People - Ancient Greece: Heraclitus
A pre-Socratic Greek philosopher.
Heraclītus in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities
A Greek philosopher of Ephesus, who lived about B.C. 535-475, during the time of the first Persian domination over his native city. As one of the last of the family of Androclus, the descendant of Codrus, who had founded the colony of Ephesus, Heraclitus had certain honorary regal privileges, which he renounced in favour of his brother. He likewise declined an invitation of King Darius to visit his court. He was an adherent of the aristocracy, and when, after the defeat of the Persians, the democratic party came into power, he withdrew in ill-humour to a secluded estate in the country, and gave himself up entirely to his studies. In his later years he wrote a philosophical treatise, which he deposited in the temple of Artemis, making it a condition that it should not be published till after his death. He was buried in the marketplace of Ephesus, and for several centuries later the Ephesians continued to engrave his image on their coins.
Heraclitus was one of the subtlest of all the metaphysicians of Greece, and his importance as a philosopher lies in the fact that he was the founder of an independent metaphysical system which sought to obviate the difficulty of overcoming the contradictions between the one and the phenomenal many. His great work “On Nature” (Περὶ Φύσεως), in three books, was written in the Ionian dialect, and is the oldest monument of Greek prose. Considerable fragments of it have come down to us. The language is bold, harsh, and figurative; the style is so careless that the syntactical relations of the words are often hard to perceive; and the thoughts are profound. All this made Heraclitus so difficult a writer that he went in antiquity by the name “the Obscure” (ὁ σκοτεινός), and Lucretius attacks him on this ground (i. 638-644). From his gloomy view of life he is often called “the Weeping Philosopher,” as Democritus is known as “the Laughing Philosopher.” Cf. Juv. x. 28 foll.
Knowledge, according to Heraclitus, is based upon perception by the senses. Perfect knowledge is only given to the gods, but a progress in knowledge is possible to men. Wisdom consists in the recognition of the intelligence which, by means of the world-soul, guides the universe. Everything is in an eternal flux (πάντα ῥεῖ); nothing therefore, not even the world in its momentary form, nor the gods themselves, can escape final destruction. The ultimate principle into which all existence is resolvable is fire. As fire changes continually into water and then into earth, so earth changes back to water and water again to fire. The world, therefore, arose from fire, and in alternating periods is resolved again into fire, to form itself anew out of this element. The division of unity, or of the divine original fire, into the multiplicity of opposing phenomena, is “the way downwards,” and the consequence of a war and a strife. Harmony and peace lead back to unity by “the way upwards.” Nature is constantly dividing and uniting herself, so that the multiplicity of opposites does not destroy the unity of the whole. The existence of these opposites depends only on the difference of the motion on “the way upwards” from that on “the way downwards”; all things, therefore, are at once identical and not identical. The principle of the universe is “becoming,” which implies that everything is and, at the same time, is not, so far as the same relation is concerned.
The letters ascribed to Heraclitus are spurious. See Bernays, Heraclitea (Bonn, 1848); id. Die heraklitischen Briefe (Berlin, 1859); Lassalle, Die Philosophie Herakleitos' des Dunkeln, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1858)—the most exhaustive monograph on the philosophy of Heraclitus; and Schuster, Heraklit von Ephesus (Leipzig, 1872). The fragments of Heraclitus were edited and published in England in 1877 by Bywater. See Philosophia.
Heraclitus in Wikipedia
Heraclitus of Ephesus (Ancient Greek: Ἡράκλειτος ὁ Ἐφέσιος — Hērákleitos ho Ephésios; c. 535–c. 475 BCE) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, a native of the Greek city Ephesus, Ionia, on the coast of Asia Minor. He was of distinguished parentage. Little is known about his early life and education, but he regarded himself as self-taught and a pioneer of wisdom. From the lonely life he led, and still more from the riddling nature of his philosophy and his contempt for humankind in general, he was called "The Obscure," and the "Weeping Philosopher."
