Rare Find of Pre-Socratic Writings

Alain Martin of Brussels University has claimed that a piece of papyrus, held at the University of Strasbourg since 1904, contains 70 lines of text by Empedocles (c.495-435 BC), the Sicilian philosopher who developed the idea that everything is made up of four elements -- earth, air, fire and water. If true, it will be a major find, as very few manuscripts by pre-Socratic philosophers survive.

The papyrus is of Egyptian origin and has been dated to the 1st century BC. Although Empedocles is cited and quoted by other writers, including Aristotle, only two poems survive from his original writings, making the discovery especially important.

Empedocles is credited with having founded modern medicine as well as prefiguring Darwin, in a poem which talks of survival of the fittest among competing amalgams of limbs and body parts. His greatest fame, however, is in the legend that he leapt into the volcanic crater of Mount Etna to prove his divinity. He did not survive to tell the tale.

News release of 9/27/97.  From The Philosopher's Web Magazine, Autumn, 1997.