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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 April 2017

Richard Janko*
University of Michigan


The Epicurean Colotes, in a work entitled Περὶ τοῦ ὅτι κατὰ τὰ τῶν ἄλλων φιλοσόφων οὐδὲ ζῆν ἔστιν, cited two fragments of Empedocles in order to prove that the poet denied that existence exists (frr. B 8–9 DK = 12–13 Wright). Both are prominent in controversies about Empedocles’ physics and his usage of the term φύσις, but fr. 9 is very corrupt. To have any hope of restoring it, we will need to examine carefully Plutarch's explication de texte in his Adversus Colotem (10–12, 1111f–1113e). Although there have been two detailed treatments of this passage, neither has resolved the difficulties.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 2017 

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For improvements to this article I thank Victor Caston, Mirjam Kotwick, Debra Nails and the other participants in the Michigan Ancient Philosophy Reading Group, and sundry anonymous readers; its deficiencies remain mine.


1 Plutarch records its title at Adv. Col. 1, 1107b. For a collection of its fragments see Kechagia, E., Plutarch Against Colotes: A Lesson in History of Philosophy (Oxford, 2011), 295303 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 e.g. Mourelatos, A.P.D., ‘Quality, structure and emergence in later pre-Socratic philosophy’, Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy 2 (1987), 127–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Curd, P., ‘The metaphysics of physics: mixture and separation in Empedocles and Anaxagoras’, in Caston, V. and Graham, D.W. (edd.), The Presocratics. Essays in Honour of Alexander Mourelatos (Aldershot, 2002), 139–58Google Scholar, at 139–46; Palmer, J., Parmenides and Presocratic Philosophy (Oxford, 2009), 260–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 The first is van der Ben, N., ‘Empedocles’ fragments 8, 9, and 10 DK’, Phronesis 23 (1978), 197215 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, whose focus fell so heavily on Empedocles’ text (of which he gives a thorough account of the proposals to that date) that he did not fully explore the context; the second is Boulogne, J., ‘Plutarque exégète d'Empédocle: une leçon de lecture’, RPhA 22 (2004), 97110 Google Scholar. Trepanier, S. ( Empedocles: An Interpretation [New York and London, 2004], 67–8Google Scholar, cf. 179) explicates the context, but does not use it to restore the fragment, and Kechagia (n. 1) does not explore the topic. For a full commentary on frr. 8–9 see Wright, M.R., Empedocles: The Extant Fragments (New Haven and London, 1981, 19952)Google Scholar.

4 μεῖξις is the correct spelling, as the Derveni papyrus, copied in the fourth century b.c., confirms (see τῆι με̣ίξει at col. xxii 13, with ἀναμεμειγμένον at col. ix 5); the later Greek etacism μῖξις or μίξις, which confused ει with ῑ, was never remedied by Byzantine correctors. μεῖξις and the present, sigmatic aorist and perfect stems of μείγνυμι retain the Indo-European e-grade in the root, whereas the zero-grade of it (with short iota) is correct in μίσγω and ἐμίγην. So Chantraine, P., Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque (Paris, 1968–1972), 2.676–7Google Scholar; Beekes, R., Etymological Dictionary of Greek (Leiden and Boston, 2010), 920Google Scholar. Wherever these words occur in our texts of ancient authors they need this correction. The spellings in LSJ9 and Frisk's Griechisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch are simply outdated, pace van der Ben (n. 3), 214 n. 8.

5 Ἐμπεδοκλῆς· φύσιν μηδεν⟨ὸς⟩ (corr. Stein) εἶναι, μ⟨ε⟩ῖξιν (correxi) δὲ τῶν στοιχείων καὶ διάστασιν· γράφει γὰρ οὕτως ἐν τῶι πρώτωι Φυσικῶν (Aët. 1.30.1).

6 Except for Bollack, they do not follow Aëtius in line 4, presumably because of the contrary testimony of Aristotle (whom they do not follow for line 1). For a good discussion of the superiority of Aëtius’ text see van der Ben (n. 3), 199–203.

