Cosmic Cycles #8: The “double tale” of the Twin Forces

“Ensemble a” of the Strasbourg Papyrus is the longest continuous Empedoclean fragment that we possess, and it provides an adequate transition from discussion of the “Six Principles” to the Cosmic Cycles.1 Ensemble a contains DK fragment 17, which the two-poem school formerly assigned to the Physics due to its description of the cosmic cycle of the elements:

I shall tell a double tale. For at one time [they] grew (“euxethe”) apart to be one alone 

from many, and at another, again, [they] grew apart to be many from one. 

And there is a double coming to be of mortals and a double waning; 

[5]while the other, as [they] again grow apart, was nurtured and flew away.

And while these things never cease from constantly alternating,

at one time all coming together by love into one,

and at another time all being borne apart separately by the hostility of strife.

<Thus insofar as they have learned to grow as one from many>

[10] and they finish up many as the one again grows apart,

in this respect they come to be and have no constant life;

but insofar as they never cease from constantly interchanging,

in this respect they are always unchanged in a cycle.2

In this excerpt, we find the next logical step after the introduction of the Four Elements and what we shall call “the TwinForces”3 (of Love and Strife). Even though this excerpt was previously known from the ancient author Simplicius4, its mode of expression is rather strange, given the dominant views of the Twin Forces held by him and Aristotle. AgainstAristotle’s view that Love is the cause of coming-to-be and Strife the exclusive cause of corruption5, this excerpt seems profoundly ambivalent as to which of the Twin Forces rule which. On the contrary, it seems to emphasize that both forces rule both processes6. Lines one and two describe genesis as being twofold, from Love and Strife. Line three says that for mortals both genesis and desctruction (apoleipsis) are “double” (doin). The poetic structure of this passage mirrors the dogmatic content; there is repeated emphasis of the equality of the Twin Forces of Love and Strife. Every mention of the two is paired and uses the same language.

The cosmic dyarchy of the Twin Forces, is the focus of one of Aristotle’s main criticisms. “Dyarchy” is a curious idea where the world is seen as ruled by two separate dieties or principles. Empedocles’ Twin Forces are one of the more prominent examples of this, and it is strongly criticized by Aristotle. He argued that since pairs of contraries must inherein some third underlying reality, no dualism could ever be fundamental. The very next passage of ensemble relates to this point:

But come! Hear my words; for learning will expand your thought organs.

[15] For as I said before, in revealing the limits of my words,

I shall tell a double tale. For at one time [they] grew (“euxethe”) to be one alone 

from many, and at another, again, [they] grew (“euxethe”) apart to be many from one –

fire and water and earth and the boundless height of air;

and destructive strife apart from these, like in every respect, 

[20] and love among them, equal in length and breadth.

Empedocles is still using the same word (“euxethe” in lines 16 and 17) to denote the contrary actions of the Twin Forces. Not only does he use the same word, but each instance of this term refers to both contraries, whereas in the previous except he used contrary terms (“genesis” and “apoleipsis” in line 3) in reference to both Forces. In lines 19 and 20, he says that Love and Strife are “like in every respect” (atalanton hapante) and “equal in length and breadth” (ise mekos te platos te.). So he has really most clearly emphasized a fundamental equality of the otherwise opposed Twin Forces.7However, in this excerpt there is one detail in which Love and Strife differ: location. In line 19, Strife is “apart from these” (te holomenon dixa ton), while in line 20, Love is “among them” (en toisin). So something like a primacy of love for the beings so constituted can be seen, perhaps an inspiration of Aristotle’s primacy of love, the Good and “Substance”.8

And you, gaze on her [Love] with your understanding and do not sit with stunned eyes.

For she is deemed even by mortals to be inborn in [their] bodies [lit. ‘joints’]

[23] and by her they think loving thoughts and accomplish works of unity 

calling her by the names Joy and Aphrodite.

So here, as if in following up on the claim that Love is “among them”, Empedocles says that love is “inborn” (emphutos) in their bodies or “joints”. This we will return to this verse later on, especially how nature relates to “joints”.9 In addition to being composed by the agency (?) of Love, this passage may also claim that we have agency by love as well, since we think and act in virtue of it (line 23). There is thus a greater inherence of love than strife in three ways:

  1. Love is among things. (line 20)
  2. Love is what makes each thing one. (line 22)
  3. Love is what make each thing do what it does. (line 23)

Empedocles’ “Love” is a sort of thing that is in you, makes all your parts to be part of one thing, and to serve some function. All of these give Love the character of being the “what it is” of anything composed of the Four Elements. Now I think that most people who reflect on these three qualities can see why there are all deeply related, and one of the main projects of ancient philosophy is the inquiry into why this is so. Philosophy always has to have some way of articulating that about a thing which makes it what it is, and for speakers of Greek the core reality of a living creature or more specifically a human called our “soul” (in Greek, “psuche”). Most philosophers go further than this to say something more interesting and daring. On my reading of Empedocles, this extra something was that protion of Love which is “in” something, that makes it do whatever that thing does, and which makes it one thing as opposed to another. Thus not only is this sense of “Love” a sort of soul, but it is also what Socrates called “essence” or “character” and Aristotle called the “substance” of the thing. 

