"I Shall Tell A Double Tale": Empedoclean Materialism and Idealism in the English Renaissance

dc.contributor.advisorPassannante, Gerarden_US
dc.contributor.authorLibhart, Garthen_US
dc.contributor.departmentEnglish Language and Literatureen_US
dc.contributor.publisherDigital Repository at the University of Marylanden_US
dc.contributor.publisherUniversity of Maryland (College Park, Md.)en_US
dc.description.abstractThe Pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles (ca. 484–ca. 424 BCE) is remembered both as an enraged fool who leapt into a volcano to prove he was a god, and as a philosopher who radically suggested everything is made of matter (DK107). In the fragments of his poetry, he admits to telling a “double tale,” potentially nodding to the indistinct ontological vision embedded in his work and underscoring the way his poetry shifts between materialist and idealist frames of reference (DK17.1). I argue that Empedocles’ perspectival relativism is an alternative entry point into the problem of materialism for early modern thinkers, freeing them from the burden of strict philosophical commitment and enabling them to think in materialist terms with less anxiety about succumbing to physical determinism. For scholars of early modern literature, the Empedoclean double tale helps root the period’s tendency for perspectival indeterminacy within a specific humanistic tradition. This dissertation is organized as three long chapters, each offering a unique moment in the reception of Empedocles’ blurry ontology. In Chapter One, I argue that Philemon Holland’s 1603 translation of Plutarch’s Moralia represents a watershed moment for Empedoclean influence in English literary history. My analysis demonstrates that, while the discredited story of Empedocles jumping into a volcano to prove he was a god continues to be an attention-grabbing part of the philosopher’s legacy in the Renaissance, the seventeenth century witnesses an increasing interest in his actual philosophy. Specifically, early modern writers draw inspiration from Empedocles’ theory of effluence—the idea that the four elements emanate tiny particles of a similar composition—as they contemplate monist possibility (DK89). Illustrating this, in Chapter Two, I read Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra (1607) as an exploration of the world in flux, showing how one of Shakespeare’s likely sources for the play, Plutarch’s treatise on Isis and Osiris in the Moralia, uses the idea of effluence to negotiate between the myth’s dualistic and monistic aspects. This enables me to propose that, in Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare undergirds moments like Cleopatra’s elementally framed suicide with the dynamic “double tale” of Empedoclean ontology, portraying her immortal aspiration in simultaneously materialist and transcendent terms. Finally, in Chapter Three, I turn to John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667), which directly alludes to Empedocles’ volcanic suicide when Satan encounters the ghost of Empedocles, floating in Limbo, during his journey from hell to earth. Showing how Milton draws on key ideas from Empedocles’ philosophy in the process of critiquing his immortal longing, I argue that the episode is underwritten by the philosopher’s perspectival relativism. The chapter then reconsiders the monist materialism of Paradise Lost through an Empedoclean lens, suggesting that the Pre-Socratic philosopher’s unusual blend of dualistic and monistic ideation can help negotiate between divergent critical responses to Milton’s idiosyncratic materialism. Ultimately, the dissertation reveals how early modern writers take inspiration from Empedocles’ fluid movement between materialism and idealism, freed from the limitations of rigid philosophical commitment and binary choice.en_US
dc.subject.pqcontrolledEnglish literatureen_US
dc.subject.pquncontrolledearly modernen_US
dc.title"I Shall Tell A Double Tale": Empedoclean Materialism and Idealism in the English Renaissanceen_US


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