Fragments and Commentary
Arthur Fairbanks, ed. and trans.
The First Philosophers of Greece
(London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1898), 157-234.

Hanover Historical Texts Project
Scanned and proofread by Aaron Gulyas, May 1998.
Proofread and pages added by Jonathan Perry, March 2001.

Fairbanks's Introduction
Translation of the Fragments: Book I
Translation of the Fragments: Book II
Translation of the Fragments: Book III
Translation of the Fragments: On Purifications
. . .

Fairbanks's Introduction

Empedokles, son of Meton, grandson of an Empedokles who was a victor at Olympia, made his home and Akragas in Sicily. he was born about 494 B.C., and lived to the age of sixty. The onle sure daye in his life is his visit to Thourioi soon after its foundation (444). Various stories are told of his political activity, which may be genuine traditions. At the same time he claimed almost the homage due to a god, and many miracles are attributed to him. His writings in some parts are said to imitate Orphic verses, and apparently his religious activity was in line with this sect. His death occured away from Sicily--probably in the Pelopnnesos.

Literature:-Sturz, Emped. vita et phil. carm. rell. Lips. 1805 ; Karsten, Emped. carm. rell. Amist. 1838 ; Bergk, kleine Schriften, Berl. 1839 ; Panzerbieter, Beitr. z. Kritik u. Erkl. d. Emped. Meining. 1844; Stein, Emped. Frag. Bonn 1852; Schneidewin, Philol. xv.; H. Diels; Hermes xv. pp. 161-179 ; Gorgias und Empedocles, Acad. Berol. 1884; Unger, Philol. Suppl. 1883, pp. 511-550; 0. Kern, Archiv f. d. Gesch. d. Philos. i. 498 ff.; Knatz, 'Eilipedoclea' in Schedae Phil. H. Usener oblatae, Bonn 1891 ; A. Platt, Journal of Philology, xxiv. p. 246 ; Bidez, Archiv, ix. 190 Gomperz, Hermes, xxxi. p. 469.

Translation of the Fragments: Book I

[Page 159] 1. And do thou hear me, Pausanias, son of wise Anchites.

2. For scant means of acquiring knowledge are scattered among the members of the body; and many are the evils that break in to blunt the edge of studious thought. And gazing on a little portion of life that is not life, swift to meet their fate, they rise and are borne away like smoke, persuaded only of that on which each one chances as he is driven this way and that, but the whole he vainly boasts he has found. Thus these things are neither seen nor heard distinctly by men, nor comprehended by the mind. And thou, now that thou hast withdrawn hither, shalt learn no more than what mortal mind has seen.

11. 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.

19. 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.

24. Cures for evils whatever there are, and protection against old age shalt thou learn, since for thee alone will I accomplish all these things. 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.

33. 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. [Cf. Dox. p.99, n. 3.]

[Page 163] 36. And a second thing I will tell thee: There is no origination of anything that is mortal, nor yet any end in baneful death; but only mixture and separation of what is mixed, but men call this 'origination.'

40. 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.

45. 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.

48. 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.

[Page 165] 51. 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.

55. 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.

58. 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.

60. Twofold is the truth I shall speak; for at one time there grew to be one alone out of many, and at another time, however, it separated so that there were many out of the one. Twofold is the coming into being, twofold the passing away, of perishable things; for the latter (i.e. passing away) the combining of [Page 167] all things both begets and destroys, and the former (i.e. coming into being), which was nurtured again out of parts that were being separated, is itself scattered.

66. And 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. Thus inasmuch as one has been wont to arise out of many and again with the separation of the one the many arise, so things are continually coming into being and there is no fixed age for them; and farther inasmuch as they [the elements] never cease changing place continually, so they always exist within an immovable circle.

74. But come, hear my words, for truly learning causes the mind to grow. For as I said before in declaring the ends of my words: Twofold is the truth I shall speak; for at one time there grew to be the one

[Page 169] alone out of many, and at another time it separated so that there were many out of the one; fire and water and earth and boundless height of air, and baneful Strife apart from these, balancing each of them, and Love among them, their equal in length and breadth.

81. 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.[Cf. Parmenides v. 112]...

87. 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.

