Empedocles and a Klepsydra

In today’s lessons, we started with two ancient Greek words, “κλέπτω” and “ῠ̔́δωρ“. I asked you to transliterate them and then we talked about what they might mean. You were quick to guess the first, “I steal”, and link it to ‘kleptomaniac’, and some of you spotted the similarity to ‘hydrate’ for “ῠ̔́δωρ“, leading to guessing that it meant “water”.

I introduced you to a “klepsydra” or “water-thief”, which was an ancient Greek way of measuring time using water. We talked about how these, along with sundials, are the oldest known time-keeping instruments.


A presocratic philosopher called Empedocles used a klepsydra as an analogy for respiration when trying to describe and understand the process. I gave you each a bowl, a cup and some water, and asked you in groups to create your own klepsydra. You all came up with different ways to do this, some of which were very ingenious, and some of which were exactly like the ancient Greek ones I then went on to show you.


We also talked about how Empedocles came up with the idea of the four elements of air, water, fire and earth being the basis of all things – contrasting with Thales, who thought that everything was made of water.


Finally, we had a test on Latin words for parts of the body to refresh our memories from last week, and we went through the Latin text for the Apollo and Daphne story, discussing how the detailed description of the transformation was so inspirational for artists like Bernini who made a beautiful sculpture.

For your homework, I asked you to create a character card for one of more presocratics. I look forward to seeing who you choose!


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