Water (classical element)

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Babylonian

Greek

Hinduism (Tattva) and
Buddhism (Mahābhūta)

Chinese (Wuxing)

Japanese (Godai)

Tibetan (Bön)

Medieval Alchemy

Water is one of the elements of Ancient philosophy in Greece, of Panchamahabhuta in India, and of Wu Xing in China. In contemporary esoteric traditions, it is commonly associated with the qualities of emotion and intuition.

Contents

Greek and Roman tradition

Water was one of many archai proposed by the Pre-socratics, most of whom tried to reduce all things to a single substance. However, Empedocles of Acragas (c. 495-c. 435 BC) selected four archai for his four roots: air, fire, water, and earth. Empedocles’ roots became the four classical elements of Greek philosophy. Plato (427-347 BC) took over the four elements of Empedocles. In the Timaeus, his major cosmological dialogue, the Platonic solid associated with water is the icosahedron which is formed from twenty equilateral triangles. This makes water the element with the greatest number of sides, which Plato regarded as appropriate because water flows out of one's hand when picked up, as if it is made of tiny little balls.[1]

Plato’s student Aristotle (384-322 BC) developed a different explanation for the elements based on pairs of qualities. The four elements were arranged concentrically around the center of the Universe to form the sublunary sphere. According to Aristotle, water is both cold and wet, and occupies a place between air and earth among the elemental spheres.[2]

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