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Forum Antiquum Spring 2021 Lecture: 'Craft vs. Birth: Aphrodite in Empedocles'

Thursday 21 October 2021
University Library
Witte Singel 27
2311 BG Leiden
Vossius Room

According to Empedocles, Love (philotes) is a force that brings the four elements together. Their combinations eventually result in the various plants and animals we see in the world. The goddess Aphrodite also appears throughout Empedocles’ poem, although not in her traditional role as the goddess of Eros. Instead, we see Aphrodite in the guise of a divine craftswoman, performing the work of the cosmic principle, Love.

Aphrodite’s status as an artisan in Empedocles has led scholars (Andolfi, Iribarren) to claim that she is like a demiurge, anticipating the theories of Plato’s Timaeus, for instance. If Aphrodite is a demiurge, this implies that the combinations in Empedocles’ cosmos are according to her plan or intelligent design. There is, however, another factor often left out of this discussion: the role of fortune in Empedocles’ cosmos.

In this talk, I will argue that fortune, or chance, limits the scope of Aphrodite’s abilities as a craftswoman. Rather than being by her design, compounds in Empedocles’ cosmos are often the result of chance. Nevertheless, the craft analogy relays an important message: the cosmic force of Love is not responsible for erotic ex-nihilo creation. Instead, the creativity of Love lies in the combination of whatever materials happen to be at hand.

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