About Heraclitus: Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher (0535 - n/a) | Biography, Facts, Information, Career, Wiki, Life
peoplepill id: heraclitus
1 views today
2 views this week
Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher


The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher
A.K.A. Héraclite d'Ephèse, Heraklit, Héraclite d'Éphèse, Heraclite
Is Philosopher Writer
From Greece
Field Literature Philosophy
Gender male
Birth 535BC, Ephesus, Turkey
Death BCEphesus, Turkey
Residence Ephesus, Turkey
The details (from wikipedia)


Heraclitus of Ephesus (/ˌhɛrəˈkltəs/; Greek: Ἡράκλειτος ὁ Ἐφέσιος,  Hērákleitos ho Ephésios; c. 535 – c. 475 BC, fl. 504/3 BC–501/0 BC) son of Bloson, was a pre-Socratic Ionian Greek philosopher, and a native of the city of Ephesus, in modern-day Turkey and then part of the Persian Empire.

Due to the oracular and paradoxical nature of his philosophy, and his fondness for word play, he was called "The Obscure" even in antiquity. He wrote a single work, On Nature, but the obscurity is made worse by its remaining only in fragments. His cryptic utterances have been the subject of numerous interpretations. He has been seen variously as a "material monist or a process philosopher; a scientific cosmologist, a metaphysician, or mainly a religious thinker; an empiricist, a rationalist, or a mystic; a conventional thinker or a revolutionary; a developer of logic or one who denied the law of non-contradiction; the first genuine philosopher or an anti-intellectual obscurantist."

He was of distinguished parentage but eschewed his privileged life for a lonely one as a philosopher. Little else is known about his early life and education. He regarded himself as self-taught and a pioneer of wisdom. He was considered a misanthrope given to depression; he was also called "the weeping philosopher", in contrast to Democritus, "the laughing philosopher".

Heraclitus believed the world was in accordance with Logos (literally, "word", "reason", or "account"). He also believed the world was ultimately made of fire. He was committed to a unity of opposites and harmony in the world. He was most famous for his insistence on ever-present change, or flux or becoming, as the characteristic feature of the world, as stated in the famous saying, "No man ever steps in the same river twice" as well as "Panta rhei", everything flows. This aspect of his philosophy is contrasted with that of Parmenides, who believed in being, and that nothing changes. Both had an influence on Plato and thus on all of Western philosophy.



Heraclitus disliked Pythagoras.

The dates for Heraclitus are uncertain. Scholars have generally believed that either Parmenides was responding to Heraclitus, or Heraclitus to Parmenides, though opinion on who was responding to whom has varied over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries. Most figure Parmenides was responding to Heraclitus, and therefore Heraclitus was the older of the two. Heraclitus is silent on Parmenides, yet Parmenides seems possibly to refer to him, and Heraclitus refers to the likes of Pythagoras.

Diogenes Laërtius

The main source for the life of Heraclitus is the notable doxographer 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". It also seems the stories about Heraclitus could be invented to illustrate his character as inferred from his writings.

Diogenes Laërtius said that Heraclitus flourished in the 69th Olympiad, 504–501 BC. Considerations such as that he was probably older than Parmenides, and a contemporary of Pythagoras, makes this time frame a reasonable floruit. His dates of birth and death are based on a life span of 60 years, the age at which Diogenes Laërtius says he died, with this floruit in the middle.

Ephesus on the coast of Asia Minor, birthplace of Heraclitus


Heraclitus was born to an aristocratic family c. 535 BC in Ephesus, in the Persian Empire, in what is today called Efes, Turkey. His father was named either Blosôn or Herakôn. Diogenes Laërtius says that he abdicated the kingship (basileia) 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, for Ephesus had been part of the Persian Empire since 547 BC and was ruled by a satrap, a more distant figure, as Cyrus the Great allowed the Ionians considerable autonomy.


Diogenes Laërtius says that Heraclitus used to play knucklebones with the youths 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. When asked to start making laws he refused saying that the constitution (politeia) was ponêra, which can mean either that it was fundamentally wrong or that he considered it toilsome. Two extant letters between Heraclitus and Darius I, quoted by Diogenes Laërtius, are undoubtedly later forgeries.

With regard to education, Diogenes Laërtius says that Heraclitus was "wondrous" from childhood. Diogenes relates that Sotion said he was a "hearer" of Xenophanes, which contradicts Heraclitus' statement (so says Diogenes Laërtius) that he had taught himself by questioning himself. Burnet states in any case that "... Xenophanes left Ionia before Herakleitos was born." Diogenes Laërtius relates that as a boy Heraclitus had said he "knew nothing" but later claimed to "know everything". He "heard no one" but "questioned himself".


