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Lectures 10 and 11: Heraclitus

HERACLITUS of Ephesus is unquestionably the most remarkable figure among the Greek philosophical thinkers until we come to Socrates; and his supposed connexion with early Christian theology, through the medium of Stoicism and Philo the Jew, makes it incumbent upon us to consider his doctrine in some detail. We know little that is certainly authentic about his life, or about the influences that moulded his mind and character, beyond what may be inferred from the extant portions of his book. He belonged, it would seem, to an ancient and honourable family, the members of which claimed descent from the founder of Ephesus, and were entrusted with the duty of superintending the rites of Demeter in their native town.1 The senior representative of the house appears to have enjoyed the titular distinction of “king,” in all probability a religious designation, like the rex sacrorum at Rome. This title, with its accompanying privileges and duties, Heraclitus is said to have surrendered to his brother; and Diogenes mentions the fact as an illustration of the lofty disdain for which the philosopher was noted.2

Many of the fragments bear witness to the scornful antipathy Heraclitus seems to have felt for his fellow-men. Like Plato, he disliked the principle of democracy in general: “to me,” he says, “one man is ten thousand, if he be the best”;3 and he objurgates the Ephesian democracy in particular for the banishment of his friend Hermodorus. “The Ephesians ought to hang themselves, every grown lean of them, and bequeath their city to beardless boys; forasmuch as they have expelled Hermodorus, the worthiest of them all, saying, ‘Let there be none among us who is worthiest, or if such there be, let him be so elsewhere and among others.’”4 But Heraclitus' misanthropy extends beyond the circle of his fellow-countrymen. Like Bias of Priene, the only one of his predecessors to whom he is in the least polite,—Bias, he says, had more of the Logos than other men,5—Heraclitus holds that men are “mostly bad:” they stuff themselves like beasts of the field; they are fools and blind, knowing neither how to listen nor how to speak; like dogs, they bark at those they do not know; like asses, they prefer rubbish to gold.6 The religious usages of his countrymen he strongly condemns, such as the worship of images and purification through blood.7 Nor does he treat the poets and the philosophers with more consideration than the profanum vulgus. Homer and Archilochus, we read in one fragment, deserve to be scourged and cast out of the arena.8 To Hesiod, Xenophanes, and Pythagoras he allows the possession of learning, but not of knowledge.9 “Hesiod,” he says, “is most men's teacher. Men think he knew a great deal; but he knew not even day and night. They are one.”10 The wisdom of Pythagoras he declares to have been thoroughly mischievous. “Pythagoras, son of Mnesarchus, practised investigation more than any other man, and constructed a wisdom of his own,”—a private and particular wisdom, you will observe, not the universal Logos—“a mass of learning and a mass of mischief.”11 Heraclitus acknowledges no obligations to any previous thinker: he claims to have arrived at the truth by investigating himself—ϵ̓διζησάμην ϵ̓μϵωυτόν.12 We may compare the exhortation of St. Augustine: noli foras ire, in te ipsum redi; in interiore homine habitat veritas.13

The book in which the Ephesian philosopher embodied the results of his self-examination was written probably in the first decade of the fifth century before Christ.14 It was known to very few of the ancients; but it survived till at least the third century A.D., when Hippolytus, bishop of Portus Romanus, made copious extracts from it, in order to show that the heretic Noetus was a follower of Heraclitus rather than of Christ.15 If we consider the fragments for a moment without regard to their doctrinal relationship with one another, we must admit that they are almost unique in ancient literature for impressiveness and strength. Professor Diels has truly said that “he who once hears the sayings of Heraclitus never forgets them for the rest of his life.”16 The secret of their power depends partly on the thought, but also to some extent on the style. Heraclitus is one of those prophetic spirits who aspire to contemplate “all time and all existence.” As Gomperz admirably says, he is for ever building “bridges between the natural and the spiritual life,” always constructing “generalisations comprising both realms of human knowledge, as it were, with a mighty bow,”17 and, we may add, embracing past, present, and future in a single comprehensive glance. The style of the surviving fragments is not less remarkable. Asyndeton and brevity, elaborate balance of clauses, a preference for half-oracular expressions and words, antithesis, oxymoron, and paronomasia, frequent flashes of caustic irony and biting sarcasm—these are some of its principal features; but the one peculiarity which above all others lends distinction to the style of Heraclitus is his constant use of powerful and suggestive comparisons, metaphors, and images, which are none the less imposing because they are occasionally obscure.

For in spite of the verdict of Professor Diels, who declares that “the philosophy of Heraclitus the obscure is by no means so obscure as antiquity and modern times unanimously complain,”18 it must be confessed that he is only too often enigmatical and dark. Even Socrates, we are told, was baffled by the book. Euripides had lent him a copy, and desired one day to know what he thought of it. Socrates replied: “The parts I understood were splendid; and I suppose what I failed to understand was splendid too; only it would need a Delian diver to fathom it.”19 The obscurity of Heraclitus has been accounted for on various grounds. Some have thought that he deliberately tried to conceal his meaning from the ignorant multitude, whom he so heartily despised; others, that the resources of the Greek language did not as yet allow him to express his ideas in simpler and less figurative prose. A third consideration is, I think, of more importance than either of these two. For a correct appreciation of the Ephesian sage it is of primary importance to bear in mind that he always regards himself in the light of a preacher and a prophet. The tone of many of the fragments recalls his own description of the Sibyl, who “with frenzied mouth, uttering words unsmiling, unadorned, and unanointed, reaches with her voice throughout a thousand years by reason of the God.”20 This firm belief in his prophetic vocation leads him, half-consciously, perhaps, but also half-unconsciously, to clothe his conceptions in oracular and hierophantic garb. In one of the fragments he thus writes of Apollo: “The Lord, whose is the oracle at Delphi, neither utters nor yet conceals his meaning, but speaks by signs” (σημαίνϵι);21 and elsewhere he remarks that “Nature loves to hide herself.”22 By these august examples Heraclitus intends, no doubt, to justify the veil of symbolism that half conceals and half reveals the message he is charged with to mankind.

