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Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers, by Kathleen Freeman, [1948], at


Hêracleitus of Ephesus was in his prime about 500 B.C.

He wrote one book, covering all knowledge, metaphysical, scientific and political, in an oracular style.

1. The Law 1 (of the universe) is as here explained; but men are always incapable of understanding it, both before they hear it, and when they have heard it for the first time. For though all things come into being in accordance with this Law, men seem as if they had never met with it, when they meet with words (theories) and actions (processes) such as I expound, separating each thing according to its nature and explaining how it is made. As for the rest of mankind, they are unaware of what they are doing after they wake, just as they forget what they did while asleep.

2. Therefore one must follow (the universal Law, namely) that which is common (to all). But although the Law is

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universal, the majority live as if they had understanding peculiar to themselves.

3. (On the size of the sun): the breadth of a man's foot.

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

S. They purify themselves by staining 1 themselves with other blood, as if one were to step into mud in order to wash off mud. But a man would be thought mad 1 if any of his fellow-men should perceive him acting thus. Moreover, they talk to these statues (of theirs) as if one were to hold conversation with houses, in his ignorance of the nature of both gods and heroes.

6. The sun is new each day.

7. If all existing things turned to smoke, the nose would be the discriminating organ.

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

9. Donkeys prefer chaff to gold.

10. Joints: whole and not whole, connected-separate, consonant-dissonant.

11. Every creature is driven to pasture with a blow.

12. Anhalation (vaporisation). Those who step into the same river have different waters flowing ever upon them. (Souls also are vaporised from what is wet).

13. Do not revel in mud. (Swine enjoy mud rather than pure water).

14. Night-ramblers, magicians, Bacchants, Maenads, Mystics: the rites accepted by mankind in the Mysteries are an unholy performance.

15. If it were not in honour of Dionysus that they conducted the procession and sang the hymn to the male organ (the phallic hymn), their activity would be completely shameless. But Hades is the same as Dionysus, in whose honour they rave and perform the Bacchic revels.

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16. How could anyone hide from that which never sets?

17. For many men—those who encounter such things—do not understand them, and do not grasp them after they have learnt; but to themselves they seem (to understand).

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

19. Men who do not know how to listen or how to speak.

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

21. All that we see when we have wakened is death; all that we see while slumbering is sleep.

22. Those who seek gold dig much earth and find little.

23. They would not know the name of Right, if these things (i.e. the opposite) did not exist.

24. Gods and men honour those slain in war.

25. The greater the fate (death), the greater the reward.

26. In the night, a man kindles 1 a light because his sight is quenched; while living, he approximates to 1 a dead man during sleep; while awake, he approximates to one who sleeps.

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

28. The most wise-seeming man knows, (that is), preserves, only what seems; furthermore, retribution will seize the fabricators of lies and the (false) witnesses.

29. The best men choose one thing rather than all else: everlasting fame among mortal men. 2 The majority are satisfied, like well-fed cattle.

30. This ordered universe (cosmos), which is the same for all, was not created by any one of the gods or of mankind, but it was ever and is and shall be ever-living Fire, kindled in measure and quenched in measure.

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31. The changes of fire: first, sea; and of sea, half is earth and half fiery water-spout . . . Earth 1 is liquified into sea, and retains its measure according to the same Law as existed before it became earth.

32. That which alone is wise is one; it is willing and unwilling to be called by the name of Zeus.

33. To obey the will of one man is also Law (political law, Nomos).

34. Not understanding, although they have heard, they are like the deaf. The proverb bears witness to them: 'Present yet absent.'

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

36. To souls, it is death to become water; to water, it is death to become earth. From earth comes water, and from water, soul.

37. Pigs wash themselves in mud, birds in dust or ashes.

38. (Thales was the first to study astronomy).

39. In Priênê was born Bias son of Teutamos, whose fame (or, 'worth') is greater than that of the rest.

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

41. That which is wise is one: to understand the purpose which steers all things through all things.

42. Homer deserves to be flung out of the contests and given a beating; and also Archilochus.

43. One should quench arrogance rather than a conflagration.

44. The people should fight for the Law (Nomos) as if for their city-wall.

45. You could not in your going find the ends of the soul, though you travelled the whole way: so deep is its Law (Logos).

