3. Empedocles Tried to Prove That He Was a God. Failed Spectacularly
Empedocles (circa 492 – 432 BC) was an influential Greek pre Socratic philosopher and poet from Akragas, in Sicily. He is credited with originating the theory of the four classical elements of earth, air, fire, and water, which sought to explain the complexity of the universe by reducing all matter to simpler substances. He was also a stone cold nut job who seems to have genuinely believed that he was a god, and ended up getting himself killed in a bizarre attempt to prove his divinity.
He was born into a prominent family, and his father was a pro-democracy local bigwig who played a prominent role in overthrowing his polis’ ruling tyrant in 470 BC. Empedocles followed in his father’s footsteps, and helped overthrow an oligarchic government that took over Akragas after the tyrant was removed. He was reportedly offered his city’s sovereignty, but declined.
A genius and polymath, Empedocles was a gifted orator and poet, and was considered to be one of his era’s greatest intellectuals and most talented physicians. His ability to cure diseases and avert epidemics won him widespread acclaim, and before long, he had developed a reputation for possessing marvelous powers. The accolades seem to have gone to his head, and he eventually came to believe that he did, indeed, possess miraculous powers such as the ability to control old age, destroy evil, and control the winds and rains.
His delusions finally bubbled over after he cured a supposedly incurable woman, whose ailment had defied all prior physicians. So he claimed he was a god. To demonstrate his divinity to skeptics, he gathered about 80 people, and led them to the top of an active volcano, Mount Etna. There, he declared that as proof of his immortality, he would jump into the volcano, and return as a god after his body was consumed by the fire. Empedocles jumped into the volcano, but twenty five centuries later, he has still not returned.