, their correlative in the form of a male god, as Zeus is in the city-states. The unifying force, central everywhere in the multitude of living formations, opens up to itself and is defined on the basis of an analysis of life. An extreme degree of attentiveness is expected of the disciple in this highest degree of initiation into the mysteries, a principle embodied and disengaged from embodiments. This principle draws and constructs the sole figure that is appropriate to it. It is in this result and in the reflection that produces it that one has to believe. To recognize the god is to abstract him; it is to see the world in the light of this truth. The ontology of the Eleatic tradition is freely treated by Empedocles as an object of discourse, that is, as a position that is in the first place distinct. It is appropriate to give absolute transcendence the meaning that is in harmony with the system that it clarifies, and that depends on it. The eternal order of things, anchored in the truth of the god, is likewise a matter of interpretation and clarification.
Divinity thus deduced, before being installed, is reserved, properly speaking, to the depths attained by study as a convention among friends in which the circle finds its justification. Nothing will be more accurate than this projection of thought, objectified in the study of the world. The friends are immortalized this way in their initiation: their reflection readjusts the traditions. Their constructed “god” can in no way be supposed to form the object of contemplation in the heaven of the world that is so broadly open to the public to which The Purifications is addressed. The difference in the two poems’ aims and strategies determines the nature of the theologies, which are always transitory. This difference is enough to discredit in a more general way all the attempts to interpret the fragments of the ethical or religious poem by naively transferring to them data borrowed from the analysis of the constitution of the world. [33] The poet’s exploit lies in the success of the transpositions, on both sides. The horizon of expectations is completely different between Pausanias, the doctor to whom the esoteric discourse is addressed, and the masses being pulled along by the delegated apostle substituting for priests in the other poem. The more we distinguish between the social and cultural contexts of the two spheres, which are coordinated as center to periphery, the better chance we have of grasping the import of a language that remains essentially prophetic, but in the second degree, by differentiating and separating itself from itself.

Works Cited

Bollack, J., ed. 1992. Empédocle. 3 vols. Paris.
———. 2001. “Voir la Haine. Sur les nouveaux fragments d’Empédocle.” Methodos 1:173–185. Lille.
———. 2003. Les Purifications: un projet de paix universelle. Paris.
Burkert, W. 1962. Weisheit und Wissenschaft: Studien zu Pythagoras, Philolaos und Platon. Nuremberg. [Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism. Trans. E. L. Minar, Jr. Cambridge, MA., 1972.]
Diels, H. 1901. Poetarum Philosophorum Fragmenta. Berlin.
Laks, A. 2002. “Reading the Readings: On the First Person Plurals in the Strasburg Empedocles.” In Presocratic Philosophy: Essays in Honour of Alexander Mourelatos, ed. V. Caston and D. W. Graham, 127–137. Aldershot.
———. 2004. Le vide et la haine. Éléments pour une histoire archaïque de la négativité. Paris.
Martin, A., and O. Primavesi. 1999. L’Empédocle de Strasbourg (P. Strasb. gr. Inv. 1665-1666). Introduction, édition et commentaire. Strasbourg.
Obbink, D., ed. 1996. Philodemus on Piety, Part 1: Critical Text with Commentary. Oxford.
Osborne, C. 1987. “Empedocles Recycled.” Classical Quarterly 37:24–50.
Primavesi, O. 2003. “Die Häuser von Zeus und Hades: zu Text und Deutung von Empedokles B142D.-Kr.” Cronache Ercolanesi 33:53–68.
Stein, H. 1852. Empedoclis Arigentini fragmenta. Bonn.
Trépanier, S. 2003a. “‘We’ and Empedocles’ Cosmic Lottery: P. Strasb. Gr. Inv. 1655-1666, Ensemble A.” Mnemosyne 56:385–419.
———. 2003b. “Empedocles on the Ultimate Symmetry of the World.” Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 24:1–57.
Van der Ben, N. 1975. The Proem of Empedocles’ Peri Physios, toward a New Edition of All the Fragments: Thirty-One Fragments Edited. Amsterdam.