The particular kind of condemnation passed by Heraclitus on his fellow-men, philosophers and laity alike, implies that he was himself, according to his own belief, the possessor of some hitherto unsuspected truth, the half-inspired vehicle, we might almost say, of a new revelation about man and nature, a revelation, too, which mere investigation and research are powerless both to discover and to comprehend. It is said that Heraclitus in his youth professed to know nothing, but declared himself omniscient after he became a man.23 If the story is true,—and Heraclitus invariably speaks with an air of conscious and assured omniscience,—it would seem to point to a sudden intellectual discovery or illumination, analogous to those moral and religious illuminations of which Professor James, in his Varieties of Religious Experience, has collected so many curious examples. In any case, whether Heraclitus saw the truth in a sudden flash of inspiration or otherwise, he is profoundly convinced that he has seen it; and of this truth, whatever it may have been, he claims to be the prophet.

The exordium of Heraclitus' book has been preserved, and forms the natural starting-point of our discussion. The first sentence is as follows:

“Having hearkened not unto me, but to the Logos, it is wise to confess that all things are one.”24

The second is to this effect

“This Logos is always existent, but men fail to understand it both before they have heard it and when they have heard it for the first time. For although all things happen through this Logos, men seem as if they had no acquaintance with it when they make acquaintance with such works and words as I expound, dividing each thing according to its nature, and explaining how it really is. The rest of mankind”—that is, presumably, all except Heraclitus—“are unconscious of what they do when awake, just as they forget what they do when asleep.”25

What is this Logos of which Heraclitus here and elsewhere speaks? That is the first and most important question with which we have to deal. You will observe, to begin with, that Heraclitus expressly distinguishes between the Logos and himself—“having hearkened not to me, but to the Logos,” i.e. “it is not I, Heraclitus, who speak, but the Logos, in or through me: I am the mouthpiece of the Logos, and that is why I call on you to hear, not me, but it.” It has, however, been maintained by some distinguished scholars that the Logos, here and elsewhere in Heraclitus, is nothing but the philosopher's own argument, treatise, or discourse. So far as concerns the first of the fragments, this interpretation would in my opinion yield a false antithesis. There is no real opposition between an author and his work: and “listen not to me but to my ‘argument,’ ‘discourse,’ or ‘treatise,’” would therefore be a singularly weak and vapid introduction to a book. But the second fragment makes it clear, I think, that although Heraclitus professes to be going to expound the Logos, yet the Logos itself is one thing, and his exposition of it another. He asserts in the first place that the Logos “always is.” On the theory that Logos means discourse, this is supposed to mean “my discourse is always true,” “is true evermore”;26 but truth is irrespective of time, and it is not like Heraclitus to waste his words. The natural meaning of the phrase is that the Logos is eternal, without beginning and without end; and so it was understood by Cleanthes, who echoes the sentiment in his Hymn to Zeus.27 Consider in the second place the substance of Heraclitus' reproof to his fellow-men. When they “make trial of his words,” they behave as if they had no experience (ἀπϵίροισιϵ̓οίκασι) of the Logos by which all things come to pass. The writer clearly implies that his readers have already had an opportunity of learning the Logos by experience, and that is why he blames them for not understanding the Logos before they have heard of it from him. “They fail to understand it both before they have heard it and when they have heard it for the first time.” It would be absurd to make this a matter of reproach if the Logos is merely the philosopher's own discourse; and indeed the whole of the second fragment makes it plain that the Logos reveals itself in other ways as well as through the spoken word. The lesson, Heraclitus seems to say, is present in our daily life and conversation, and he who runs may read it; but men are sunk in spiritual and intellectual slumber: they “know as little of what they are doing when awake as they remember what they do in sleep.” As he elsewhere complains, “the multitude do not understand the things with which they meet, nor when they are taught, do they have knowledge of them, although they think they have.”28 They are unable, in short, to interpret their own experience; for “eyes and ears are bad witnesses to those who have barbarian souls.”29

The view that Heraclitus, when he mentions the Logos, is thinking only of his own discourse, will be found still less applicable to other two passages where the name occurs in what appears to be its technical Heraclitean sense. We read in one fragment that men “are at variance with the Logos which is their most constant companion,”30 and in another, for our purposes perhaps the most important of them all, “although the Logos is universal (του̑ λόγου δ̕ ϵ̓όντος ξυνου̑), most men live as if they had a private intelligence of their own.”31 It is clear that in the last of these passages λόγος cannot possibly mean the discourse of Heraclitus. This is so strongly felt by one of the supporters of that identification that he pronounces λόγου to be spurious, and replaces it by ϕρονϵ́ϵιν: but the text is beyond suspicion, and we shall afterwards find that the universality of the Logos is a fundamental doctrine of Heraclitus.

The positive content of the fragments we have hitherto discussed may be expressed in three propositions. The first is that the Logos is eternal—both pre-existent and everlasting, like the World-God of Xenophanes. Secondly, all things happen through the Logos—that is to say, giving to the word “all” its full significance, all things both in the material and in the spiritual world. Its authority is not confined to the sphere of human activities, but it is also a cosmic principle, “common” or “universal” (ξυνός). And, in the third place, the duty of man is to obey this universal Logos and so to place himself in harmony with the rest of nature; but most men, though in daily converse with the universal, neither see nor hear it, and behave as if they had a private intelligence, a sort of individual Logos, of their own, distinct and separate from that which rules the world. The sentiment, “We ought to follow the universal,” is certainly Heraclitean, though Heraclitus may not have used the exact words.32

Are we to suppose, then, that the Logos of Heraclitus is only a sovereign ordinance or law, which Nature invariably obeys, and which man must also follow, if he is to play his appointed part in the economy of the world? This is virtually the interpretation given by Heinze, in his instructive treatise on the Logos doctrine in Greek philosophy.33 It will be remembered, however, that in one of the passages already discussed, Heraclitus opposes the universal Logos to a sort of private intelligence: “though the Logos is universal, most men act as if they had an intelligence of their own.” From so marked an antithesis we may provisionally infer that the Heraclitean Logos is itself intelligent; and the inference is supported by two other fragments, in which the allusion to the Logos is too obvious to be mistaken. “There is but one wisdom, to understand the knowledge (γνώμην) by which all things are steered through all.”34 The Logos, we have seen, is the power through35 which all things come to pass, and consequently identical with the knowledge that steers all things; from which it follows that the Logos, γιγνώσκϵι, “knows.” The second of the two fragments is not less conclusive. “Intelligence” (τὸ ϕρονϵ́ϵιν) “is common (ξυνόν) to all things. Those who speak with understanding (ξὺν νόῳ)36 must strongly cleave to that which is common to all things, even as a city cleaves to law, and much more strongly. For all human laws are nurtured by the one divine law; for this prevails as much as it will, and suffices for all and has something over.”37 It is clear that the one divine law is identical with that which is common to all things, and that which is common to all things, as we have already seen, is the Logos. And further, it is intelligence which, according to this passage, is common to all things; so that we are bound to conclude that Heraclitus' Logos is not merely “objective reason,”38 but possesses, nay, is itself intelligence, and thinks. We shall meet with ample confirmation of this view in later writers; meantime let me add one further point. Since the “one divine law” is identical with the Logos, we may suppose that Heraclitus regarded the Logos as divine.