[Page 171] each other, and they increase each in its allotted turn. But these (elements) are the same; and penetrating through each other they become one thing in one place and another in another, while ever they remain alike (i.e. the same).

110. 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.

96. But come, gaze on the things that bear farther witness to my former words, if in what was said before there be anything defective in form. Behold the sun, warm and bright on all sides, and whatever is immortal and is bathed in its bright ray, and behold the rain-cloud, dark and cold on all sides; from the earth there proceed the foundations of things and solid bodies. In Strife all things are, endued with form and separate from each other, but they come together in Love and are desired by each other. 104. For from these (elements) come all things that are or have been or shall be; from these there grew up trees and men and women, wild beasts and birds and water-nourished fishes, and the very gods, long-lived, highest in honour.

121. And as when painters are preparing elaborate votive offerings-men well taught by wisdom in their [Page 173] art - they take many-coloured pigments to work with, and blend together harmoniously more of one and less of another till they produce likenesses of all things; so let not error overcome thy mind to make thee think there is any other source of mortal things that have likewise come into distinct existence in unspeakable numbers; but know these (elements), for thou didst hear from a god the account of them.

130. But come, I will tell thee now the first principle of the sun, even the sources of all things now visible, earth and billowy sea and damp mist and Titan aether (i.e. air) binding all things in its embrace.

135. Then neither is the bright orb of the sun greeted, nor yet either the shaggy might of earth or sea; thus, then, in the firm vessel of harmony is fixed God, a sphere, round, rejoicing in complete solitude.

[Page 175] 139. But when mighty Strife - was nurtured in its members and leaped up to honour at the completion of the time, which has been driven on by them both in turn under a mighty oath. . . .

142. For the limbs of the god were made to tremble, all of them in turn.

143. For all the heavy (he put) by itself, the light by itself.

144. Without affection and not mixed together.

145. Heaped together in greatness.

146. If there were no limit to the depths of the earth and the abundant air, as is poured out in foolish words from the mouths of many mortals who see but little of the all.

149. Swift-darting sun and kindly moon.

150. But gathered together it advances around the great heavens.

151. It shines back to Olympos with untroubled face.

[Page 177] 152. The kindly light has a brief period of shining.

153. As sunlight striking the broad circle of the moon.

154. A borrowed light, circular in form, it revolves about the earth, as if following the track of a chariot.

156. For she beholds opposite to her the sacred circle of her lord.

157. And she scatters his rays into the sky above, and spreads darkness over as much of the earth as the breadth of the gleaming-eyed moon.

160. And night the earth makes by coming in front of the lights.

161. Of night, solitary, blind-eyed.

162. And many fires burn beneath the earth.

163. (The sea) with its stupid race of fertile fishes.

[Page 179] 164. Salt is made solid when struck by the rays of the sun.

165. The sea is the sweat of the earth.

166. But air1 sinks down beneath the earth with its long roots . . . . For thus it happened to be running at that time, but oftentimes otherwise.

168. (Fire darting) swiftly upwards.

169. But now I shall go back over the course of my verses, which I set out in order before, drawing my present discourse from that discourse. When Strife reached the lowest depth of the eddy and Love comes to be in the midst of the whirl, then all these things come together at this point so as to be one alone, yet not immediately, but joining together at their pleasure, one from one place, another from another. And as they were joining together Strife departed to the utmost boundary. But many things remained unmixed, [Page 181] alternating with those that were mixed, even as many as Strife, remaining aloft, still retained; for not yet had it entirely departed to the utmost boundaries of the circle, but some of its members were remaining within, and others had gone outside. 180. But, just as far as it is constantly rushing forth, just so far there ever kept coming in a gentle immortal stream of perfect Love; and all at once what before I learned were immortal were coming into being as mortal things,1 what before were unmixed as mixed, changing their courses. And as they (the elements) were mingled together there flowed forth the myriad species of mortal things, patterned in every sort of form, a wonder to behold.

186. For all things are united, themselves with parts of themselves - the beaming sun and earth and sky and sea - whatever things are friendly but have separated in mortal things. And so, in the same way, whatever things are the more adapted for mixing, these are loved by each other and made alike by Aphrodite. But what ever things are hostile are separated as far as possible from each other, both in their origin and in their mixing and in the forms impressed on them, absolutely unwonted to unite and very baneful, at the suggestion of Strife, since it has wrought their birth.

