of Ephesus (Ancient Greek
: — ; c. 535–c.
was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, a native of Ephesus, Ionia, on the coast of Asia Minor.
He was of distinguished parentage. Little
is known about his early life and education, but he regarded
himself as self-taught and a pioneer of wisdom. From the lonely
life he led, and still more from the riddling nature of his
philosophy and his contempt for humankind in general, he was called
"The Obscure," and the "Weeping Philosopher."
Heraclitus is famous for his doctrine of change being central to
, as stated in his famous
saying, "You can not step twice into the same river." He believed
in the unity of opposites
stating that "the path up and down is one and the same," existing
things being characterized by pairs of contrary properties. His
cryptic utterance that "all things come to be in accordance with
," (literally, "word,"
"reason," or "account") has been the subject of numerous
The main source for the life of Heraclitus is Diogenes Laërtius
, although some have
questioned the validity of his account as "a tissue of Hellenistic
anecdotes, most of them
obviously fabricated on the basis of statements in the preserved
fragments." Diogenes said that Heraclitus flourished
in the 69th Olympiad
, 504-501 BCE. All the rest of the evidence
– the people Heraclitus is said to have known, or the people who
were familiar with his work – confirms the floruit
. His dates of birth and death are based on a
life span of 60 years, the age at which Diogenes says he died, with
the floruit in the middle.
was born to an aristocratic family in Ephesus, present-day
Ephesus on the coast of Asia Minor, birthplace of Heraclitus
His father was named either Blosôn or Herakôn.
Diogenes says that he abdicated
) in favor of his brother and Strabo
confirms that there was a ruling family in
Ephesus descended from the Ionian founder, Androclus, which still
kept the title and could sit in the chief seat at the games, as
well as a few other privileges. How much power the king had is
another question. Ephesus had been part of the Persian Empire
since 547 and was ruled by
, a more distant figure, as the Great
King allowed the Ionians considerable autonomy. Diogenes says that
Heraclitus used to play knuckle-bones with the youths in the temple
and when asked to start making
laws he refused saying that the constitution (politeia
, which can mean either that it was
fundamentally wrong or that he considered it toilsome.
With regard to education, Diogenes says that Heraclitus was
) from childhood. Diogenes relates
said he was a "hearer" of
, which contradicts Heraclitus'
statement (so says Diogenes) that he had taught himself by
questioning himself. Burnet
states in any case that "... Xenophanes left Ionia before
Herakleitos was born." Diogenes relates that as a boy Heraclitus
had said he "knew nothing" but later claimed to "know everything."
His statement that he "heard no one" but "questioned himself," can
be placed alongside his statement that "the things that can be
seen, heard and learned are what I prize the most."
Diogenes relates that Heraclitus had a poor opinion of human
affairs. He believed that Hesiod
lacked understanding though learned
and that Homer
deserved to be beaten. Laws needed
to be defended as though they were city walls. Timon
is said to have called him a
"mob-reviler." Heraclitus hated the Athenians and his fellow Ephesians, wishing the latter wealth
in punishment for their wicked ways.
"Finally, he became a hater of his kind (misanthrope
wandered the mountains ... making his diet of grass and
Heraclitus' life as a philosopher was interrupted by dropsy
. The physicians he consulted were unable to
prescribe a cure. He treated himself with a liniment
of cow manure and baking in the sun,
believing that this method would remove the fluid. After a day of
treatment he died and was interred in the marketplace.
Diogenes states that his work was "a continuous treatise On
, but is 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 make a
also tells us that he deposited his book as a dedication in the
great temple of Artemis, the Artemisium, one of the largest temples of the 6th century BCE
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
: "Down to the time of Plutarch
, 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
As with other pre-Socratics, his writings only survive in fragments
quoted by other authors.
At some time in antiquity he acquired this epithet denoting that
his major sayings were difficult to understand. Timon of Phlius
calls him "the riddler"
) according to Diogenes Laërtius
, who had just
explained that Heraclitus wrote his book "rather unclearly"
) so that only the "capable" should attempt
it. By the time of Cicero
he had become "the
dark" (Ancient Greek — ) because he had spoken nimis
, "too obscurely", concerning nature and had done so
deliberately in order to be misunderstood. The customary English
translation of follows the Latin, "the obscure."
