Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Empedocles (ehm-PEHD-eh-kleez), the legendary philosopher and savant, portrayed as a healer and magician intent on committing suicide for different reasons, depending on which of the three versions of the text is under discussion. Two versions focus on his tragic flaw of hubris. In the first, Empedocles has the powers of the magician to heal and to move the elements, but his desire to be reunited with the gods causes him to disregard his people’s pleas that he return to them from exile, and ultimately to commit suicide. In the second version, before the action of the play begins, Empedocles wishes to share his understanding of the universe with his people. He realizes that his solitude is a result of his own exceptional powers as well as of his hubris in believing himself to be much closer to them than he ought. His first speech shows him imploring the gods and the forces of nature to consider him in his solitariness. In contrast to these versions, in which Empedocles’ death is a personal matter, in the fragmentary third version and the author’s notes to it, his death becomes universal. He is embittered, but he realizes that his death is necessary for the revival of the civilization of which he has been a part. Initially a tragic hero who falls through hubris, he is transformed into a Romantic hero with superhuman powers who is willing to merge with the elements for the good of humanity.


Hermocrates (hur-MAHK-ruh-teez), a priest of Agrigentum who advocates and participates in the downfall of Empedocles. He opposes Empedocles because of the radical nature of Empedocles’ religious vision as well as his own fears of Empedocles’ abilities to influence the people in the realm of religion and belief. In the second version, he changes from the flat character of the...

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The Death of Empedocles Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

George, Emery E., ed. Friedrich Hölderlin: An Early Modern. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972. Shows how Hölderlin’s work presages treatments and techniques that developed later in the nineteenth century.

Hamburger, Michael. “Hölderlin.” In Contraries: Studies in German Literature. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1970. Contains a significant discussion of Hölderlin’s interpretation of the notion of the poet as seer and the place of The Death of Empedocles in this tradition.

Hölderlin, Friedrich. “The Ground for Empedocles.” In Friedrich Hölderlin: Essays and Letters on Theory. Translated and edited by Thomas Pfau. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988. Discusses The Death of Empedocles and the nature of drama, as well as the opposing principles of the rational consciousness and the irrational forces of nature.

Pike, Burton. “The Idealist Element in Hölderlin’s Empedokles.” Germanic Review 32, no. 1 (February, 1957): 178-185. Shows Empedocles as a figure who embodies the most idealistic aspects of Hölderlin’s worldview.

Stahl, E. L. “The Dramatic Structure of Hölderlin’s Empedokles.” Modern Language Review 62, no. 1 (January, 1967): 92-97. Discussion of the dramatic structure and the projected execution of the fragments.

Stahl, E. L. “Hölderlin’s Idea of Poetry.” In The Era of Goethe: Essays Presented to James Boyd. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1959. Discusses Hölderlin’s aesthetic notions in the context of those of his contemporaries.

Unger, Richard. Friedrich Hölderlin. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Accessible chapter on The Death of Empedocles examines the changes from version to version.

Unger, Richard. Hölderlin’s Major Poetry: The Dialectics of Unity. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975. Places Hölderlin’s work in the framework of his notion of the oneness of the universe.