7 van der Ben ([n. 3], 198) well suggests that Colotes may have depended on Hermarchus’ Πρὸϲ Ἐμπεδοκλέα, which was in twenty-two books (cf. Obbink, D., ‘Hermarchus, Against Empedocles ’, CQ 38 [1988], 428–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar).

8 Sources: Arist. Metaph. Δ 4, 1015a1 (vv. 1b, 3–4); MXG 2, 975b7 (vv. 3–4); Aët. 1.30.1 (p. 326 Diels); Plut. Adv. Col. 10, 1111f. Apparatus criticus: 1 ἑκάστου Plut.: ἁπάντων Aët.: ἐόντων Arist.     2 οὐλομένη … γενεθλή Plut.: οὐλομένου … τελευτή Aët.     3 correxi     4 δ’ ἐπὶ τοῖς Arist., Plut.: δὲ βροτοῖς Aët.     5 addidi propter Plut. Adv. Col. 1112a, ὅτι γὰρ ἀντὶ τῆς γενέσεως εἴρηκε τὴν ‘φύσιν’, ἀντιθεὶς τὸν ‘θάνατον’ αὐτῇ, δεδήλωκεν ὁ Ἐμπεδοκλῆς.

9 Kechagia (n. 1), 42.

10 1112a, cited above (n. 8). Scholars have made unduly heavy weather of this: see e.g. van der Ben (n. 3), 204–7, with further references in Wright (n. 3), ad loc.

11 1112a–d; the attack on atheism is at 1112c. Cf. Kechagia (n. 1), 38–9.

12 So Boulogne (n. 3); cf. Kechagia (n. 1), 41–2.

13 1112e–f, citing Epic. fr. 76 Usener, ἡ τῶν ὄντων φύσις σώματά ἐστι καὶ τόπος.

14 Pohlenz, M. and Westman, R., Plutarchi Moralia VI 2 (Leipzig, 1959)Google Scholar. Τhe Loeb edition ( Einarson, B. and De Lacy, P., Plutarch's Moralia XIV [Cambridge, MA, 1967]Google Scholar) prints μίγεν in verse 1; I have not checked the codices.

15 Apparatus criticus to fr. B 9: 1 μὲν cod. E: om. cod. B: κεν ci. Mullach: ἵκῃ ci. Bignone     φῶτα codd.: φῶτας Karsten     μιγὲν φῶς αἰθέρι ⟨ – – ⟩ (sc. spatium vii vel viii litt.): μιγέντ’ εἰς αἰθέρ’ ἵ⟨κωνται⟩ ci. Diels: μιγέντ’ εἰς αἰθέρι⟨ον⟩ φῶς Bignone: μιγὲν φάος αἰθέρ⟨ος⟩ ἵ⟨κηι⟩ Mullach: μιγὲν φῶς αἰθέρι ⟨κύρσῃ⟩ Burnet: μιγέντ’ εἰς αἰθέρ’ ἴ⟨δωνται⟩ Pierris: μιγὲν φῶς αἰθέρ⟨ος εἶδον⟩ Mansfeld (Die Vorsokratiker II [Stuttgart, 1986] 76): μιγὲν φῶς αἰθέρι⟨ον βῇ⟩ Primavesi (ibid. ed. 2, 2011) 450     3 τὸν ⟨ – ˘ ⟩ (sc. spatium viii litt.): τὸν ⟨φασὶ⟩ Friedländer: τά⟨δε φασὶ⟩ Xylander (τό⟨δε⟩ Bernadakis, τό ⟨γε⟩ Panzerbieter): τὸ ⟨λέγουσι⟩ Reiske et τὸ ⟨νέμουσι⟩ Burnet, ponte Hermanni rupto: ⟨βίο⟩τον ⟨γε⟩ van der Ben, balbutians     4 ἀποκρι⟨ν⟩θῶσι corr. Panzerbieter  τὸ δ’ Reiske: τάδ’ codd.: τὰ δ’ Stephanus: τόδ’ Inwood, monente Woodbury     5 ᾗ θέμις ⟨οὐ⟩ Wyttenbach post Meziriacum ad Plut. Mor. 820f: εἶναι codd. EB: ⟨οὐ⟩ θέμις ᾗ Wilamowitz, Hermes 65 (1930), 246: ᾗ θέμις ⟨ἀνθρώποισι⟩ van der Ben, καλέουσι deleto     καλέουσι νόμῳ corr. Reiske e Plut. Mor. 820f et 1113a: καλέουσιν ὅμως codd. EB

