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Empedocles (ĕmpĕdˈəklēz), c.495–c.435 B.C., Greek philosopher, b. Acragas (present Agrigento), Sicily. Leader of the democratic faction in his native city, he was offered the crown, which he refused. A turn in political fortunes drove him and his followers into exile. Empedocles taught that everything in existence is composed of four underived and indestructible roots, material particles identified as fire, water, earth, and air. He declared the atmosphere to be a corporeal substance, not a mere void; and in the absence of the void or empty space he explained motion as the interpenetration of particles, under the alternating action of two forces, harmony and discord. Believing that motion, or change of place, is the only sort of change possible, he explained all apparent changes in quality or quantity as changes of position of the basic particles underlying the observable object. He was thereby the first to state a principle that is now central to physics.


See studies by C. E. Millerd (1980) and M. R. Wright (1981).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



of Acragas (Agrigento). Born circa 490 B.C.; died circa 430. Greek philosopher, physician, and political figure; head of the democrats’ party.

Empedocles was influenced by the Pythagoreans and by Parmenides. In the poem On Nature he developed the doctrine of the four eternal and invariable elements—fire, air, water, and earth—out of which, in various proportions and combinations, all things are formed. The joining and separation of the elements are predicated on the existence of two forces, love and strife, whose alternating predominance determines the cyclicity of the world process. In the period of the supremacy of love, the elements are fused together, forming an enormous homogeneous sphere that is in a state of peace; the predominance of strife leads to the separation of the elements. The world in which we live, according to Empedocles, represents one of the intermediate stages. The description of the origin of living creatures in the period of ascendancy of love anticipates in some respects the idea of natural selection.

Empedocles devoted considerable attention to questions of anatomy and physiology, as exemplified by his description of the breathing process; his theory of “pores” and “effluences,” which was intended to explain sensations, contains the rudiments of atomistic ideas. In the poem Purifications, Empedocles expounded his religious-ethical doctrine of metempsychosis, or transmigration of the soul. He is considered the founder of the Sicilian medical school.


Diels, H. Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, 6th ed., vol. 1. Berlin, 1951. Pages 276–375.
Ben, N. van der. The Poem of Empedocles’ Peri Physeos. Amsterdam, 1975.
In G. Zuntz, Persephone. Oxford, 1971. Pages 181–274.
In Russian translation:
In P. Tannery, Pervye shagi drevnegrecheskoi nauki. Translated by E. L. Radlov. St. Petersburg, 1902. Pages 87–105.
Lucretius. On the Nature of Things, vol. 2. Translated by G. I. Iakubanis. Leningrad, 1947. Pages 663–95.


Iakubanis. G. I. Empedokl—filosof, vrach i charodei. Kiev, 1906.
Bollack, J. Empédocle, vols. 1–3. Paris, 1965–69.
O’Brien, D. Empedocles’ Cosmic Cycle. Cambridge, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


?490--430 bc, Greek philosopher and scientist, who held that the world is composed of four elements, air, fire, earth, and water, which are governed by the opposing forces of love and discord
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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