12. Empedocles Tried to Prove His Divinity to Fellow Greeks, and Things Did Not Go Well
Empedocles was a genius and polymath, 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 as one who possessed 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.
Empedocles’ 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 skeptical fellow Greeks, 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.