Love, Sex and the Gods: Why things have divine names in Empedocles’ poem, and why they come in pairs

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When Empedocles uses a divine name for one of the items in his ontology, does this serve merely as a poetic metaphor or does it mean that the item in question is a god, with personal agency and intentions? In Empedocles’ poem, most things are described as if they were intentional agents and seem to function as such. Is there anything in the universe that does not have a mind or does not engage in intentional action? In this paper I argue that Empedocles was talking of a universe in which all the components, without exception, are living beings with mental capacities and that their power is the power of agents, acting voluntarily, not of inanimate forces acting mechanically. There is nothing in Empedocles’ ontology that could be described as inert matter, and there are no inanimate things.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)80–110
Number of pages31
Issue number1
Early online date15 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2016


  • Empedocles
  • Love
  • Strife
  • elements
  • gender
  • explanation
  • causation
  • divinities
  • cosmic cycle
  • mixture
  • separation
  • agency

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