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André Laks

Some thoughts about Empedoclean cosmic and demonic cycles 1 .

in: A.L. Pierris (éd.), The Empedoclean Cosmos : Structure, Process and the Question of Cyclicity (Proceedings of the Symposium Philosophiae Antiquae Tertium Myconense, 2003), Publication of the Institute for Philosophical Research, Conference Series, Vol. III, 2005, p.


I take it that Empedocles presents us with two distinct, though related stories. The first

story is that of the cosmos as a whole – I shall call it the cosmic story. The second story

narrates the fate of some divinities which Empedocles calls daimones. This is the demonic


I am not interested here in asking whether these two stories belong to the same poem or

not. This question, though not trivial, is a relatively minor one, it seems to me, compared to

whether these stories are distinct or not, and even more so, if so, how they are distinct. What I

call distinct here refers to some basic or structural features of these two narratives, which

prevent them from collapsing into a single one or to be integrated into one another. As a

matter of fact, it might be useful to distinguish between two interpretative models, the

integrative model, and the correspondence model 2 . For some reasons, which have to do with a

set of definite expectations about what a philosophical system, and an archaic philosophical

system at that, can or should be, the idea of correspondence is not one that most interpreters

think with, even if they are not unitarian. This is the one I myself favor not only because the

data, incomplete and difficult as they are, seem to me to point in this direction, but also

because I think this correspondence model can be seen, interestingly enough, as a first

expression –an archaic, pre-conceptual expression, so to speak-- of a move which was to

become a typically philosophical one, and which consists in differentiating and articulating

various fields or spheres of reality (the distinction between physics, ethics and for that matter

dialectic also has a past).

Of course, the question of distinction is an issue not least because there are strong

similarities between the two stories. As a matter of fact, these similarities have provided the

1 The scholarly apparatus of this text, which was written to focus an overcomplicated debate by drawing attention to one single point, is deliberately reduced. Many thanks to Glenn W. Most for revising the English. 2 Primavesi 2001, p. 16, thus speaks in a programmatic way of an "integrazione della daimonologia nella fisica". His position is complicated by the distinction between two demonologies, the first esoteric (the integrated one), the second exoteric (see infra, p. **). In the latter case, Primavesi speaks of an "equivalente essoterico-populare" (p. 37). I am interested in what "equivalent" means.



basis for an extremely powerful Neoplatonic line of interpretation, represented above all in Hippolytus’ Refutation of all Heresies, VII, 29-31, where the two stories overlap thanks to an allegorical interpretation of the physical story in terms of the demonic story. It seems clear to me that we should not take this interpretation as a report (as C. Osborne did 3 ), but this does not mean that the similarities on which the allegory relies are not crucial for assessing the relationship between the two stories. In fact, I would argue that these similarities become meaningful only if we are able to see them within the encompassing framework of the basic differences between the two narratives: this is the whole point of the correspondence approach. In what follows I shall concentrate, in accordance with the main focus of the conference, on one specific feature of the stories, which is their cyclicity.

Empedocles himself uses the term “circle” (kuklos) in relationship with the cosmic story, when he says:

i d¢ diallãssonta diamper¢w oÈdamå lÆgei,

tauthi d' afi¢n ¶asin ék nhtoi katå kuklon. (B17, 12-14 DK=31B; the lines recur in B26 DK, 11-13 = 68B). Although this is not the main point in the context, which describes how the four roots, by eternally exchanging their places, paradoxically remain « cyclically immobile », the reference to the circle does suggest that the unfolding of the universe will lead it back, in due course, to the point from which it started, exactly as a circle leads back to its starting point. Aristotle (Lambda 6, 1072 a9ss.) uses the word periodos to designate the span of time which brings the restauration of the initial state, and apokatastasis, “restoration”, is the very word we find coupled with periodos in Simplicius’ introductory sentence to his quotation of B17 in his commentary on Aristotles’ Physics 4 . It is clear even more from B26, which makes the ultimate unification in the One the true telos of the process of alternation 5 , than from B17, that this starting and ending point is not just any point in the story of the universe –the Nietzschean notion of a “return of the similar” 6 , but a most special point, corresponding to the state of total fusion under Love that Empedocles calls Sphairos.

3 Osborne 1987 and in the present volume. 4 tØn katå per¤odon épokatãstasin, In Phys., p. 157, 25ss., cf. p. 34, 6. The term is elsewhere used in Simplicius (especially in the De Caelo commentary) to describe the return of a star to its initial position.

5 efisÒken ©n sumfunta tÚ pçn Íp°nerye g°nhtai, fr. B26, 8.

