Hölderlin Ode to Empedocles

Translated by Steven J. Willett

Salvator Rosa, The Death of Empedocles, c. 1665~1670

Note: Empedocles, c. 494~c. 434, was a Greek pre-Socratic philosopher and native citizen of Acragas, a Greek city in Sicily. He was extensively influenced by Pythagoras and his followers. He was also the last Greek philosopher to record his thoughts in verse, and we are fortunate to have more fragments of his work than any other pre-Socratic thinker. For those who might want to explore his complex range of philosophy, I’d recommend The Poem of Empedocles, A Text and Translations with an Introduction, rev. ed., Brad Inwood (University of Toronto Press, 2001).

The life you search for, search, and it wells and gleams

 A godly fire from deep in the earth to you,

   And you in far beholden passion

     Hurl yourself down, into Aetna's blazes.

 So melts the pearls in wine from her arrogance

 The queen; and surely might she! if only you

   Had not your own great wealth, o poet

     Deep in the sweltering chalice offered. 

 Yet holy you’re to me, as the earth’s dominion, 

 That drew you from us, daring the Killedbestower!

   And I might follow down abysses,

     Failed my own love in restraint, to Hero.

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One Response to Hölderlin Ode to Empedocles

  1. Deap says:

    Melting pearls in wine ……….

    The story about Cleopatra’s very expensive meal -dropping her priceless pearl earring into the wine:

    …..”If she did, then she had to have swallowed it whole. Dissolving it would have taken too long. Vinegar is mainly acetic acid and chemically reacts with calcium carbonate which constitutes pearls, to form carbon dioxide and water.

    Victoria Finlay, the author of Jewels: A Secret History actually did the experiment to show how long the process took. She purchased a centimetre round, badly flawed natural pearl and placed it in wine vinegar. Nothing much happened at first. But overnight, she detected a greyish film on pearl which came off in her fingers. It took another day before the pearl broke into two. At 32 days, it floated at the top of the vinegar and was the consistency of unappetizing mush.

    Update (July 24,2010) : Further experiments recently carried out by Prudence Jones, a classics professor at a US university found like Victoria Finlay, a 5% solution of acetic acid (about the concentration of vinegar), a 5 carat test pearl takes 24- 36 hours to dissolve. Stronger acetic acid solutions actually slowed down the reaction.

    If Cleopatra had boiled the vinegar or crushed the pearl, the dissolving process will take only 10 minutes. So that would have made swallowing the pearl a whole lot easier……….”

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