Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
98. Date of Empedokles 100. Empedokles as a Religious Teacher

From Chapter V., Empedokles of Akragas

99. Empedocles as a Politician
Empedokles certainly played an important part in the political events which followed the death of Theron. The Sicilian historian Timaios seems to have treated these fully, and tells some stories which are obviously genuine traditions picked up about a hundred and fifty years afterwards. Like all popular traditions, however, they are a little confused. The picturesque incidents are remembered, but the essential parts of the story are dropped. Still, we may be thankful that the "collector of old wives' tales,"6 as his critics called him, has enabled us to measure the historical importance of Empedokles for ourselves by showing us how he was pictured by the great-grandchildren of his contemporaries.7 All the tales are intended to show the strength of his democratic convictions, and we are told, in particular, that he broke up the assembly of the Thousand—perhaps some oligarchical association or club.8 It may have been for this that he was offered the kingship, which Aristotle tells us he refused.9 At any rate, we see that Empedokles was the great democratic leader at Akragas in those days, though we have no clear knowledge of what he did.

Burnet's Notes


6. He is called γραοσυλλέκτρια in Souidas, s.v.

7. For instance Timaios (ap. Diog. viii. 64) said that once he was invited to sup with one of the magistrates. Supper was well advanced, but no wine was brought in. The rest of the company said nothing, but Empedokles was indignant, and insisted on its being served. The host, however, said he was waiting for the Sergeant of the Council. When that official arrived, he was appointed ruler of the feast. The host, of course, appointed him. Thereupon he began to give signs of an incipient tyranny. He ordered the company either to drink or have the wine poured over their heads. Empedokles said nothing, but next day he brought both of them before the court and had them put to death—both the man who asked him to supper and the ruler of the feast! The story reminds us of an accusation of incivisme under the Terror.

8. Diog. viii. 66, ὕστερον δ' ὁ Ἐμπεδοκλῆς καὶ τὸ τῶν χιλίων ἄθροισμα κατέλυσε συνεστὼς ἐπὶ ἔτη τρία. The word ἄθροισμα hardly suggests a legal council, and συνίστασθαι suggests a conspiracy.

9. Diog. viii. 63. Aristotle probably mentioned this in his Sophist. Cf. Diog. viii. 57.

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