Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
111. Our World the Work of Strife 113. The Sun, Moon, Stars, and Earth

From Chapter V., Empedokles of Akragas

112. Formation of the World by Strife
To begin with the Sphere, in which the "four roots of all things" are mixed together, we note that it is called a god in the fragments just as the elements are, and that Aristotle more than once refers to it in the same way.98 we must remember that Love itself is a part of this mixture,99 while Strife surrounds or encompasses it on every side just as the Boundless encompasses the world in earlier systems. Strife, however, is not boundless, but equal in bulk to each of the four roots and to Love.

At the appointed time, Strife begins to enter into the Sphere and Love to go out of it (frs. 30, 31). The fragments by themselves throw little light on this; but Aetios and the Plutarchean Stromateis have between them preserved a very fair tradition of what Theophrastos said on the point.

Empedokles held that Air was first separated out and secondly Fire. Next came Earth, from which, highly compressed as it was by the impetus of its revolution, Water gushed forth. From the water Mist was produced by evaporation. The heavens were formed out of the Air and the sun out of the Fire, while terrestrial things were condensed from the other elements. Aet. ii. 6. 3 (Dox. p. 334; R. P. 170).

Empedokles held that the Air when separated off from the original mixture of the elements was spread round in a circle. After the Air, Fire running outwards, and not finding any other place, ran up under the solid that surrounded the Air.100 There were two hemispheres, revolving round the earth, the one altogether composed of fire, the other of a mixture of air and a little fire. The latter he supposed to be the Night. The origin of their motion he derived from the fact of fire preponderating in one hemisphere owing to its accumulation there. Ps.-Plut. Strom. fr. 10 (Dox. p. 582; R. P. 170 a).

The first of the elements to be separated out by Strife then, was Air, which took the outermost position surrounding the world (cf. fr. 38). We must not, however, take the statement that it surrounded the world "in a circle" too strictly. It appears that Empedokles regarded the heavens as shaped like an egg.101 Here, probably, we have a trace of Orphic ideas. At any rate, the outer circle of the Air became solidified or frozen, and we thus get a crystalline vault as the boundary of the world. We note that it was Fire which solidified the Air and turned it to ice. Fire in general had a solidifying power.102

In its upward rush Fire displaced a portion of the Air in the upper half of the concave sphere formed by the frozen sky. This air then sunk downwards, carrying with it a small portion of the fire. In this way, two hemispheres were produced: one, consisting entirely of fire, the diurnal hemisphere; the other, the nocturnal, consisting of air with a little fire.

The accumulation of Fire in the upper hemisphere disturbs the equilibrium of the heavens and causes them to revolve; and this revolution not only produces the alternation of day and night, but by its rapidity keeps the heavens and the earth in their places. This was illustrated, Aristotle tells us, by the simile of a cup of water whirled round at the end of a string.103 This experimental illustration is much in the manner of Empedokles. It has nothing to do with "centrifugal force," but is intended to show that rapid motion may counteract a tendency to fall.

Burnet's Notes


98. Arist. De gen. Corr. B, 6. 333 b 21 (R. P. 168 e); Met. B, 4. 1000 a 28 (R. P. 166 i). Cf. Simpl. Phys. p. 1124, 1 (R. P. 167 b). In other places Aristotle speaks of it as "the One." Cf. De gen. Corr. A, 1. 315 a 7 (R. P. 168 e); Met. B, 4. l000 a 29 (R. P. 166 i); A, 4. 985 a 28 (R. P. ib.). This involves a slight Aristotelian "development." It is not the same thing to say, as Empedokles does, that all things come together "into one," and to say that they come together "into the One." The latter expression suggests that they lose their identity in the Sphere, and thus become something like Aristotle's "matter." As has been pointed out (p. 230, n. 3), it is hard for Aristotle to grasp the conception of irreducible elements; but there can be no doubt that in the Sphere, as in their separation, the elements remain "what they are" for Empedokles. As Aristotle also knows quite well, the Sphere is a mixture. Compare the difficulties about the "One" of Anaximander discussed in Chap. 1. § 15.

99. This accounts for Aristotle's statement, which he makes once positively (Met. B, 1. 996 a 7) and once very doubtfully (Met. B, 4. 1001 a 12), that Love was the substratum of the One in just the same sense as the Fire of Herakleitos, the Air of Anaximenes, or the Water of Thales. He thinks that all the elements become merged in Love, and so lose their identity. In this case, it is in Love he recognises his own "matter."

100. For the phrase τοῦ περὶ τὸν ἀέρα πάγου cf. Περὶ διαίτης, I. 10. 1, πρὸς τὸν περιέχοντα πάγον Et. M. s.v. βηλός . . . τὸν ἀνωτάτω πάγον καὶ περιέχοντα τὸν πάντα ἀέρα.

101. Aet. ii. 31, 4 (Dox. p. 363).

102. Aet. ii. 11, 2 (R. P. 170 c).

103. Arist. De caelo, B, 1. 284 a 24; 13. 295 a 16 (R. P.170 b). Plato, Phaed. 99 b 6, διὸ ὁ μέν τις δίνην περιτιθεὶς τῇ γῇ ὑπὸ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ μένειν δὴ ποιεῖ τὴν γὴν. The experiment with τὸ ἐν τοῖς κυάθοις ὕδωρ which κύκλῳ τοῦ κυάθου φερομένου πολλάκις κάτω τοῦ χαλκοῦ γινόμενον ὅμως οὐ φέρεται κάτω, reminds us of that with the klepsydra in fr. 100. The point is that the φόρα of the δίνη overcomes the οἰκεία ῥοπή by its velocity.

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