Heraclitus (with the face and in the style of Michelangelo) sits apart from the other philosophers in Raphael's School of Athens.

Diogenes Laërtius relates that Heraclitus had a poor opinion of human affairs. He said "The mysteries practiced among men are unholy mysteries." Timon of Phlius is said to have called him a "mob-reviler". He was not afraid of being a contrarian. He said "Corpses are more fit to be cast out than dung."

"Most men are bad" - Bias of Priene

Heraclitus was no advocate of equality, "One is ten thousand to me, if he be the best." He is generally considered an opponent of democracy. Yet he thinks "All men have a claim to self-ascertainment and sound thinking," and "Thinking is common to all." Heraclitus stressed the heedless unconsciousness of humankind. "The waking have one common world, but the sleeping turn aside each into a world of his own (idios kosmos)." "Hearing they do not understand, like the deaf. Of them does the saying bear witness: 'present, they are absent.'

He also compares the ignorance of the average man to dogs; "Dogs, also, bark at what they do not know." He advises us, "Let us not conjecture randomly about the most important things" and said "a fool is excited by every word."

He criticizes Hesiod, Pythagoras, Xenophanes, and Hecataeus as lacking understanding though learned, and has the most scorn for Pythagoras. Though he grants, "Men that love wisdom must be inquirers into very many things indeed;" he said that "The knowledge of the most famous persons, which they guard, is but opinion."

He also thought that Homer and Archilochus deserved to be beaten. The only man of note he praises is Bias of Priene, one of the Seven Sages of Greece, whose famous maxim is "most men are bad." "For what thought or wisdom have they? They follow the poets and take the crowd as their teacher, knowing not that "the many are bad and few good."

He hated the Athenians and his fellow Ephesians, wishing the latter wealth in punishment for their wicked ways. The Ephesians would "do well to end their lives, every grown man of them, and leave the city to beardless boys, for that they have driven out Hermodorus, the worthiest man among them, saying, 'We will have none who is worthiest among us; or if there be any such, let him go elsewhere and consort with others."

According to Diogenes Laërtius: "Finally, he became a hater of his kind (misanthrope) and wandered the mountains [...] making his diet of grass and herbs."

Dropsy and death

Heraclitus' life as a philosopher was interrupted by dropsy. The physicians he consulted were unable to prescribe a cure. Diogenes Laërtius lists various stories about Heraclitus' death: In two versions, Heraclitus was cured of the dropsy and died of another disease. In one account, however, the philosopher "buried himself in a cowshed, expecting that the noxious damp humour would be drawn out of him by the warmth of the manure", while another says he treated himself with a liniment of cow manure and, after a day prone in the sun, died and was interred in the marketplace. According to Neathes of Cyzicus, after smearing himself with dung, Heraclitus was devoured by dogs. He died after 478 BC from a hydropsy.

Burnet has a different theory:

"Herakleitos said (fr. 68) that it was death to souls to become water; and we are told accordingly that he died of dropsy. He said (fr. 114) that the Ephesians should leave their city to their children, and (fr. 79) that Time was a child playing draughts. We are therefore told that he refused to take any part in public life, and went to play with the children in the temple of Artemis. He said (fr. 85) that corpses were more fit to be cast out than dung; and we are told that he covered himself with dung when attacked with dropsy. Lastly, he is said to have argued at great length with his doctors because of fr. 58. For these tales see Diog.ix. 3-5."

On Nature

Heraclitus deposited his book in the Artemisium.

Heraclitus was known to have produced a single work on papyrus, On Nature. Diogenes Laërtius tells us that Heraclitus deposited his book as a dedication in the Artemisium. As with the other pre-Socratics, his writings survive now only in fragments quoted by other authors. In the case of Heraclitus, there are over one hundred. These are catalogued using the Diels–Kranz numbering system.

Diogenes Laërtius also states that Heraclitus' work was "a continuous treatise...but was divided into three discourses, one on the universe, another on politics, and a third on theology." He does not say whether Heraclitus divided them this way or someone else did. Theophrastus says (in Diogenes Laërtius) "...some parts of his work [are] half-finished, while other parts [made] a strange medley."

Burnet does not think the work had a title:

"We do not know the title of the work of Herakleitos.—if, indeed, it had one— and it is not easy to form a clear idea of its contents. We are told that it was divided into three discourses: one dealing with the universe, one political, and one theological. It is not to be supposed that this division is due to Herakleitos himself; all we can infer is that the work fell naturally into these three parts when the Stoic commentators took their editions of it in hand."