16 Inwood, B. ( The Poem of Empedocles [Toronto, 2001 2], 95–6Google Scholar), in his translation of 1113a–d, thinks this φωνή is γένεσις, referring back to 1113a, where Plutarch notes parenthetically that most people personify Birth and Death in cases where things are constituted and dissolved (‘Γένεσίν’ τινα καὶ ‘Φθορὰν’ καλοῦσιν οἱ πολλοὶ ἐπὶ τοῖς συνισταμένοις καὶ διαλυομένοις), citing Hom. Il. 18.535. But Plutarch must be referring to his discussion of the word φύσις itself, of which γένεσις is one possible meaning; otherwise his rebuttal would be ineffectual.

17 As Wright (n. 3) noted (ad loc.), Empedocles does use φύσις to mean ‘nature’ in frr. 63 and 110.5 (56 and 100 Wright); each instance has the connotation of ‘growth’, as an anonymous reader points out to me. Plutarch cites neither passage, since neither suits his argument. However, their existence does not prove him wrong either.

18 van der Ben ([n. 3], 211–12) already made a similar proposal, viz. to insert after verse 4 the hexameter εἶναι ⟨καὶ⟩ θάνατον ⟨τότε δὴ⟩ καλέουϲιν ἀλοίτην, but I do not see how καλέουσιν can govern εἶναι.

19 Diels's restoration is perhaps the most popular, e.g. in Graham, D.W. ( The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy [Cambridge, 2010], 148)Google Scholar, but its own author signalled his uncertainty about it by adding a question mark.

20 Diels, H., Poetarum Philosophorum Fragmenta (Berlin, 1901), 109Google Scholar.

21 Fr. B 45. I thank an anonymous reader for this point.

22 Cf. Aët. 5.19.5.

23 Cf. Aët. 5.22.

24 Fr. B 148, from Plut. Mor. 683e.

25 Fr. B 96.

26 Fr. B 62, 5; Bollack, J. seeks to distinguish heat (aither) from fire in this passage ( Empédocle [Paris, 1969], 3.431)Google Scholar, needlessly in my view.

27 Fr. B 98.

28 Fr. B 76 with P.Strasbourg gr. inv. 1665–6 ensemble b Martin–Primavesi; this passage, which also reveals that shellfish have earth on the outside, is Book 1 lines 354–9 in the latest papyrological reconstruction ( Janko, R., ‘Empedocles, On Nature i 233–364: a new reconstruction of P. Strasb. gr. Inv. 1665–6’, ZPE 150 [2005], 125 Google Scholar). For an attempt to rebut this reconstruction see Primavesi, O., Empedokles Physika I: eine Rekonstruktion des zentralen Gedankengangs (Berlin and New York, 2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, with my reply in Ancient Philosophy 30 (2010), 407–11.

29 Cf. fr. A 70 (Theophr. CP 1.12.5), τὸ γεννᾶν … Ἐμπεδοκλῆϲ διαιρεῖ καὶ μερίζει τὴν μὲν γῆν εἰς τὰς ῥίζας, τὸν δ’ αἰθέρα εἰς τοὺς βλαστούς.

30 In verse 3 there is now no need to alter τὸν, since it can agree with φῶτα in verse 1.

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