6 I leave aside here the fact that Nietzsche’s « Wiederkehr des Gleichen » is not the return of « the same » (« …. des Selben »), but of the similar.



We have no indication, nor for that matter any reason to suppose, that Empedocles also used the word kuklos in relationship with the demonic story. But we are entitled to describe it as cyclic as well, for it is cyclic by implication. Since the banishment of the culprit divinity is said to last 30.000 seasons (B115, 6), the divinity must recover its primitive satus once this period is over 7 . This restitution in integrum amounts to yet another apokatastasis kata periodon tina.

What is the relationship –in terms of similarity and difference-- between the cosmic and the demonical cycles? The crucial point here, I think, concerns the question of how both cycles, cosmic and demonic, start. I shall claim two things. First, that we are entitled to speak of necessity in the case of the cosmic cycle (as Aristotle does) as well as in that of the demonic circle, although it looks as if Empedocles used the word “necessity” (anankè) only in the latter case (the reverse of what happens with kuklos, which occurs in relationship only with the cosmic cycle, not with the demonic one 8 ); second, that although we are entitled to speak of necessity in both cases, we should carefully distinguish between the two cases, and indeed between two kinds of necessity. That necessity plays a role in the case of the demonic cycle is unquestionable, since we have Empedocles’ own verses to this effect at the beginning of B 115 :

¶stin énãgkhw xr ma ye«n crÆfisma palaiÒn, éidion plat°essi katesfrhgism°non ˜rkoiw Matters are more complicated in the case of the cosmic cycle, and interestingly so. Aristotle suggests in Phys. Theta 1, 252 a2ff. and again in Met. B4, 1000b12ff. that alternation between Philia and Neikos in the cosmical cycle is ultimately due to anankè, but it is most probable that he is not relying here on Empedocles’ own wording. Here are the two texts:

Phys. Theta 1, 252 a2ss. « If, then, this is impossible, it is clear that motion is eternal and cannot have existed at one time and not at another : in fact, such a view can hardly be described as anything else than fantastic. And much the same may be said of the view that such is how things naturally are and that this must he regarded as a principle, as would seem to be the view of Empedocles when he says that the constitution of the world is of necessity

7 Primavesi 2001, p. 22, refers, for the notion of a demonological cycle to a study by S. D'Onofrio (Tesi di Laurea presented at the University of Trieste in 1998/99), to which I have not had access. He furthermore adduces the testimony of Plutarch (De Is. et Osir., 361C) and Clement of Alexandria (V, 122, 3, introducing a quotation of B147). 8 There might be deep reasons for this state of affairs. Some suggestions in Laks 2004, p. 48.



such that Love and Strife alternatively predominate and cause motion, while in the intermediate period of time there is state of rest » 9 Met. B4, 1000b12ss. : « And at the same time Empedocles mentions no cause of the change itself, except that things are so by nature : ‘But when strife waxed great in the limbs/And sprang to honour as the time was fulfilled/Which is fixed for them in turn by a mighty oath » 10 It is true that in the first passage, the sentence …w tÚ krate›n ka‹ kine›n §n m°rei tØn filian ka‹ tÚ ne›kow Ípãrxei to›w prãgmasin §j énãgkhw does look like a paraphrase of some Empedocles verses. The expression §n m°rei, in particular, appears in B 17, 29 (=31B.) and B26, 1. It should be noted, however, that what Empedocles is talking about here is the alternate domination of each of the four ‘roots’ (however we may understand this alternation, which is not obvious), not that of the two forces. Aristotle might have some other lines in mind, although this is not very plausible. Rather, he uses one Empedoclean formula to summarize another one, namely élloteéllote, which does typically apply to the two forces (B17, 6f., B 26, 5f.= 68B.). As far as §j énãgkhw is concerned, it clearly functions as an alternate formulation for Aristotle’s own oÏtvw p°fuken, which refers to "the state of affairs as they are", the facticity of what happens. Since oÏtvw p°fuken, in turn, already reflects Aristotle’s reading of Empedocles, §j énãgkhw seems even more remote from the original – three steps from the king, so to say. The second passage points in the same direction, for not only does the word énãgkh not appear in the 3 verses that Aristotle quotes in order to illustrate the alternation between Hatred and Love (B30=126B.) –something that he does not do in the Physics text--, but by comparing the commentary with the quotation we can also see more clearly that the word énagka›on, which énãgkh in the next sentence picks up, plays an interpretive role here, and how it does so --it interprets the expression teleiom°noio xrÒnoio. The suggestion that ‘necessity’ in these two passages belongs to Aristotle, rather than Empedocles, is further reinforced by a passage in Simplicius' commentary on the Theta 1 passage, p. 1184, 5ss. (=109 Bollack).

