Heraclitus

Michael Lahanas

Ηράκλειτος

....fire when it comes will judge and condemn all things.

Fire, for Heraclitus the primordial element “arche”.


Heraclitus in this stamp, serious and “dark” like his philosophy, " Montaigne , in his Essay on Democritus and Heraclitus, gives his preference to the former, "Because," he observes, "men are more to be laughed at than hated," showing that he regarded him as imputing folly to men rather than vice." Alfred Guy Kingan L'Estrange Ancient Greek Humour
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Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 544 BC – c. 483 BC) was the first son of Blyson and his grandfather Androklos a son of the Athenian Tyrant Kodros. Therefore his family used also the title “Basileus” or King. He was assumed as a first son to take a statesman position but instead he accepted that his brother has this privilege. Did he not accept it because he considered it not worthy or difficult to rule the Ephesians:

... ἄξιον Ἐφεσίοις ἡβηδὸν ἀπάγξασθαι πᾶσι καὶ τοῖς ἀνήβοις τὴν πόλιν καταλιπεῖν͵ οἵτινες Ἑρμόδωρον ἄνδρα ἑωυτῶν ὀνήιστον ἐξέβαλον φάντες· ἡμέων μηδὲ εἷς ὀνήιστος ἔστω͵ εἰ δὲ μή͵ ἄλλη τε καὶ μετ΄ ἄλλων.
People of Ephesus should be all hanged, young and old, and leave the city to the kids. Because they banished Hermodorus, the best of their men, saying: among us let no one be distinguished, otherwise let him be elsewhere and with others.
Was he so critical that he finally did not become a politician?
Some say that this and his aristocratic origin has somehow contributed in his sarcastic and critical or even arrogant philosophy. He said that he had no teacher in a provocative way: “Wait I have to go to ask myself”. Only fragments of his work survived. Diogenes Laertius provides us some information about his life but how accurate is this information, for exampe about his death?

πολυμαθίη νόον ἔχειν οὐ διδάσκει· Ἡσίοδον γὰρ ἂν ἐδίδαξε καὶ Πυθαγόρην αὖτίς τε Ξενοφάνεά τε καὶ Ἑκαταῖον. ...εἶναι γὰρ ἓν τὸ σοφόν, ἐπίστασθαι γνώμην, ὁτέη ἐκυβέρνησε πάντα διὰ πάντων. ...τόν τε Ὅμηρον ἔφασκεν ἄξιον ἐκ τῶν ἀγώνων ἐκβάλλεσθαι καὶ ῥαπίζεσθαι καὶ Ἀρχίλοχον ὁμοίως.
He considers Hesiod, Pythagoras, Xenophanes and Hekataios as idiots (Knowledge is not wisdom). He hates the work of Homer.

In his last years he wrote a book with the Title “From the Nature” writing in the style of an Oracle his work was and is not understood completely and is interpreted in various ways (maybe since only fragments of his work survived). He was called for this reason “o skoteinos” or the dark (obscure) philosopher. Maybe he is not interested to be understood. The majority of people are idiots. The masses do not understand and therefore do not exist in principle or in other words. “They are there but they are also not there”."Heraclitus was exceptionally haughty and supercilious and ... eventually became a misanthrope who lived in the mountains and fed on grasses and plants." Diogenes Laertius

His health was not so well in his last years. He considers physicians as useless. Cutting and burning, which are normally bad, call for a fee when done by a surgeon. He is an atheist. The world is not a work of God or anybody. This cosmos was not made by gods or men, but always was, and is, and ever shall be ever-living fire.
αἰὼν παῖς ἐστι παίζων, πεσσεύων· παιδὸς ἡ βασιληίη
The best world is a random world. “A Child is a King.”

The world is a continuous fight were the forces are almost of equal strength. The harmony is in principle the result of this fight which leads to the conclusion:
Πόλεμος πάντων μὲν πατήρ ἐστι, πάντων δὲ βασιλεύς, καὶ τοὺς μὲν θεοὺς ἔδειξε τοὺς δὲ ἀνθρώπους, τοὺς μὲν δούλους ἐποίησε τοὺς δὲ ἐλευθέρους.
“War is the father of all and king of all, and some he shows as gods, others as men; some he makes slaves, others free”.He considers the conflict of the elements: Fire destroys air, air destroys fire, water destroys earth and earth destroys water. His work is difficult and not consistent. He says in principle yes and no. In this he can be interpreted differently dependent on the person.

...ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω μία καὶ ὡυτή. The way up and down is the same.


Pythagoras on the left and Heraclitus on the right side.


Language itself is in flux, i.e. language is a limited tool for making assertions about metaphysics and the nature of things. The Logos is change; everything is its opposite. Heraclitus considers limitations of language. He actually does assert contradictory things in order to make the point that our assertions about reality are meaningless, in that they are too limited to get at what reality is really like.

τῷ οὖν τόξῳ ὄνομα βίος͵ ἔργον δὲ θάνατος
Heraclitus plays with the words: “The name of the bow is life, his action is the death”. In Greek the same word, “bios”, is used for life and bow and the difference is that the accent is on the first syllabe for the word life and the second syllabe for bow. Life is like a bow in tension.