The weeping philosopher
the theory that Heraclitus
did not complete some of his works because of melancholia
. Later he was referred to as the
"weeping philosopher," as opposed to Democritus
, who is known as the "laughing
philosopher." If Stobaeus
in the early 1st century AD was
already combining the two in the imaginative duo of weeping and
laughing philosophers: "Among the wise, instead of anger,
Heraclitus was overtaken by tears, Democritus
by laughter." The view is expressed by
the satirist Juvenal
The motif was also adopted by Lucian
in his "Sale of Creeds," in which the duo is sold
together as a complementary product in the satirical auction of
philosophers. Subsequently they were considered an indispensable
feature of philosophic landscapes. Montaigne
proposed two archetypical
views of human affairs based on them, selecting Democritus' for
himself. The weeping philosopher makes an appearance in William Shakespeare
's The Merchant of Venice
. Donato Bramante painted a fresco,
"Democritus and Heraclitus," in Casa Panigarola in Milan.
"The idea that all things come to pass in accordance with this
" and "the Logos
is common," is expressed in
two famous but obscure fragments:
This Logos holds always but humans always
prove unable to understand it, both before hearing it and when they
have first heard it.
For though all things come to be in accordance with
this Logos, humans are like the inexperienced when they
experience such words and deeds as I set out, distinguishing each
in accordance with its nature and saying how it is.
But other people fail to notice what they do when
awake, just as they forget what they do while asleep.
For this reason it is necessary to follow what is
But although the Logos is common, most people
live as if they had their own private understanding.
The meaning of Logos
also is subject to interpretation:
"word", "account", "plan", "formula", "measure", "proportion",
"reckoning." Though Heraclitus "quite deliberately plays on the
various meanings of logos
", there is no compelling reason
to suppose that he used it in a special technical sense,
significantly different from the way it was used in ordinary Greek
of his time.
The later Stoics
understood it as "the
account which governs everything," and the Hippolytus
, in the 3rd century, identified it as
meaning the Christian Word of
Panta rhei, "everything flows"
(panta rhei) "everything flows" either was not spoken by Heraclitus or did not survive as a quotation of his. This famous aphorism used to characterize Heraclitus' thought comes from Simplicius. The word rhei, adopted by rhe-o-logy, is simply the Greek word for "to stream."
The philosophy of Heraclitus is summed up in his cryptic utterance:
Potamoisi toisin autoisin embainousin, hetera kai hetera hudata
"On those stepping into rivers the same, other and other waters
The quote from Heraclitus is interpreted by Plato
Panta chōrei kai ouden menei
"Everything changes and nothing remains still"
Instead of "flow" Plato uses chōrei
, to change
The assertions of flow are coupled in many fragments with the
enigmatic river image:
"We both step and do not step in the same rivers.
We are and are not."
Hodos ano kato, "the way up and the way down"
In the structure anō katō
is more accurately translated as
a hyphenated word: "the upward-downward path." They go on
simultaneously and instantaneously and result in "hidden harmony".
A way is a series of transformations: the , "turnings of fire,"
first into sea, then half of sea to earth and half to rarefied
The transformation is a replacement of one element by another: "The
death of fire is the birth of air, and the death of air is the
birth of water."
This world, which is the same for all, no one of gods
or men has made.
But it always was and will be: an ever-living fire,
with measures of it kindling, and measures going out.
This latter phraseology is further elucidated:
All things are an interchange for fire, and fire for
all things, just like goods for gold and gold for
Dike eris, "strife is justice"
If objects are new from moment to moment so that one can never
touch the same object twice, then each object must dissolve and be
generated continually momentarily and an object is a harmony
between a building up and a tearing down. Heraclitus calls the
oppositional processes eris
, "strife", and hypothesizes
that the apparently stable state, dikê
, or "justice," is a
harmony of it:
We must know that war (polemos) is common to
all and strife is justice, and that all things come into being
through strife necessarily.
As Diogenes explains:
All things come into being by conflict of opposites,
and the sum of things (ta hola, "the whole") flows like a
In the bow metaphor
Heraclitus compares the
resultant to a strung bow held in shape by an equilibrium of the
string tension and spring action of the bow:
There is a harmony in the bending back
(palintropos) as in the case of the bow and the
Hepesthai to koino, "follow the common"
People must "follow the common (hepesthai tō ksunō
not live having "their own judgement (phonēsis
distinguishes between human laws and divine law (tou
He removes the human sense of justice from his concept of God;
i.e., humanity is not the image of God: "To God all things are fair
and good and just, but people hold some things wrong and some
right." God's custom has wisdom but human custom does not, and yet
both humans and God are childish: "human opinions are children's
toys" and "Eternity is a child moving counters in a game; the
kingly power is a child's."
