Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
112. Formation of the World by Strife 114. Organic Combinations

From Chapter V., Empedokles of Akragas

113. The Sun, Moon, Stars, and Earth
It will be observed that day and night have been explained without reference to the sun. Day is the light of the fiery diurnal hemisphere, while night is the shadow thrown by the earth when the fiery hemisphere is on the other side of it (fr. 48). What, then, is the sun? The Plutarchean Stromateis104 again give us the answer: "The sun is not fire in substance, but a reflexion of fire like that which comes from water." Plutarch himself makes one of his personages say: "You laugh at Empedokles for saying that the sun is a product of the earth, arising from the reflexion of the light of heaven, and once more 'flashes back to Olympos with untroubled countenance.'"105 Aetios says:106 "Empedokles held that there were two suns: one, the archetype, the fire in one hemisphere of the world, filling the whole hemisphere always stationed opposite its own reflexion; the other, the visible sun, its reflexion in the other hemisphere, that which is filled with air mingled with fire, produced by the reflexion of the earth, which is round, on the crystalline sun, and carried round by the motion of the fiery hemisphere. Or, to sum it up shortly, the sun is a reflexion of the terrestrial fire."

These passages, and especially the last, are by no means clear.107 The reflexion we call the sun cannot be in the hemisphere opposite the fiery one; for that is the nocturnal hemisphere. We must say rather that the light of the fiery hemisphere is reflected by the earth on to the fiery hemisphere itself in one concentrated flash. It follows that the appearance which we call the sun is the same size as the earth. We may perhaps explain the origin of this view as follows. It had just been discovered that the moon shone by reflected light, and there is always a tendency to give any novel theory a wider application than it really admits of. In the early part of the fifth century B.C., men saw reflected light everywhere; some of the Pythagoreans held a similar view (§ 150).

It was probably in this connexion that Empedokles announced that light takes some time to travel, though its speed is so great as to escape our perception.108

"The moon was composed of air cut off by the fire; it was frozen just like hail, and had its light from the sun." It is, in other words, a disc of frozen air, of the same substance as the solid sky which surrounds the heavens. Diogenes says that Empedokles taught it was smaller than the sun, and Aetios tells us it was only half as distant from the earth.109

Empedokles did not explain the fixed stars by reflected light, nor even the planets. They were made out of the fire which the air carried with it when forced beneath the earth by the upward rush of fire at the first separation. The fixed stars were attached to the frozen air; the planets moved freely.110

Empedokles was acquainted (fr. 42) with the true theory of solar eclipses, which, along with that of the moon's light, was the great discovery of this period. He also knew (fr. 48) that night is the conical shadow of the earth, and not a sort of exhalation.

Wind was explained from the opposite motions of the fiery and airy hemispheres. Rain was caused by the compression of the Air, which forced any water there might be in it out of its pores in the form of drops. Lightning was fire forced out from the clouds in much the same way.111

The earth was at first mixed with water, but the increasing compression caused by the velocity of its revolution made the water gush forth, so that the sea is "the sweat of the earth," a phrase to which Aristotle objects as a mere poetical metaphor. The saltness of the sea was explained by this analogy.112 It is taken for granted that the earth shares in the rotation of the vortex (δίνη).

Burnet's Notes


104. [Plut.] Strom. fr. 10 (Dox. p. 582, 11; R. P. 170 c).

105. Plut. De Pyth. or. 400 b (R. P. 170c). I keep the MS. reading περὶ γῆν with Diels.

106. Aet. ii. 20, 13 (Dox. p. 350), Ἐμπεδοκλῆς δύο ἡλίους· τὸν μὲν ἀρχέτυπον, πῦρ ὂν ἐν τῷ ἑτέρῳ ἡμισφαιρίῳ τοῦ κόσμου, πεπληρωκὸς τὸ ἡμισφαίριον, αἰεὶ κατ' ἀντικρὺ τῇ ἀνταυγείᾳ ἑαυτοῦ τεταγμένον· τὸν δὲ φαινόμενον, ἀνταύγειαν ἐν τῷ ἑτέρῳ ἡμισφαιρίῳ τῷ τοῦ ἀέρος τοῦ θερμομιγοῦς πεπληρωμένῳ, ἀπὸ κυκλοτεροῦς τῆς γῆς κατ' ἀνάκλασιν γιγνομένην εἰς τὸν ἥλιον τὸν κρυσταλλοειδῆ, συμπεριελκομένην δὲ τῇ κινήσει τοῦ πυρίνου. ὡς δὲ βραχέως εἰρῆσθαι συντεμόντα, ἀνταύγειαν εἶναι τοῦ περὶ τὴν γῆν πυρὸς τὸν ἥλιον.

107. I strongly suspect that the confusion is due to a somewhat captious criticism by Theophrastos (see below, p. 298, n. 1). It would be like him to point out that the theory implied "two suns."

108. Arist. De sensu, 6. 446 a 28; De an. B, 7. 418 b 20.

109. [Plut.] Strom. fr. 10 (Dox. p. 582, 12; R. P. 170 c); Diog. viii. 77; Aet. ii. 31, 1 (cf. Dox. p. 63).

110. Aet. ii. 13, 2 and 11 (Dox. pp. 341 sqq.).

111. Aet. iii. 3, 7; Arist. Meteor. B, 9. 369 b 12, with Alexander's commentary.

112. Arist. Meteor. B, 3. 357 a 24; Aet. iii. 16, 3 (R. P. 170 b). Cf. the clear reference in Arist. Meteor. B, 1. 353 b 11.

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