I first heard the expression “Empedocles’ sandal” a long time ago without knowing what it referred to. It seems to derive from the legend of the ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles (who was supposedly given to wearing scarlet clothes, a crown decorated with laurel flowers, a golden belt and bronze sandals).

The legend describes Empedocles’ inadvertent suicide — the outcome of jumping into a volcano to demonstrate his immortality. The volcano, however, only threw back one of his sandals.

The phrase has occasionally returned to haunt me, but I don’t know what it signifies to English speakers, or in what situations it might be used as the basis for a quip or allusion. Can you shed any light on its usage?

  • I've made quite a few edits to your posting. Perhaps you could look over the result and confirm whether I have interpreted your intentions accurately. – Erik Kowal Dec 19 '14 at 8:38
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    @Erik Kowal. Thanks a lot. My original text became clearer,smoother, and much more "English like" by your editing. – Yoichi Oishi Dec 19 '14 at 9:28
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    I never heard this before. I can't say it's very common, but it sure is interesting! – anongoodnurse Dec 19 '14 at 9:38

Wikipedia mentions the following:

Diogenes Laërtius records the legend that he died by throwing himself into an active volcano (Mount Etna in Sicily), so that people would believe his body had vanished and he had turned into an immortal god; the volcano, however, threw back one of his bronze sandals, revealing the deceit.

Although I cannot say I ever heard the expression used, I would assume, based on this description, that Empedocles’ sandal is the sign that gives away a deceit. I imagine it could be used in a sentence like this:

The credit card bill that he carelessly had left on the table for his wife to find turned out to be his Empedocles’ sandal; it revealed he had spent the weekend in a Paris hotel instead of working overtime at the office.

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    Diogenes Laërtius, viii. 69. – user98955 Dec 19 '14 at 8:45
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    It would be used, then, much like the more familiar phrase "his Achilles' heel" - meaning one's weak spot - but with the meaning of irrefutable evidence of an attempt to deceive. I never heard this phrase before, either. – anongoodnurse Dec 19 '14 at 9:37
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    @YoichiOishi You're welcome! The reference is included in a note from the article in the answer, just making it convenient... His taste for magma-safe apparel had a heavy impact, on history. – user98955 Dec 19 '14 at 11:12
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    I've never heard the expression either; but I instinctively want to add a determiner to it, just like with Achilles’ heel, to make it “turned out to be his Empedocles’ sandal”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 19 '14 at 12:38
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    I suppose it is true, almost physiologically, that Empedocles’ sandal reveals Achilles’ heel (assuming that Achilles is wearing Empedocles’ sandals at the time, of course). :-D – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 20 '14 at 0:48

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