9 efi dØ taËt' édunata, d lon …w ¶stin é˝diow kinhsiw, éll' oÈx ıt¢ m¢n n ıt¢ d' oÎ: ka‹ går ¶oike tÚ oÏtv l°gein plãsmati mçllon. ımoivw d¢ ka‹ tÚ l°gein ˜ti p°fuken oÏtvw ka‹ tauthn de› nomizein e‰nai érxÆn, ˜per ¶oiken ÉEmpedokl w ín efipe›n, …w tÚ krate›n ka‹ kine›n §n m°rei tØn filian ka‹ tÚ ne›kow Ípãrxei to›w prãgmasin §j énãgkhw, ±reme›n d¢ tÚn metajÁ xrÒnon. 10 ka‹ ëma d¢ aÈt w t w metabol w a‡tion oÈy¢n l°gei éll' µ ˜ti oÏtvw p°fuken:"éll' ˜te dØ m°ga ne›kow §n‹ mel°essin §yr°fyh, | efiw timãw t' énÒrouse teleiom°noio xrÒnoio | ˜w sfin émoiba›ow plat°ow par' §lÆlatai ˜rkou:" …w énagka›on m¢n ¯ n metabãllein: afitian d¢ t w énãgkhw oÈdemian dhlo›.



« What is the difference between saying that ‘things naturally are that way’ and ‘necessarily’ if one does not add the cause ? Now this is what Empedocles seems to say when he says ‘and in turn they dominate, according to time’s revolving’ And when he makes necessity responsible for what happens :

‘there is an oracle of necessity, ancient decree of the gods, eternal, sealed by wide oaths ‘ For it is because of necessity and these oaths that, he says, each of them dominate in turn. Empedocles says this also about the domination of Hatred :

‘but when strife waxed great in the limbs/And sprang to honour as the time was fulfilled/Which is fixed for them in turn by a mighty oath’. This, says Aristoteles, if no cause is mentioned, amounts to saying nothing else than ‘things naturally are that way’ » 11

It is in order to illustrate Aristotle's assimilation of "factuality" (p°fuken oÏtvw) to necessity that Simplicius quotes in a row B17, 20 (or a version of 17, 20 that Bollack identified as 120 B.), B 115, 1-2 or two lines that strongly resembles the 2 first lines of 115 (on which see below), and finally B126 –the same 3 lines which are quoted by Aristotle in the Met. Beta passage. At first blush, it certainly looks as if Simplicius did not find in Empedocles any assertion either to the effect that the alternation is a matter of fact (p°fuken oÏtvw) or that it “happens by necessity” (§j énãgkhw). To have Empedocles say this needs some interpretive work, which Simplicius thinks Aristotle must have done. This is the implication of ¶oike l°gein – “he seems to say”, which Simplicius takes up from Aristotle. One should stress that the restrictive formula applies in Simplicius not only to the quotation where énãgkh does not occur, but also, and more remarkably, to the quotation where it does appear, namely in B115,

11 Ti d¢ diaf°rei toË <˜ti p°fuken oÏtvw> tÚ <§j énãgkhw> l°gein afitian mØ prostiy°nta; taËta d¢ ÉEmpedokl w ¶oike l°gein §n t“:

§n d¢ m°rei krat°ousi periplom°noio xrÒnoio:

ka‹ ˜t' énãgkhn t«n ginom°nvn afitiçtai:

¶stin énãgkh xr ma ye«n sfrÆgisma palaiÒn, éidion plat°essi katesfrhgism°non ˜rkoiw:

diå går tØn énãgkhn ka‹ toÁw ˜rkouw toutouw •kãteron parå m°row §pikrate›n fhsi. l°gei d¢ ka‹ taËta ÉEmpedokl w §p‹ t w toË Neikouw §pikrateiaw:

aÈtår §pe‹ m°ga Ne›kow §n‹ mel°essin §r°fyh §w timãw t' énÒrouse teleiom°noio xrÒnoio, ˜w sfin émoiba›ow plat°ow parelÆlatai ˜rkou. taËta oÔn fhsi xvr‹w afitiaw legÒmena oÈd¢n êllo l°gein §st‹n µ <p°fuken oÏtv>.