Heraclitus is famous for his doctrine of change being central to the universe, as stated in his famous saying, "You cannot step twice into the same river." He believed in the unity of opposites, stating that "the path up and down are one and the same," existing things being characterized by pairs of contrary properties, and other explorations of the concept of dualism. His cryptic utterance that "all things come to be in accordance with this Logos," (literally, "word," "reason," or "account") has been the subject of numerous interpretations.
The main source for the life of Heraclitus is Diogenes Laërtius, although some have questioned the validity of his account as "a tissue of Hellenistic anecdotes, most of them obviously fabricated on the basis of statements in the preserved fragments." Diogenes said that Heraclitus flourished in the 69th Olympiad, 504-501 BCE. All the rest of the evidence – the people Heraclitus is said to have known, or the people who were familiar with his work – confirms the floruit. His dates of birth and death are based on a life span of 60 years, the age at which Diogenes says he died, with the floruit in the middle.
Heraclitus was born to an aristocratic family in Ephesus, present-day Efes, Turkey. His father was named either Blosôn or Herakôn. Diogenes says that he abdicated the kingship (basileia) in favor of his brother and Strabo confirms that there was a ruling family in Ephesus descended from the Ionian founder, Androclus, which still kept the title and could sit in the chief seat at the games, as well as a few other privileges. How much power the king had is another question. Ephesus had been part of the Persian Empire since 547 and was ruled by a satrap, a more distant figure, as the Great King allowed the Ionians considerable autonomy. Diogenes says that Heraclitus used to play knuckle-bones with the youths in the temple of Artemis and when asked to start making laws he refused saying that the constitution (politeia) was ponêra, which can mean either that it was fundamentally wrong or that he considered it toilsome.
With regard to education, Diogenes says that Heraclitus was "wondrous" (thaumasios, which, as Plato explains in the Theaetetus and elsewhere, is the beginning of philosophy) from childhood. Diogenes relates that Sotion said he was a "hearer" of Xenophanes, which contradicts Heraclitus' statement (so says Diogenes) that he had taught himself by questioning himself. Burnet states in any case that "... Xenophanes left Ionia before Herakleitos was born." Diogenes relates that as a boy Heraclitus had said he "knew nothing" but later claimed to "know everything." His statement that he "heard no one" but "questioned himself," can be placed alongside his statement that "the things that can be seen, heard and learned are what I prize the most."
Diogenes relates that Heraclitus had a poor opinion of human affairs. He believed that Hesiod and Pythagoras lacked understanding though learned and that Homer and Archilochus deserved to be beaten. Laws needed to be defended as though they were city walls. Timon is said to have called him a "mob-reviler." Heraclitus hated the Athenians and his fellow Ephesians, wishing the latter wealth in punishment for their wicked ways. Says Diogenes: "Finally, he became a hater of his kind (misanthrope) and wandered the mountains ... making his diet of grass and herbs."
Heraclitus' life as a philosopher was interrupted by dropsy. The physicians he consulted were unable to prescribe a cure. He treated himself with a liniment of cow manure and baking in the sun, believing that this method would remove the fluid. After a day of treatment he died and was interred in the marketplace.
Diogenes states that Heraclitus' work was "a continuous treatise On Nature, but was divided into three discourses, one on the universe, another on politics, and a third on theology." Theophrastus says (in Diogenes) "... some parts of his work are half-finished, while other parts make a strange medley."
Diogenes also tells us that Heraclitus deposited his book as a dedication in the great temple of Artemis, the Artemisium, one of the largest temples of the 6th century BCE and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Ancient temples were regularly used for storing treasures, and were open to private individuals under exceptional circumstances; furthermore, many subsequent philosophers in this period refer to the work. Says Kahn: "Down to the time of Plutarch and Clement, if not later, the little book of Heraclitus was available in its original form to any reader who chose to seek it out." Diogenes says: "the book acquired such fame that it produced partisans of his philosophy who were called Heracliteans."