I have hitherto confined myself to the ipsissima verba of Heraclitus, in order, if possible, to escape the suspicion of having contaminated the Heraclitean doctrine with elements of Stoicism. The result, so far, of our inquiry is that the Logos of Heraclitus is virtually the divine reason, immanent in nature and in man. Against this view it has sometimes been urged that λόγος never in early Greek means reason; but surely there is something of a petitio principii in the objection. Might not the introduction of the usage be due to Heraclitus himself? The only way of determining whether he actually so used the word or not, is by such a comparative study of the fragments as I have attempted, and from this it appears that the Heraclitean λόγος, if not exactly synonymous with “reason,” is something whose essential nature is rationality, intelligence, or thought. It is another question by what English equivalent we should attempt to render a word so full of meaning. I am disposed to think that if we are forced to select a single term, we shall do well to follow the latest editor, Professor Diels, and speak of “The Word” rather than of “Reason.” Two advantages are gained by this translation. In the first place it suggests to an English reader the historical fact of the continuity of the Logos-doctrine throughout its whole history on Grecian soil from Heraclitus down to Philo, St. John, and Justin Martyr. And, in the second place, I think that the translation “Word” does in point of fact bring out at least one important feature in Heraclitus' representation of the Logos. He seems to conceive of it as the rational principle, power, or being which speaks to men both from without and from within—he universal Word which for those who have ears to hear is audible both in nature and in their own hearts,39 the voice, in short, of the divine. “Hearken not unto me but to the Logos, and confess that all things are one.” There is nothing impossible in such a use of the term λόγος so early as Heraclitus: for thought had already been represented by Homer as the language of the soul.40 But whatever may be the most appropriate rendering of the word in English, the extant fragments of Heraclitus make it clear, I think, that his Logos is a unity, omnipresent, rational, and divine. “From the visible light,” says Clement, “we may perchance escape; but not from the intelligible: or, in the words of Heraclitus, ‘how can one escape from that which never sets?’” (τὸ μὴ δυ̑νόν ποτϵ πω̑ς ἄν τις λάθοι;).41

We have next to consider the question whether the Logos of Heraclitus is a purely spiritual essence, or a material substance endowed with the property of thought. The fragments hitherto examined are consistent, so far as they go, with the incorporeality of the Logos; but from other fragments it is clear that in Heraclitus' philosophy the spiritual is not yet separated from the material. He is still a hylozoist in the fullest sense, although he leaves the Milesian thinkers far behind when he invests the primal substance not merely with life, but with rationality or thought. The particular kind of matter forming as it were the body of the Logos, Heraclitus believes to be Fire. It is easy to establish the identification by comparing some of the fragments in which he treats of Fire with others that describe the Logos. Fire, he tells us, is “ever-living,” “always was, is, and shall be”: and the “thunderbolt”—a semi-oracular word for fire, afterwards borrowed by Cleanthes42—steers (οἰακίζϵι) all things.43 Just so we have found that the Logos is eternal, and “pilots all things through all.” The word οἰακίζϵι, “steers,” suggests an intelligent helmsman, as we have seen that Logos is; and the connexion of intelligence with the dry warm element of fire is attested by the most familiar of all the Heraclitean fragments, “the dry soul is wisest and best.”44 “It is a joy,” he says, “for souls to become wet,”45 plainly implying that it is better to be dry: “a man, when he gets drunk, is led by a beardless boy, stumbling, understanding not the way he goes, because his soul is wet.”46 These observations of Heraclitus are in favour of attributing intelligence to his world-forming Fire; and later authorities unanimously take this view. I will ask your attention more especially to a very remarkable passage in Sextus, where the rationality of the “surrounding element”47 is declared to have been a dogma of Heraclitus, and the identity of the Logos with this element is clearly shown.

“It is the opinion of the philosopher that what surrounds us is rational and possessed of intelligence (ϕρϵνη̑ρϵς).… According to Heraclitus, when by means of respiration we draw in this divine reason (θϵι̑ον λόγον), our mind begins to act (νοϵροὶ γινόμϵθα). In sleep we are sunk in forgetfulness, but intelligence returns when we awake. For during sleep, when the sensory avenues are closed, the mind within us is separated from its connexion with the surrounding element, except that the union by means of respiration is preserved as a sort of root; and the mind when it has thus been separated loses the power of memory which it previously had. But when we are awake, the mind peeps out again through the avenues of sense, as if through windows, and coming into contact with the surrounding element, puts on the power of reason (λογικὴν ϵ̓νδύϵται δύναμιν).48 Accordingly, just as embers change and become red-hot, when placed near the fire, but when separated therefrom, are extinguished, so in like manner the portion of the surrounding element which is quartered in our body, becomes all but irrational when it is separated, while on the other band it is rendered homogeneous with the whole by being connected therewith through the majority of avenues.”49

It does not appear that Sextus was himself acquainted with the work of Heraclitus; and here he is following the account given by Aenesidemus the Sceptic, who flourished about the Christian era. Some of the ideas contained in the extract are certainly later than Heraclitus; but the simile of the glowing embers has an unmistakeably Heraclitean ring; and the simile is meaningless, if we refuse to allow that the surrounding element is rational. The fire we breathe must be permanently maintained at a level of active thought sufficient to kindle our smouldering reason into a flame; and thus it can only be the “universal Logos,” the “one divine law” which suffices for all and has something over.”50

We conclude, therefore, that the Logos, regarded on its material or corporeal side, is Fire, and that Fire, regarded on its spiritual or intellectual side, is the Logos.51 Bearing in mind the identity or interchangeability of these two conceptions, let us now attempt to determine the relationship between the Logos and the Godhead.

