Seminar on Empedocles


Pre-conference Seminar on Agonistic Elements in Empedocles

June 10-11, 2019

Seminar leader: Leon Wash,

The goal of this project is to understand agonistic elements in Empedocles’ philosophy, such as Love vs. Strife, the agonistic elements in his argumentation, and the agonism inherent in his “evolutionary scheme.”  The seminar will consist of roundtable discussion of selected texts, both in Greek and in translation.


Day 1: E. in agonistic contexts

  1. The agonistic background: Nietzsche on Hesiod, etc.
  2. E. and Classical Greek athletic and political agonism
  3. E. and the agonism of early Greek philosophy
  4. Philosophy vs. athletics (E. closer to Pythagoras than Xenophanes)
  5. Philosopher vs. philosopher and the agony of E.’s rhetoric

Day 2: Agonism in E., or the agon of Love and Strife

  1. Prior accounts of strife in Hesiod et al., as well as of love
  2. Terminological considerations: agon, eris, etc.
  3. Cyclic agonism and the problem of the cycle
  4. E.’s proto-Darwinism and Nietzsche’s agonistic E.
  5. Productive agon – productive Strife? E.’s similes

READINGS  (available to participants in .pdf format at and in print form at the seminar)

(1) Empedocles. Selections from the fragments and testimonia from the Laks-Most Loeb

  • Biography: P3a & b, P8a, P10, P12-15, P19, P21-22
  • Doctrine: D3-10, D17, D21-22, D25-26, D36-D40, D42, D44, D47, D51-54, D57, D60-62, D65-68, D73-77, D87-94, D101, D149-157, D164, D201, D207, D213-215, D217, D237, D257
  • (Recommended selections from his reception: R31, R37)

(2) Selections for some background in prior poetry and philosophy

  • Hesiod Th. 224-32 and Op. 11-26;
  • Xenophanes D59-61;
  • Heraclitus D47-49, D62-63, D76;
  • Aeschylus T4 & 20;
  • Sophocles T5 & 21;
  • Euripides T6.

(3) Nietzsche, F. “Homer’s Contest,” tr. C. Diethe (a foundational discussion of agonism)

(4) ––––. The Pre-Platonic Philosophers, tr. G. Whitlock, ch. 14, “Empedocles.” (in which Empedocles is cast as an agonist par excellence)


(5) Benzi, N. (2016) Philosophy in Verse: Competition and Early Greek Philosophical Thought. PhD diss, Durham University, ch. 4, “Empedocles, the divine poet.”

(6) Griffith, M. “Contest and Contradiction in Early Greek Poetry,” in Griffith, M. and D. J. Mastronarde, edd. Cabinet of the Muses. Berkeley, pp. 185-207.

(7) Hawhee, D. (2002) “Agonism and Aretê,” Philosophy & Rhetoric, Vol. 35, No. 3, pp. 185-207.

(8) Most, G. (2005) “The Stillbirth of a Tragedy: Nietzsche and Empedocles,” in Pierris, A. L., ed. The Empedoclean Κόσμος: Structure, Process and the Question of Cyclicity. Patras: Institute for Philosophical Research, pp. 31-44.

Scholars interested in participating in the seminar should contact Heather Reid,, no later than May 1, 2019.  Participation is limited to 20. There will be a seminar fee of €50 to cover, printing, refreshments, and the group dinner.