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46. Conceit: the sacred disease (i.e. epilepsy).

47. Let us not conjecture at random about the greatest things.

48. The bow is called Life, 1 but its work is death.

49. One man to me is (worth) ten thousand, if he is the best.

49a. In the same river, we both step and do not step, we are and we are not.

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

51. They do not understand how that which differs with itself is in agreement: harmony consists of opposing tension, like that of the bow and the lyre.

52. Time is a child playing a game of draughts; the kingship is in the hands of a child.

53. War is both king of all and father of all, and it has revealed some as gods, others as men; some it has made slaves, others free.

54. The hidden harmony is stronger (or, 'better') than the visible.

55. Those things of which there is sight, hearing, knowledge: these are what I honour most.

56. Men are deceived over the recognition of visible things, in the same way as Homer, who was the wisest of all the Hellenes; for he too was deceived by boys killing lice, who said: 'What we saw and grasped, that we leave behind; but what we did not see and did not grasp, that we bring.'

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

58. For instance, physicians, who cut and burn, demand payment of a fee, though undeserving, since they produce the same (pains as the disease).

59. For the fuller's screw, the way, straight and crooked, is one and the same.

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60. The way up and down is one and the same.

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

62. Immortals are mortal, mortals are immortal: (each) lives the death of the other, and dies their life.

63. When he (God?) is there, they (the souls in Hades) arise and become watchful guardians of the living and the dead.

64. The thunder-bolt (i.e. Fire) steers the universe.

65. Need and satiety.

66. Fire, having come upon them, will judge and seize upon (condemn) all things.

67. 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.

68. (Heracleitus called the shameful rites of the Mysteries) Remedies.

69. (There are two sorts of sacrifice: one kind offered by men entirely purified, as sometimes occurs, though rarely, in an individual, or a few easy to number; the other kind material). 1

70. Children's toys (i.e. men's conjectures).

71. (One must remember also) the man who forgets which way the road leads.

72. The Law (Logos): though men associate with it most closely, yet they are separated from it, and those things which they encounter daily seem to them strange.

73. We must not act and speak like men asleep.

74. (We must not act like) children of our parents.

75. Those who sleep are workers and share in the activities going on in the universe.

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76. Fire lives the death of earth, and air lives the death of fire; water lives the death of air, earth that of water.

77. It is delight, or rather death, to souls to become wet . . . We live their (the souls’) death, and they (the souls) live our death.

78. Human nature has no power of understanding; but the divine nature has it.

79. Man is called childish compared with divinity, just as a boy compared with a man.

80. One should know that war is general (universal) and jurisdiction is strife, and everything comes about by way of strife and necessity.

83. (On Pythagoras). Original chief of wranglers.

82. (The most handsome ape is ugly compared with the human race). 1

83. (The wisest man will appear an ape in relation to God, both in wisdom and beauty and everything else). 1

84a. It rests from change. (Elemental Fire in the human body).

84b. It is a weariness to the same (elements forming the human body) to toil and to obey.

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

86. (Most of what is divine) escapes recognition through unbelief.

87. A foolish man is apt to be in a flutter at every word (or, 'theory': Logos).

88. 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.

89. 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.

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90. There is an exchange: all things for Fire and Fire for all things, like goods for gold and gold for goods.

91. It is not possible to step twice into the same river. (It is impossible to touch the same mortal substance twice, but through the rapidity of change) they scatter and again combine (or rather, not even 'again' or 'later', but the combination and separation are simultaneous) and approach and separate. 1

92. The Sibyl with raving mouth uttering her unlaughing, unadorned, unincensed words reaches out over a thousand years with her voice, through the (inspiration of the) god.

93. The lord whose oracle is that at Delphi neither speaks nor conceals, but indicates.

94. The sun will not transgress his measures; otherwise the Furies, ministers of Justice, will find him out.

95. It is better to hide ignorance (though this is hard in relaxation and over wine).

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

97. Dogs bark at those whom they do not recognise.

98. Souls have the sense of smell in Hades.

99. If there were no sun, so far as depended on the other stars it would be night.

100. (The sun is in charge of the seasonal changes, and) the Hours (Seasons) that bring all things.

101. I searched into myself.

101a. The eyes are more exact witnesses than the ears.

