Aither and the Four Roots in Empedocles

in Research in Phenomenology
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This paper surveys the meaning of aither (αἰθήρ) in Empedocles. Since Aristotle, Empedoclean aither has been generally considered synonymous with air (ἀήρ) and understood anachronistically in terms of its Aristotelian conception as hot and wet. In critiquing this interpretation, the paper first examines the meaning of “air” in Empedocles, revealing scant and insignificant use of the term. Next, the ancient controversy of Empedocles’ “four roots” is recast from the perspective that aither, rather than air, designates the fourth root. Finally, the nineteen instances of aither in Empedocles’ fragments are considered, revealing a bright and energetic root closely related to the force of life.

Aither and the Four Roots in Empedocles

in Research in Phenomenology




Martin Heidegger“Phenomenological Interpretations with Respect to Aristotle: Indication of the Hermeneutical Situation,” Man and World 25 (1992) hereafter mw.


See D. J. Furley“Empedocles and the Clepsydra,” The Journal of Hellenic Studies77 no. 1 (1957): 31–34. Also consider N. B. Booth “Empedocles’ Account of Breathing” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 80 (1960): 10–15. Because Empedocles maintains a plenum in Fragment B13/F18 “there is no place in the totality that is empty or overflowing” air in the clepsydra should not be actual void. The clepsydra’s essential relationship to water makes a mist or invisible vapor a likely option. Burnet argues that Empedocles discovers air is a “thing” in B100 and that this “was one of the most important discoveries in the history of science” (egp 229).


Fridericus Knatz“Empedoclea,” Schedae philogae Hermanno Usener a sodalibus Seminarii Regii Bonnensis oblatae (Bonnae: F. Cohen 1891): 1–9. See Burnet egp 229–30n3 for his citation of Knatz.


Henry George Liddell and Robert ScottA Greek-English Lexicon (New York: Oxford University Press1996) 37 s.v. αἰθὴρ.


See Simon Trepanier“Empedocles on the Ultimate Symmetry of the World,” Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 24 (2003): 1–57for view that love is not the force of life (3); Kahn’s rnp 21 and 27; and Guthrie hgp 2: 265.

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