Heraclitus of Ephesus (/ˌhɛrəˈklaɪtəs/; Greek: Ἡράκλειτος ὁ Ἐφέσιος, Hērákleitos ho Ephésios; c. 535 – c. 475 BC) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher… Heraclitus was famous for his insistence on ever-present change as being the fundamental essence of the universe, as stated in the famous saying, “No man ever steps in the same river twice” (see panta rhei, below). This position was complemented by his stark commitment to a unity of opposites in the world, stating that “the path up and down are one and the same”. Through these doctrines Heraclitus characterized all existing entities by pairs of contrary properties, whereby no entity may ever occupy a single state at a single time. This, along with his cryptic utterance that “all entities come to be in accordance with this Logos” (literally, “word”, “reason”, or “account”) has been the subject of numerous interpretations.
Diogenes states that Heraclitus’ work was “a continuous treatise On Nature, but was divided into three discourses, one on the universe, another on politics, and a third on theology.” Theophrastus says (in Diogenes) “…some parts of his work [are] half-finished, while other parts [made] a strange medley.”
Diogenes also tells us that Heraclitus deposited his book as a dedication in the great temple of Artemis, the Artemisium, one of the largest temples of the 6th century BC and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Ancient temples were regularly used for storing treasures, and were open to private individuals under exceptional circumstances; furthermore, many subsequent philosophers in this period refer to the work. Says Kahn: “Down to the time of Plutarch and Clement, if not later, the little book of Heraclitus was available in its original form to any reader who chose to seek it out.” Diogenes says: “the book acquired such fame that it produced partisans of his philosophy who were called Heracliteans.”
As with other pre-Socratics, his writings survive now only in fragments quoted by other authors.
Fragments of Heraclitus
The following are the fragments that we have from Heraclitus. This is taken from Heraclitus of Ephesus, 5th century BCE, translated by G.W.T. Patrick, 1889.
1 It is wise for those who hear, not me, but the universal Reason, to confess that all things are one.
2 To this universal Reason which I unfold, although it always exists, men make themselves insensible, both before they have heard it and when they have heard it for the first time. For notwithstanding that all things happen according to this Reason, men act as though they had never had any experience in regard to it when they attempt such words and works as I am now relating, describing each thing according to its nature and explaining how it is ordered. And some men are as ignorant of what they do when awake as they are forgetful of what they do when asleep.
3 Those who hear and do not understand are like the deaf. Of them the proverb says: “Present, they are absent.”
4 Eyes and ears are bad witnesses to men having rude souls.
5 The majority of people have no understanding of the things with which they daily meet, nor, when instructed, do they have any right knowledge of them, although to themselves they seem to have.
6 They understand neither how to hear nor how to speak.
7 If you do not hope, you will not win that which is not hoped for, since it is unattainable and inaccessible.
8 Gold-seekers dig over much earth and find little gold.
10 Nature loves to conceal herself.
11 The God whose oracle is at Delphi neither speaks plainly nor conceals, but indicates by signs.
12 But the Sibyl with raging mouth uttering things solemn, rude and unadorned, reaches with her voice over a thousand years, because of the God.
13 Whatever concerns seeing, hearing, and learning, I particularly honor.
14 Polybius iv. 40. Especially at the present time, when all places are accessible either by land or by water, we should not accept poets and mythologists as witnesses of things that are unknown, since for the most part they furnish us with unreliable testimony about disputed things, according to Heraclitus.
15 The eyes are more exact witnesses than the ears.
16 Much learning does not teach one to have understanding, else it would have taught Hesiod and Pythagoras, and again Xenophanes and Hecataeus.
17 Pythagoras, son of Mnesarchus, practised investigation most of all men, and having chosen out these treatises, he made a wisdom of his own–much learning and bad art.
18 Of all whose words I have heard, no one attains to this, to know that wisdom is apart from all.
19 There is one wisdom, to understand the intelligent will by which all things are governed through all.
20 This world, the same for all, neither any of the gods nor any man has made, but it always was, and is, and shall be, an ever living fire, kindled in due measure, and in due measure extinguished.
21 The transmutations of fire are, first, the sea; and of the sea, half is earth, and half the lightning flash.
22 All things are exchanged for fire and fire for all things, just as wares for gold and gold for wares.
23 The sea is poured out and measured to the same proportion as existed before it became earth.
24 Craving and Satiety.
25 Fire lives in the death of earth, air lives in the death of fire, water lives in the death of air, and earth in the death of water.
26 Fire coming upon all things, will sift and seize them.
27 How can one escape that which never sets?
28 Lightning rules all.
29 The sun will not overstep his bounds, for if he does, the Erinyes, helpers of justice, will find him out.
30 The limits of the evening and morning are the Bear, and opposite the Bear, the bounds of bright Zeus.
31 If there were no sun, it would be night.
32 The sun is new every day.
33 Diogenes Laertius i. 23. He (scil. Thales) seems, according to some, to have been the first to study astronomy and to foretell the eclipses and motions of the sun, as Eudemus relates in his account of astronomical works. And for this reason he is honored by Xenophanes and Herodotus, and both Heraclitus and Democritus bear witness to him.