[ back ] * First published in A. L. Pierris, ed., The Empedoclean Kosmos: Structure, Process, and the Question of Cyclicity. Proceedings of the Symposium Philosophiae Antiquae Tertium Myconense, July 6th-July 13th, 2003 (Patras, 2005), 45–72. Translated by C. Porter; translation slightly modified here.
[ back ] 1. Martin and Primavesi 1999.
[ back ] 2. The commentary on the poem concerning the nature of things was published in four volumes in 1965–1969 as Les Origines, with an introduction, an edition of the text and autonomous and open numbering, 1–699 (currently available in Bollack 1992). In Les Purifications: un projet de paix universelle (Bollack 2003), I followed the order of the Diels-Kranz edition. [TN: For an English-language edition including both texts, see B. Inwood, The Poem of Empedocles (Toronto, 2001), or M. R. Wright, Empedocles: The Extant Fragments (London, 1995).]
[ back ] 3. See the discussion of the two poems in Bollack 2003:14–17: “Nature et religion.”
[ back ] 4. Martin and Primavesi 1999:119.
[ back ] 5. See Bollack 2001; on the question of reference in one poem to the other, see p. 174.
[ back ] 6. The problem of analogy, so well formulated by Laks (2004:7–44), has to be discussed in these terms, it seems to me.
[ back ] 7. The Strasbourg papyrus may offer, in the indirect tradition, a first-person plural in several passages where a participle is read. There is an initial question as to whether a variant is really at stake. The editors of the papyrus had drawn a dogmatic conclusion on this point (seeing the “we” as referring to the presence of the principle of Love). Along with others, Laks (2002) refutes this rather extravagant idea, and sees instead a reference to the generative force. Reconsidering the passages relevant to this question, Trépanier (2003a) concludes that we do not have a true variant here, following Mansfeld and Agra on this point. However, the problem is only displaced. We still need an explanation for the presence of the letter theta in this context.
[ back ] 8. As an example, we might take the cycle prescribed for the migrations of the daimons, in frag. 115.9–12 (Bollack 2003:68–69).
[ back ] 9. Origines frag. 101 (= 31B59 D-K) and Bollack 1992, vol. 3, sect. 2:417–418.
[ back ] 10. See Origines frag. 328 (= 31B44 D-K), and Bollack 1992, vol. 3, sect. 1:268, with a reference to the meaning of the word in Parmenides.
[ back ] 11. See the discussion in Bollack 1992, 1:82–85, “Le feu des contraires.”
[ back ] 12. Origines frag. 63.12 (= 31B21 D-K), and frag. 64.8 (= 31B23 D-K.). In my commentary (Bollack 1992, vol. 3, sect. 2:118–119), I recognized the powers of the system with their names of gods, but it now seems more logical to me to see the stars associated with living beings, in the enumeration of the bodies formed; they close the world.
[ back ] 13. It is possible to compare Origines frag. 110 (cited by Simplicius), and Purifications frag. 115, with the variations (see Bollack 1992, vol. 3, sect. 1:151–152, and Bollack 2003:62–63).
[ back ] 14. See Purifications frag. 142 (Bollack 2003:107). Given the state of the text and the absence of context, without leaving the horizon of the poem one can only recognize negatively the spaces designated for their non-existence in Olympus and Hades. There is nothing on which to build an allegorical interpretation. Primavesi (2003) has no reason to combat the very understandable impression, put forward at one time by Ettore Bignone, of a conformity between the fragment and widespread beliefs (see p. 63). It is useless to add “popular.” What would we do in that case with Homer or Hesiod? The representations are either challenged by Empedocles or else retranslated and reintegrated into his own system. There is no other way.
[ back ] 15. If I finally convinced myself that gods of light were at issue, it is because it seemed to me, according to the overall logic of construction, that the possibility of a reference to the gods of the traditional pantheon had to be excluded. Testimonies about the differing nature of the celestial world were not in short supply and the “gods” that figured in Origins among produced beings could (or should) have been associated with stars.
