Philosopher, Physicist, Engineer, Inventor, Physician, Shaman, Musician, Poet (c480 BC – c430 BC)
Empedocles was one of the greatest pre-Socratic philosophers and is acknowledged as one of the brightest minds Greece ever gave birth to. He was a polymath who mastered philosophy, poetry, medicine and politics. He delved deeply into the nature of the human soul, explored the metaphysical world, researched the Cosmos and performed miracles, such as to be called a wizard, a thaumaturge, a shaman and even a God. Because of his insuperable wisdom and his obscure life and work, Empedocles passed into the world of legends.
Empedocles belonged to the Pluralistic school of philosophy. He was the founder of the theory according to which the Universe is comprised of 4 elements: wind, water, fire and earth. These four elements, when mixed together in different combinations and amounts create all things and all life. He deduced that the driving force of all these combinations were two counteracting cosmogonic forces: Love (Φιλότης) and Strife (Νεῖκος). Love acted as a force which drew the elements, or “roots”, together while Strife separated them apart. Love creates and Strife destroys. Empedocles asserted that these two forces constantly battle each other in an endless cycle in order for one of them to prevail; either Love, which tends to direct everything into a cosmic state called Sphaeros, where everything exists as a unity, or Strife, which directs everything into a state known as Acosmy, where everything exists as a distinct element. Together they direct the flow of the cosmic events. Empedocles believed that the universe was egg-shaped. According to him, living beings were originally without a specific shape or size and all matter was condensed into the shape of a sphere. By means of repulsive powers, matter was separated into the 4 elements causing whirling motions.
Despite the fact that Empedocles could have become ruler of his city-state for his tie-ins with the ruling class, he instead chose to walk around the streets of his beloved city practicing medicine, curing the sick and performing miracles. According to Heraclides of Pontus, Empedocles restored a woman to life who was not showing any breathing signs or pulse. On other accounts, Empedocles possessed supernatural powers such as hypnotism and telepathy. He prophesized, communicated with the Gods and daemons, controlled the rain and the winds and managed once to stop a man from killing another man by alleviating his anger using his lyre’s melody. Moreover, Empedocles partook actively in politics by abolishing tyranny and supporting democracy. He was honoured as a God in Selinous for implementing a system of hygiene which saved the lives of many people.
Founder of rhetoric science according to Aristotle and inventor of the water hourglass, Empedocles provided explanations on the function of the respiratory system and connected it with the blood circulation, researched the function of the eyes and proposed that they function similarly to a radar, studied electromagnetism and its effects while expressing the theory of magnetic flux, made important contributions on the physics of optics and acoustics, expressed that solid objects vibrate, discovered the pores of the human body by which perception is achieved and was involved in anthropologic, biologic and chemical studies. Empedocles worked on the origin of the species and on embryology. He wrote a huge number of books, only fragments of which survive today. His most notable ones are On the Nature of Beings, Epigrams and Purifications. The first one was a poetic and scientific work consisting of 3 books concerning Empedocles’ researches on physics, astronomy, physiology and pharmacology. The second one features noteworthy information concerning his philosophy. The third one is a metaphysical treatise that describes the fall of the soul to the world, the reincarnation and explores the supernatural world of magic.
Empedocles taught on the transmigration of the souls. His well-known phrase «Ἤδη γὰρ πότ’ἐγὼ γενόμην κοῦρὸς τε καὶ κόρη τε θάμνος τ’οἰωνὸς τε καὶ ἔνναλος ἕλλοπος ἰχθύς» (For I was once already boy and girl, thicket and bird and a mute fish in the waves) denotes that Empedocles had retained memories of his past lives and could recall having lived as many different life forms with different gender. Because the soul is immortal and is reincarnated whenever the mortal body is destroyed. With his work Purifications the philosopher aimed at redeeming the soul and making it capable of ascending to the Divine planes.
Empedocles believed that he himself was a daemon, a long-living being from the Divine planes that was banished to the mortal world. He was condemned to live a cycle of reincarnations lasting 30.000 years in order to atone for his sins. Having repeated so many transmigrations as different life forms, Empedocles reached his current reincarnation and redeemed his soul, becoming, as he says, an immortal god. Because through these transmigrations do men purify their soul, reincarnate as prophets, physicians, seers or rulers and in the end they attain divinity. Empedocles was all of the above four together. His teachings on the purification of the soul and its ascension to the Divine planes among the divine beings are Empedocles’ major consignment to philosophy and humanity.
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