The following are the most important of Heraclitus' theological fragments:

“There is but one wisdom. It wills and yet wills not to be called by the name of Zeus.”52

“This world-order, the same in all things, no one of Gods or men has made; but it always was, is, and shall be everliving fire, kindled in due measure and extinguished in due measure.”53

“God is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, satiety and hunger. But he is changed, just as fire, when mingled with different kinds of incense, is named after the flavour of each.”54

To these fragments should be added the remarks of a scholiast on a line of the Iliad, where the Gods are said to pledge one another in golden goblets as they gaze upon Troy.55

“Men say it is unseemly that the sight of wars should please the Gods. But it is not unseemly; for noble deeds give pleasure. Besides, wars and battles appear terrible to us, but to God even these are not terrible. For God accomplishes all things with a view to the harmony of the whole, dispensing what is expedient there-unto, even as Heraclitus says that to God all things are beautiful and good and right, but men consider some things wrong and others right.”56

From these four passages, some of which have given rise to a vast amount of controversy, we seem to be justified in drawing at least three conclusions. The first is, that God is one; the second, that he is identical with what from one point of view is the Logos, and from another, Fire; and the third conclusion is that God is the unity in which all opposites are reconciled.

That God is one, and identical with the Logos, may be inferred from the first of the fragments I have quoted. The “one Wisdom” manifestly is the Logos, the “thought by which all things are steered through all”; it wills to be called Zeus, because it is the true objective reality which men ignorantly worship under that name; on the other hand, it rejects the title for the reasons that prompted Heraclitus to fall foul of Homer.57 The Logos has none of the anthropomorphic attributes belonging to the Homeric Zeus. At the same time, Heraclitus does not refrain from the use of polytheistic language;58 and since he regards the One as necessarily also many, it will afterwards be shown that his very conception of the divine Unity involves a species of polytheism.

Clement of Alexandria affirms that “Heraclitus the Ephesian believed Fire to be God.”59 Fire, as we have seen, is just the Logos conceived as something material; so that the statement is doubtless true. To M. Bovet, indeed, the deification of Fire seems to be only a metaphor;60 but historians of philosophy for the most part take it seriously. It is therefore incumbent upon us to consider for a little the part which is played in Heracliteanism by the concept of Fire. In the second of the fragments cited above, Heraclitus identifies the Cosmos with this element. “This Cosmos…always was, is, and shall be ever-living Fire, kindled in due measure and extinguished in due measure.” Taken strictly, of course, these words involve a contradiction. When Fire is extinguished, it must cease to be; and if it ceases to be, we cannot justly say that it always is. But in saying that Fire is extinguished, Heraclitus means only that it passes into something else; and we must suppose that the other substances into which Fire passes were declared by Heraclitus to be themselves particular forms or manifestations of that element. In other words, Heraclitus maintained that all things are Fire because Fire is transformed into all things.61 Fire, according to Heraclitus, is the ever-changing substance to which alone reality belongs. The path of change he calls the “way up and down.”62 Fire sinks through water into earth; and earth rises again through water into Fire.63 “It is death to souls to become water; it is death to water to become earth; yet from earth is water born, and from water, soul.”64 In this way the different substances—fire, water, and earth; for Heraclitus seems not to recognise a distinctive element of air65—are always consuming and being consumed by one another. What a modern physicist asserts to be the most important lesson taught by the discovery of radium, namely, the “mutability of matter” and the “transmutation of elements,”66 is a fundamental principle of Heracliteanism. The theory of immutable elements was for the first time formulated by Empedocles; in Heraclitus, on the other hand, the elementary substances are for ever passing into each other, and upon their perpetual interchange depends the life of the Universe. Rest is only a name for death; like a mixture or posset, we are told, the world would decompose if it were not continually stirred.67 We must not, however, imagine that there is any tumult in this ever-oscillating sea. It is all order or cosmos: the elementary Fire is kindled and extinguished in due measure. The observation of Heraclitus about the Sun may be applied to all the warring elements; “the Sun will not exceed his measures; or if he does, the Erinyes, who are the ministers of Justice, will find him out.”68

The all but unanimous testimony of the ancients from Aristotle onwards attributes to Heraclitus the doctrine of a final conflagration, in which the element of Fire exercises at certain periodic intervals a sole and universal sway, only to pass once more upon the downward path and forge another link in the endless chain of worlds. We are told that Heraclitus went so far as to define the precise duration of the Great Year at the end of which all things return again to Fire, although our authorities differ as to the figures, some giving 18,000 and some 10,800 years.69 How much truth there is in these assertions, or whether there is any truth at all, is a keenly debated question. It must, I think, be allowed that most of the Heraclitean fragments which have been thought to refer to a periodic conflagration, regarded simply by themselves and apart from what the ancients said about them, are ambiguous and inconclusive. By the kindling and extinction of the ever-living Fire,70 Heraclitus probably meant the circulation of the elements in the existing world; and the same may be said of the sentence, “For Fire all things are exchanged, and Fire for all things; even as wares are exchanged for gold and gold for wares.”71 A third fragment states that “the sea is poured out and measured by the same tale—ϵ̓ς τὸν αὐτὸν λόγον—as before it became earth”;72 that is to say, according to Zeller's interpretation,73 when the time is approaching for the earth to return into Fire, there is an intermediate stage at which it is resolved into precisely the same amount of water as it came from when the world began. If this explanation is correct, the matter is decided once for all; but here again the reference may be to the passage of earth into water74 in the ordinary course of nature. Another interpretation of the fragment is, however, possible. Perhaps Heraclitus meant to say that “the sea is poured out and measured into the same Logos” (i.e. the same Fire), “which it was before being created.”75 According to this view, which appears to me very plausible, the philosopher is almost certainly alluding to the end of the world. A fourth passage—“upon all things Fire shall come and judge and seize them”76—is supposed by Gomperz77 to be decisive; and the future tense certainly appears to refer to a catastrophe still to come. We are further told by Hippolytus that the words χρησμοσύνη and κόρος, “craving” and “satiety,” were applied by Heraclitus, the one to the formation of the world, and the other to its dissolution in Fire.78 It is also, I think, probable that the words “satiety” and “hunger” bear the same meaning in the theological fragment already quoted.79 Nor are there wanting analogies in the rest of Heraclitus' doctrine to the notion of worlds succeeding one another through eternity. He maintains that a new sun is created every morning.80 This is not a mere symbolical expression: he means that yesterday's sun is extinguished at night, and a new sun lighted to-day. Why then should not that which happens in the case of the sun take place in the history of the world itself? It seems to me quite possible that the imagination of Heraclitus soared to a height from which the entire universe, as we see it now, may have appeared to him only a speck upon the eternal ocean of change, just as every particle which it contains is always passing into something else. The world-creating spirit, he says, is but a child at play: αἰὼν παι̑ς ϵ̓στι παίζων πϵσσϵύων· παιδὸς ἡ βασιληίη.81 In spite of the wordπϵσσϵύων, it is difficult not to believe that Heraclitus, when he wrote this sentence, was thinking of Homer's delightful picture of the child building and pulling down sand castles on the shore.82 Just so, perhaps, the Eternal Spirit makes and unmakes the world.