1. The sensible conclusion to draw is that neither this line nor the following ones (that depend on it) bore on the cosmic cyle. Now J. Bollack has argued that Simplicius did find the two verses he quotes in a cosmic context, and makes them his fragment number 110 in his edition of the physical poem. His hypothesis is supported first, at a general level, by stressing that Simplicius, Neoplatonist as he may be, is no more interested than Aristotle in Empedocles' daimones, and that he never quotes elsewhere from the demonic story, and second, at a textual level, by insisting that the lines quoted by Simplicius are not in fact identical with the opening of B 115. But one can reply that Simplicius would have quoted the lines in the first location, not in the second one, if they had straightforwardly exemplified what Aristotle says about Empedocles 12 . More importantly, as I have already mentioned, if the quotation came from a physical context, Simplicius would not have said that Empedocles seems to say that the alternation between Love and Hatred happens by necessity, but that he does say it. In other terms, the quotation must leave room for interpretation. In this case, the (Neoplatonic) interpretation is encapsulated in the sentence diå går tØn énãgkhn ka‹ toÁw ˜rkouw toutouw, which makes the link between what Empedocles actually says in the quotation, which includes the word ananke, and what he must have said elsewhere, namely that •kãteron parå m°row §pikrate›n fhsi, which most probably refers to B 17 (parå m°row, like §n m°rei in the preceding text, translating élloteéllote). The link between the two contexts is provided by the term ˜rkoi (‘serments’) which appears both in B30, 3 = 126B. (cosmic cycle) and in B115 (demonic cycle). The idea is that the tight association between énãgkh and ˜rkoi in B115 is enough to read énãgkh into B30 as well –which might well be true in a certain sense, but, as we shall see shortly, in a certain sense only 13 . As for the claim that Simplicius never quotes from the demonic context because Aristotle is not interested in this subject, it allows for an exception in an exceptional case 14 , which might well be what we have to do with here(Simplicus is looking for a confirmation) 15 . There is no reason to doubt that Simplicius had access to the « Catharmoi »

12 Bollack, vol. III.1, p. 150 (ad 109) thinks that Simplicius quotes the first text for the equivalence p°fuken oÏtvw = §n m°rei, the second for the equivalence énãgkh= ˜rkoi, the third for the equivalence ˜rkow = parå m°row. But this does not reflect Simplicius’ presentation.

13 I agree on this with O’Brien 2001, p. 86-88. As far as I can see, doxography (e.g. Aetius I, 26, 1) is dependant on Aristotle. Note the interesting assimilation, in I, 7, 28 of necessity with « the one », which points to yet another interpretation.

14 Aristotle would be doing the same in the Poetics, 1457b13 (= fr. 138 DK), if the half-line quoted there were from the demonic story. But this has recently been contested (Picot 2004).

15 In this sense, the formula faute de mieux seems to me acceptable. Contra, Primavesi 2001, p. 14, n. 39; see further O’Brien 2001, p. 88s., note 21.



as well as to the « Physics » (to adopt the two-poems language), be it, on the worst hypothesis, indirectly, namely through the Neoplatonic tradition, where the fragment was extremely famous, as is easily seen from the apparatus criticus of B. 115 16 . There remains Bollack’s textual argument, for the first line of Simplicius’ quotation differs from what we find in Plutarch and Hippolytus in three respects : the absence of ti after ¶stin, Éanãgkh in the nominative instead of the genitive, sfrÆgisma instead of cÆfisma. Hence the text of Bollack's fr. 110:

¶stin énãgkh, xr ma ye«n, sfrÆgisma palaiÒn, éidion, plat°essi katesfrhgismenon ˜rkoiw:

in which xr ma would not have the (exceptional) sense of "uttering", "declaration", as in the juncture énãgkhw xr ma, but, in apposition to énãgkh, that of "posession" (Bollack translates "Elle est, Nécessité, apanage des dieux"). Tempting as this is, especially in the perspective of a correspondence model, and even more in view of the fact that the new Strasbourg Empedocles might present us with another such "quotation" of one poem by another 17 , I remain unconvinced. Apart from the fact that the existential statement about necessity seems to hang in the air 18 , the word sfrÆgisma, which Bollack translates with "law" but which means "seal" (or "sealed thing"), does not make very good sense, even less so if it is emphatically taken up by katesfrhgismenon in the next line, which on the other hand can easily explain the substitution of sfrÆgisma for an original cÆfisma, to which the participle of course applies well (the decree is sealed). As for the other two variations, they may easily be interpreted as the result of minor corruptions 19 . Thus Ananke as a cyclic force may have been restricted in Empedocles to the demonic context, whereas the cosmic cycle was presented as depending on the fulfilling of time (teleiom°noio xrÒnoio) 20 . This does not mean, however, that Aristotle's interpretation should

16 Note that the first two lines were quoted by Porphyrius in his Peri tou ef'hmin, (fr. 271F, 23-24 Smith).

17 Fr. 139, quoted by Porphyrius in his De abstinentia, shows up with textual variations in ensemble (d), 5-6. Martin and Primavesi take the text transmited by Porphyrius for a corruption of the sole original text, represented by the papyrus. Decisive at this juncture is a difficult metrical problem. See the discussion in Martin and Primavesi 1999, p. 301f.

