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Empedocles - On Nature - 233-364



Type of Spiritual Experience


There are about 450 lines of Empedocles' poem On Nature extant, including 70 lines which have been reconstructed from some papyrus scraps known as the Strasbourg Papyrus.

The poem originally consisted of 2000 lines of hexameter verse, and was addressed to Pausanias. It was this poem which outlined Empedocles's philosophical system. In it, Empedocles explains not only the nature and history of the universe, including his theory of the four classical elements, but he describes theories on causation, perception, and thought, as well as explanations of terrestrial phenomena and biological processes.

This is not the full poem but a fragment newly translated - see references for the source


A description of the experience

A double tale I'll tell. At one time one thing grew to be just one 233
from many, at another many grew from one to be apart.
Double the birth of mortal things, and double their demise. 235
Union of all begets as well as kills the first;
the second nurtures them but shatters as they grow apart.
And never do they cease from change continual,
at one time all uniting into one from Love,
while at another each is torn apart by hate-filled Strife. 240
In the way that many arise as the one again dissolves,
in that respect they come to be and have no life eternal;
but in the way that never do they cease from change continual,
in this respect they live forever in a stable cycle.
But hear my words; to learn augments the mind. 245
For as I said when I set forth my story's aims,
a double tale I'll tell. At one time one thing grew to be just one
from many, at another many grew from one to be apart,
fire, water, earth and the unreached height of air,
and cursèd Strife apart from them, their match in every way, 250
and Love among them, equal in her size and in her breadth.
With mind regard Her, and sit not with eyes bedazed.
Even mortals hold that She's implanted in their joints;
through Her they think of love and do conjoining deeds,
naming Her ʻDelight' and ʻAphrodite' too. 255
No mortal man has learned that She revolves
among these things; but hear from me this truthful tale.
For all these things are equal and alike in age,
but each rules separate domains, each has its haunts
and lords it in its turn as time rolls round. 260
Beyond these nothing comes to be or perishes.
For if they died continually, no longer would they be.
What could increase this whole, and from what source?
How too could it be destroyed, since nothing lacks in these?
But these are what there is, and running through each other 265
they suffer change continual but always are alike.
In Love we come together in one world;
in Hatred many grew from one to be apart,
whence all that was, and is, and shall at some time be
blossomed as trees, as men, as women too, 270
as beasts, as birds, as fish that water rears,
as well as gods who ages live and greatest honours have.
In Her they never cease to swirl in constant flux
with frequent whirlings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
relentlessly, and never do they cease . . . . . . . . . 275
But many ages previous must elapse . . . . . . . . .
before their motions alter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
They never cease in any way to swirl in constant flux.
The sun does not stay still, nor does the moon
in orbit cease to wax or cease to wane, 280
nor do the other stars stay fixed in heaven;
they all move in a cycle, changing place.
At that time earth untrodden runs and the sun's orb,
as big as even now men have the power to vouch;
just so do all these things through one another race, 285
and, roaming, visit other places constantly;
we do not reach the middle place in union.
But whensoever Hatred to the vortex' utmost depths
arrives, and Love arises in the whirlwind's midst,
in Her then all these things unite to be just one. 290
Strive so my words reach not your ears alone,
and as you hear from me true facts take note:
I'll put before your eyes how She augments
with larger form life's union and increase,
and all that still remain of this creation, 295
first in the wild tribes of beasts that roam the hills,
then in the double race of man, then in the fruits
of rooted plants and grapes that mount the vine.
From these take in your mind proofs truthful of my words.
You'll see life's union and increase, 300
because of Hate, wreak deeds of separation.
This first the mass of mortal limbs makes clear;
at one time we unite in Love with all
the limbs that bodies have when life is blossoming;
another time again, split up by evil Strife, 305
they wander each apart amid life's breakers.
Just so it is for plants, and water-dwelling fish,
and beasts that sleep on hills, and fowls that mount on wings. 308

5 verses on dissolution lost or damaged
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . echo
. . . . . . . . . that at lifeʼs end the limbs of all 330

fall from each other apart and meet their fate,
much though we will it not, from grim necessity,
as we decay. Though beauteous Love may hold us now,
the harpies with death's lots will come for us.
Woe that some ruthless day did not destroy me first, 335
before I used my claws to wreak dread deeds for food!
Now to no end my cheeks I wet with tears.
For we shall reach the unplumbed gyre, I fear,
and though men wish it not they'll have uncounted pains.
But we'll embark once more upon our tale. 340
When once the tireless flame did chance upon
all things, and caused their painful intermixture,
then creatures too progenitive were born
in every way, whose remnants still the dawn beholds.
When aither mixed did reach the utmost edge, 345
then birds flew up with shrieks and cries
tumultuous, but beasts, whose lot is lairs in earth
and grass, were born where earth was swathed around.
As when . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
a smith . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ., 350

2 damaged verses about a smith inlaying one metal on another

just so the elements appear in different beasts.
First in the whelks with heavy backs that graze the sea
and in their stony mantles, then in oysters – 355
there you will see earth dwelling on the top of flesh.
Again, the armour-plate of strong-backed sea-crabs,
also the stone-skinned conches' and the tortoises' shells,
and spears of hornèd deer that roam the hills.
But listing all such creatures I'd not end. 360
As when . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .,
from which . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .,
and this . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

end of fragment

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Inherited genes



Empedocles on Nature I 233-364 A new reconstruction of Papyrus Strasbourg GR Inv 1665-6