[Page 183] 195. In this way, by the good favour of Tyche, all things have power of thought.

196. And in so far as what was least dense came together as they fell.

197. For water is increased by water, primeval fire by fire, and earth causes its own substance to increase, and air, air.

199. And the kindly earth in its broad hollows received two out of the eight parts of bright Nestis, and four of Hephaistos, and they became white bones, fitted together marvellously by the glues of harmony.

203. And the earth met with these in almost equal amounts, with Hephaistos and Ombros and bright-shining Aether (i.e. air), being anchored in the perfect harbours of Kypris; either a little more earth, or a little less with more of the others. From these arose blood and various kinds of flesh.

208. . . . glueing barley-meal together with water.

209. (Water) tenacious Love.

Translation of the Fragments: Book II

[Page 185] 210. And if your faith be at all lacking in regard to these (elements), how from water and earth and air and sun (fire) when they are mixed, arose such colours and forms of mortal things, as many as now have arisen under the uniting power of Aphrodite.

214. How both tall trees and fishes of the sea (arose).

215. And thus then Kypris, when she had moistened the earth with water, breathed air on it and gave it to swift fire to be hardened.

217. And all these things which were within were made dense, while those without were made rare, meeting with such moisture in the hands of Kypris.

219. And thus tall trees bear fruit (lit. eggs), first of all olives.

220. Wherefore late-born pomegranates and luxuriant apples .

221. Wine is water that has fermented in the wood beneath the bark.

222. For if thou shalt fix them in all thy close-knit mind and watch over them graciously with pure attention, all these things shall surely be thine for ever, and many others shalt thou possess from them. For these themselves shall cause each to grow into its own character, whatever is the nature1 of each. But if thou shalt reach out for things of another sort, as is the manner of men, there exist countless evils to blunt your studious thoughts; soon these latter shall cease to live as time goes on, desiring as they do to arrive at the longed-for generation of themselves. For know that all things have understanding and their share of intelligence.

232. Favor hates Necessity, hard to endure.

233. This is in the heavy-backed shells found in the sea, of limpets and purple-fish and stone-covered tortoises. . . .there shalt thou see earth lying uppermost on the surface.

[Page 189] 236. Hair and leaves and thick feathers of birds are the same thing in origin, and reptiles' scales, too, on strong limbs.

238. But on hedgehogs, sharp-pointed hair bristles on their backs.

240. Out of which divine Aphrodite wrought eyes untiring.

241. Aphrodite fashioning them curiously with bonds of love.

242. When they first grew together in the hands of Aphrodite.

243. The liver well supplied with blood.

244. Where many heads grew up without necks, and arms were wandering about naked, bereft of shoulders, and eyes roamed about alone with no foreheads.

247. This is indeed remarkable in the mass of human members; at one time all the limbs which form the body, united into one by Love, grow vigorously in the prime of life; but yet at another time, separated by evil Strife, they wander each in different directions along the breakers of the sea of life. Just so it is with [Page 191] plants and with fishes dwelling in watery halls, and beasts whose lair is in the mountains, and birds borne on wings.

254. But as divinity was mingled yet more with divinity, these things kept coming together in whatever way each might chance, and many others also in addition to these continually came into being.

257. Many creatures arose with double faces and double breasts, offspring of oxen with human faces, and again there sprang up children of men with oxen's heads; creatures, too, in which were mixed some parts from men and some of the nature of women, furnished with sterile members.

261. Cattle of trailing gait, with undivided hoofs.

262. But come now, hear of these things; how fire separating caused the hidden offspring of men and weeping women to arise, for it is no tale apart from our subject, or witless. In the first place there sprang up out of the earth forms grown into one whole, having a share of both, of water and of fire. These in truth fire caused to grow up, desiring to reach its like; but they [Page 193] showed as yet no lovely body formed out of the members, nor voice nor limb such as is natural to men.

270. But the nature of the members (of the child?) is divided, part in the man's, part in the woman's (body).

271. But desire also came upon him, having been united with . . . by sight.

273. It was poured out in the pure parts, and some meeting with cold became females.

275. The separated harbours of Aphrodite.

276. In its warmer parts the womb is productive of the male, and on this account men are dark and more muscular and more hairy.