18 Bollack III.1, p. 151, comments: "Il faut donner à ¶stin sa valeur pleine. La nécessité du devenir surgit de l'être". What this necessity consits in, namely the alternation of Love and Strife, would have been spelled out in the following lines (as in B 115).

19 At stake is one haplography (ti) and a badly resolved abreviation (h for hw). Burkert expressed doubts about Bollack’s text in the review of his edition (1972, p. 438).

20 This of course does not preclude the occurrence of énãgkh in other physical contexts. As a matter of fact, the Strasbourg papyrus now gives us such a case in (d)2, where we read anagkaihw upo lugrhw (Primavesi 2001, p. 14, n. 39, seems to me to misuse the argument). The necessity is here that of the destruction of the compounds, i.e. of death. Conversely, every occurrence of ananke in the demonic context need not have refered to the initial decree. This might be the case of fr. 116 (stugeei dustlhton anagkhn), if the subject of the verb is xariw, as is



be rejected. On the contrary, there is nothing wrong with calling "necessary" what is going to happen after the due time has elapsed. Aristotle might even be simply articulating, at an explicit level, Empedocles’ own interpretation of the relationship between the two cycles –a relationship which might conveniently be summarized by the following analogy : sworn fulfilling of time /alternation = necessity/exile. We might want to distinguish the interpretative, Aristotelian necessity from Empedocles’ explicit necessity by writing ‘necessity’ in the first case, and Necessity in the second one. The question arises, of course, why Empedocles himself did not call the triggering factor of his cosmic cycle ananke, as he no doubt could have done it. Although any answer to this question is doomed to remain speculative, some clue can be gained from a closer analysis of the analogical relationship. There are two crucial differences between cosmic ‘necessity’ and demonic Necessity:

a) whereas the cosmic cycle is regulated by an absolute necessity, a necessity no

matter what, the demonic cycle is regulated by a hypothetical necessity of the form: if…


b) whereas the beginning of a new cycle is prompted, in the cosmic cycle, by the

disruption of Sphairos by Neikos, the beginning of a new demonic cycle is prompted by the crime of a divinity. Only a minority of interpreters have denied the second point, and tried to have both events coincide, but the first one needs to be stressed. Surely, if there is a criminal, a victim, and a weapon to shed the blood, we already are in a differentiated world ? And no less surely, the history of the world, that is the fact that the world has a history, does not hinge on the crime committed by a divinity, which we should think of being committed at regular intervals, in order to square with what we know about the cosmic cycle ? 21

Now once we allow for the difference, important consequences follow as to the nature of the relationship between cosmic cycle and demonic cycle. It is important to find an appropriate way to describe this relationship, for interpreters remain rather vague here. The distinction between exoteric and esoteric (whether the divide is traced, as is usually the case, between physics and demonology, or, in Primavesi's version, between an esoteric form of

implied by the way Plutarch introduces the fragment, although in the absence of any reliable context, it is difficult to derive definite implications from it. 21 The coincidental view is defended most notably by C. Osborne (see especially Osborne, 1987b, p. 48, as well as her contribution to the present volume). Most interpreters reject it. To name just three of them: O’Brien 2001, p. 138ss. ; Primavesi 2001, p. 27f. Bollack 2003, p. 123ss.



physico-demonology, on the one hand, and an exoteric demonology, on the other 22 ) will not do. It is true that the demonic cycle develops an argument addressed to a community (and those who advocate the existence of two poems will insist that this was done in a separate poem, the Katharmoi, whose exotericity is illustrated in the most cogent way by the fact that it it reported to have been sung in Olympia 23 ), whereas the cosmic cycle is part of a specialised knowledge, which is accordingly directed to a single person (Pausanias). But the exoteric/esoteric distinction is useful only as far as it goes, for there are at least two ways to look at it. Either ‘exoteric’ refers to a way of articulating the same content in different terms, which would entail a rhetorical interpretation of the distinction 24 . Or it adresses another content, which amounts to a substantial interpretation of the distinction. I take it that this second line is the right one, and also the more interesting one 25 . The category of “myth” (perhaps even that of “Platonic myth”) may be useful here, for one can argue that the demonic story is “mythical” in a way the cosmic one is not. One substantial difference introduced by the distinction between absolute and hypothetic necessity concerns, so to speak, the cyclicity of the cycle. The cosmic cycle, in the sense of the return of some special state of the « cosmos », or rather of « what is », repeats itself an infinite number of time 26 . This repetition amounts to saying that the fight between Love and Hatred is itself eternal, that it will never be settled by the victory of one of the participants. Things are different in the case of the demonic cycle, which is informed by the structure of punishment. The punishment itself consists in an exile (no longer being where you belong). The cycle corresponds to the time it takes for the punishment to be completed. As such, it does not imply repetition –indeed, automatic repetition would clash with the very logic of punishment. Far from there being any necessity that the cycle or cycles repeat themselves an indefinite number of times, it would go against legitimate expectations. The punishment

