Essays on Ancient Greek Philosophy

John Burnet's Early Greek Philosophy:
Chapter 3: Heraclitus of Ephesus

63. Life of Heraclitus

Heraclitus of Ephesus, son of Bloson, is said to have "flourished" in 01. LXIX. (504/3-501/0 B.C.); that is to say, just in the middle of the reign of Darius, with whom several traditions connected him. It is more important, however, for our purpose to notice that, while Heraclitus refers to Pythagoras and Xenophanes by name and in the past tense (fr. 16), he is in turn alluded to by Parmenides (fr. 6). These references mark his place in the history of philosophy. Zeller held, indeed, that he could not have published his work till after 478 B.C., on the ground that the expulsion of Hermodorus, alluded to in fr. 114, could not have taken place before the downfall of Persian rule. If that were so, it might be hard to see how Parmenides could have known the views of Heraclitus at the time he wrote his poem; but there is no difficulty in supposing that the Ephesians may have sent one of their citizens into banishment when they were still paying tribute to the Great King. The spurious Letters of Heraclitus show that the expulsion of Hermodorus was believed to have taken place during the reign of Darius, and it seems probable that the party led by him had enjoyed the confidence of the Persian government. His expulsion would mark the beginnings of the movement against Persian rule, rather than its successful issue.

Sotion quotes a statement that Heraclitus was a disciple of Xenophanes, which is not probable; for Xenophanes left Ionia before Heraclitus was born. More likely he was not a disciple of anyone; but it is clear that he was acquainted both with the Milesian cosmology and with the poems of Xenophanes. He also knew something of the theories taught by Pythagoras (fr. 17). Of his life we really know nothing, except, perhaps, that he belonged to the ancient royal house and resigned the nominal position of Basileus in favor of his brother. The origin of the other statements bearing on it is quite transparent.

64. His Book

We do not know the title of the work of Heraclitus -- if, indeed, it had one -- and it is not easy to form a clear idea of its contents. We are told that it was divided into three discourses: one dealing with the universe, one political, and one theological. It is not to be supposed that this division is due to Heraclitus himself; all we can infer is that the work fell naturally into these three parts when the Stoic commentators took their editions of it in hand.

The style of Heraclitus is proverbially obscure, and, at a later date, got him the nickname of "the Dark." Now the fragments about the Delphic god and the Sibyl (frs. 11 and 12) seem to show that he was conscious of writing an oracular style, and we have to ask why he did so. In the first place, it was the manner of the time. The stirring events of the age, and the influence of the religious revival, gave something of a prophetic tone to all the leaders of thought. Pindar and Aeschylus have it too. It was also an age of great individualities, and these are apt to be solitary and disdainful. Heraclitus at least was so. If men cared to dig for the gold they might find it (fr. 8); if not, they must be content with straw (fr. 51). This seems to have been the view taken by Theophrastus, who said the headstrong temperament of Heraclitus sometimes led him into incompleteness and inconsistencies of statement.

65. The Fragments

I give a version of the fragments according to the arrangement of Bywater's exemplary edition:

(1) It is wise to hearken, not to me, but to my Word, and to confess that all things are one. R. P. 40.

(2) Though this Word is true evermore, yet men are as unable to understand it when they hear it for the first time as before they have heard it at all. For, though all things come to pass in accordance with this Word, men seem as if they had no experience of them, when they make trial of words and deeds such as I set forth, dividing each thing according to its kind and showing how it truly is. But other men know not what they are doing when awake, even as they forget what they do in sleep. R. P. 32.

(3) Fools when they do hear are like the deaf: of them does the saying bear witness that they are absent when present. R. P. 31 a.

(4) Eyes and ears are bad witnesses to men if they have souls that understand not their language. R. P. 42.

(5) The many do not take heed of such things as those they meet with, nor do they mark them when they are taught, though they think they do.

(6) Knowing not how to listen nor how to speak.

(7) If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it; for it is hard to be sought out and difficult.

(8) Those who seek for gold dig up much earth and find a little. R. P. 44 b.

(10) Nature loves to hide. R. P. 34 f.

(11) The lord whose is the oracle at Delphi neither utters nor hides his meaning, but shows it by a sign. R. P. 30 a.

(12) And the Sibyl, with raving lips uttering things mirthless, unbedizened, and unperfumed, reaches over a thousand years with her voice, thanks to the god in her. R. P. 30 a.

(13) The things that can be seen, heard, and learned are what I prize the most. R. P. 42.

(14) ... bringing untrustworthy witnesses in support of disputed points.

(15) The eyes are more exact witnesses than the ears. R. P. 42 c.

(16) The learning of many things teacheth not understanding, else would it have taught Hesiod and Pythagoras, and again Xenophanes and Hecataeus. R. P. 31.

(17) Pythagoras, son of Mnesarchus, practiced scientific inquiry beyond all other men, and making a selection of these writings, claimed for his own wisdom what was but a knowledge of many things and an imposture. R. P. 31 a.

(18) Of all whose discourses I have heard, there is not one who attains to understanding that wisdom is apart from all. R. P. 32 b.

(19) Wisdom is one thing. It is to know the thought by which all things are steered through all things. R. P. 40.

(20) This world, which is the same for all, no one of gods or men has made; but it was ever, is now, and ever shall be an ever-living Fire, with measures of it kindling, and measures going out. R. P. 35.

(21) The transformations of Fire are, first of all, sea; and half of the sea is earth, half whirlwind.... R. P. 35 b.

(22) All things are an exchange for Fire, and Fire for all things, even as wares for gold and gold for wares. R. P. 35.

(23) It becomes liquid sea, and is measured by the same tale as before it became earth. R. P. 39.

(24) Fire is want and surfeit. R. P. 36 a.

(25) Fire lives the death of air, and air lives the death of fire; water lives the death of earth, earth that of water. R. P. 37.

(26) Fire in its advance will judge and convict all things. R. P. 36 a.

(27) How can one hide from that which never sets?

(28) It is the thunderbolt that steers the course of all things. R. P. 35 b.

(29) The sun will not overstep his measures; if he does, the Erinyes, the handmaids of Justice, will find him out. R. P. 39.

(30) The limit of dawn and evening is the Bear; and opposite the Bear is the boundary of bright Zeus.