It is clear, I think, that some of these passages are difficult to explain unless on the hypothesis that Heraclitus, like the Stoics, believed in the periodic dissolution of the world by Fire. When he declares the present cosmos to be uncreated, and therefore by implication eternal, we should understand what be says in the light of his identification of the cosmos with the “ever-living Fire”;83 so that the world, notwithstanding the ekpyrosis, remains eternal; for if it is Fire now, it will certainly be not less Fire when the ekpyrosis has arrived. But the main reason for ascribing this doctrine to Heraclitus is that nearly all our ancient authorities do so, in particular the Stoics, who are not in the least likely to have invented the doctrine for themselves, and can hardly have derived it from any other source but Heraclitus. It has been argued that the periodical triumph of Fire is incompatible with the statement that Fire is “kindled and extinguished in due measure.” In such a case Fire clearly takes more than his share, and we should expect the ministers of Justice to “find him out.” But, according to Heraclitus, encroachments of the elements on one another are always possible, provided that, as Professor Burnet says, “an encroachment in one direction is compensated by a subsequent encroachment in the other.”84 And if this is so, why should not Fire periodically prevail altogether, so long as its undivided rule is preceded or followed by the sole dominion of one of the other elements? A theory of this sort was apparently held by those Stoics who asserted that the world is destroyed at certain intervals by water as well as by fire;85 and Heraclitus may have looked on the universal conflagration itself as a compensatory encroachment on the part of Fire for the previous encroachment on the part of water, which, according to the “way up and down,” must necessarily precede the universal conflagration.86

If we accept this view, the Godhead in Heraclitus is the creative Power or Substance which at definite intervals evolves itself into a world, and in course of time absorbs all things again. So long as the world endures, the ceaseless rotation of the elements is always reproducing in detail throughout the whole domain of nature identically the process by which the world as a whole is created and destroyed. The universe itself, as well as each individual part of it, must traverse the “upward and downward road.” But the upward and downward road, Heraclitus insists, is one and the same (ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω μία καὶ ὡυτή);87 and we have finally to consider the Godhead as the ultimate harmony transcending this and every other opposition.

To Heraclitus, the world is one gigantic battle-field of adverse powers for ever waging internecine feud. “Thou shouldest know,” he says, “that war is universal”; “everything happens through strife”; “war is the father of all and the king of all.”88 Homer is to be censured for praying that Strife might perish from among Gods and men; for without it the universe would pass away.89 The doctrine of flux—πάντα ῥϵι̑—is only another way of expressing this universal warfare. Nowhere is there anything that abides: the world is one vast sea of never-ending motion. “The Sun is new every day.”90 “Into the same river you cannot step twice.”91 The influence of this doctrine may be traced in most of the great thinkers of antiquity after Heraclitus; and to the popular imagination it appealed much more than any other part of his philosophy. It is the earliest philosophical doctrine which had the honour to be parodied upon the comic stage.92 In Heraclitus himself, however, the last word is not multiplicity or discord, but unity and harmony. A noteworthy passage of Philo represents the unity of opposites as the corner-stone of Heracliteanism. “That which is made up of both the opposites is one, and when this one is dissected the opposites are brought to light. Is not this what the Greeks say their great and celebrated Heraclitus put in the front of his philosophy as its sum and substance, and boasted of as a new discovery.”93 Opposites, says Professor Burnet, are in Heraclitus nothing but “the two faces of the fire which is the thought that rules the world.”94 This, then, would seem to be the revelation of which Heraclitus considered himself the prophet; and he virtually announces it in the opening sentence of his book—“having hearkened not to me, but to the Logos, it is wise to confess that all things are one.” “The hidden harmony,” he says, “is better than the visible.”95 Men do not perceive this harmony, and hence they go astray. “They do not understand how that which is discordant is concordant with itself: as with the bow and the lyre, so with the world; it is the tension of opposing forces that makes the structure one.”96 “Opposition,” we are told, “is cooperation” (τὸ ἀντίξουν συμϕϵ́ρϵι): “the fairest harmony results from differences”: “were there no higher and lower notes in music, there could be no harmony at all.”97 The interchange of opposites with one another is itself a proof that they are only different manifestations of the same thing.98 The gist of the whole matter is contained in the sentence: “Join together that which is whole and that which is not whole, that which agrees and that which disagrees, the concordant and the discordant: from all comes one and from one comes all (ϵ̓κ πάντωνἔν καὶ ϵ̓ξ ϵ̔νὸς πάντα).99 Now what is this One which is at the same time many? What is this Harmony which comprehends all opposites? Heraclitus himself gives the answer clearly in two of the fragments already quoted. “It is God who is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, satiety and hunger.”100 “To God all things are beautiful and good and right; but men consider some things wrong, and others right.”101 In his Intellectual System of the Universe, Cudworth speaks of God as “reconciling all the Variety and Contrariety of things in the Universe into One most Admirable and Lovely Harmony.”102 This is precisely what is involved in Heraclitus' view of the Godhead.

To sum up. In Heraclitus the three conceptions, Logos, Fire, and God, are fundamentally the same. Regarded as the Logos, God is the omnipresent Wisdom by which all things are steered; regarded in his physical or material aspect, that is to say, as Fire, he is the substance which creates, sustains, and in the end perhaps reabsorbs into himself the world; and in both of these aspects at once, he is the ever-changing and yet for ever changeless unity in which all multiplicity inheres. (ϵ̓κ πάντωνἔν καὶ ϵ̓ξ ϵ̔νὸς πάντα—“the One is All and the All is one.”