22 See supra, note ** 23 Diogenes Laertius, IX, 63. 24 I take it that Hippolytus’ Neoplatonic interpretation is one specific instance of this rhetorical model. 25 This is the one advocated by Bollack 2003. 26 The clearest text here is Simplicius on De Caelo 10, 279b 14s., p. 293, 18ss. tin¢w d¢ t«n genhtÚn legÒntvn fyartÚn l°gousi, dix«w d¢ toËto: ofl m¢n går oÏtvw fyartÒn, Àsper ıtioËn êllo t«n sunistam°nvn étÒmvn, oÂon Svkrãth fyeirÒmenon ëpaj ka‹ mhk°ti énakãmptonta, ofl d¢ §nallåj ginesyai ka‹ fyeiresyai tÚn aÈtÚn ka‹ pãlin genÒmenon pãlin fyeiresyai l°gousi, ka‹ éidion e‰nai tØn toiaÊthn diadoxÆn,Àsper ÉEmpedokl w tØn Filian l°gvn ka‹ tÚ Ne›kow parå m°row §pikratoËnta tØn m¢n sunãgein tå pãnta efiw ©n ka‹ fyeirein tÚn toË Ne kouw kÒsmon ka‹ poie›n §j aÈtoË tÚn sfa›ron, tÚ d¢ Ne›kow diakrinein pãlin tå stoixe›a ka‹ poie›n tÚn toioËton kÒsmon. These lines are followed by a quotation of the six first lines of B 17 (that is before the line which refers to the « circle ») and by a telling parallel with Heraclitus and the Stoics. Here I differ from Bollack’s attempt to make this testimony square with the view that the Empedoclean cosmic story is the story of



restores an order which is then maintained, unless it is broken anew. Accordingly, Necessity is not the name of the force that prompts the divinity to commit the crime. Rather, repetition

is dependent, in accordance with hypothetical necessity, upon the repetition of the crime. Hence there is no sense that the conflict between the two forces is doomed to be eternal, and if

it is eternal, it does not have the quasi-mechanical character of the repetition of the cosmic

cycle. On the contrary, the implication is that there is, at least in principle, a possibility of avoiding the punishement. Nothing tells us that the crime must of all necessity be committed. The cosmic and demonic cycles are very different in this respect. In the one case : there will necessarily be cycle and repetition ; in the other case : it is necessary that there be cycle, under certain conditions. We need not assume that Empedocles read Aristotle's Analytics to claim that he grasped the difference between the two.

At this point it might be useful to take a look at Plato's Phaedrus, in order to draw a comparison between the Phaedrus’ central myth and Empedocles’ demonic story. It is obvious that the two texts belong to the same tradition, and are directly or indirectly related (directly, if Plato writes with Empedocles in mind, which seems extremely probable ; indirectly, if both simply depend on the same Orphic tradition). Of course, this does not let us draw inferences from one text to the other. As in the case of the relationship between Empedocles’ own cosmic and demonic cycles, the differences between Empedocles’ demonic story and Plato’ myth of the soul are no less significant than their similarities –which does not mean, of course, that they are significant in the same way 27 . One extremely interesting point of similarity, which I mention just in passing, is that both stories are essentially related to the question of how human beings should feed themselves (or what constitutes their selves) – how the soul should positively feed its wings, in the case of the Phaedrus, what men should negatively avoid eating, in Empedocles’ case 28 . But apart from this, both stories are informed by a similar narrative pattern, according to

which the blissfulness of a primitive state enjoyed by a certain kind of entity is interrupted by

a negative event, which represents the application of a decree (that of Necessity in

Empedocles, that of Adrasteia in Plato 29 ) punishing the entity in question to an exile which

a single process. Not that I think this is radically false, but the idea cannot be established except through a complicated hermeneutical operation (see Laks 2004, p. 48), not on the basis of any textual evidence. 27 There is astoninshingly little on the subject, and what exists is rather superfical (Nicolai 1981, Ebert 1993). The indications that follows do not claim more than to draw attention to the problems involved in a comparison, which should be pursued systematically. 28 The point does not seem to have attracted the attention it merits. 29 Phaedrus, 248c2.