If there were no sun it would be night, for all the other stars could do.

(32) The sun is new every day.

(33) (Thales foretold an eclipse.)

(34) ... the seasons that bring all things.

(35) Hesiod is most men's teacher. Men are sure he knew very many things, a man who did not know day or night! They are one. R. P. 39 b.

(36) God is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, surfeit and hunger; but he takes various shapes, just as fire, when it is mingled with spices, is named according to the savor of each. R. P. 39 b.

(37) If all things were turned to smoke, the nostrils would distinguish them.

(38) Souls smell in Hades. R. P. 46 d.

(39) Cold things become warm, and what is warm cools; what is wet dries, and the parched is moistened.

(40) It scatters and it gathers; it advances and retires.

(41, 42) You cannot step twice into the same rivers; for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you. R. P. 33.

(43) Homer was wrong in saying: "Would that strife might perish from among gods and men!" He did not see that he was praying for the destruction of the universe; for, if his prayer were heard, all things would pass away.... R. P. 34 d.

(44) War is the father of all and the king of all; and some he has made gods and some men, some bond and some free. R. P. 34.

(45) Men do not know how what is at variance agrees with itself. It is an attunement of opposite tensions, like that of the bow and the lyre. R. P. 34.

(46) It is the opposite which is good for us.

(47) The hidden attunement is better than the open. R. P. 34.

(48) Let us not conjecture at random about the greatest things.

(49) Men that love wisdom must be acquainted with very many things indeed.

(50) The straight and the crooked path of the fuller's comb is one and the same.

(51) Asses would rather have straw than gold. R. P. 31 a.

(51a) Oxen are happy when they find bitter vetches to eat. R. P. 48 b.

(52) The sea is the purest and the impurest water. Fish can drink it, and it is good for them; to men it is undrinkable and destructive. R. P. 47 c.

(53) Swine wash in the mire, and barnyard fowls in dust.

(54) ... to delight in the mire.

(55) Every beast is driven to pasture with blows.

(56) Same as 45.

(57) Good and ill are one. R. P. 47 c.

(58) Physicians who cut, burn, stab, and rack the sick, demand a fee for it which they do not deserve to get. R. P. 47 c.

(59) Couples are things whole and things not whole, what is drawn together and what is drawn asunder, the harmonious and the discordant. The one is made up of all things, and all things issue from the one.

(60) Men would not have known the name of justice if these things were not.

(61) To God all things are fair and good and right, but men hold some things wrong and some right. R. P. 45.

(62) We must know that war is common to all and strife is justice, and that all things come into being and pass away (?) through strife.

(64) All the things we see when awake are death, even as all we see in slumber are sleep. R. P. 42 c.

(65) The wise is one only. It is unwilling and willing to be called by the name of Zeus. R. P. 40.

(66) The bow (biós) is called life (bíos), but its work is death. R. P. 49 a.

(67) Mortals are immortals and immortals are mortals, the one living the others' death and dying the others' life. R. P. 46.

(68) For it is death to souls to become water, and death to water to become earth. But water comes from earth; and from water, soul. R. P. 38.

(69) The way up and the way down is one and the same. R. P. 36 d.

(70) In the circumference of a circle the beginning and end are common.

(71) You will not find the boundaries of soul by traveling in any direction, so deep is the measure of it. R. P. 41 d.

(72) It is pleasure to souls to become moist. R. P. 46 c.

(73) A man, when he gets drunk, is led by a beardless lad, tripping, knowing not where he steps, having his soul moist. R. P. 42.

(74-76) The dry soul is the wisest and best. R. P. 42.

(77) Man kindles a light for himself in the night-time, when he has died but is alive. The sleeper, whose vision has been put out, lights up from the dead; he that is awake lights up from the sleeping.

(78) And it is the same thine in us that is quick and dead, awake and asleep, young and old; the former are shifted and become the latter, and the latter in turn are shifted and become the former. R. P. 47.

(79) Time is a child playing draughts, the kingly power is a child's. R. P. 40 a.

(80) I have sought for myself. R. P. 48.

(81) We step and do not step into the same rivers; we are and are not. R. P. 33 a.

(82) It is a weariness to labor for the same masters and be ruled by them.

(83) It rests by changing.

(84) Even the posset separates if it is not stirred.

(85) Corpses are more fit to be cast out than dung.

(86) When they are born, they wish to live and to meet with their dooms -- or rather to rest -- and they leave children behind them to meet with their dooms in turn.

(87-89) A man may be a grandfather in thirty years.

(90) Those who are asleep are fellow-workers (in what goes on in the world).

(91a) Thought is common to all.

(91b) Those who speak with understanding must hold fast to what is common to all as a city holds fast to its law, and even more strongly. For all human laws are fed by the one divine law. It prevails as much as it will, and suffices for all things with something to spare. R. P. 43.

(92) So we must follow the common, yet though my Word is common, the many live as if they had a wisdom of their own. R. P. 44.

(93) They are estranged from that with which they have most constant intercourse. R. P. 32 b.

(94) It is not meet to act and speak like men asleep.

(95) The waking have one common world, but the sleeping turn aside each into a world of his own.

(96) The way of man has no wisdom, but that of God has. R. P. 45.

(97) Man is called a baby by God, even as a child by a man. R. P. 45.

(98, 99) The wisest man is an ape compared to God, just as the most beautiful ape is ugly compared to man.

(100) The people must fight for its law as for its walls. R. P. 43 b.

(101) Greater deaths win greater portions. R. P. 49 a.

(102) Gods and men honor those who are slain in battle. R. P. 49 a.

(103) Wantonness needs putting out, even more than a house on fire. R. P. 49 a.

(104) It is not good for men to get all they wish to get. It is sickness that makes health pleasant; evil, good; hunger, plenty; weariness, rest. R. P. 48 b.

(105-107) It is hard to fight with one's heart's desire. Whatever it wishes to get, it purchases at the cost of soul. R. P. 49 a.

(108, 109) It is best to hide folly; but it is hard in times of relaxation, over our cups.

(110) And it is law, too, to obey the counsel of one. R. P. 49 a.

