Fire (classical element)

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Babylonian

Greek

Hinduism (Tattva) and
Buddhism (Mahābhūta)

Chinese (Wuxing)

Japanese (Godai)

Tibetan (Bön)

Medieval Alchemy

Fire has been an important part of all cultures and religions, from pre-history to modern day, and was vital to the development of civilization. It has been regarded in many different contexts throughout history, but especially as a metaphysical constant of the world, along with air, water, and other forces of nature.

Contents

Greek and Roman Tradition

Fire is one of the four classical elements in ancient Greek philosophy and science. It was commonly associated with the qualities of energy, assertiveness, and passion. In one Greek myth, Prometheus stole fire from the gods to protect the otherwise helpless humans, but was punished for this charity. The ancient Greeks distinguished the destructive and consumptive (aidelon) fire, associated with Hades, from the creative fire, associated with Hephaistos, the god of metalworking and smithing.[1] Goddess Hekate was called Pyrphoros (Fire-bearing), Pyripnon (Fire-breather), Daidoukhos (Torch-bearer) and Phosphoros (Light-bearer).[1]

Fire was one of many archai proposed by the Pre-socratics, most of whom sought to reduce the cosmos, or its creation, by a single substance. Heraclitus (c. 535 BCE – c. 475 BCE) considered fire to be the most fundamental of all elements. He beloved fire gave rise to the other three elements: "All things are an interchange for fire, and fire for all things, just like goods for gold and gold for goods".DK B90 He had a reputation for obscure philosophical principles and for speaking in riddles. He described how fire gave rise to the other elements as the: "upward-downward path", (ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω),DK B60 a "hidden harmony" DK B54 or series of transformations he called the "turnings of fire", (πυρὸς τροπαὶ),DK B31 first into sea, and half that sea into earth, and half that earth into rarefied air. A concept that anticipates both the four classical elements of Empedocles and Aristotle's transmutation of the four elements into one another.

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