As with other pre-Socratics, his writings only survive in fragments quoted by other authors.
At some time in antiquity he acquired this epithet denoting that his major sayings were difficult to understand. Timon of Phlius calls him "the riddler" (ainiktēs) according to Diogenes Laërtius, who had just explained that Heraclitus wrote his book "rather unclearly" (asaphesteron) so that only the "capable" should attempt it. By the time of Cicero he had become "the dark" (Ancient Greek ὁ Σκοτεινός — ho Skoteinós) because he had spoken nimis obscurē, "too obscurely", concerning nature and had done so deliberately in order to be misunderstood. The customary English translation of ὁ Σκοτεινός follows the Latin, "the obscure."
The weeping philosopher
Diogenes Laërtius ascribes to Theophrastus the theory that Heraclitus did not complete some of his works because of melancholia. Later he was referred to as the "weeping philosopher," as opposed to Democritus, who is known as the "laughing philosopher." If Stobaeus writes correctly, Sotion in the early 1st century AD was already combining the two in the imaginative duo of weeping and laughing philosophers: "Among the wise, instead of anger, Heraclitus was overtaken by tears, Democritus by laughter." The view is expressed by the satirist Juvenal:
The first of prayers, best known at all the temples, is mostly for riches .... Seeing this then do you not commend the one sage Democritus for laughing ... and the master of the other school Heraclitus for his tears?
The motif was also adopted by Lucian of Samosata in his "Sale of Creeds," in which the duo is sold together as a complementary product in the satirical auction of philosophers. Subsequently they were considered an indispensable feature of philosophic landscapes. Montaigne proposed two archetypical views of human affairs based on them, selecting Democritus' for himself. The weeping philosopher makes an appearance in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Donato Bramante painted a fresco, "Democritus and Heraclitus," in Casa Panigarola in Milan.
"The idea that all things come to pass in accordance with this Logos" and "the Logos is common," is expressed in two famous but obscure fragments:
This Logos holds always but humans always prove unable to understand it, both before hearing it and when they have first heard it. For though all things come to be in accordance with this Logos, humans are like the inexperienced when they experience such words and deeds as I set out, distinguishing each in accordance with its nature and saying how it is. But other people fail to notice what they do when awake, just as they forget what they do while asleep. (DK 22B1)
For this reason it is necessary to follow what is common. But although the Logos is common, most people live as if they had their own private understanding. (DK 22B2)
The meaning of Logos also is subject to interpretation: "word", "account", "plan", "formula", "measure", "proportion", "reckoning." Though Heraclitus "quite deliberately plays on the various meanings of logos", there is no compelling reason to suppose that he used it in a special technical sense, significantly different from the way it was used in ordinary Greek of his time.
The later Stoics understood it as "the account which governs everything," and Hippolytus, in the 3rd century CE, identified it as meaning the Christian Word of God.
Ta Panta rhei, "everything flows"
Τα Πάντα ῥεῖ (ta panta rhei) "everything flows" either was not spoken by Heraclitus or did not survive as a quotation of his. This famous aphorism used to characterize Heraclitus' thought comes from Simplicius. The word rhei, adopted by rhe-o-logy, is simply the Greek word for "to stream."
The philosophy of Heraclitus is summed up in his cryptic utterance:
ποταμοῖσι τοῖσιν αὐτοῖσιν ἐμϐαίνουσιν, ἕτερα καὶ ἕτερα ὕδατα ἐπιρρεῖ.
Potamoisi toisin autoisin embainousin, hetera kai hetera hudata epirrei
"Ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers ."
The quote from Heraclitus is interpreted by Plato as:
πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει
Panta chōrei kai ouden menei
"Everything changes and nothing remains still"
Instead of "flow" Plato uses chōrei, to change chōros.
