Cosmic Democracy or Cosmic Monarchy? Empedocles in Plato’s Statesman

In: Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek and Roman Political Thought
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Plato’s references to Empedocles in the myth of the Statesman perform a crucial role in the overarching political argument of the dialogue. Empedocles conceives of the cosmos as structured like a democracy, where the constituent powers ‘rule in turn’, sharing the offices of rulership equally via a cyclical exchange of power. In a complex act of philosophical appropriation, Plato takes up Empedocles’ cosmic cycles of rule in order to ‘correct’ them: instead of a democracy in which rule is shared cyclically amongst equal constituents, Plato’s cosmos undergoes cycles of the presence and absence of a single cosmic monarch who possesses ‘kingly epistēmē’. By means of a revision of Empedocles’ democratic cosmology, Plato’s richly woven myth is designed precisely to reject the appropriateness of democracy as a form of human political association and legitimate monarchy in its stead.

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