Empedocles tells us of the previously discussed “equality” among the principles:

[25] Her [Love] no mortal man has perceived whirling among them [i.e. the elements]

But you, hear the undeceptive expedition of [my] account.

For these things are all equal and of like age in their birth,

But each rules over a different prerogative and each has its own character 

and they dominate in turn as time circles around. 

[30] And in addition to them nothing comes into being nor ceases [to be];

for if they constantly perished, they would no longer be.

And what could increase this totality, and whence would it come?

And how would it also be destroyed, since nothing is bereft of them?

But these very things are, and running through each other. 

[35] They become different at different times and are always, perpetually alike.

The principles “are all equal and of like age in their birth”. It is ambiguous as to whether “these things” refers to the Four Elements, the Twin Forces or perhaps the Six Principles10 as equal. In our view, it is likely the Six Principles are all equal in the sense that they are the eternal principles of genesis and decay alike. However, it does seem that the Twin Forces might outrank the Four Elements in at least two senses: They govern the behavior of the Four Elements, while the Four Elements do not govern the behavior of the Twin Forces, and line 28 and 29 there is a reference to “they dominate in turn as time circles around.” It is hard to see how any of the Four Elements can be said to rule “in turn”11, but clearly the Twin Forces do rule ‘in turn’ (Fr. 17.29 above ) one during the Reign of Love, and the other during the Reign of Strife. In spite of Empedocles’ repetition of the “equality” of the Twin Forces, it may be that he favors the rule of Love over Strife in many respects which relate to religion and morality. However from the standpoint of physical theory, he emphasizes their strict equality in terms of 

  1. age – “equal and of like age in their birth”(line 27), “perpetually alike” (35)
  2. spatial extent – “equal in length and breadth” (line 20)
  3. primacy –  “each rules over its own prerogative and has its own character” (line 28) 
  4. universality – “nothing is bereft of them” (line 30)

The two poem school has assigned this fragment to the Physics12, and its apparent Heraclitian tone might lend support to the disunity thesis as well. In such a world of eternal becoming lacking a single guiding Nous, how could the eternal Pythagorean verities hold fast? Such was the view when we only had lines 1-14 as preserved by Simplicius, but lines 15-25 of ensemble a show at least the beginning of Empedocles’ middle path between Ionian “physicalism” and Italian “purificationism”. This will be more clear when we add in a more complete view of how Love works to unify the elements, a major theme of the present work.

Note that in the reconstructions cited earlier, all of this comes near the end of Book I, after the initial outline of the aims of the book (which includes the purificatory, moral and religious fragments such as B112-115).13 On this reconstruction,ensemble a prepares the transition to Book II, which elaborates on the physics, giving the details of the cosmic cycles and the zoogonic stages. This later physical portion outlines the famous cosmic cycles, which treats not only of cosmology and astrophysics but also of biological evolution, and the next two Empedoclean fragments found at Panopolis focus on this.

To be continued here.

1 I will cite these fragments not in their raw form, but as reconstructed by Graham, Inwood, and Janko, according to the order in which they appear in Inwood’s reconstruction of the original poem (1992). Each ensemble will receive its own heading, with separate commentary on its relation to the unity of Empedocles’ work and thought.

2DK31 B17, Trans. Graham

3I use the word forces here without wanting to make to much of an analogy with modern “forces” such as gravity. Indeed there is much reason to assume that the Empedoclean forces and elements are somewhat personal or at the very least alive. See Rowett (2016), Coates (2018), among others.

4Physics 158,1. 

5For example in Metaphysics I.4, 985a5, 22. Aristotle here and often in other passages seeks to treat the secondary traits of the Twin Forces as being their essence, and this makes some of his objections to Empedocles to be superficial.

6We shall discuss this issue at length below.

7In this he follows another theorist of duality, physics, cosmology, and Strife: Heraclitus.

8As in Aristotle’s treatment of substance and unity in Metaphysics VII.13 and of love, in XII.7.

9Note that in Empedocles’ evolutionary theory, humans and other creatures are composed of pre-existing elements called “separate limbs”. Since these limbs are connected at joints, then it makes sense that love would be found primarily there if anywhere. 

10These three phrases are all my own coinages, just for the sake of easy clarity: in the present work the Six Principles includes both the Four Elements and the Twin Forces.

11In our discussion of the stages of the cosmic cycle we will return to this, since in some cosmologies, most notably Anaximander and Heraclitus, there is a sense in which World Ages are ruled by a certain element.

12Diels and Kranz were two-poem scholars. In compiling the “DK” fragments ,they listed the alleged Physica first as B1 through B111, and the alleged Katharmoi was B112 and after.

13Inwood (1992), Janko (2004), Graham (2010).


One thought on “Cosmic Cycles #8: The “double tale” of the Twin Forces

  1. Pingback: Cosmic Cycles #7 : The unity of Empedocles’ work. | Zoon Echon Blogon

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