Heraclitus' Fragments

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by Joshua J. Mark
published on 18 January 2012

Heraclitus of Ephesos (C. 500 BCE) saw a unity to the whole of human experience and that unity he expressed in the Greek phrase Panta Rhei: Life is Flux. All of human life is constant change and it is this very change which unites our experience and which makes us human.

Heraclitus was a great critic of his fellow citizens, as well as of other philosophers of his time, for their seeming failure to recognize this fundamental truth about their lives. In addition to his famous quotes on the nature of life being equal to change, Heraclitus had much to say regarding the habits of human beings and prescripts for how they perhaps could live better or, at least, more sensible, lives. Heraclitus is especially critical of the great Hesiod, the `father’ of Greek mythology and author of the Theogony in that Hesiod “did not understand day and night” (DK 57) by which he means that there would be no day without night and yet, in the Theogony, Hesiod writes of the two being distinct from each other with day being `good’ and night `bad’.

To Heraclitus, however, the two were simply sides of a coin which could not exist without the other. Like everything else, day and night were one and in constant, eternal change. The following fragments of Heraclitus are from Kathleen Freeman’s Ancilla to the Pre-Socratics:

If happiness lay in bodily pleasures, we would call oxen happy when they find vetch to eat (DK 4).

The sun is new each day (DK 6).

That which is in opposition is in concert, and from things that differ comes the most beautiful harmony (DK 8).

Every creature is driven to pasture with a blow (DK 11).

If one does not hope, one willnot find the unhoped-for, since there is no trail leading to it and no path (DK 18).

When they are born, they are willing to live and accept their fate (death); and they leave behind children to become victims of fate (DK 20).

There await men after they are dead things which they do not expect or imagine (DK 27).

The best men choose one thing rather than all else: everlasting fame among mortal men. The majority are satisfied, like well-fed cattle (DK 29).

Men who love wisdom must be inquirers into very many things indeed (DK 35).

Much learning does not teach one to have intelligence; for it would have taught Hesiod and Pythagoras, and again, Xenophanes and Hecataeus (DK 40).

When you have listened, not to me but to the Logos, it is wise to agree that all things are one (DK 50).

Hesiod is the teacher of very many, he who did not understand day and night: for they are one (DK 57).

Sea water is the purest and most polluted: for fish, it is drinkable and life-giving; for men, not drinkable and destructive (DK 61).

God is day-night, winter-summer, war-peace, satiety-famine. But he changes like fire which when it mingles with the smoke of incense is named according to each man’s pleasure (DK 67).

We must not act and speak like men asleep (DK 73).

It is hard to fight against impulse; whatever it wishes, it buys at the expense of the soul (DK 85).

And what is in us is the same thing: living and dead, awake and sleeping, as well as young and old; for the latter of each pair of opposites having changed becomes the former, and this again having changed becomes the latter (DK 88).

To those who are awake, there is one ordered universe common to all, whereas in sleep each man turns away from this world to one of his own (DK 89).

Corpses are more worthy to be thrown out than dung (DK 96).

I searched into myself (DK 101).

To God, all things are beautiful, good and just; but men have assumed some things to be unjust, others just (DK102).

Character for man is destiny (DK 119).

Cold things grow hot, hot things grow cold, the wet dries, the parched is moistened (DK 126).

One thing increases in one way, another in another, in relation to what it lacks (DK 126b).

The shortest way to fame is to become good (DK 135).

Written by , published on under the following license: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms.

References

  • Kathleen Freeman. Ancilla To the Pre-Socratics. Harvard University Press, NY, 1983.

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