On Diogenes Laertius’s Biography of Empedocles

Empedocles was a native of Agrigentum (one of the most powerful and prosperous cities in Sicily). He was a renowned Olympic horse-racer. Diogenes cites Timaeus’s Histories when he says Empedocles was a student of Pythagoras, and that Empedocles wrote poetry, a skill which he taught to Parmenides and others. Empedocles also may have been a doctor and an orator. He was widely respected in his day.

Of his character Empedocles cites Aristotle who says Empedocles was a freedom-loving man and despising of all authority. Through his vast fortune (he owned numerous slaves) he gave money to the women of the city.

Apparently Empedocles dies from injuries sustained in a fall while en route to a festival. There are a wide variety of stories about his age at the time of his death -perhaps he was 60 years old, or 77, or maybe even 109 years old when he died. His tomb was located in Megara. There once was a statue of Empedocles that once stood in Agrigentum. It was later moved to Rome where it sat outside the senate during Diogenes Laertius’s day and age.


For this reading I used the ‘Compact Edition’ of the Lives of the Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertes translated by Pamela Mensch and edited by James Miller.

In the preface to the Compact Edition the editors note: “Our common goal has been to make Lives as accessible as possible to English-speaking readers -and at the same time to convey some of the essential strangeness of what philosophy once was, in hopes that readers may wonder anew at what philosophy might yet become” (xiii).

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