Wisdom is "to know the thought by which all things are steered
through all things", which must not imply that people are or can be
wise. Only Zeus
is wise. To some degree then
Heraclitus seems to be in the mystic's
position of urging people to follow God's plan without much of an
idea what that may be. In fact there is a note of despair: "The
fairest universe (kallistos kosmos
is but a heap of rubbish (sarma
, sweepings) piled up
, poured out) at random (eikê
In Heraclitus a perceived object is a harmony between two
fundamental units of change, a waxing and a waning. He typically
uses the ordinary word "to become" (gignesthai
, root sense of being born), which led to his
being characterized as the philosopher of becoming rather than of
being. He recognizes the changing of objects with the flow of
argues against Heraclitus as follows:
How can that be a real thing which is never in the same
... for at the moment that the observer approaches,
then they become other ... so that you cannot get any further in
knowing their nature or state .... but if that which knows and that
which is known exist ever ... then I do not think they can resemble
a process or flux ....
In Plato one experienced unit is a state, or object existing, which
can be observed. The time parameter is set at "ever"; that is, the
state is to be presumed present between observations. Change is to
be deduced by comparing observations, but no matter how many of
those you are able to make, you cannot get through the mysterious
gap between them to account for the change that must be occurring
was a philosophical school which
flourished between the 3rd century BCE and about the 3rd century
CE. It began among the Greeks and became the major philosophy of
the Roman Empire
before declining with
the rise of Christianity
in the 3rd
Throughout their long tenure the Stoics believed that the major
tenets of their philosophy derived from the thought of Heraclitus.
According to Long
, "the importance of
Heraclitus to later Stoics is evident most plainly in Marcus Aurelius
." Explicit connections of
the earliest Stoics to Heraclitus showing how they arrived at their
interpretation are missing but they can be inferred from the Stoic
fragments. Long concludes to "modifications of Heraclitus."
The Stoics were interested in Heraclitus' treatment of fire. In
addition to seeing it as the most fundamental of the four elements
and the one that is quantified and determines the quantity
) of the other three, he presents fire as the
cosmos, which was not made by any of the gods or men, but "was and
is and ever shall be ever-living fire." This is the closest he
comes to a substance, but it is an active one altering other things
quantitatively and performing an activity Heraclitus describes as
"the judging and convicting of all things." It is "the thunderbolt
that steers the course of all things." There is no reason to
interpret the judgement, which is actually "to separate"
), as outside of the context of "strife is
justice" (see subsection above).
The earliest surviving Stoic work, the Hymn to Zeus
, though not explicitly
referencing Heraclitus, adopts what appears to be the Heraclitean
logos modified. Zeus
rules the universe with
) wielding on its behalf the "forked servant",
the "fire" of the "ever-living lightening." So far nothing has been
said that differs from the Zeus of Homer
then, says Cleanthes, Zeus uses the fire to "straighten out the
common logos" that travels about (phoitan
, "to frequent")
mixing with the greater and lesser lights (heavenly bodies). This
is Heraclitus' logos, but now it is confused with the "common
", which Zeus uses to "make the wrong
, left or odd) right (artia
, right or
even)" and "order (kosmein
) the disordered
The Stoic modification of Heraclitus' idea of the Logos was also
influential on Jewish
philosophers such as
of Alexandria, who connected it to
"Wisdom personified" as God's creative principle. Philo uses the
term Logos throughout his treatises on Hebrew Scripture in a manner
clearly influenced by the Stoics.
The church fathers
were the leaders
of the Christian
church during its
first five centuries of existence, roughly contemporaneous to
Stoicism under the Roman Empire
works of dozens of writers in hundreds of pages have
All of them had something to say about the Christian form of the
. The church found it necessary to
discriminate between the Christian logos and that of Heraclitus as
part of its ideological distancing from paganism. The necessity to
convert by defeating paganism was of paramount importance.
Hippolytus of Rome therefore identifies
Heraclitus along with the other Pre-Socratics (and Academics) as sources of heresy.
Church use of the methods and conclusions of ancient philosophy as
such was as yet far in the future, even though many were converted
In Refutation of All Heresies
Hippolytus says: "What the
blasphemous folly is of Noetus
, and that he
devoted himself to the tenets of Heraclitus the Obscure, not to
those of Christ." Hippolytus then goes on to present the
inscrutable DK B67: "God (theos
) is day and night, winter
and summer, ... but he takes various shapes, just as fire, when it
is mingled with spices, is named according to the savor of each."