34 Plutarch, Qu. Plat. viii. 4, p. 1007. Thus Time, having a necessary union and connection with heaven, is not simple motion, but, so to speak, motion in an order, having measured limits and periods. Of which the sun, being overseer and guardian to limit, direct, appoint and proclaim the changes and seasons which, according to Heraclitus, produce all things, is the helper of the leader and first God, not in small or trivial things, but in the greatest and most important.
35 Hesiod is a teacher of the masses. They suppose him to have possessed the greatest knowledge, who indeed did not know day and night. For they are one.
36 God is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, plenty and want. But he is changed, just as when incense is mingled with incense, but named according to the pleasure of each.
37 Aristotle, de Sensu 5, p. 443 a 21. Some think that odor consists in smoky exhalation, common to earth and air, and that for smell all things are converted into this. And it was for this reason that Heraclitus thus said that if all existing things should become smoke, perception would be by the nostrils.
38 Souls smell in Hades.
39 Cold becomes warm, and warm, cold; wet becomes dry, and dry, wet.
40 It disperses and gathers, it comes and goes.
41 Into the same river you could not step twice, for other <and still other> waters are flowing.
42 †To those entering the same river, other and still other waters flow.†
43 Aristotle, Eth. Eud. vii. 1, p. 1235 a 26. And Heraclitus blamed the poet who said, “Would that strife were destroyed from among gods and men.” For there could be no harmony without sharps and flats, nor living beings without male and female which are contraries.
44 War is the father and king of all, and has produced some as gods and some as men, and has made some slaves and some free.
45 They do not understand: how that which separates unites with itself. It is a harmony of oppositions, as in the case of the bow and of the lyre.
46 Aristotle, Eth. Nic. viii. 2, p. 1155 b 1. In reference to these things, some seek for deeper principles and more in accordance with nature. Euripides says, “The parched earth loves the rain, and the high heaven, with moisture laden, loves earthward to fall.” And Heraclitus says, “The unlike is joined together, and from differences results the most beautiful harmony, and all things take place by strife.”
47 The hidden harmony is better than the visible.
48 Let us not draw conclusions rashly about the greatest things.
49 Philosophers must be learned in very many things.
50 The straight and crooked way of the woolcarders is one and the same.
51 Asses would choose stubble rather than gold.
52 Sea water is very pure and very foul, for, while to fishes it is drinkable and healthful, to men it is hurtful and unfit to drink.
53 Columella, de Re Rustica viii. 4. Dry dust and ashes must be placed near the wall where the roof or eaves shelter the court, in order that there may be a place where the birds may sprinkle themselves, for with these things they improve their wings and feathers, if we may believe Heraclitus, the Ephesian, who says, “Hogs wash themselves in mud and doves in dust.”
54 They revel in dirt.
55 Every animal is driven by blows.
56 The harmony of the world is a harmony of oppositions, as in the case of the bow and of the lyre.
57 Good and evil are the same.
58 Hippolytus, Ref. haer. ix. 10. And good and evil (scil. are one). The physicians, therefore, says Heraclitus, cutting, cauterizing, and in every way torturing the sick, complain that the patients do not pay them fitting reward for thus effecting these benefits– †and sufferings†.
59 Unite whole and part, agreement and disagreement, accordant and discordant; from all comes one, and from one all.
60 They would not know the name of justice, were it not for these things.
61 Schol. B. in Iliad iv. 4, p. 120 :Bekk. They say that it is unfitting that the sight of wars should please the gods. But it is not so. For noble works delight them, and while wars and battles seem to us terrible, to God they do not seem so. For God in his dispensation of all events, perfects them into a harmony of the whole, just as, indeed, Heraclitus says that to God all things are beautiful and good and right, though men suppose that some are right and others wrong.
62 We must know that war is universal and strife right, and that by strife all things arise and † are used †
63 For it is wholly destined …
64 Death is what we see waking. What we see in sleep is a dream.
65 There is only one supreme Wisdom. It wills and wills not to be called by the name of Zeus.
66 The name of the bow is life, but its work is death.
67 Immortals are mortal, mortals immortal, living in their death and dying in their life.
68 To souls it is death to become water, and to water it is death to become earth, but from earth comes water, and from water, soul.
69 The way upward and downward are one and the same.
70 The beginning and end are common.
71 The limits of the soul you would not find out, though you should traverse every way.
72 To souls it is joy to become wet.
73 A man when he is drunken is led by a beardless youth, stumbling, ignorant where he is going, having a wet soul.
74 The dry soul is the wisest and best.
75 †The dry beam is the wisest and best soul.†
76 †Where the land is dry, the soul is wisest and best.†
77 Man, as a light at night, is lighted and extinguished.
78 Plutarch, Consol. ad Apoll. 10, p. 106. For when is death not present with us? As indeed Heraclitus says: Living and dead, awake and asleep, young and old, are the same. For these several states are transmutations of each other.
