Empedocles of Acragas Committed Suicide by Jumping into a Volcano

Empedocles of Acragas was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who lived in the 5th century BC. It is said that wanting to prove he was an all-powerful god, he decided to leap into the volcanic Mount Etna where the ancient Greeks once believed their gods resided. He was never seen again.

Mount Etna has been around for over two-and-a-half million years, according to the BBC, leaving plenty of time to become part and parcel of several Greek myths and legends. Etna was said to be the home of Typhoon, a giant, hundred-headed, fire-breathing monster trapped underneath Mount Etna by Zeus and spent eternity creating volcanic eruptions as he struggled to escape. Mount Etna was also where Hephaestus, the Greek god of metalworking known to the Romans as Vulcan, had his metalworking workshop, where he made the weapons for the Olympian gods .

Coloured mezzotint print by J.-M. Mixelle depicting an eruption of Mount Etna at night. (Public domain)

Coloured mezzotint print by J.-M. Mixelle depicting an eruption of Mount Etna at night. ( Public domain )

Outside the realms of mythology, the death of Greek philosopher Empedocles of Acragas is one of the more unorthodox stories linked to the active volcano, Mount Etna. In some versions of the story, such as the one spread by Diogrenes Laertius in his Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers , Empedocles became convinced of his god-like status after curing a woman named Panthea, whom other physicians had been unable to heal. To prove he was an all-powerful god, he lept into the volcanic Mount Etna and was never seen again.

In modern-day Japan, the idea of committing suicide by jumping into a volcano was popularized by Kiyoko Matsumoto, who jumped to her death in the face of societal pressure against her same-sex love interest back in 1933. Her actions inspired hundreds of copycat suicides, whereby distressed victims would jump off the aptly-named Suicide Point at Mount Mihara on Oshima Island. Much like Aokigahara Suicide Forest , the second most popular location for committing suicide in the world, the volcano became a suicide hot-spot, until authorities began making access far more difficult.

The Death of Empedocles, by Salvator Rosa. (Public domain)

The Death of Empedocles, by Salvator Rosa. ( Public domain )

Volcanos have been used as sites of sacrifice by ancient peoples attempting to appease the gods throughout the ages. One such example is the Llullaillaco volcano in Argentina, where archaeologists have discovered the bodies of three children, drugged as part of a year-long ritual to prepare them for sacrifice back in about 1500. Their mummified remains , in surprisingly good condition, were discovered in 1999 near the Llullaillaco summit and experts have hypothesized that they were sacrificed to prevent further volcanic eruptions.

Meanwhile, locals in Indonesia continue to thrown livestock and other offerings into the crater of Mount Bromo in the hopes of stilling her explosive lava-filled eruptions. One wonders what the powerful Mount Etna would have made of receiving the crazed body of the conceited Empedocles as he flung himself to his death. Did this calm her explosive nature or entice her to spew out boiling lava from her inner depths?

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Top image: Medieval depiction of Empedocles of Acragas throwing himself into Mount Etna. Source: Public domain


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