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

103. Beginning and end are general in the circumference of the circle.

104. What intelligence or understanding have they? They believe the people's bards, and use as their teacher the populace, not knowing that 'the majority are bad, and the good are few'. 2

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105. Homer was an astrologer.

106. (Heracleitus reproached Hesiod for regarding some days as bad and others as good). Hesiod was unaware that the nature of every day is one.

107. The eyes and ears are bad witnesses for men if they have barbarian souls.

108. Of all those whose discourse I have heard, none arrives at the realisation that that which is wise is set apart from all things.

109. See 95.

110. It is not better for men to obtain all that they wish.

111. Disease makes health pleasant and good, hunger satisfaction, weariness rest.

I12. Moderation is the greatest virtue, and wisdom is to speak the truth and to act according to nature, paying heed (thereto).

113. The thinking faculty is common to all.

114. If we speak with intelligence, 1 we must base our strength on that which is common to all, 1 as the city on the Law (Nomos), and even more strongly. For all human laws are nourished by one, which is divine. For it governs as far as it will, and is sufficient for all, and more than enough.

115. The soul has its own Law (Logos), which increases itself (i.e. grows according to its needs).

116. All men have the capacity of knowing themselves and acting with moderation.

117. A man, when he gets drunk, is led stumbling along by an immature boy, not knowing where he is going, having his soul wet.

118. A dry (desiccated) soul is the wisest and best.

119. Character for man is destiny.

120. The limits of morning and evening are the Bear and,

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opposite the Bear, the boundary-mark of Zeus god of the clear sky.

121. The Ephesians would do well to hang themselves, every adult man, and bequeath their City-State to adolescents, since they have expelled Hermodôrus, the most valuable man among them, saying: 'Let us not have even one valuable man; but if we do, let him go elsewhere and live among others.'

122. (Word for) Approximation.

123. Nature likes to hide.

124. The fairest universe is but a dust-heap piled up at random.

125. The 'mixed drink' (Kykeôn: mixture of wine, grated cheese and barley-meal) also separates if it is not stirred.

125a. May wealth not fail you, men of Ephesus, so that you may be convicted of your wickedness!

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

Doubtful and spurious fragments 1

126a. According to the law of the seasons, the number Seven is combined in the moon, separated in the constellations of the Bear, the signs of immortal Memory.

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

12 7. (To the Egyptians): 'If they are gods, why do you lament them? If you lament them, you must no longer regard them as gods.'

128. They (the Hellenes) pray to statues of the gods, that do not hear them, as if they heard, and do not give, just as they cannot ask. 2

129. Pythagoras, son of Mnêsarchus, practised research most of all men, and making extracts from these treatises he compiled a wisdom of his own, an accumulation of learning, a harmful craft.

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130. It is not proper to be so comic that you yourself appear comic.

131. Conceit is the regress (hindrance) of progress.

132. Positions of honour enslave gods and men.

133. Bad men are the adversaries of the true.

134. Education is another sun to those who are educated.

135. The shortest way to fame is to become good.

136. Souls of men slain in battle are purer than those who die of disease.

137. Utterly decreed by Fate.

138. (Late epigram on Life: non-Heracleitean).

139. (Astrological forgery of Byzantine times).


24:1 Logos, the intelligible Law of the universe, and its reasoned statement by Heracleitus. See Companion, pp. 115 sqq.

25:1 Pun on μιαινόμενοι, and μαίνεσθαι which cannot be reproduced in English.

26:1 Pun on ἄπτεται, 'kindles', and 'touches upon' (approximates to).

26:2 Or: 'rather than things mortal'.

27:1 γῆ supplied by Kranz; otherwise, 'the sea is distributed'.

28:1 Pun on βίος, Life, and βιός, bow.

29:1 Paraphrase in Iamblichus.

30:1 Paraphrases in Plato, Hippias Major.

31:1 Phrases of Heracleitus quoted in Aristotle, Metaphysics.

31:2 Saying attributed to Bias of Priênê. Diels, Vors., ch. 10, 3, s. 1.

32:1 Pun on ξὺν νῷ and ξυνῷ.

33:1 For discussion, see Companion, pp. 128-9.

33:2 Reading uncertain.

Next: 23. Epicharmus of Syracuse