79 Time is a child playing at draughts, a child’s kingdom.
80 I have inquired of myself.
81 Into the same river we both step and do not step. We both are and are not.
82 It is weariness upon the same things to labor and by them to be controlled.
83 In change is rest.
84 A mixture separates when not kept in motion.
85 Corpses are more worthless than excrement.
86 Being born, they will only to live and die, or rather to find rest, and they leave children who likewise are to die.
87 Plutarch, de Orac. def. 11, p. 415: Those who adopt the reading hêbôntos (i. e. at man’s estate, see Hesiod, fr. 163, ed. Goettling) reckon a generation at thirty years, according to Heraclitus, in which time a father may have a son who is himself at the age of puberty.
88 Io. Lydus de Mensibus iii. 10, p. 37, ed. Bonn.: Thirty is the most natural number, for it bears the same relation to tens as three to units. Then again it is the monthly cycle, and is composed of the four numbers 1, 4, 9,16, which are the squares of the units in order. Not without reason, therefore, does Heraclitus call the month a generation.
89 In thirty years a man may become a grandfather.
90 M. Antoninus vi. 42. We all work together to one end, some consciously and with purpose, others unconsciously. Just as indeed Heraclitus, I think, says that the sleeping are co-workers and fabricators of the things that happen in the world.
91 The Law of Understanding is common to all. Those who speak with intelligence must hold fast to that which is common to all, even more strongly than a city holds fast to its law. For all human laws are dependent upon one divine Law, for this rules as far as it wills, and suffices for all, and overabounds.
92 Although the Law of Reason is common, the majority of people live as though they had an understanding of their own.
93 They are at variance with that with which they are in most continual association.
94 We ought not to act and speak as though we were asleep.
95 Plutarch, de Superst. 3, p. 166: Heraclitus says: To those who are awake, there is one world in common, but of those who are asleep, each is withdrawn to a private world of his own.
96 For human nature does not possess understanding, but the divine does.
97 The thoughtless man understands the voice of the Deity as little as the child understands the man.
98 Plato, Hipp. maj. 289 B. And does not Heraclitus, whom you bring forward, say the same, that the wisest of men compared with God appears an ape in wisdom and in beauty and in all other things?
99 Plato, Hipp. maj. 289 A. You are ignorant, my man, that there is a good saying of Heraclitus, to the effect that the most beautiful of apes is ugly when compared with another kind, and the most beautiful of earthen pots is ugly when compared with maidenkind, as says Hippias the wise.
100 The people must fight for their law as for their walls.
101 Greater fates gain greater rewards.
102 Gods and men honor those slain in war.
103 Presumption must be quenched even more than a fire.
104 For men to have whatever they wish, would not be well. Sickness makes health pleasant and good; hunger, satiety; weariness, rest.
105 It is hard to contend against passion, for whatever it craves it buys with its life.
106 †It pertains to all men to know themselves and to learn self-control.†
107 †Self-control is the highest virtue, and wisdom is to speak truth and consciously to act according to nature.†
108 It is better to conceal ignorance, but it is hard to do so in relaxation and over wine.
109 † It is better to conceal ignorance than to expose it. †
110 It is law, also, to obey the will of one.
111 For what sense or understanding have they? They follow minstrels and take the multitude for a teacher, not knowing that many are bad and few good. For the best men choose one thing above all–immortal glory among mortals; but the masses stuff themselves like cattle.
112 In Priene there lived Bias, son of Teutamus, whose word was worth more than that of others.
113 To me, one is ten thousand if he be the best.
114 The Ephesians deserve, man for man, to be hung, and the youth to leave the city, inasmuch as they have banished Hermodorus, the worthiest man among them, saying: “Let no one of us excel, and if there be any such, let him go elsewhere and among other people.”
115 Dogs, also, bark at what they do not know.
116 By its incredibility, it escapes their knowledge.
117 A stupid man loves to be puzzled by every discourse.
118 The most approved of those who are of repute knows how to cheat. Nevertheless, justice will catch the makers and witnesses of lies.
119 Diogenes Laert. ix. 1. And he (Heraclitus) used to say that Homer deserved to be driven out of the lists and flogged, and Archilochus likewise.
120 One day is like all.
121 A man’s character is his daemon.
122 There awaits men after death what they neither hope nor think.
123 And those that are there shall arise and become guardians of the living and the dead.
124 Night-roamers, Magians, bacchanals, revelers in wine, the initiated.
125 For the things which are considered mysteries among men, they celebrate sacrilegiously.
126 And to these images they pray, as if one should prattle with the houses knowing nothing of gods or heroes, who they are.
127 For were it not Dionysus to whom they institute a procession and sing songs in honor of the pudenda, it would be the most shameful action. But Dionysus, in whose honor they rave in bacchic frenzy, and Hades are the same.
128 Iamblichus, de Mysteriis v. 16. I distinguish two kinds of sacrifices. First, those of men wholly purified, such as would rarely happen in the case of a single individual, as Heraclitus says, or of a certain very few men. Second, material and corporeal sacrifices and those arising from change, such as are fit for those still fettered by the body.
130 When defiled, they purify themselves with blood, just as if any one who had fallen into the mud should wash himself with mud!