(111) For what thought or wisdom have they? They follow the poets and take the crowd as their teacher, knowing not that there are many bad and few good. For even the best of them choose one thing above all others, immortal glory among mortals, while most of them are glutted like beasts. R. P. 31 a.

(112) In Priene lived Bias, son of Teutamas, who is of more account than the rest. (He said, "Most men are bad.")

(113) One is ten thousand to me, if he be the best. R. P. 31 a.

(114) The Ephesians would do well to hang themselves, every grown man of them, and leave the city to beardless lads; for they have cast out Hermodorus, the best man among them, saying, "We will have none who is best among us; if there be any such, let him be so elsewhere and among others." R. P. 29 b.

(115) Dogs bark at every one they do not know. R. P. 31 a.

(116) ... (The wise man) is not known because of men's want of belief.

(117) The fool is fluttered at every word. R. P. 44 b.

(118) The most esteemed of them knows but fancies, and holds fast to them, yet of a truth justice shall overtake the artificers of lies and the false witnesses.

(119) Homer should be turned out of the lists and whipped, and Archilochus likewise. R. P. 31.

(120) One day is like any other.

(121) Man's character is his fate.

(122) There awaits men when they die such things as they look not for nor dream of. R. P. 46 d.

(123) ... that they rise up and become the wakeful guardians of the quick and dead. R. P. 46 d.

(124) Night-walkers. Magians, Bacchii, Lenai, and the initiated ...

(125) The mysteries practiced among men are unholy mysteries. R. P. 48.

(126) And they pray to these images, as if one were to talk with a man's house, knowing not what gods or heroes are. R. P. 49 a.

(127) For if it were not to Dionysus that they made a procession and sang the shameful phallic hymn, they would be acting most shamelessly. But Hades is the same as Dionysus in whose honor they go mad and rave. R. P. 49.

(129, 130) They vainly purify themselves by defiling themselves with blood, just as if one who had stepped into the mud were to wash his feet in mud. Any man who marked him doing thus, would deem him mad. R. P. 49 a.

66. The Doxographical Tradition

Some of these fragments are far from clear, and there are probably not a few of which the meaning will never be recovered. We turn, then, to the doxographers for a clue; but unfortunately they are less instructive with regard to Heraclitus than we have found them in other cases. Hippolytus, on whom we can generally rely for a fairly accurate account of what Theophrastus said, derived the material for his first four chapters, which treat of Thales, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, and Empedocles, not from the excellent epitome he afterwards used, but from a biographical compendium, mostly consisting of apocryphal anecdotes and apophthegms. It was based, further, on some writer of Successions who regarded Heraclitus as a Pythagorean. The link between him and the Pythagoreans was Hippasus, in whose system fire played an important part. Theophrastus, following Aristotle, had spoken of the two in the same sentence, and that was enough for the writers of Successions. We are forced, then, to look to the more detailed of the two accounts of the opinions of Heraclitus given in Diogenes, which goes back to the Vetusta Placita, and is, fortunately, pretty full and accurate.

Another difficulty we have to face is that most of the commentators on Heraclitus mentioned in Diogenes were Stoics. Now, the Stoics held the Ephesian in peculiar veneration, and sought to interpret him as far as possible in accordance with their own system. Further, they were fond of "accommodating" the views of earlier thinkers to their own, and this has had serious consequences. In particular, the Stoic theories of the logos and the ekpurôsis are constantly ascribed to Heraclitus, and the very fragments are adulterated with scraps of Stoic terminology.

67. The Discovery of Heraclitus

Heraclitus looks down not only on the mass of men, but on all previous inquirers into nature. This must mean that he believed himself to have attained insight into some truth not hitherto recognized, though it was staring men in the face (fr. 93). To get at the central thing in his teaching, we must try then to find out what he was thinking of when he launched into those denunciations of human dulness and ignorance. The answer seems to be given in two fragments, 18 and 45. From them we gather that the truth hitherto ignored is that the many apparently independent and conflicting things we know are really one, and that, on the other hand, this one is also many. The "strife of opposites" is really an "attunement" (harmonia). From this it follows that wisdom is not a knowledge of many things, but the perception of the underlying unity of the warring opposites. That this really was the fundamental thought of Heraclitus is stated by Philo. He says: "For that which is made up of both the opposites is one; and, when the one is divided, the opposites are disclosed. Is not this just what the Greeks say their great and much belauded Heraclitus put in the forefront of his philosophy as summing it all up, and boasted of as a new discovery?"

68. The One and the Many

Anaximander had taught that the opposites were separated out from the Boundless, but passed away into it once more, so paying the penalty to one another for their unjust encroachments. It is here implied that there is something wrong in the war of opposites, and that the existence of the opposites is a breach in the unity of the One. The truth Heraclitus proclaimed was that the world is at once one and many, and that it is just the "opposite tension" of the opposites that constitutes the unity of the One. It is the same conclusion as that of Pythagoras, though it is put in another way. The use of the word harmoniê suggests that Heraclitus had come under the influence of his older contemporary to some extent.

Plato clearly states that this was the central thought of Heraclitus. In the Sophist (242d), the Eleatic stranger, after explaining how the Eleatics maintained that what we call many is really one, proceeds:

But certain Ionian and (at a later date) certain Sicilian Muses remarked that it was safest to unite these two things, and to say that reality is both many and one, and is kept together by Hate and Love. "For," say the more severe Muses, "in its division it is always being brought together" (cf. fr. 59); while the softer Muses relaxed the requirement that this should always be so, and said that the All was alternately one and at peace through the power of Aphrodite, and many and at war with itself because of something they called Strife.

In this passage the Ionian Muses stand, of course, for Heraclitus, and the Sicilian for Empedocles. According to Plato, then, Heraclitus taught that reality was at once many and one. This was not meant as a logical principle. The identity which Heraclitus explains as consisting in difference is just that of the primary substance in all its manifestations. This identity had been realized already by the Milesians, but they had found a difficulty in the difference. Anaximander had treated the strife of opposites as an "injustice," and what Heraclitus set himself to show was that, on the contrary, it was the highest justice (fr. 62).