takes the form of a series of reincarnations, some of which are better and more valuable than others, and which are followed by a return to the primitive state at the end of the period of punishment. The differences bear on the nature of the entity concerned (some divinity, in Empedocles; imperfect or human souls, in Plato); the nature of the negative event (a blood crime in Empedocles, a cognitive deficiency in Plato 30 ); the location of the fault (indeterminate in Empedocles’ case, at least if the divine criminal is not to be identified, as I believe it might, with one of us 31 ; the heavens in Plato); the length of the exile period (30 000 “seasons” in Empedocles, 10 000 years in Plato --unless this amounts to the same 32 ); the kind of lives the incarnated entity goes through, in what order and according to what principle. A difficult and important feature concerns the possibility of escaping from the cycle before its completion. In Plato, it is clear that the soul which has nourished its wings in the appropriate way and chosen the philosophical life three times in a row wil be able to rejoin the heavenly procession of perfect (divine) souls after three periods of 1000 years = 3000 years, which amounts to a shortcut 33 . In Empedocles, it is not clear that there is a corresponding possibility : even the four examples of what humans can achieve in matters of intellectual and social excellence in B 146, 1-2 seem to lead ( ¶nyen in line 3) to a further stage, that of (re)divinisation proper, whose state is then described in B 147 (the banquet of the gods) 34 . Be that as it may, what I would like to stress here is that the Phaedrus story of the fallen souls is even more cyclic, so to speak, than Empedocles’ story of the exiled demons. Apart from the fact that the Platonic gods move in circle, and go on doing so, while feeding their intellect (Empedoclean gods remain seated at the banquet table, they are homestioi according to B147, 3) 35 , it should be stressed that the Platonic psychic cycle is cyclic in the same sense as Empedocle's cosmic cycle (as opposed to the demonic one) is cyclic, that is, that it is supposed to repeat itself without ending. As a matter of fact, the cognitive deficiency which triggers the fate of the fallen souls in Plato is a necessary one, even if the description of the circumstances under which the

30 With a difficult relation to moral fault.

31 I shall explore this hypothesis elsewhere.

32 See Rashed 2001, p. 251.

33 The incarnated philosopher is winged, like the unincarnated soul, hence he is already unincarnated in a certain sense.

34 B 146: efiw d¢ t°low mãnteiw te ka‹ ÍmnopÒloi ka‹ fihtroi/ka‹ prÒmoi ényr poisin §pixyonioisi p°lontai/¶nyen énablastoËsi yeo‹ tim isi f°ristoi. B 147: éyanãtoiw êlloisin ım°stioi, aÈtotrãpezoi /§Òntew, éndreivn éx°vn épÒklhroi, éteire›w.

35 Note the parallel between ım°stioi, in B 147, and ımopt°rouw at Phaedrus 257d8-e2, éllå fanÚn bion diãgontaw eÈdaimone›n met' éllÆlvn poreuom°nouw, ka‹ ımopt°rouw ¶rvtow xãrin, ˜tan g°nvntai, gen°syai. Although the Phaedrus passage refers only to the second best kind of loving souls, the description applies a fortiori to the first.



cognitive deficiency occurs is highly ambiguous, and most certainly intentionnally so, for some features of the myth suggest that souls are responsible for their fall, others that it is a question of (mis)fortune. Ultimately, however, the fall is grounded in the fact that there are two distinct types of souls, divine and human ; human souls are temporarily associated with the divine ones, but even though they all strive to remain in their company, and some of them might indeed succeed in doing so for a whole cycle, the rule is that they have to fail, because of their essential defectiveness. The reason for that, in turn -- and here we meet with the second, deeper reason why the Platonic psychic cycle has to be cyclic, i.e. to repeat itself—is that there simply would be no living beings if their souls could avoid falling. For the definition of a living being (a zoon) according to the myth is just this, namely the encounter and union of a fallen soul with a body 36 . This implies a constant supply of fallen souls for life to persist. And this is the reason why from the outset there are two categories of soul, the divine ones and the defective, potentially human ones: the second category is by nature linked to the explanation of life. We have no reason whatsoever to think that the same articulation holds for Empedocles. According to him, there is no specific, independent principle of life, such as a Platonic soul is. Empedoclean life is so to speak embedded from the outset in the roots: “All have their part of intelligence (phronesis) and thought (nôma)”, says B 110, 10 (= 578B.). Demons pass through all forms of life (B 115, 7), but do not constitute them. Accordingly, the fall of the culprit divinities in Empedocles fulfills a different function than the fall of souls in Plato does --a function that is not “physical”, but, as we might say, religious or ethical, and in any case eschatological in the proper sense of the word. For although Plato’s story of the fallen souls in the Phaedrus is also eschatological in some sense, in fact it is but a pseudo-eschatology, since the life process never comes to an end: in order that life may persist the cycle is going to repeat itself, no matter what. By contrast, Empedocles’ eschatology may be considered truly eschatological, inasmuch as it is independent of an explanation of life. Once the fallen divinities have regained their status, they remain the divinities they are by nature --at least in principle, since nothing prevents us from imagining them as sinning again 37 .

