Who breathes and smells according to Empedocles? On the πάντα of fr. 96. 1 Gallavotti

Enrico Piergiacomi


Aristotle (Resp. 473a-474a), Theophrastus (Sens.
9 and 20-22) and Demetrius of Laco (PHerc. 1012, col. 65)
preserve Empedocles’ extensive account in verses of the
mechanism of breathing and smell. However, this explanation
does not explicitly say how many living beings actually
possess such a faculty. Empedocles just begins his account
with the claim that “everyone” (πάντα) breathes and smells,
which is an ambiguous claim. It could mean both that every
living being can inhale air and odor, or that only all those living
beings whose respiratory organs are structured as outlined
in Empedocles’ verses can do so. I will argue in favor of the
first hypothesis, by studying Empedocles’ usus scribendi and
his use of the word πάντα in other contexts. After this, I will
try to defend the possibility that Empedocles’ knowledge of
the mechanism of breathing and smell may have been used:
1) to heal men and women, 2) to claim that all living beings
are akin, since they inhale the same air, 3) to experience the
divine through some special olfactory experiences.


Empedocles; Theory of respiration; History of medicine; Ethics; Theology

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14195/1984-249X_23_5

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