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Aether (classical element)

Classical Elements
v  d  e



Water Aether Fire



Water Space Fire


Hinduism (Tattva) and
Buddhism (Mahābhūta)

Prithvi / Bhumi — Earth
Ap / JalaWater
Vayu / PavanAir / Wind
Agni / TejasFire
AkashaAether .

Japanese (Godai)
Earth (地)
Water (水)
Air / Wind (風)
Fire (火)
Void / Sky / Heaven (空) .

Life Force / Electricity

Chinese (Wu Xing)

  Water (水)  
Metal (金) Earth (土) Wood (木)
  Fire (火)  

The fifth Classical Element is known by various names: Aether (Greek αἰθήρ), Idea (Greek ίδέα), or ίερόν, (Greek hieron "a divine thing").

According to ancient and medieval science, Aether (Greek αἰθήρ, aithēr[1]), also spelled ether, is the material that fills the region of the universe above the terrestrial sphere. Aristotle included ίδέα, idea, as a fifth element distinct from the other four, Earth, Water, Air, and Fire.

Plato and Aristotle referred to Aether as "Idea", and in this sense, it may be regarded as that which exists outside the material world (i.e. thought processes, mathematical algorithms, etc.). Aether was also called quintessence (from quinta essentia, "fifth element"). Quintessence was also thought to be heavenly, i.e. not of the material world (matter). Quintessence was also said to have the power of life. Its Platonic solid was the dodecahedron.

Additional recommended knowledge


Mythological origins

The word aether (αἰθήρ) in Homeric Greek means "pure, fresh air" or "clear sky", imagined in Greek mythology to be the pure essence where the gods lived and which they breathed, analogous to the aer breathed by mortals (also personified as a deity, Aether, the son of Erebus and Nyx). It corresponds to the concept of akasha in Hindu philosophy and is linked to Brihaspati or Jupiter and the center direction of the compass. It is related to αἴθω "to incinerate"[2], also intransitive "to burn, to shine" (related is the name Aithiopes (Ethiopians)), meaning "people with a burnt (black) visage". See also Empyrean.

Fifth element

Plato's Timaeus posits the existence of a fifth element (corresponding to the fifth remaining Platonic solid, the dodecahedron) called quintessence, of which the cosmos itself is made.

Aristotle included aether in the system of the classical elements of Ionic philosophy as the "fifth element" (the quintessence), on the principle that the four terrestrial elements were subject to change and moved naturally in straight lines while no change had been observed in the celestial regions and the heavenly bodies moved in circles. In Aristotle's system aether had no qualities (was neither hot, cold, wet, or dry), was incapable of change (with the exception of change of place), and by its nature moved in circles.[3] Medieval scholastic philosophers granted aether changes of density, in which the bodies of the planets were considered to be denser than the medium which filled the rest of the universe.[4] Robert Fludd stated that the aether was of the character that it was "subtler than light". Fludd cites the 3rd century view of Plotinus, concerning the aether as penetrative and non-material.[5]


Main article: Aether theories

The concept of the aether impacted science long after scientists had rejected the ancient theory of the five elements. Prior to fully modern theories of electromagnetism, many scientists applied the term "aether" to the pervasive medium through which they thought light must propagate. The modern understanding of electromagnetism, including Einstein's particle theory of light and various scientific experiments of general relativity, has removed the need for a substance like aether to fill the otherwise empty parts of the universe. Newton's and Maxwell's aether model (the latter being a "classic static aether") were both developed from this classical element. However, the null result of the Michelson-Morley experiment in 1887 led to the decline of the aether model. Albert Einstein, in an interpretation he offered for his theory of special relativity, dismissed it, as per Occam's razor; and, though he later reinstated a logical need for an aether in a commentary on his theory of general relativity, modern astrophysical theories refer to this as Dark Energy/Matter.

Cyberspace/software, etc., as Idea (Quintessence)

In Greek, ίδέα, idea, or ίερόν, hieron "a divine thing") lends itself well to the modern interpretation that algorithms, software, or other similar "cyberspace" processes be categorized as belonging to the fifth element. In other words, just as the mind belongs to Idea, even though the brain is a mixture of solid ("Earth") and liquid ("Water"), software also belongs to Idea even though the hardware it runs on, i.e. silicon chips, etc., is made from solid ("Earth") matter.[6]

In the world of cyberspace, the term ethernet is often widely used to describe a network that runs over physical connections. Thus even though the connections and connectors, such as an ethernet jack are made of solid matter ("Earth"), the concept of ethernet and cyberspace transcends the physical world of matter (solid, liquid, gas, and plasma), making necessary a fifth element beyond the material world.

In physical organology, the fifth element "Idea" is associated with algorithmic processes, including electronically generated processes (digital or analog), software, and that which occurs in cyberspace, i.e. outside of or beyond the "material" (matter-based) world. Thus, for example, musical instruments that produce sound in cyberspace (whether by digital or analog electric circuits, and/or computation, whether mechanical computers, optical computing, or electrical) are said to be quintephones[6]


The Theremin, a musical instrument that exists in the fifth state-of-matter (i.e. non-matter) is often referred to as an aetherphone.

Six element-theories

In some cosmologies, six elements are identified. Beyond solid (Earth), liquid (Water), gas (Air), and plasma (Fire), there is identified two other elements, one to do with life, or living matter. Thus the fifth element may be sub-divided into living and non-living, i.e. informatics and bioinformatics (the mind, neural networks, etc.).

In Pop Culture

In the Disney/Jetix television show, W.I.T.C.H., the leader of the team is Will who hones the power of quintessence.

In Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, the main character, Ike, can gain a skill called Aether. Ike will also use a move by this name in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Also, in Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword, another game, the life force of all humans is called quintessence, which people possess in varying amounts. In Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, Aether is the planet upon which Samus Aran's adventure takes place.

The 1997 Luc Besson movie, The Fifth Element, oppositionally portrayed the perfect being as a fifth element, whose powers were awakened by Love.

In many role-playing games, Ether is a potion used to restore magic points.

In the popular manga/Anime Rave Master aka Groove Adventure Rave, one of the team, Elie, has the power of Aetherion, which is said to be the ultimate form of magic.


  1. ^ "ether". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 4th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
  2. ^ Pokorny, Julius (1959). Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch, s.v. ai-dh-.
  3. ^ G. E. R. Lloyd, Aristotle: The Growth and Structure of his Thought, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr., 1968, pp. 133-139, ISBN 0-521-09456-9.
  4. ^ E. Grant, Planets, Stars, & Orbs: The Medieval Cosmos, 1200-1687, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr., 1994, pp. 422-428, ISBN 0-521-56509-X.
  5. ^ Robert Fludd, "Mosaical Philosophy". London, Humphrey Moseley, 1659. Pg 221.
  6. ^ a b Natural Interfaces for Musical Expression: Physiphones and a physics-based organology, in Proceedings of the 2007 Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME07), Pages 118-123, New York, NY, USA


  • FAQ - The Ancient Elements of Nature Ancient proto-scientific conceptualisations of the domain of nature into its constituent elements ... Earth, Water, Air, Fire and the Aether.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Aether_(classical_element)". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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