69. Fire

All this made it necessary for him to seek out a new primary substance. He wanted not merely something from which opposites could be "separated out," but something which of its own nature would pass into everything else, while everything else would pass in turn into it. This he found in Fire, and it is easy to see why, if we consider the phenomenon of combustion. The quantity of fire in a flame burning steadily appears to remain the same, the flame seems to be what we call a "thing." And yet the substance of it is continually changing. It is always passing away in smoke, and its place is always being taken by fresh matter from the fuel that feeds it. This is just what we want. If we regard the world as an "ever-living fire" (fr. 20), we can understand how it is always becoming all things, while all things are always returning to it.

70. Flux

This necessarily brings with it a certain way of looking at the change and movement of the world. Fire burns continuously and without interruption. It is always consuming fuel and always liberating smoke. Everything is either mounting upwards to serve as fuel, or sinking downwards after having nourished the flame. It follows that the whole of reality is like an ever-flowing stream, and that nothing is ever at rest for a moment. The substance of the things we see is in constant change. Even as we look at them, some of the stuff of which they are composed has already passed into something else, while fresh stuff has come into them from another source. This is usually summed up, appropriately enough, in the phrase "All things are flowing" (panta rei), though this does not seem to be a quotation from Heraclitus. Plato, however, expresses the idea quite clearly. "Nothing ever is, everything is becoming"; "All things are in motion like streams"; "All things are passing, and nothing abides"; "Heraclitus says somewhere that all things pass and naught abides; and, comparing things to the current of a river, he says you cannot step twice into the same stream" (cf. fr. 41) -- these are the terms in which he describes the system. And Aristotle says the same thing, "All things are in motion," "nothing steadfastly is." Heraclitus held, in fact, that any given thing, however stable in appearance, was merely a section in the stream, and that the stuff composing it was never the same in any two consecutive moments. We shall see presently how he conceived the process to operate; meanwhile we remark that this is not the most original feature of the system. The Milesians had held a similar view.

71. The Upward and Downward Path

Heraclitus appears to have worked out the details with reference to the theories of Anaximenes. It is unlikely, however, that he explained the transformations of matter by means of rarefaction and condensation. Theophrastus, it appears, suggested that he did; but he allowed it was by no means clear. The passage from Diogenes we are about to quote has faithfully preserved this touch. In the fragments we find nothing about rarefaction and condensation. The expression used is "exchange" (fr. 22), a very good name for what happens when fire gives out smoke and takes in fuel instead. It has been pointed out that, in default of Hippolytus, our best account of the Theophrastean doxography of Heraclitus is the fuller of the two accounts given in Laertius Diogenes. It is as follows:

His opinions on particular points are these:

He held that Fire was the element, and that all things were an exchange for fire, produced by condensation and rarefaction. But he explains nothing clearly. All things were produced in opposition, and all things were in flux like a river.

The all is finite and the world is one. It arises from fire, and is consumed again by fire alternately through all eternity in certain cycles. This happens according to fate. Of the opposites, that which leads to the becoming of the world is called War and Strife; that which leads to the final conflagration is Concord and Peace.

He called change the upward and the downward path, and held that the world comes into being in virtue of this. When fire is condensed it becomes moist, and when compressed it turns to water; water being congealed turns to earth, and this he calls the downward path. And, again, the earth is in turn liquefied, and from it water arises, and from that everything else; for he refers almost everything to the evaporation from the sea. This is the path upwards. R. P. 36.

He held, too, that exhalations arose both from the sea and the land; some bright and pure, others dark. Fire was nourished by the bright ones, and moisture by the others.

He does not make it clear what is the nature of that which surrounds the world. He held, however, that there were bowls in it with the concave sides turned towards us, in which the bright exhalations were collected and produced flames. These were the heavenly bodies.

The flame of the sun was the brightest and warmest; for the other heavenly bodies were more distant from the earth; and for that reason gave less light and heat. The moon, on the other hand, was nearer the earth; but it moved through an impure region. The sun moved in a bright and unmixed region and at the same time was at just the right distance from us. That is why it gives more heat and light. The eclipses of the sun and moon were due to the turning of the bowls upwards, while the monthly phases of the moon were produced by a gradual turning of its bowl.

Day and night, months and seasons and years, rains and winds, and things like these, were due to the different exhalations. The bright exhalation, when ignited in the circle of the sun, produced day, and the preponderance of the opposite exhalations produced night. The increase of warmth proceeding from the bright exhalation produced summer, and the preponderance of moisture from the dark exhalation produced winter. He assigns the causes of other things in conformity with this.

As to the earth, he makes no clear statement about its nature, any more than he does about that of the bowls. These, then, were his opinions. R. P. 39 b.

Now, if we can trust this passage, it is of the greatest value; and that, upon the whole, we can trust it is shown by the fact that it follows the exact order of topics to which all the doxographies derived from the work of Theophrastus adhere. First we have the primary substance, then the world, then the heavenly bodies, and lastly, meteorological phenomena. We conclude, then, that it may be accepted with the exceptions, firstly, of the probably erroneous conjecture of Theophrastus as to rarefaction and condensation; and secondly, of some pieces of Stoical interpretation which come from the Vetusta Placita.

Let us look at the details. The pure fire, we are told, is to be found chiefly in the sun. This, like the other heavenly bodies, is a trough or bowl, with the concave side turned towards us, in which the bright exhalations from the sea collect and burn. How does the fire of the sun pass into other forms? If we look at the fragments which deal with the downward path, we find that the first transformation it undergoes is into sea, and we are further told that half of the sea is earth and half of it prêstêr (fr. 21). What is this prêstêr? So far as I know, no one has yet proposed to take the word in the sense it usually bears elsewhere, that, namely, of hurricane accompanied by a fiery waterspout. Yet surely this is just what is wanted. It is amply attested that Heraclitus explained the rise of the sea to fire by means of the bright evaporations; and we want a similar meteorological explanation of the passing of fire back into sea. We want, in fact, something which will stand equally for the smoke produced by the burning of the sun and for the immediate stage between fire and water. What could serve the turn better than a fiery water spout? It sufficiently resembles smoke to be accounted for as the product of the sun's combustion, and it certainly comes down in the form of water. And this interpretation becomes practically certain when taken in connection with the report of Aetius as to the Heraclitean theory of prêstêres. They were due, we are told, "to the kindling and extinction of clouds." In other words, the bright vapor, after kindling in the bowl of the sun and going out again, reappears as the dark fiery storm-cloud, and so passes once more into sea. At the next stage we find water continually passing into earth. We are already familiar with this idea (§ 10). Turning to the "upward path," we find that the earth is liquefied. in the same proportion as the sea becomes earth, so that the sea is still "measured by the same tale" (fr. 23). Half of it is earth and half of it is prêstêr (fr. 21). This must mean that, at any given moment, half of the sea is taking the downward path, and has just been fiery storm cloud, while half of it is going up, and has just been earth. In proportion as the sea is increased by rain, water passes into earth; in proportion as the sea is diminished by evaporation, it is fed by the earth. Lastly, the ignition of the bright vapor from the sea in the bowl of the sun completes the circle of the "upward and downward path."