It is usual to call Heraclitus a pantheist; and so, no doubt, he was. But pantheism is a notoriously elastic word; and the pantheism of Heraclitus is altogether different from that of Xenophanes. The World-God of Xenophanes we saw to have been a wholly unmoved and undifferentiated One. To Heraclitus, on the other hand, multiplicity and motion are essential to the very idea of the Unity which he identifies with God. The consequence is that his pantheism is everywhere full of life and animation; it is, in fact, a kind of panzoism. He is said to have declared that “all things are full of souls and spirits” (δαίονϵς).103 In the theology of Heraclitus it would seem as if the divinity that belongs to the eternal being is distributed among the kaleidoscopic succession of ever-fleeting forms in which that being reveals itself to our senses. Ancient Greek pantheism frequently contrived to make room for the Gods of the popular religion by regarding them as different aspects of the World-God; but the multiplicity in unity, which is the most characteristic feature of Heracliteanism, seems not only to sanction, but to necessitate a plurality of potencies, each of which is only a passing form of the eternal One. Some such doctrine is apparently contained in the obscure and much debated sentence: God is…changed, just as fire, when mingled with different kinds of incense, is named according to the flavour of each.”104 It was a favourite theory of the Stoics that numina sunt nomina: God is called by various names according to the different kinds of matter through which he passes. The fragment just quoted makes it probable that here, as elsewhere, Stoicism was indebted to Heraclitus.

So much, then, for the doctrine of the Logos as it appears in the philosophy of its founder. It remains to consider the ethical and eschatological ideas to which Heraclitus gives expression in the surviving fragments of his book. The theoretical basis of Heraclitean ethics is the doctrine that man's soul is naturally one with the universal Logos. The Logos, we have seen, is the divine Fire; and in the human soul, to quote the words of Zeller, “the divine Fire has preserved itself in its purer form.… The purer this Fire, the more perfect the soul.”105 Sextus Empiricus, in the passage already quoted,106 brings out very clearly the connexion between the human and the divine reason; and it is still more definitely affirmed in a remarkable couplet attributed to Epicharmus, though in reality dating from the end of the fifth century B.C. “Man has reason, and so too has God; but man's reason is derived from the divine.”107 The famous saying of Heraclitus, ἠ̑θος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων, often supposed to mean “man's character is his fate,” is probably an assertion of the divinity of the soul;108 and that which makes the soul divine is just its unity with the Logos. In action, therefore, as well as in thought and word, our aim should be to recognise and fulfil this unity. Most men ignore it altogether, and follow an imaginary wisdom of their own. 109 In a word, our duty is to follow the universal: δϵι̑ ἔπϵσθαι τῳ̑ ξυνῳ̑.110

It is possible, perhaps, to form a rough idea of the way in which Heraclitus may have applied this principle in detail. We have frequently seen that the administration of the Logos throughout the world is always according to measure or law. The ever-living Fire is kindled and extinguished in due measure; and the Sun may not exceed his measures. The same principle, Heraclitus holds, should rule among mankind both in private and in public life. “Hybris”—that is, the violation of measure,—“must be extinguished more than a conflagration.”111 Human laws are nourished by the law divine; and hence “the people should fight for the law as for a tower.” 112 But the Logos does not merely set the example of moderation and law-abidingness: it is also in itself a harmony, and what is more, a harmony that results from discord. From this point of view, we may perhaps be said to “follow the universal” when we recognise that pain and evil are the necessary and inseparable concomitants of good in human life: a state of mind productive of patience and resignation. “It is not good for men to get all that they desire. Sickness makes health pleasant and good, hunger satiety, weariness rest.”113 Heraclitus would have agreed with the words of Browning—

“Type needs antitype:

As night needs day, as shine needs shade, so good

Needs evil: how were pity understood

Unless by pain?”114

We are to remember that from the highest standpoint there is nothing but order and beauty. “To God all things are beautiful and good and right ”: “God accomplishes all things with a view to the harmony of the whole.” I have already pointed out bow this profoundly religious sentiment is illustrated by the drama of Sophocles; but the highest expression of it in Greek literature is the Hymn to Zeus which Cleanthes composed under the immediate inspiration of Heraclitus' book.

“Nay, but thou knowest to make crooked straight;

Chaos to thee is order: in thine eyes

The unloved is lovely, who didst harmonise

Things evil with things good, that there should be

One Word through all things everlastingly.”115

Nothing could be more characteristically Heraclitean than these lines. But perhaps the chief significance of Heraclitus' exhortation to “follow the universal” lies in the protest which it makes against individualism of every kind. In the words of Alois Patin, “there is no such thing as a permanent ego in Heraclitus. The human soul, as a portion of the one rational life, without any independent existence of its own, is exposed to the universal process of change. And thus it appears as if Heraclitus, with his characteristic tendency to express a variety of meanings by a single word, desired to indicate the irreconcilable antagonism between himself and all other teachers, the entire idiosyncrasy of his doctrine, in other words, his denial of the ego, by the very words with which he begins his book: ‘Listen not unto me, but to the Logos: οὐκ ϵ̓μϵυ̑, ἀλλὰ του̑ λόγου.’”116

The eschatological fragments of Heraclitus are, if anything, more obscure than the others, and have been interpreted in an infinite variety of ways.117 “Like a light in the night-season,” Heraclitus says, “man is kindled and extinguished.”118 Several of the fragments seem, nevertheless, to imply that the soul still exists after death; and of these the majority have a prima facie connexion with Orphism. “The living and the dead, the waking and the sleeping, the young and the old are the same; for the latter when they have changed are the former, and the former when they have changed are the latter.”119 This is the view which Plato afterwards developed in his so-called cyclical proof of immortality;120 and one of the analogies on which Plato relies, that of sleeping and waking, is apparently suggested by Heraclitus. The theory that the living are born from the dead Plato describes as an old-world story (παλαιὸς λόγος),121 a phrase by which he sometimes refers to the Orphic doctrines; nor is there any doubt that the theory is Orphic.122 The curious statement about souls retaining the sense of smell in Hades123 probably comes from the same source. According to Plato, some pleasures are “pure,” and others “impure.” Most of the bodily pleasures, he maintains, are impure, but the pleasures of smell belong to the other class. Now we have seen that “purity” and “impurity” are characteristically Orphic ideas; and I have elsewhere conjectured124 that Plato's whole theory of pure and impure pleasures is suggested by the Orphic belief that whatever is contaminated by the body is impure. If this is so, the reason why “souls smell in Hades” is because they are no longer imprisoned in the body. Pure souls may be expected to enjoy pure pleasures. Another fragment seems to connect the final conflagration with the Orphic doctrine of a judgment hereafter.125 In the enigmatical saying, “immortal mortals, mortal immortals, living the immortals' death, and dying the immortals' life,”126 we may recognise, perhaps, the familiar conception of the body as the sepulchre of the soul. Some of the ancients, at least, understood the fragment in this sense; for it is thus paraphrased by Sextus: “Both living and dying are present in our life and in our death; for when we live, our souls are dead and buried in us, and when we die, our souls revive and live.”127 There remains the prediction that certain of those who have died will arise again to be “guardians of the quick and the dead.”128 Hippolytus, more suo, sees in this an obvious reference to the doctrine of a bodily resurrection; but Heraclitus is no doubt thinking of the departed spirits of the golden age who are said by Hesiod to keep watch over mortal men. According to Professor Diels, however, there is also an allusion to the ritual of the Orphic mysteries.129