λέγει που Ἡράκλειτος, ὅτι πάντα χωρεῖ, καὶ οὐδὲν μένει· καὶ ποταμοῦ ῥοῇ ἀπεικάζων τὰ ὄντα λέγει, ὡς δὶς ἐς τὸν αὐτὸν ποταμὸν οὐκ ἂν ἐμβαίης. Socrates: Heracleitus is supposed to say that all things are in motion and nothing at rest; he compares them to the stream of a river, and says that you cannot go into the same water twice. Plato Cratylus 402A1

“πάντα χωρεί και ουδέν μένει και ποταμού ροή απεικάζων τα όντα λέγει ως δις εις τον αυτόν ποταμόν ουκανεμβαίης”

He is famous for his opinion “Ta panta rhei”. Everything changes and from Plato's reference Cratylus: You cannot take a bath twice in the same river is another variant. The water flows, the river bed changes by this flow but actually also we are not the same, we change continuously, our mind and our body. But even if the river changes it has the same name. So even if it is the same river it is not the same.

Advances in cosmology and black holes physics lend new emphasis to some of the most remarkable consequences of Einstein's standard theory:...nature conserves nothing; there is no constant of physics that is not transcended; or, in a word, mutability is a law of nature
Wheeler John Archibald. 1979. "The Quantum and the Universe." In Relativity, quanta, and cosmology in the development of the thought of Albert Einstein. Vol. 2. M. Pantaleo and F. De Finis, eds. New York: Johnson Reprint Corp.

A similar statement was made 1212 AD by Kamo no Tyômei, a Buddhist monk. I have found from Masuda Kooiti the following translation:

The river flow sustains, yet the same water never remains. Bubbles float on the stream; some are dissipated, some are generated, and none can be stationary. Kamo no Tyômei, Hôzyôki

Parmenides has a complete different opinion: There remains, then, but one word by which to express the [true] road: Is. And on this road there are many signs that What Is has no beginning and never will be destroyed: it is whole, still, and without end. It neither was nor will be, it simply is—now, altogether, one, continuous…


Johannes Moreelse, Heraclitus (c. 1630)

Heraclitus is interested only in the knowledge of grandiose wisdom and not in details, the learning of many things, like Albert Einstein: “I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details.”

But Heraclitus says also “For it is very well necessary, that those who love wisdom investigate many things” that probably says that the understanding of the “kosmos” requires to investigate many things (probably its parts).

φύσις δὲ καθ' Ἡράκλειτον κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ , Nature loves to conceal herself. Various interpretations for example what is the meaning of φύσις ? (Diels , Gigon , Heidegger, etc)

In his later years, Heraclitus developed a medical condition known as edema, in which the body suffers from a buildup of excess fluid. Having no faith in practiced physicians, to which he felt intellectually superior, Heraclitus attempted to cure himself in the most bizarre way. He buried himself in a cow stall hoping that the heat from the decaying manure would evaporate his body’s excess water. It did not, and the philosopher died buried up to his neck in cow dung. Tom E. Morris. The Philosophy of Science

QUOTATIONS

All dilemmas can be solved by unifying the contraries, Constantin Brâncusi (1876-1957) Romanian Sculptor (Info)

A deep truth is a truth so deep that not only is it true but it's exact opposite is also true.
Niels Bohr (1885-1962) in Rees, Martin, Remo Ruffini, and John Archibald Wheeler. 1974. Black Holes, Gravitational Waves and Cosmology: An Introduction to Current Research. New York: Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, p 297. For example, "viewing a thing from outside, considering its relations of action and reaction with other things, it appears as matter. Viewing it from inside, looking at its immediate character as feeling, it appears as consciousness" (Peirce 1893:353 [1978]. "Man's Glassy Essence." In The Philosophy of Peirce: Selected Writings. J. Buchler, ed. New York: AMS Press). And, "although all inertial systems are equivalent, according to the mechanics of Galileo and Newton as well as to that of Einstein's special relativity, one can always find a privileged system defined by the fact that from within it the observer sees an isotropic expansion of the universe about him" (Cercignani 1998 Ludwig Boltzmann, The Man Who Trusted Atoms. New York: Oxford University Press. ).

'That which is so great that there is nothing outside it may be called the Great One; and that which is so small that there is nothing inside it maybe called the Small One.' 'What has no thickness and will not admit of being repeated is 1000 lî in size.' 'Heaven may be as low as the earth.' 'A mountain may be as level as a marsh.' ' The sun in the meridian may be the sun declining.' 'A creature may be born to life and may die at the same time.' '(When it is said that) things greatly alike are different from things a little alike, this is what is called making little of agreements and differences; (when it is said that) all things are entirely alike or entirely different, this is what is called making much of agreements and differences.' 'The south is unlimited and yet has a limit.' Zhuangzi Chuang Chou about the sayings of Hui Shih (4th century BC) ; Zhuangzi who dreamed that he was a butterfly and after he woke up, he wondered whether he was Zhuangzi who had just finished dreaming he was a butterfly, or a butterfly who had just started dreaming he was Zhuangzi.

Heraclit moon crater

LINKS


The world according to Heraclitus ( This cosmos was not made by gods or men, but always was, and is, and ever shall be ever-living fire.)

Heraclitus, The unity of opposites, Puzzles about Identity and Persistence, The Flux Doctrine etc

Heraclitus: The Complete Philosophical Fragments

The Fragments of Heraclitus

Heidegger's Reading of Heraclitus

Parts of Heraclitus fragments in ancient and modern Greek

Being and Becoming in Modern Physics

Heraclitus

Images

BRAMANTE, Heraclitus and Democritus 1477

Reports in Modern Greek

ΗΡΑΚΛΕΙΤΟΣ Η ΖΩΗ ΚΑΙ Η ΦΙΛΟΣΟΦΙΑ ΤΟΥ

 
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