72. Measure for Measure

How is it that, in spite of this constant flux, things appear relatively stable? The answer of Heraclitus was that it is owing to the observance of the "measures," in virtue of which the aggregate bulk of each form of matter in the long run remains the same, though its substance is constantly changing. Certain "measures" of the ever-living fire "are always being kindled, while like measures" are always going out (fr. 20). All things are "exchanged" for fire and fire for all things (fr. 22), and this implies that for everything it takes, fire will give as much. "The sun will not exceed his measures" (fr. 29).

And yet the "measures" are not absolutely fixed. We gather from the passage of Diogenes quoted above that Theophrastus spoke of an alternate preponderance of the bright and dark exhalations, and Aristotle speaks of Heraclitus as explaining all things by evaporation. In particular, the alternation of day and night, summer and winter, were accounted for in this way. Now, in a passage of the pseudo-Hippocratean treatise Peri diaitês which is almost certainly of Heraclitean origin, we read of an "advance of fire and water" in connection with day and night and the courses of the sun and moon. In fr. 26, again, we read of fire "advancing," and all these things seem to be closely connected. We must therefore try to see whether there is anything in the remaining fragments that bears on the subject.

73. Man

In studying this alternate advance of fire and water, it will be convenient to start with the microcosm. We have more definite information about the two exhalations in man than about the analogous processes in the world at large, and it would seem that Heraclitus himself explained the world by man rather than man by the world. Aristotle implies that soul is identical with the dry exhalation and this is confirmed by the fragments. Man is made up of three things, fire, water, and earth. But, just as in the macrocosm fire is identified with the one wisdom, so in the microcosm the fire alone is conscious. When it has left the body, the remainder, the mere earth and water, is altogether worthless (fr. 85). Of course, the fire which animates man is subject to the "upward and downward path," just as much as the fire of the world. The Peri diaitês has preserved the obviously Heraclitean sentence: "All things are passing, both human and divine, upwards and downwards by exchanges." We are just as much in perpetual flux as anything else in the world. We are and are not the same for two consecutive instants (fr. 81). The fire in us is perpetually becoming water, and the water earth; but, as the opposite process goes on simultaneously, we appear to remain the same.

74. Sleeping and Waking

This, however, is not all. Man is subject to a certain oscillation in his "measures" of fire and water, which gives rise to the alternations of sleeping and waking, life and death. The locus classicus on this is a passage of Sextus Empiricus, which reproduces the account given by Aenesidemus. It is as follows (R. P. 41):

The natural philosopher is of opinion that what surrounds us is rational and endowed with consciousness. According to Heraclitus, when we draw in this divine reason by means of respiration, we become rational. In sleep we forget, but at our waking we become conscious once more. For in sleep, when the openings of the senses close, the mind which is in us is cut off from contact with that which surrounds us, and only our connection with it by means of respiration is preserved as a sort of root (from which the rest may spring again); and, when it is thus separated, it loses the power of memory that it had before. When we awake again, however, it looks out through the openings of the senses, as if through windows, and coming together with the surrounding mind, it assumes the power of reason. Just, then, as embers, when they are brought near the fire, change and become red-hot, and go out when they are taken away from it again, so does the portion of the surrounding mind which sojourns in our body become irrational when it is cut off, and so does it become of like nature to the whole when contact is established through the greatest number of openings.

In this passage there is clearly a large admixture of later ideas. In particular, the identification of "that which surrounds us" with the air cannot be Heraclitean; for Heraclitus knew nothing of air except as a form of water (§ 27). The reference to the pores or openings of the senses is probably foreign to him also; for the theory of pores is due to Alcmaeon (§ 96). Lastly, the distinction between mind and body is far too sharply drawn. On the other hand, the important role assigned to respiration may very well be Heraclitean; for we have met with it already in Anaximenes. And we can hardly doubt that the striking simile of the embers which glow when brought near the fire is genuine (cf. fr. 77). The true doctrine doubtless was, that sleep was produced by the encroachment of moist, dark exhalations from the water in the body, which cause the fire to burn low. In sleep, we lose contact with the fire in the world which is common to all, and retire to a world of our own (fr. 95). In a soul where the fire and water are evenly balanced, the equilibrium is restored in the morning by an equal advance of the bright exhalation.

75. Life and Death

But in no soul are the fire and water thus evenly balanced for long. One or the other acquires predominance, and the result in either case is death. Let us take each of these cases in turn. It is death, we know, to souls to become water (fr. 68); but that is what happens to souls which seek after pleasure. For pleasure is a moistening of the soul (fr. 72), as may be seen in the case of the drunken man, who has so moistened his soul that he does not know where he is going (fr. 73). Even in gentle relaxation over our cups, it is more difficult to hide folly than at other times (fr. 108). That is why we must quench wantonness (fr. 103); for whatever our heart's desire insists on it purchases at the price of life, that is, of the fire within us (fr. 105). Take now the other case. The dry soul, that which has least moisture, is the best (fr. 74); but the preponderance of fire causes death as much as that of water. It is a very different death, however, and wins "greater portions" for those who die it (fr. 101).

