Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
114. Organic Combinations 116. Evolution of Animals

From Chapter V., Empedokles of Akragas

115. Plants
Plants and animals were formed from the four elements under the influence of Love and Strife. The fragments which deal with trees and plants are 77-81; and these, taken along with certain Aristotelian statements and the doxographical tradition, enable us to make out pretty fully what the theory was. The text of Aetios is very corrupt here; but it may, perhaps, be rendered as follows:

Empedokles says trees were the first living creatures to grow up out of the earth, before the sun was spread out, and before day and night were distinguished; from the symmetry of their mixture, they contain the proportion of male and female; they grow, rising up owing to the heat which is in the earth, so that they are parts of the earth just as embryos are parts of the uterus; fruits are excretions of the water and fire in plants, and those which have a deficiency of moisture shed their leaves when that is evaporated by the summer heat, while those which have more moisture remain evergreen, as in the case of the laurel, the olive, and the palm; the differences in taste are due to variations in the particles contained in the earth and to the plants drawing different particles from it, as in the case of vines; for it is not the difference of the vines that makes wine good, but that of the soil which nourishes them. Aet. v. 26, 4 (R. P. 172).

Aristotle finds fault with Empedokles for explaining the double growth of plants, upwards and downwards, by the opposite natural motions of the earth and fire contained in them.114 For "natural motions" we must, of course, substitute the attraction of like for like (§ 109). Theophrastos says much the same thing.115 The growth of plants, then, is to be regarded as an incident in the separation of the elements by Strife. Some of the fire still beneath the earth (fr. 52) meeting in its upward course with earth, still moist with water and "running" down so as to "reach its own kind," unites with it, under the influence of the Love still left in the world, to form a temporary combination, which we call a tree or a plant.

At the beginning of the pseudo-Aristotelian Treatise on Plants,116 we are told that Empedokles attributed desire, sensation, and the capacity for pleasure and pain to plants, and he rightly saw that the two sexes are combined in them. This is mentioned by Aetios, and discussed in the pseudo-Aristotelian treatise. If we may so far trust that Byzantine translation from a Latin version of the Arabic,117 we get a hint as to the reason. Plants, we are there told, came into being "in an imperfect state of the world,"118 in fact, at a time when Strife had not so far prevailed as to differentiate the sexes. We shall see that the same thing applies to the original race of animals. It is strange that Empedokles never observed the actual process of generation in plants, but simply said they spontaneously "bore eggs" (fr. 79), that is to say, fruit.

Burnet's Notes


114. Arist. De an. B, 4. 415 b 28.

115. Theophr. De causis plantarum, i. 12, 5.

116. [Arist.] De plantis, A, 1. 815 a 15.

117. Alfred the Englishman translated the Arabic version into Latin in the reign of Henry III. It was retranslated from this version into Greek at the Renaissance by a Greek resident in Italy.

118. A, 2. 817 b 35, "mundo . . . diminuto et non perfecto in complemento suo" (Alfred).

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