The assertions of flow are coupled in many fragments with the enigmatic river File:
"Ποταμοῖς τοῖς αὐτοῖς ἐμβαίνομέν τε καὶ οὐκ ἐμβαίνομεν, εἶμέν τε καὶ οὐκ εἶμεν."
"We both step and do not step in the same rivers. We are and are not."
Compare with the Latin adages Omnia mutantur and Tempora mutantur and the Japanese tale Hōjōki, which contains the same image of the changing river.
Hodos ano kato, "the way up and the way down"
In ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω the structure anō katō is more accurately translated as a hyphenated word: "the upward-downward path." They go on simultaneously and instantaneously and result in "hidden harmony". A way is a series of transformations: the πυρὸς τροπαὶ, "turnings of fire," first into sea, then half of sea to earth and half to rarefied air.
The transformation is a replacement of one element by another: "The death of fire is the birth of air, and the death of air is the birth of water."
This world, which is the same for all, no one of gods or men has made. But it always was and will be: an ever-living fire, with measures of it kindling, and measures going out.
This latter phraseology is further elucidated:
All things are an interchange for fire, and fire for all things, just like goods for gold and gold for goods.
Heraclitus considered fire as the most fundamental element. He believed fire gave rise to the other elements and thus to all things. He regarded the soul as being a mixture of fire and water, with fire being the noble part of the soul, and water the ignoble part. A soul should therefore aim toward becoming more full of fire and less full of water: a "dry" soul was best. According to Heraclitus, worldly pleasures made the soul "moist", and he considered mastering one's worldly desires to be a noble pursuit which purified the soul's fire. Norman Melchert interpreted Heraclitus as using "fire" metaphorically, in lieu of Logos, as the origin of all things.
Dike eris, "strife is justice"
If objects are new from moment to moment so that one can never touch the same object twice, then each object must dissolve and be generated continually momentarily and an object is a harmony between a building up and a tearing down. Heraclitus calls the oppositional processes eris, "strife", and hypothesizes that the apparently stable state, dikê, or "justice," is a harmony of it:
We must know that war (polemos) is common to all and strife is justice, and that all things come into being through strife necessarily.
As Diogenes explains:
All things come into being by conflict of opposites, and the sum of things (ta hola, "the whole") flows like a stream.
In the bow metaphor Heraclitus compares the resultant to a strung bow held in shape by an equilibrium of the string tension and spring action of the bow:
There is a harmony in the bending back (palintropos) as in the case of the bow and the lyre.
Hepesthai to koino, "follow the common"
People must "follow the common (hepesthai tō ksunō)" and not live having "their own judgement (phonēsis)". He distinguishes between human laws and divine law (tou theiou "of God").
He removes the human sense of justice from his concept of God; i.e., humanity is not the image of God: "To God all things are fair and good and just, but people hold some things wrong and some right." God's custom has wisdom but human custom does not, and yet both humans and God are childish: "human opinions are children's toys" and "Eternity is a child moving counters in a game; the kingly power is a child's."
Wisdom is "to know the thought by which all things are steered through all things", which must not imply that people are or can be wise. Only Zeus is wise. To some degree then Heraclitus seems to be in the mystic's position of urging people to follow God's plan without much of an idea what that may be. In fact there is a note of despair: "The fairest universe (kallistos kosmos) is but a heap of rubbish (sarma, sweepings) piled up (kechumenon, poured out) at random (eikê)."
In Heraclitus a perceived object is a harmony between two fundamental units of change, a waxing and a waning. He typically uses the ordinary word "to become" (gignesthai or ginesthai, root sense of being born), which led to his being characterized as the philosopher of becoming rather than of being. He recognizes the changing of objects with the flow of time.
Plato argues against Heraclitus as follows:
How can that be a real thing which is never in the same state? ... for at the moment that the observer approaches, then they become other ... so that you cannot get any further in knowing their nature or state .... but if that which knows and that which is known exist ever ... then I do not think they can resemble a process or flux ....