Further, just as summer and winter are one, and necessarily reproduce one another by their "opposite tension," so do life and death. They, too, are one, we are told; and so are youth and age (fr. 78). It follows that the soul will be now living and now dead; that it will only turn to fire or water, as the case may be, to recommence once more its unceasing upward and downward path. The soul that has died from excess of moisture sinks down to earth; but from the earth comes water, and from water is once more exhaled a soul (fr. 68). So, too, we are told (fr. 67) that gods and men are really one. They live each others' life, and die each others' death. Those mortals that die the fiery death become immortal, they become the guardians of the quick and the dead (fr. 123); and those immortals become mortal in their turn. Everything is the death of something else (fr. 64). The living and the dead are always changing places (fr. 78), like the pieces on a child's draught-board (fr. 79), and this applies not only to the souls that have become water, but to those that have become fire and are now guardian spirits. The real weariness is continuance in the same state (fr. 82), and the real rest is change (fr. 83). Rest in any other sense is tantamount to dissolution (fr. 84). So they too are born once more. Heraclitus estimated the duration of the cycle which preserves the balance of life and death as thirty years, the shortest time in which a man may become a grandfather (frs. 87-89).

76. The Day and the Year

Let us turn now to the world. Diogenes tells us that fire was kept up by the bright vapors from land and sea, and moisture by the dark. What are these "dark" vapors which increase the moist element? If we remember the "Air" of Anaximenes, we shall be inclined to regard them as darkness itself. We know that the idea of darkness as privation of light is not primitive. I suppose, then, that Heraclitus believed night and winter to be produced by the rise of darkness from earth and sea -- he saw, of course, that the valleys were dark before the hill-tops -- and that this darkness, being moist, so increased the watery element as to put out the sun's light. This, however, destroys the power of darkness itself. It can no longer rise upwards unless the sun gives it motion, and so it becomes possible for a fresh sun (fr. 32) to be kindled, and to nourish itself at the expense of the moist element for a time. But it can only be for a time. The sun, by burning up the bright vapor, deprives himself of nourishment, and the dark vapor once more gets the upper hand. It is in this sense that "day and night are one" (fr. 35). Each implies the other; they are merely two sides of one process, in which alone their true ground of explanation is to be found (fr. 36).

Summer and winter were to be explained in the same way. We know that the "turnings back" of the sun were a subject of interest in those days, and it was natural for Heraclitus to see in its retreat to the south the advance of the moist element, caused by the heat of the sun itself. This, however, diminishes the power of the sun to cause evaporation, and so it must return to the north that it may supply itself with nourishment. Such was, at any rate, the Stoic doctrine, and that it comes from Heraclitus seems to be proved by its occurrence in the Peri diaitês. The following passage is clearly Heraclitean:

And in turn each (fire and water) prevails and is prevailed over to the greatest and least degree that is possible. For neither can prevail altogether for the following reasons. If fire advances towards the utmost limit of the water, its nourishment fails it. It retires, then, to a place where it can get nourishment. And if water advances towards the utmost limit of the fire, movement fails it. At that point, then, it stands still; and, when it has come to a stand, it has no longer power to resist, but is consumed as nourishment for the fire that falls upon it. For these reasons neither can prevail altogether. But if at any time either should be in any way overcome, then none of the things that exist would be as they are now. So long as things are as they are, fire and water will always be too, and neither will ever fail.

77. The Great Year

Heraclitus spoke also of a longer period, which is identified with the "Great Year," and is variously described as lasting 18,000 and 10,800 years. We have no definite statement, however, of what process Heraclitus supposed to take place in the Great Year. The period Of 36,000 years was Babylonian, and 18,000 years is just half that period, a fact which may be connected with Heraclitus's way of dividing all cycles into an "upward and downward path." The Stoics, or some of them, held that the Great Year was the period between one world-conflagration and the next. They were careful, however, to make it a good deal longer than Heraclitus did, and, in any case, we are not entitled without more ado to credit him with the theory of a general conflagration. We must try first to interpret the Great Year on the analogy of the shorter periods discussed already.

Now we have seen that a generation is the shortest time in which a man can become a grandfather, it is the period of the upward or downward path of the soul, and the most natural interpretation of the longer period would surely be that it represents the time taken by a "measure" of the fire in the world to travel on the downward path to earth or return to fire once more by the upward path. Plato implies that such a parallelism between the periods of man and the world was recognized, and this receives a curious confirmation from a passage in Aristotle, which is usually supposed to refer to the doctrine of a periodic conflagration. He is discussing the question whether the "heavens," that is to say, what he calls the "first heaven," is eternal or not, and naturally enough, from his own point of view, he identifies this with the Fire of Heraclitus. He quotes him along with Empedocles as holding that the "heavens" are alternately as they are now and in some other state, one of passing away; and he goes on to point out that this is not really to say they pass away, any more than it would be to say that a man ceases to be, if we said that he turned from boy to man and then from man to boy again. It is surely clear that this is a reference to the parallel between the generation and the Great Year, and, if so, the ordinary interpretation of the passage must be wrong. It is not, indeed, quite consistent with the theory to suppose that a "measure" of Fire could preserve its identity throughout the whole of its upward and downward path; but that is exactly the inconsistency we have felt bound to recognize with regard to the continuance of individual souls. Now, it will be noted that, while 18,000 is half 36,000, 10,800 is 360 x 30, which would make each generation a day in the Great Year, and this is in favor of the higher number.

78. Did Heraclitus Teach a General Conflagration?

Most writers ascribe to Heraclitus the doctrine of a periodical conflagration or ekpurôsis, to use the Stoic term. That this is inconsistent with his general view is obvious, and is indeed admitted by Zeller, who adds to his paraphrase of the statement of Plato quoted above (p. 144) the words: "Heraclitus did not intend to retract this principle in the doctrine of a periodic change in the constitution of the world; if the two doctrines are not compatible, it is a contradiction which he has not observed." Now, it is quite likely that there were contradictions in the discourse of Heraclitus, but it is very unlikely that there was this particular contradiction. In the first place, it is inconsistent with the central idea of his system, the thought that possessed his whole mind (§ 67), and we can only admit the possibility of that, if the evidence for it should prove irresistible. In the second place, such an interpretation destroys the whole point of Plato's contrast between Heraclitus and Empedocles (§ 68), which is just that, while Heraclitus said the One was always many, and the Many always one, Empedocles said the All was many and one by turns. Zeller's interpretation obliges us, then, to suppose that Heraclitus flatly contradicted his own discovery without noticing it, and that Plato, in discussing this very discovery, was also blind to the contradiction.

