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Empedocles on Purification - The Golden Age we now live in

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A stage of many, divided by concepts he named "Love" and "Strife". The Golden Age. What is now and what will be



Purifications has a style markedly different from that of On Nature. While the latter, for the most part, concerns the origins and workings of natural phenomena, the former is the autobiography of a divine being. In the opening lines, the narrator of the poem, who is presumably Empedocles, describes himself as a god, received as such by the cities to which he travels. To them he dispenses advice, prophecies, and cures (B 112). This god is actually a spirit—a daimôn—who has been exiled from the blessed life of the other spirits by breaking an oath and shedding blood (by killing and eating animals: see below). He wanders throughout the natural world, rejected by the very elements, because he put his trust in raving Strife (B 115). Exiled daemons are reincarnated into all sorts of living forms, finally coming to be as prophets, poets, physicians, and leaders among men. (Empedocles was a poet, and we recall that ancient evidence indicated he was also a physician and political leader, and a prophet too.) At last they arise as gods; and, finally released from exile, they then enjoy a blessed life (B 146 and 147). Presumably, the narrator himself is at this stage in his exile. Since it is the key event in the life of a daemon, we need to know why shedding blood is so important and how it is related to putting trust in Strife. Empedocles describes (B 128) what sounds like a golden age in which the reigning divinity was Aphrodite, the goddess of love and sex, not Ares, god of war, nor Zeus, nor Kronos, nor Poseidon. Presumably we are to think of Aphrodite as ruling over beings joined by love, whereas the rest, like Ares, are associated with war and strife. What is most notable about those who lived in this era is that they did not pollute themselves with bloody sacrifice (B 128). In fact, both animals and men lived together in friendship (B 130). This era is normative for all of existence (B 135). Mortals are warned in the strongest possible terms to abstain from bloodshed and the eating of flesh. These two are connected in the practice of bloody sacrifice because those attending the sacrifice ate the flesh of sacrificed animals. The chief reason given for abstinence from meat is that, since all are reincarnated as various sorts of living beings, killing and eating animals is in reality cannibalism (B 136 and 137). Thus, killing and eating one another is the most extreme form of Strife among humans. The narrator himself, the exiled and wandering daemon, wishes that he had been destroyed before he had done the terrible deed of eating flesh with his lips (B 139).

The relation between On Nature and Purifications is the subject of varied speculations. Once it was thought that the first was a scientific work and the latter a religious one. Since these categories were understood to be antithetical, there could be no relation at all between them; Empedocles had just written two incompatible poems. More recently, as the usefulness of such a rigid dichotomy seemed less plausible, commentators have seen the teaching about nature as continuous with Purifications. Both, after all, give a prominent place to Love and Strife. Nature, then, is ruled by the very same principles that are the key to understanding the drama of the ethical life, as Empedocles represents that. Understanding how nature works, one will want to side with Love and not Strife—especially, one will want to avoid the shedding of blood, that whereby we think and perceive, the very principle of conscious life. However, here too commentators have interpreted passages from the Strasbourg manuscript as showing a tighter unity between what are taken to be two aspects of the same account. For instance, Primavesi claims the daemons' journeying back to a state of purity mirrors the roots returning to the sphere of Love (Primavesi 2005). Such interpretations imply that there are not two poems but one. Nevertheless, the way textual support has been marshalled for these sorts of readings has not gone uncritized (Laks 2002).



Related to the Heart's Energy of being a flame of purification.


Personal suggestion from myself, allow it as possibility and experiment for yourself. If your goal is to stay unbiased from such texts and rather focus on your own practice, even better.

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