In Plato one experienced unit is a state, or object existing, which can be observed. The time parameter is set at "ever"; that is, the state is to be presumed present between observations. Change is to be deduced by comparing observations, but no matter how many of those you are able to make, you cannot get through the mysterious gap between them to account for the change that must be occurring there.
Stoicism was a philosophical school which flourished between the 3rd century BCE and about the 3rd century CE. It began among the Greeks and became the major philosophy of the Roman Empire before declining with the rise of Christianity in the 3rd century.
Throughout their long tenure the Stoics believed that the major tenets of their philosophy derived from the thought of Heraclitus. According to Long, "the importance of Heraclitus to later Stoics is evident most plainly in Marcus Aurelius." Explicit connections of the earliest Stoics to Heraclitus showing how they arrived at their interpretation are missing but they can be inferred from the Stoic fragments. Long concludes to "modifications of Heraclitus."
The Stoics were interested in Heraclitus' treatment of fire. In addition to seeing it as the most fundamental of the four elements and the one that is quantified and determines the quantity (logos) of the other three, he presents fire as the cosmos, which was not made by any of the gods or men, but "was and is and ever shall be ever-living fire." This is the closest he comes to a substance, but it is an active one altering other things quantitatively and performing an activity Heraclitus describes as "the judging and convicting of all things." It is "the thunderbolt that steers the course of all things." There is no reason to interpret the judgement, which is actually "to separate" (krinein), as outside of the context of "strife is justice" (see subsection above).
The earliest surviving Stoic work, the Hymn to Zeus of Cleanthes, though not explicitly referencing Heraclitus, adopts what appears to be the Heraclitean logos modified. Zeus rules the universe with law (nomos) wielding on its behalf the "forked servant", the "fire" of the "ever-living lightning." So far nothing has been said that differs from the Zeus of Homer. But then, says Cleanthes, Zeus uses the fire to "straighten out the common logos" that travels about (phoitan, "to frequent") mixing with the greater and lesser lights (heavenly bodies). This is Heraclitus' logos, but now it is confused with the "common nomos", which Zeus uses to "make the wrong (perissa, left or odd) right (artia, right or even)" and "order (kosmein) the disordered (akosma)."
The Stoic modification of Heraclitus' idea of the Logos was also influential on Jewish philosophers such as Philo of Alexandria, who connected it to "Wisdom personified" as God's creative principle. Philo uses the term Logos throughout his treatises on Hebrew Scripture in a manner clearly influenced by the Stoics.
The church fathers were the leaders of the Christian church during its first five centuries of existence, roughly contemporaneous to Stoicism under the Roman Empire. The works of dozens of writers in hundreds of pages have survived.
All of them had something to say about the Christian form of the logos. The church found it necessary to discriminate between the Christian logos and that of Heraclitus as part of its ideological distancing from paganism. The necessity to convert by defeating paganism was of paramount importance. Hippolytus of Rome therefore identifies Heraclitus along with the other Pre-Socratics (and Academics) as sources of heresy. Church use of the methods and conclusions of ancient philosophy as such was as yet far in the future, even though many were converted philosophers.
In Refutation of All Heresies Hippolytus says: "What the blasphemous folly is of Noetus, and that he devoted himself to the tenets of Heraclitus the Obscure, not to those of Christ." Hippolytus then goes on to present the inscrutable DK B67: "God (theos) is day and night, winter and summer, ... but he takes various shapes, just as fire, when it is mingled with spices, is named according to the savor of each." The fragment seems to support pantheism if taken literally.
Hippolytus condemns the obscurity of it. He cannot accuse Heraclitus of being a heretic so he says instead: "Did not (Heraclitus) the Obscure anticipate Noetus in framing a system ...?" The apparent pantheist deity of Heraclitus (if that is what DK B67 means) must be equal to the union of opposites and therefore must be corporeal and incorporeal, divine and not-divine, dead and alive, etc., and the Trinity can only be reached by some sort of illusory shape-shifting.
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