Nor is there anything in Aristotle to set against Plato's statement. We have seen that the passage in which he speaks of him along with Empedocles as holding that the heavens were alternately in one condition and in another refers not to the world, but to fire, which Aristotle identified with the substance of his own "first heaven." It is also quite consistent with our interpretation when he says that all things at one time or another become fire. This need not mean that they all become fire at the same time, but may be merely a statement of the undoubted Heraclitean doctrine of the upward and downward path.

The earliest statements to the effect that Heraclitus taught the doctrine of a general conflagration are found in Stoic writers. The Christian apologists too were interested in the idea of a final conflagration, and reproduce the Stoic view. The curious thing, however, is that there was a difference of opinion on the subject even among the Stoics. In one place, Marcus Aurelius says: "So that all these things are taken up into the Reason of the universe, whether by a periodical conflagration or a renovation effected by eternal exchanges." Indeed, there were some who said there was no general conflagration at all in Heraclitus. "I hear all that," Plutarch makes one of his personages say, "from many people, and I see the Stoic conflagration spreading over the poems of Hesiod, just as it does over the writings of Heraclitus and the verses of Orpheus." We see from this that the question was debated, and we should therefore expect any statement of Heraclitus which could settle it to be quoted over and over again. It is highly significant that not a single quotation of the kind can be produced.

On the contrary, the absence of anything to show that Heraclitus spoke of a general conflagration only becomes more patent when we turn to the few fragments which are supposed to prove it. The favorite is fr. 24, where we are told that Heraclitus said Fire was Want and Surfeit. That is just in his manner, and it has a perfectly intelligible meaning on our interpretation, which is further confirmed by fr. 36. The next is fr. 26, where we read that fire in its advance will judge and convict all things. There is nothing in this, however, to suggest that fire will judge all things at once rather than in turn, and, indeed, the phraseology reminds us of the advance of fire and water which we have seen reason for attributing to Heraclitus, but which is expressly said to be limited to a certain maximum. These appear to be the only passages which the Stoics and the Christian apologists could discover, and, whether our interpretation of them is right or wrong, it is surely clear that they cannot bear the weight of their conclusion, and that there was nothing more definite to be found.

It is much easier to find fragments which are inconsistent with a general conflagration. The "measures" of fr. 20 and fr. 29 must be the same thing, and they must be interpreted in the light of fr. 23. If this be so, fr. 20, and more especially fr. 29, directly contradict the idea of a general conflagration. "The sun will not overstep his measures." Secondly, the metaphor of "exchange," which is applied to the transformations of fire in fr. 22, points in the same direction. When gold is given in exchange for wares and wares for gold, the sum or "measure" of each remains constant, though they change owners. All the wares and gold do not come into the same hands. In the same way, when anything becomes fire, something of equal amount must cease to be fire, if the "exchange" is to be a just one; and that it will be just, we are assured by the watchfulness of the Erinyes (fr. 29), who sees to it that the sun does not take more than he gives. Of course there is a certain variation, as we saw; but it is strictly confined within limits, and is compensated in the long run by a variation in the other direction. Thirdly, fr. 43, in which Heraclitus blames Homer for desiring the cessation of strife, is very conclusive. The cessation of strife would mean that all things should take the upward or downward path at the same time, and cease to "run in opposite directions." If they all took the upward path, we should have a general conflagration. Now, if Heraclitus had himself held this to be the appointment of fate, would he have been likely to upbraid Homer for desiring so necessary a consummation? Fourthly, we note that in fr. 20 it is this world, and not merely the " ever-living fire," which is said to be eternal; and it appears also that its eternity depends on the fact that it is always kindling and always going out in the same "measures," or that an encroachment in one direction is compensated by a subsequent encroachment in the other. Lastly, Lassalle's argument from the concluding sentence of the passage from the Peri diaitês quoted above, is really untouched by Zeller's objection, that it cannot be Heraclitean because it implies that all things are fire and water. It does not imply this, but only that man, like the heavenly bodies, oscillates between fire and water; and that is just what Heraclitus taught. Now, in this passage we read that neither fire nor water can prevail completely, and a very good reason is given for this, a reason too which is in striking agreement with the other views of Heraclitus. And, indeed, it is not easy to see how, in accordance with these views, the world could ever recover from a general conflagration if such a thing were to take place. The whole process depends on the fact that Surfeit is also Want, or, in other words, that an advance of fire increases the moist exhalation, while an advance of water deprives the fire of its power to cause evaporation. The conflagration, though it lasted but for a moment, would destroy the opposite tension on which the rise of a new world depends, and then motion would become impossible.

79. Strife and "Harmony"

We are now in a position to understand more clearly the law of strife or opposition which manifests itself in the "upward and downward path." At any given moment, each of the three aggregates, Fire, Water, and Earth, is made up of two equal portions -- subject, of course, to the oscillation described above -- one of which is taking the upward and the other the downward path. Now, it is just the fact that the two halves of everything are being "drawn in opposite directions," this "opposite tension," that "keeps things together," and maintains them in an equilibrium which can only be disturbed temporarily and within certain limits. It thus forms the "hidden attunement" of the universe (fr. 47), though, in another aspect of it, it is Strife. As to the "bow and the lyre" (fr. 45), I think that Campbell gave the best explanation of the simile. "As the arrow leaves the string," he said, "the hands are pulling opposite ways to each other, and to the different parts of the bow (cf. Plato, Rep. iv. 439); and the sweet note of the lyre is due to a similar tension and retention. The secret of the universe is the same." War, then, is the father and king of all things, in the world as in human society (fr. 44); and Homer's wish that strife might cease was really a prayer for the destruction of the world (fr. 43).

We know from Philo that Heraclitus supported his theory by a multitude of examples; and some of these can still be recovered. There is a remarkable agreement between a passage of this kind in the pseudo-Aristotelian Peri kosmou and the Hippocratean Peri diaitês. That the authors of both drew from the same source, namely, Heraclitus, is made practically certain by the fact that this agreement extends in part to the Letters of Heraclitus, which, though spurious, were certainly composed by someone who had access to the original work. The argument was that men themselves act just in the same way as Nature, and it is therefore surprising that they do not recognize the laws by which she works. The painter produces his harmonious effects by the contrast of colors, the musician by that of high and low notes. "If one were to make all things alike, there would be no delight in them." There are many similar examples, some of which must certainly come from Heraclitus; but it is not easy to separate them from the later additions.