If these fragments express what Heraclitus himself believed, and not rather certain views which he is combating,130 we must allow, I think, that his eschatological beliefs can hardly be reconciled with the rest of his philosophy. To the recurrent cycle of life and death a certain analogy might possibly be found in the life-history of the world, alternating between the evolution of things from fire and their resolution into fire again. But for the doctrine of individual immortality there is no room in Heraclitus, seeing that he virtually denies the persistence of the individual even during life. Nor do we find any other indications throughout the fragments of sympathy with Orphism. On the contrary, Heraclitus speaks with contempt of “night-roamers, magians, bacchanals, wine-vat priestesses and initiates,” and declares that “men are sacrilegiously initiated into the mysteries that prevail among them.”131 But in any case, whether Heraclitus believed in immortality or not, his importance in the history of religion depends entirely on his doctrine of the Logos. In Heraclitus the Logos, as we have seen, is God, and identical with the ever-living Fire which is the world. By the Stoics the Heraclitean concept of Logos was further elaborated, but the elements of pantheism and materialism still remained. From the Stoics the doctrine passed to Philo, who under Platonic influence clearly separates the Logos from the supreme God, letting pantheism give place to theism. At the same time the Logos is frequently personified and described in terms which, as Mr. Purves remarks, “often bear striking resemblance to New Testament descriptions of Christ.”132 To quote a few among many such characterisations, the Logos, in Philo, is the Divine Word, the first-born son of God, the image of God, God's vicegerent in the world, his prophet and interpreter, the high-priest who intercedes with God for the whole world, the intermediary between God and man, himself partaking at once of the nature of both.133 Then came the great and decisive step, for which the teaching of post-Aristotelian philosophy in Greece had itself prepared the way, by its ever-increasing disposition to personify the ethical ideal. The link between Greek philosophy and Christian thought was once for all established by the author of the Fourth Gospel when he proclaimed that the Logos had become incarnate in Jesus Christ. ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ϵ̓γϵ́νϵτο καὶ ϵ̓σκήνωσϵν ϵ̓ν ἡμι̑ν: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”134 In his lectures on Christian mysticism, Mr. Inge, on the strength of a passage of Amelius quoted in Eusebius,135 hazards the suggestion that “the apostle, writing at Ephesus,” deliberately refers in his prologue to the “lofty doctrine of the great Ephesian idealist.”136 We can hardly make sure of this; but at all events it is Heraclitus' doctrine of the Logos which made him be counted among the “Christians before Christ.” “They who have lived in company with Logos (μϵτὰ λόγου)” says Justin Martyr, “are Christians, even if they were accounted atheists. And such, among the Greeks, were Socrates and Heraclitus.”137

  • 1.

    Diog Laert. ix. 6, compared with Strabo xiv. 1. 3.

  • 2.

    ix. 6.

  • 3.

    fr. 113. Bywater.

  • 4.

    fr. 114.

  • 5.

    fr. 112.

  • 6.

    fr. 111, 6, 115, 51.

  • 7.

    fr. 126, 130.

  • 8.

    fr. 119.

  • 9.

    fr. 16.

  • 10.

    fr. 35.

  • 11.

    fr. 17; cf. 16.

  • 12.

    fr. 80.

  • 13.

    de vera relig. xxxix. 72.

  • 14.

    Diels, Herakl. Von Ephesos p. vii.

  • 15.

    See Bernays, Ges. Abhand. i. p. 74 ff.

  • 16.

    Herakl. p. vii.

  • 17.

    Greek Thinkers i. p. 63.

  • 18.

    l.c. p. iii.

  • 19.

    Diog. Laert. ii. 22.

  • 20.

    fr. 12.

  • 21.

    fr. 11.

  • 22.

    fr. 10.

  • 23.

    Diog. Laert. ix. 5.

  • 24.

    fr. 1. λόγον is Bernays' universally accepted emendation for δόγματος, a post-Heraclitean word. I agree with Bywater in placing this fragment first, for the reasons given by Patin, Heraklits Einheitslehre p.64 ff.

  • 25.

    fr. 2.

  • 26.

    See Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy p. 133 n. 13.

  • 27.

    ὥσθ̕ ἔνα γίγνϵσθαι πάντων λόγον αἰϵ̀ν ϵ̓όντα, V. 21.

  • 28.

    fr. 5 (reading οἱ πολλοί).

  • 29.

    fr. 4.

  • 30.

    fr. 93 (reading ὁμιλϵ́ουσι λόγῳ,with Diels, Herakl. fr. 72, p. 18).

  • 31.

    fr. 92.

  • 32.

    δϵι̑ ἔπϵσθαι τῳ̑ ξυνἔ. cf. fr. 92. Patin, l.c. p. 83, is disposed to assign the actual words to Heraclitus. Cf. fr. 91, 93.

  • 33.

    Die Lehre vom Logos (1872) p. 28 ff.

  • 34.

    fr. 19.

  • 35.

    κατά, fr. 2. Cf. κατ̕ ἔριν, fr. 62. ῎Ερις, in Heraclitus, is certainly an active force.

  • 36.

    The paronomasia ξὺν νόῳ, ξυνῳ̑ itself suggests that rationality is “the common.”

  • 37.

    fr. 91.

  • 38.