279. As when fig-juice curdles and binds white milk.

280. On the tenth day of the eighth month came the white discharge.

281. Knowing that there are exhalations from all things which came into existence.

281. Thus sweet was snatching sweet, and bitter darted to bitter, and sharp went to sharp, and hot coupled with hot.

[Page 195] 284. Water combines better with wine, but it is unwilling to combine with oil.

286. The bloom of the scarlet dye mingles with shining linen.

287. So all beings breathe in and out; all have bloodless tubes of flesh spread over the outside of the body, and at the openings of these the outer layers of skin are pierced all over with close-set ducts, so that the blood remains within, while a facile opening is cut for the air to pass through. Then whenever the soft blood speeds away from these, the air speeds bubbling in with impetuous wave, and whenever the blood leaps back the air is breathed out; as when a girl, playing with a klepsydra of shining brass, takes in her fair hand the narrow opening of the tube and dips it in the soft mass of silvery water, the water does not at once flow into the vessel, but the body of air within pressing on the close-set holes checks it till she uncovers the compressed stream; but then when the air gives way the determined amount of water enters. (302.) And so in the same way when the water occupies the depths of the bronze vessel, as long as the narrow opening and passage is blocked up by human flesh, the air outside striving eagerly to enter holds back the water inside behind the gates of the resounding tube, keeping control of its end, until she lets go with her hand.

[Page 197] (306.) Then, on the other hand, the very opposite takes place to what happened before; the determined amount of water runs off as the air enters Thus in the same way when the soft blood, surging violently through the members, rushes back into the interior, a swift stream of air comes in with hurrying wave, and whenever it (the blood) leaps back, the air is breathed out again in equal quantity.

313. With its nostrils seeking out the fragments of animals' limbs,

314. So, then, all things have obtained their share of breathing and of smelling.

315. (The ear) an offshoot of flesh.

316. And as when one with a journey through a stormy night in prospect provides himself with a lamp and lights it at the bright-shining fire - with lanterns that drive back every sort of wind, for they scatter the breath of the winds as they blow - and the light darting out, inasmuch as it is finer (than the winds), shines across the threshold with untiring rays; so then elemental fire, shut up in membranes, it entraps in fine coverings to be the round pupil, and the coverings protect it against the deep water which flows about it, but the fire darting forth, inasmuch as it is finer. . . .

[Page 199] 326. There is one vision coming from both (eyes).

327. (The heart) lies in seas of blood which darts in opposite directions, and there most of all intelligence centres for men; for blood about the heart is intelligence in the case of men.

330. For men's wisdom increases with reference to what lies before them.

331. In so far as they change and become different, to this extent other sorts of things are ever present for them to think about.

333. For it is by earth that we see earth, and by water water, and by air glorious air; so, too, by fire we see destroying fire, and love by love, and strife by baneful strife. For out of these (elements) all things are fitted together and their form is fixed, and by these men think and feel both pleasure and pain.

Translation of the Fragments: Book III

[Page 201] 338. Would that in behalf of perishable beings thou, immortal Muse, mightest take thought at all for our thought to come by reason of our cares! Hear me now and be present again by my side, Kalliopeia, as I utter noble discourse about the blessed gods.

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

344. It is not possible to draw near (to god) even with the eyes, or to take hold of him with our hands, which in truth is the best highway of persuasion into the mind of man; for he has no human head fitted to a body, nor do two shoots branch out from the trunk, nor has he feet, nor swift legs, nor hairy parts, but he is sacred and ineffable mind alone, darting through the whole world with swift thoughts.

Translation of the Fragments: On Purifications

352. 0 friends, ye who inhabit the great city of sacred Akragas up to the acropolis, whose care is good deeds, who harbour strangers deserving of respect, who know not how to do baseness, hail! I go about among you an immortal god, no longer a mortal, honoured by all, as is fitting, crowned with fillets and luxuriant garlands. With these on my head, so soon as I come to flourishing cities I am reverenced by men and by women; and they follow after me in countless numbers, inquiring of me what is the way to gain, some in want of oracles, others of help in diseases, long time in truth pierced with grievous pains, they seek to hear from me keen-edged account of all sorts of things.