80. Correlation of Opposites

There are several Heraclitean fragments which form a class by themselves, and are among the most striking of the utterances that have come down to us. These assert in the most downright way the identity of various things usually regarded as opposites. The clue to their meaning is to be found in the account already given of the assertion that day and night are one. We have seen that Heraclitus meant, not that day was night or night was day, but that they were two sides of the same process, namely, the oscillation of the "measures" of fire and water, and that neither would be possible without the other. Any explanation that can be given of night will also be an explanation of day, and vice versa; for it will be an account of what is common to both, and manifests itself now as one and now as the other. Now this is only a particular application of the principle that the primary fire is one even in its division. It itself is, even in its unity, both surfeit and want, war and peace (fr. 36). In other words, the "satiety" which makes fire pass into other forms, which makes it seek "rest in change" (fr. 83), and "hide itself" (fr. 10) in the "hidden attunement" of opposition, is only one side of the process. The other is the "want" which leads it to consume the bright vapor as fuel. The upward path is nothing without the downward (fr. 69). If either were to cease, the other would cease too, and the world would disappear; for it takes both to make an apparently stable reality.

All other utterances of the kind are to be explained in the same way. If there were no cold, there would be no heat; for a thing can only grow warm if, and in so far as, it is already cold. And the same thing applies to the opposition of wet and dry (fr. 39). These, it will be observed, are just the two primary oppositions of Anaximander, and Heraclitus is showing that the war between them is really peace, for it is the common element in them (fr. 62) which appears as strife, and that very strife is justice, and not, as Anaximander had taught, an injustice which they commit one against the other, and which must be expiated by a reabsorption of both in their common ground.

The most startling of these sayings is that which affirms that good and evil are the same (fr. 57). This does not mean that good is evil or that evil is good, but simply that they are the two inseparable halves of one and the same thing. A thing can become good only in so far as it is already evil, and evil only in so far as it is already good, and everything depends on the contrast. The illustration given in fr. 58 shows this clearly. Torture, one would say, was an evil, and yet it is made a good by the presence of another evil, namely, disease; as is shown by the fact that surgeons expect a fee for inflicting it on their patients. justice, on the other hand, which is a good, would be unknown were it not for injustice, which is an evil (fr. 60). And that is why it is not good for men to get everything they wish (fr. 104). Just as the cessation of strife in the world would mean its destruction, so the disappearance of hunger, disease, and weariness would mean the disappearance of satisfaction, health, and rest.

This leads to a theory of relativity which prepares the way for the doctrine of Protagoras, that "Man is the measure of all things." Sea-water is good for fish and bad for men (fr. 52), and so with many other things. At the same time, Heraclitus is not a believer in absolute relativity. The process of the world is not merely a circle, but an "upward and downward path." At the upper end, where the two paths meet, we have the pure fire, in which, as there is no separation, there is no relativity. We are told that, while to man some things are evil and some things are good, all things are good to God (fr. 61). Now by God, or the "one wise," there is no doubt Heraclitus meant Fire. There can hardly be any question that what he meant to say was that in it the opposition and relativity universal in the world disappear. It is doubtless to this that frs. 96, 97, and 98 refer.

81. The Wise

Heraclitus speaks of "wisdom" or the "wise" in two senses. We have seen already that he said wisdom was "something apart from everything else" (fr. 18), meaning by it the perception of the unity of the many; and he also applies the term to that unity itself regarded as the "thought that directs the course of all things." This is synonymous with the pure fire which is not differentiated into two parts, one taking the upward and the other the downward path. That alone has wisdom; the partial things we see have not. We ourselves are only wise in so far as we are fiery (fr. 74).

82. Theology

With certain reservations, Heraclitus was prepared to call the one Wisdom by the name of Zeus. Such, at least, appears to be the meaning of fr. 65. What these reservations were, it is easy to guess. It is not, of course, to be pictured in the form of a man. In saying this, Heraclitus would only have been repeating what had already been said by Xenophanes. He agrees further with Xenophanes in holding that this "god," if it is to be called so, is one; but his polemic against popular religion was directed rather against the rites and ceremonies themselves than their mythological outgrowth. He gives a list (fr. 124) of some of the religious figures of his time, and the context in which the fragment is quoted shows that he in some way threatened them with the wrath to come. He comments on the absurdity of praying to images (fr. 126), and the strange idea that blood-guiltiness can be washed out by the shedding of blood (fr. 130). He seems also to have said that it was absurd to celebrate the worship of Dionysus by cheerful and licentious ceremonies, while Hades was propitiated by gloomy rites (fr. 127). According to the mystic doctrine itself, the two were really one; and the one Wisdom ought to be worshiped in its integrity.

83. Ethics of Heraclitus

The moral teaching of Heraclitus is summed up in the rule "Follow the common." The "common" upon which Heraclitus insists is, nevertheless, something very different from common sense, for which, indeed, he had the greatest possible contempt (fr. 111). It is, in fact, his strongest objection to "the many," that they live each in his own world (fr. 95), as if they had a private wisdom of their own (fr. 92); and public opinion is therefore just the opposite of "the common." The rule is really to be interpreted as a corollary of his anthropological and cosmological views. The first requirement is that we keep our souls dry, and thus assimilate them to the one Wisdom, which is fire. That is what is really "common," and the greatest fault is to act like men asleep (fr. 94), that is, by letting our souls grow moist, to cut ourselves off from the fire in the world.

Heraclitus prepared the way for the Stoic world-state by comparing "the common" to the laws of a city. And these are even more than a type of the divine law: they are imperfect embodiments of it. They cannot, however, exhaust it altogether; for in all human affairs there is an element of relativity (fr. 91). "Man is a baby compared to God" (fr. 97). Such as they are, however, the city must fight for them as for its walls; and, if it has the good fortune to possess a citizen with a dry soul, he is worth ten thousand (fr. 113); for in him alone is "the common" embodied.