Electra and Empedocles


The Pleiades, by Elihu Vedder

The Electra featured in Canto IV of Inferno, among the righteous non-Christians trapped in Limbo, isn’t the Electra most people would assume. This Electra isn’t the daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra, but one of the Pleiades. Electra and her six sisters were the daughters of Atlas and Pleione.

Electra’s husband was the mortal Italian king Corythus, by whom she had Iasion (not to be confused with Jason). Unshockingly, she was one of Zeus’s many conquests, and bore him Dardanus, the founder of Troy. According to legend, her star in the Pleiades disappeared out of grief at the destruction of Troy. She’s also said to be the founder of the town of Fiesole.

Electra is the Latin form of the Greek Elektra, which means “amber.” I absolutely love this name!

Empedocles (ca. 490–30 BCE) was a philosopher in Agrigento (Akragas), a Greek city in Sicily. His claim to fame is as the founder of the cosmogenic theory of the four Classical elements (water, earth, fire, air). The surviving fragments of his teachings come from what remains of two of his poems, Purifications (100 lines) and On Nature (450 lines). Some scholars believe they’re the same poem. His ideas about light and vision also formed the basis of later Greek philosophers’ and mathematicians’ theories of optics, vision, and light.

Empedocles is one of the great people trapped in Limbo in Canto IV of Inferno, and is mentioned again in Canto XII. According to the source I could find, the name means “constant, consistent, balanced glory.” I know the element kleos means “glory,” so I’m inclined to trust the meaning I found in spite of it not coming from the venerable Behind the Name.


4 thoughts on “Electra and Empedocles

  1. I absolutely ADORE your challenge theme – I did a degree in German with a focus on German adaptations of Greek mythology so this kind of thing is right up my street! Thank you for sharing – I’m learning so much!

    Abbii @ Year’s Guarantee

  2. Pingback: A to Z Reflections 2016 | Onomastics Outside the Box

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