364. But why do I lay weight on these things, as though I were doing some great thing, if I be superior to mortal, perishing men?

[Page 205] 366. Friends, I know indeed when truth lies in the discourses that I utter; but truly the entrance of assurance into the mind of man is difficult and hindered by jealousy.

369. There is an utterance of Necessity, an ancient decree of the gods, eternal, sealed fast with broad oaths whenever any one defiles his body sinfully with bloody gore or perjures himself in regard to wrong-doing, one of those spirits who are heir to long life, thrice ten thousand seasons shall he wander apart from the blessed, being born meantime in all sorts of mortal forms, changing one bitter path of life for another. For mighty Air pursues him Seaward, and Sea spews him forth on the threshold of Earth, and Earth casts him into the rays of the unwearying Sun, and Sun into the eddies of Air; one receives him from the other, and all hate him. One of these now am I too, a fugitive from the gods and a wanderer, at the mercy of raging Strife.

383. For before this I was born once a boy, and a maiden, and a plant, and a bird, and a darting fish in the sea. 385. And I wept and shrieked on beholding the unwonted land where are Murder and Wrath, and other species of Fates, and wasting diseases, and putrefaction and fluxes.

388. In darkness they roam over the meadow of Ate.

389. Deprived of life.

390. From what honour and how great a degree of blessedness have I fallen here on the earth to consort with mortal beings!

392. We enter beneath this over-roofed cave.

393. Where were Chthonie and far-seeing Heliope (i.e. Earth and Sun?), bloody Contention and Harmony of sedate face, Beauty and Ugliness, Speed and Loitering, lovely Truth and dark-eyed Obscurity, Birth and Death, and Sleep and Waking, Motion and Stability, many-crowned Greatness and Lowness, and Silence and Voice.

400. Alas, ye wretched, ye unblessed race of mortal beings, of what strifes and of what groans were ye born!

402. She wraps about them a strange garment of flesh.

403. Man-surrounding earth.

404. For from being living he made them assume the form of death by a change. . . .

405. Nor had they any god Ares, nor Kydoimos (Uproar), nor king Zeus, nor Kronos, nor Poseidon, but queen Kypris. Her they worshipped with hallowed offerings, with painted figures, and perfumes of skilfully made odour, and sacrifices of unmixed myrrh and fragrant frankincense, casting on the ground libations from tawny bees. And her altar was not moistened with pure blood of bulls, but it was the greatest defilement among men, to deprive animals of life and to eat their goodly bodies.

[Page 211] 415. And there was among them a man of unusual knowledge, and master especially of all sorts of wise deeds, who in truth possessed greatest wealth of mind for whenever he reached out with all his mind, easily he beheld each one of all the things that are, even for ten and twenty generations of men.

421. For all were gentle and obedient toward men, both animals and birds, and they burned with kindly love; and trees grew with leaves and fruit ever on them, burdened with abundant fruit all the year.

425. This is not lawful for some and unlawful for others, but what is lawful for all extends on continuously through the wide-ruling air and the boundless light.

427. Will ye not cease from evil slaughter? See ye not that ye are devouring each other in heedlessness of mind?

430. A father takes up his dear son who has changed his form and slays him with a prayer, so great is his folly! They are borne along beseeching the sacrificer; but he does not hear their cries of reproach, but slays them and makes ready the evil feast. Then in the same manner son takes father and daughters their mother, and devour the dear flesh when they have deprived them of life.

436. Alas that no ruthless day destroyed me before I devised base deeds of devouring with the lips!

438. Among beasts they become lions haunting the mountains, whose couch is the ground, and among fair-foliaged trees they become laurels.

440. Refrain entirely from laurel leaves.

441. Miserable men, wholly miserable, restrain your hands from beans.

442. Compounding the water from five springs in unyielding brass, cleanse the hands.

444. Fast from evil.

445. Accordingly ye are frantic with evil hard to bear, nor ever shall ye ease your soul from bitter woes.

447. But at last are they prophets and hymn-writers and physicians and chieftains among men dwelling on the earth ; and from this they grow to be gods, receiving the greatest honours, sharing the same hearth with the other immortals, their table companions, free from human woes, beyond the power of death and harm.

. . .

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