A Greek Philosopher Empedocles, born in Agrigentum, Sicily, flourished about the middle of the 5th century B. 0. The son of a rich family, he was instructed by the Pythagoreans, and was acquainted with Parmenides and An-axagoras. Like his father Meton, the leader of the popular party at Agrigentum, he saved the republic from a dangerous conspiracy, and refused the supreme power. A priest and a poet, a physician and a philosopher, his contemporaries esteemed him as a god; Plato and Aristotle admired him, and Lucretius sang his praises. It is said that he saved the life of a woman in a lethargy from which other physicians were powerless to revive her; and that he blocked up a mountain gorge through which pestilential winds were driving upon Agrigentum, and at another time stopped the raging of the plague by turning two rivers through a morass. His vanity equalled his ability. He appeared in public only in the midst of a retinue of attendants, with a crown upon his head, sandals of brass on his feet, his hair floating over his shoulders, and a branch of laurel in his hand. He proclaimed his divinity himself, and it was recognized throughout Sicily. It was his aim to affect the imagination not less than the reason.
In his old age he left Sicily, not, as has been said, to converse with the priests of Egypt and the magi of the East, but to teach philosophy in Greece. He visited Thurium and Athens, sojourned in the Peloponnesus, and read a poem at the Olympic games. His last days were passed in obscurity in the Peloponnesus. Some imagined that he was translated to heaven; others that he was drowned in the sea; that he fell from his chariot; that he was strangled by his own hands; or that he plunged into the crater of Etna, in order by hiding his body to certify his divinity, but that the volcano subsequently belched forth one of his sandals. The works of Empedocles were all in verse, embracing tragedies, epigrams, hymns, and an epic. The most important of them were two didactic poems, one on "Nature," the other on "Purifications," treating of worship and magic, and containing his religious precepts. Fragments only of these remain, but those of the treatise on nature are sufficient to give an idea of the plan of the work.
It consists of three books : in the first, after stating the conditions of human knowledge, he treats of the universe in general, of the forces which produce it, and the elements which compose it; in the second, of natural objects, of plants and animals; and in the third, of the gods and divine things, and of the soul and its destiny. A Homeric spirit, as Aristotle calls him, he personifies and deifies everything, and robes himself in symbols and mystery. The doctrine of Empedocles is developed in the "Sophist," the "Meno," and the "Phaedo" of Plato, and in the "Soul" and the "Metaphysics" of Aristotle. The best edition of his remains is that by Karsten (Amsterdam, 1838), which is furnished with admirable dissertations.