    The phrase of Heinze, l.c. p. 28.

  • 39.

    Cf. Schuster, Heraklit von Ephesus p. 19 ff.

  • 40.

    1l. 11. 407, ἀλλὰ τίη μοι ταυ̑τα ϕίλος διϵλϵ́ξατο θυμός;

  • 41.

    See Her. fr. 27, with Bywater's note.

  • 42.

    Hymn v. 10.

  • 43.

    fr. 20, 28.

  • 44.

    fr. 74.

  • 45.

    fr. 72.

  • 46.

    fr. 73.

  • 47.

    i.e. (according to Heraclitus) fire.

  • 48.

    i.e. mind becomes active. With δύναμιν, cf. Pl. Rep. vi. 508 E.

  • 49.

    Sextus Emp. Vii. 127 ff. It is worth while to contrast with this passage the fragment of Pindar discussed on p. 131.

  • 50.

    fr. 91.

  • 51.

    Cf. Heinze, l.c. p. 24, “er ist materiell gefasst das Feuer, und das Feuer vergeistigt ist der Logos.”

  • 52.

    fr. 65.

  • 53.

    fr. 20.

  • 54.

    fr. 36, reading ὅκωσπϵρ<πυ̑ρ> with Diels, Herakl. p. 16.

  • 55.

    Il. 4. 4.

  • 56.

    fr. 61.

  • 57.

    fr. 119.

  • 58.

    fr. 20, 44, 102, 126; cf. 11.

  • 59.

    Protreptica p. 55 Potter.

  • 60.

    Le Dieu de Platon p. 102.

  • 61.

    fr. 22.

  • 62.

    fr. 69.

  • 63.

    For details, consult Burnet, l.c. p. 153 ff.

  • 64.

    fr. 68. Soul is here a synonym for Fire; cf. Zeller, l.c. p. 676.

  • 65.

    The mention of air in fr. 25 is probably a Stoic falsification; see Diels, l.c. p. 18 n.

  • 66.

    Sir Oliver Lodge in a lecture on Radium and its meaning, reported in the Times, 6th January 1904.

  • 67.

    fr. 84.

  • 68.

    fr. 29.

  • 69.

    Diels, Dox. p. 364b 5 ff.; Cens. de die nat. 18. 11.

  • 70.

    fr. 20.

  • 71.

    fr. 22.

  • 72.

    fr. 23.

  • 73.

    l.c. p. 690 n. 1.

  • 74.

    Heraclitus uses “sea” for “water”; cf. fr. 21.

  • 75.

    Omitting γη̑ (with Eusebius).This is Heinze's explanation (l.c. p. 25 f.).

  • 76.

    fr. 26.

  • 77.

    Greek Thinkers i. p. 536.

  • 78.

    fr. 24, with Bywater's note.

  • 79.

    See p. 225.

  • 80.

    fr. 32.

  • 81.

    fr. 79.

  • 82.

    Il. 15. 362 ff. So also Bernays, Ges. Abh. i. p. 58.

  • 83.

    fr. 20.

  • 84.

    l.c. p. 162. Professor Burnet himself argues strongly against ascribing the ekpyrosis doctrine to Heraclitus.

  • 85.

    See Pearson on Cleanthes, fr. 24.

  • 86.

    cf. fr. 23, p. 228, above.

  • 87.

    fr. 69.

  • 88.

    fr. 62, 46, 44.

  • 89.

    fr. 43, and Bywater ad loc.

  • 90.

    fr. 32.

  • 91.

    ap. Pl. Crat. 402 A.

  • 92.

    Epicharmus, fr. 170. 12-18 Kaibel. See the extremely interesting discussion in Bernays, Ges. Abh. i. p. 109 ff.

  • 93.

    Quis rer. div. haer. 43 (quoted by Bywater on fr. 2).

  • 94.

    l.c. p. 145.

  • 95.

    fr. 47.

  • 96.

    fr. 45 ( reading παλίντονος ); cf. 56.

  • 97.

    fr. 46, 43.

  • 98.

    fr. 78, p. 237, below.

  • 99.

    fr. 59.

  • 100.

    On the meaning of κόρος and λιμός see above, p. 229.

  • 101.

    fr. 61.

  • 102.

    p. 207.

  • 103.

    Diog. Laert. ix. 7; cf. p. 185, above.

  • 104.

    fr. 36, p. 225, above.

  • 105.

    l.c p. 704 f.

  • 106.

    See p. 223.

  • 107.

    Diels i. p. 98, § 57. This is perhaps the oldest reference in reek literature to Heraclitus' doctrine of the Logos.

  • 108.

    fr. 121. For ἠ̑θος cf. fr. 96, and for δαίμων,fr. 97. Plutarch understood the words in this sense; see Bywater ad loc.

  • 109.

    fr. 92.

  • 110.

    See p. 219. Cf. the Pythagorean precept “follow God.”

  • 111.

    fr. 103.

  • 112.

    fr. 100.

  • 113.

    fr. 104.

  • 114.

    Francis Furini.

  • 115.

    v. 18 ff.

  • 116.

    l.c. p. 100.

  • 117.

    Some of the different interpretations are enumerated by Schäfer, Die Phil. d. Heraklit von Ephesus, etc. (1902) p. 109 ff.

  • 118.

    fr. 77.

  • 119.

    fr. 78.

  • 120.

    Phaed. 71 C ff.

  • 121.

    Phaed. 70 C.

  • 122.

    See p. 106.

  • 123.

    fr. 38.

  • 124.

    Plato, Rep. ix. 584 B n.

  • 125.

    fr. 26; cf. perhaps 118, 122.

  • 126.

    fr. 67.

  • 127.

    Pyrrh. iii. 230. Cf. fr. 77 Diels.

  • 128.

    fr. 123.

  • 129.

    Herakl. p. 16 n.

  • 130.

    Cf. Patin, l.c. p. 13 ff.

  • 131.

    fr. 124, 125. Cf. The Wisdom of Solomon 12. 4; 14. 23.

  • 132.

    Dict. of the Bible, art. “Logos,” p. 135a.

  • 133.

    Heinze, l.c. pp. 204-297.

  • 134.

    St. John i. 14.

  • 135.

    Praep. Ev. xi. 19.

  • 136.

    p. 47 n. Cf. Norden, Antike Kunstprosa ii. p. 473.

  • 137.

    Apol. i. 46.