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The Elements

The Four Elements
The Four Elements - based on a diagram from Isidore of Seville, Liber de responsione mundi (Augsburg, 1472). Original in the Huntington Library.
original page

Most traditional cosmologies speak of four or five fundamental Elements.  The Greek philosophers like Empedocles in the 5th century b.c.e. and Aristotle in the 4th C. b.c.e. identified four fundamental elements: earth, air, fire, and water (see diagram at top of page), which became the basis for western thinking about the natural (especially inanimate) world right up untill the rise of chemistry in the 18th centry. The following represents a correlation of qualities, elements, seasons, and humours

The four qualities, four elements, four seasons, four humours
seasonelement humour body fluid location
Summerfirecholeric"yellow bile"liver
Autumnearthmelancholic"black bile"spleen

Indian thought as represented by the Upanishads and the tattwa system as codified in theClassical Samkhya of: Ishvarakrsna (c. 3rd-4th century AD) considers not four but five gross elements (mahabhutas): space, air, fire, water, and earth which are themselves the expression of the five subtle essences (tanmatras).

Chinese philosophers speak of five states of change or Wu Xing: earth, wood, metal, fire, and water which interact in any of three dynamic cycles.

None of these are the same as the Atomic Elements of modern science, but rather represent the basic symbolic correspondences of the universe

The Four Elements
The Four Elements according to Aristotle and Western Alchemy

See also The Five Platonic Solids

web pagegraphicsThe Four Elements

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content by M.Alan Kazlev
Four Elements Table of Correspondences from Shakespeare's Life and Times website - original page
page uploaded 28 May 1998, last modified 3 July 2004