The fragment seems to support pantheism
Hippolytus condemns the obscurity of it. He cannot accuse
Heraclitus of being a heretic so he says instead: "Did not
(Heraclitus) the Obscure anticipate Noetus in framing a system
...?" The apparent pantheist deity of Heraclitus (if that is what
DK B67 means) must be equal to the union of opposites and therefore
must be corporeal and incorporeal, divine and not-divine, dead and
alive, etc., and the Trinity
can only be
reached by some sort of illusory shape-shifting.
- Diogenes Laërtius, ix. 1
- Diogenes Laërtius, ix. 3
- Diogenes Laërtius, ix. 6
- Strabo, Chapter 1, section 3.
- Diogenes Laërtius, ix. 2
- Chapter 3 beginning.
- Diogenes Laërtius, ix. 5
- DK B55.
- DK B40.
- DK B42.
- DK B44.
- DK B125a.
- Diogenes Laërtius, ix. 4
- De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, Chapter 2, Section
- Satire X. Translation from
- Act I Scene II Line 43.
- DK B1.
- DK B2.
- For the etymology see
- K.F. Johansen, "Logos" in Donald Zeyl (ed.), Encyclopedia
of Classical Philosophy, Greenwood Press 1997.
- pp. 419ff. , W. K. C. Guthrie, A History of Greek
Philosophy, vol. 1, Cambridge University Press, 1962.
- DK B72, from Marcus Aurelius, Meditations iv.
- DK B2, DK B50, from Hippolytus, Refutation of all
Heresies, ix. 9
- Barnes page 65, and also Simplicius' commentary on Aristotle's
- For the etymology see In pronunciation the -ei- is a
like the -ei- in reindeer. The initial r is aspirated or made breathy, which
indicates the dropping of the s in *sreu-.
- DK22B12, quoted in Arius Didymus apud Eusebius, Praeparatio
- Cratylus Paragraph 402 section a
- DK B49a, Harris 110. Others like it
are DK B12, Harris 20; DK B91, Harris 21.
- DK B60
- DK B54.
- DK B31
- DK B76.
- DK B30.
- DK B90
- DK B80.
- Diogenes Laërtius, ix. 8
- DK B51.
- The initial part of DK B2, often omitted because broken by a
note explaining that ksunos (Ionic) is koinos
- DK B114.
- DK B102.
- DK B78.
- DK B70.
- DK B52.
- DK B41.
- DK B32.
- DK B124.
- Cratylus Paragraph 440 sections
- Long, page 56.
- Long, page 51.
- DK B60.
- DK B66.
- DK B64.
- Different translations of this critical piece of literature,
transitional from pagan polytheism to the modern religions and
philosophies, can be found at
- The ancient Greek can be found in Downloadable Google Books at
- Book IX leading sentence.
- First published in 1892, this book has had dozens of editions
and has been used as a textbook for decades. The first edition is
downloadable from Google Books.
- Complete fragments of Heraclitus in English.
- . Transcript of seminar in which two German philosophers
analyze and discuss Heraclitus' texts.
- . Parallel Greek & English.
- Book IX, Chapter 1, Heraclitus.
- Pyle, C. M. (1997). 'Democritus and
Heracleitus: An Excursus on the Cover of
this Book,' Milan and Lombardy in the Renaissance. Essays in Cultural
History. Rome, La Fenice. (Istituto di Filologia Moderna,
Università di Parma: Testi e Studi, Nuova Serie: Studi 1.)
(Fortuna of the Laughing and Weeping
- Taylor, C. C. W (ed.), Routledge History of Philosophy:
From the Beginning to Plato, Vol. I, pp. 80 – 117. ISBN
0-203-02721-3 Master e-book ISBN, ISBN 0-203-05752-X (Adobe eReader
Format) and ISBN 0-415-06272-1 (Print Edition).
The following articles on other topics contain non-trivial
information that relates to Heraclitus in some way.
- Heraclitus bilingual anthology from DK in Greek and English, side by
side, the translations being provided by the organization,
- Greek and English with DK numbers and commentary.
- Text and selected aphorisms in Greek, English, Italian and
- Selected fragments translated by Hooker.
- The fragments also cited in DK in Greek (Unicode) with the
English translations of John Burnet (see Bibliography).
- Essay on the flux and fire philosophy of Heraclitus.
- Site with links to pdf's containing the fragments of DK in Greek (Unicode) with the
English translations of John Burnet (see Bibliography) and
translations into French, either in
parallel columns or interlinear, with links on the lexical items to
dictionaries. Includes also Heraclitus article from Encyclopædia
Britannica Eleventh Edition.