We might want, then, to replace the exoteric/esoteric distinction with, or more exactly to subordinate it to, the distinction between theory and practice, which is no more, of course,

36 Phaedrus, 246c 37 It should be added that Empedocles’ cosmic cycle displays, in relationship to the demonic cycle, the same pseudo-eschalotogical feature that characterizes Plato’s psychic cycle. On this, see Laks 2004, p. 48.



than a reformulation of the old distinction between science and religion. As I suggested at the beginning, what Empedocles is doing by setting up two structurally distinct although related stories is articulating the problem of the relationship of (human) responsibility and action (ethics) with the objective course of events (physics). The fact that his treatment is less conceptual than narratological, and that the sphere of the practical appears deeply linked with religious practice, does not fundamentally affect this claim, although it does raise a number of interesting questions, hermeneutical and otherwise, about the beginnings of philosophy. What does the articulation consist in, then, or more exactly how does it function ? I submit that an essential point lies in an obvious fact which I have not yet mentioned, namely that the two principles which govern the cycles, apart from Necessity, are the same on both sides : Neikos and Philia (or their representatives). It is not easy to decide whether this identity is to count as a similarity between the two stories –a particularly strong form of similarity, namely identity-, or, rather, in spite as the identity of names, as a difference. It seems to me that the problem is akin to the one raised by Ananke, and is in fact dependent upon it. For it makes a great difference, does it not, whether Neikos and Philia are active in a sphere (I do not say a world) which is regulated by absolute necessity, or in one regulated by hypothetical necessity. The difference is simply that whereas in the former case, there is no choice open between two courses of actions, in the latter one, you can decide to embrace one of the two parties. That this is what is at stake in the demonic story is abundantly clear both from the protreptic fragments which call upon men to stop murdering living beings (fr. 136), and from the picture of an ideal society built upon non-animal sacrifices (fr. 128) --which should not be taken, I think, to refer to a stage of the cycle which was closer to the Sphairos, as an integrative interpretation would claim, but to a possibility that may be realized again, because it happened once. In the framework of the cosmic story, Philia and Neikos play quite another role. This role is in fact so different that it is in some sense at odds with the other one. For the world as such depends for its existence upon the force of Hatred. A world of perfect Love is no world in the proper sense of the term, because a world demands differentiation, which in turn presupposes the presence of Hatred. And neither human beings nor daimones, whether we consider them as building some kind of society or as individuals, aim at disappearing into the Sphere of Love, no more than into the whirl of hatred. Of course, unification with the whole, abolition of self-identity, is an available scheme for interpreting Empedocles, one which has been put to use by Hölderlin and Schopenhauer. But we have no reason to think that this was Empedocles’ view. When the exiled divinity laments about his



former honors and blessedness 38 , his longing is not to return to abolish himself in the

unlimited mass of the blithful god Sphairos, but to be seated again with the other gods at their


A further question would be to ask whether Philia and Neikos are primarily principles

of cosmic processes or of human (and demonic) action. Some will probably deny that the

question may be answered, or even that it makes sense at all. I think, on the contrary, that this

is the very question that Empedocles wants us to ask. After all, if the author of the Lille

Papyrus is Stesichorus, as there are good reasons to think, Empedocles had before him a

model according to which Neikos and Philia, his own cosmic forces, were taken, naturally

enough, as the leading principles of human actions. Jocaste, there, counters Tiresias’ prophecy

according to which either Thebes will be saved, and her sons perish, or her sons will survive,

but the city be destroyed, by arguing that hatred, for mortals, is no more necessary than love


For it is false, first, that always equally

Immortal gods have,on sacred earth

Made Hatred immutable for mortals

Nor, of course, Love either 39 .

Empedocles would subscribe to this idea of an alternation between Love and Hatred,

but at the cosmic level, not at a human one. And he would differ from Stesichorus inasmuch

as he would have advocated the possibility, in principle, that the alternation of hatred and love

on earth be interrupted by the establishement of a city, or a civilization, of peace. This is what

is at stake in the difference between a cosmic and a demonic cycle.

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PUF, 2004.

38 §j o · hw tim w te ka‹ ˜ssou mÆkeow ˆlbou 39 Fr. 222 (b) Davies.

, fr. 119



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