[ back ] 16. In the presentation of Purifications, see the discussion of the problematics defined by Burkert (1962, esp. p. 22 [1972, esp. p. 24]).
[ back ] 17. See the commentary in Bollack 2003:112–113.
[ back ] 18. See frag. 128, which I have situated in an episode describing the state of the world before the murder and the irruption of the divine (Bollack 2003:86–87).
[ back ] 19. The discussion, well attested in Philodemus, must have been at the heart of Hermarchus’ book on Empedocles; see Bollack 2003:120–122. The earliest men saw the gods appear in their dreams in anthropomorphic forms. They supplied them with the prolepses of blessed and imperishable beings (see Book 12 of Epicurus’ Περὶ φύσεως). In Against Empedocles, Hermarchus contested the transformations carried out by Empedocles, as we learn from Philodemus; see Obbink 1996, col. 19, 546–554; cf. frag. 19 (Longo) of Hermarchus. The debate bears on the adaptation of conventional beliefs to the nature of things.
[ back ] 20. Bollack 1992, vol. 1:95–122. The heart of the argument consisted in demonstrating that the triumph of Hate, or Strife—complete atomization or parcelization—was immediate, to the point of coinciding with the spherical origin, in the form of an explosion no less initial than the model that preceded.
[ back ] 21. Most recently, Trépanier (2003b) has returned to the double formation, attributed to a struggle between two visions in Empedocles’ mind, one more refined, the other more common (see esp. pp. 40–41). This conceptual flux is difficult to support.
[ back ] 22. See the doubts expressed earlier in the section “L’origine et la fin,” Bollack 1992, vol. 1:146–152 (esp. 151).
[ back ] 23. [TN: The French neologism cosmophthorie is derived from the Greek adjective kosmophtoros, meaning “destroyer of the world.” Cosmophthorie is thus contrasted with cosmogonie, “birth of the world.”]
[ back ] 24. Struck by the role attributed to the epiphany, in an earlier discussion of frag. 63 (= 31B21 D-K), I wrote that the visible bodies, “massive, themselves supply the proof of their divinity” (Bollack 1992, vol. 3, sect. 1:108).
[ back ] 25. I used the term “homology” in the discussion of the autonomy of the two poems, contesting the various hypotheses of their unity. See Bollack 1999:178; it seems to me that one arrives at sounder interpretations with the play of references by stressing each time the difference and the singularity of the viewpoint.
[ back ] 26. See frag. 134, with the radical commentary of the Neo-platonic Ammonius, who cites it (Bollack 2003:93–94). Thought is distinguished from corporeality as the sphere is distinguished from the world. The same structure is presented in Origines frag. 98 (= 31B29 D-K).
[ back ] 27. This is one of the two passages cited with Antigone, lines 456–457, by Aristotle in Rhetoric, for the universal sentiment of the just (frag. 135): a unique law for everything that exists (Bollack 2003:100).
[ back ] 28. See Origines frags. 12 and 699 (= 31B110 and 31B111 D-K). The first stresses the incomparable powers of science; the second emphasizes the necessity of a separated activity for the ordinary life of men. Contemplative life is presented not as the goal of existence, but as the condition of a more effective active life.
[ back ] 29. See Origines frag. 150 (= 31B6 D-K) and the discussion of the attribution of names to the two pairs Fire-Air and Earth-Water, in Bollack 1992, vol. 2, sect. 1:169–185, “Les noms des dieux.”
[ back ] 30. Origines frag. 98 (31B29 D-K).
[ back ] 31. The line, with variations that have been elaborated, seems to have been taken up again in the course of the episode; see Origines frag. 92.b2 (= 31B27.2 D-K), and frag. 95 (= 31B28 D-K).
[ back ] 32. Origines frag. 95 (= 30B28.1 D-K).
[ back ] 33. One of the best examples would be supplied by the identifications proposed to the gods in frag. 115 (see Bollack 2003:62–63). The analysis of Empedocles’ ontological principles offered in the present chapter constitutes a complementary study concentrating on the adaptation of the Eleatic ontology in frag. 31 (= 17 D-K), an adaptation completed by the beginning of the papyrus.