We do know the work's opening lines, proving it was indeed a continuous work. Aristotle quotes part of the opening line in the Rhetoric to outline the difficulty in punctuating Heraclitus without ambiguity; whether "forever" applied to "being" or to "prove". Sextus Empiricus in Against the Mathematicians quotes the whole thing:

"Of this Logos being forever do men prove to be uncomprehending, both before they hear and once they have heard it. For, though all things come to pass in accordance with this Logos, they are like the unexperienced experiencing words and deeds such as I explain when I distinguish each thing according to its nature and show how it is. Other men are unaware of what they do when they are awake just as they are forgetful of what they do when they are asleep."


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 Laërtius says: "the book acquired such fame that it produced partisans of his philosophy who were called Heracliteans." Cratylus was one such follower. Antisthenes was another.

Ancient characterizations

"The Obscure"

Heraclit by Luca Giordano

At some time in antiquity he acquired this epithet denoting that his major sayings were difficult to understand, with frequent paradox, metaphor, and pregnant utterances. In the Metaphysics Aristotle mentions how some say Heraclitus denied the law of noncontradiction, and accuses him of not reasoning. According to Diogenes Laërtius, Timon of Phlius called him "the Riddler" (αἰνικτής; ainiktēs), and explained that Heraclitus wrote his book "rather unclearly" (asaphesteron) so that only the "capable" should attempt it. Heraclitus himself wrote "The lord whose is the oracle at Delphi neither speaks nor hides his meaning, but gives a sign."


By the time of Cicero he had become "the dark" (ὁ Σκοτεινός; ho Skoteinós) because he had spoken nimis obscurē, "too obscurely", concerning nature and had done so deliberately in order to be misunderstood. The customary English translation of ὁ Σκοτεινός follows the Latin, "the Obscure".

The "weeping philosopher"

A later tradition referred to Heraclitus as the "weeping philosopher", as opposed to Democritus, who is known as the "laughing philosopher". This was their reaction to the folly of mankind. Diogenes Laërtius ascribes the theory that Heraclitus did not complete some of his works because of melancholia to Theophrastus, though apparently in Theophrastus's time this meant impulsiveness. If Stobaeus writes correctly, Sotion 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 also expressed by the satirist Juvenal:

The first of prayers, best known at all the temples, is mostly for riches... Seeing this then do you not commend the one sage Democritus for laughing... and the master of the other school Heraclitus for his tears?

The motif was also adopted by Lucian of Samosata in his "Sale of Creeds", in which the duo is sold together as a complementary product in the satirical auction of philosophers.


Heraclitus's philosophy of change is commonly called becoming, and can be seen in a dialectical relationship and contrasted with Parmenides' concept of "being". For this reason, Heraclitus and Parmenides are commonly considered to be two of the founders of ontology and the issue of the One and the Many, and thus pivotal in the history of Western philosophy and metaphysics.

Diogenes Laërtius has a quote summing up Heraclitus's philosophy: "All things come into being by conflict of opposites, and the sum of things (τὰ ὅλα ta hola, "the whole") flows like a stream."


The meaning of Logos (λόγος) is subject to interpretation: "word", "account", "principle", "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.

Zeller's opinion of Heraclitean logos:

"λόγος  in my [Zeller's] opinion, refers indeed primarily to the discourse, but also to the contents of the discourse, the truth expressed in it; a confusion and identification of different ideas, united and apparently included in one word, which should least of all surprise us in Heracleitus. He [Heraclitus] says: ‘ This discourse (the theory of the world laid down in his work) is not recognised by men, although it ever exists (i.e. that which always exists, contains the eternal order of things, the eternal truth), for although all happens according to it (and thus its truth is confirmed by all facts universally) men behave as if they had never had any experience of it, when words or things present themselves to them, as I here represent them ’ (when the views here brought forward are shown them by instruction or by their own perceptions)"

The later Stoics understood the Logos as "the account which governs everything," and Hippolytus, a Church Father in the 3rd century AD, identified it as meaning the Christian Word of God, such as in John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word (logos) and the Word was God." Burnet's view of the relationship between Heraclitean logos and Johannine logos:

"In any case, the Johannine doctrine of the logos has nothing to do with Herakleitos or with anything at all in Greek philosophy, but comes from the Hebrew Wisdom literature. See Rendel Harris, The Origin of the Prologue to St. John's Gospel in The Expositor, 1916, pp. 147 sqq."

Hepesthai to koino "follow the common"

Heraclitus's ideas about the Logos are expressed in three famous but obscure fragments, with the first cited above, and two others. People must "follow the common" and not live having "their own judgement (phronēsis)". He seems to say the Logos is a public fact perhaps like a proposition or formula, though he would not have considered such things as abstract objects or even immaterial. The last quote can even be taken to be a statement against making arguments ad hominem:

For this reason it is necessary to follow what is common. But although the Logos is common, most people live as if they had their own private understanding.

Listening not to me but to the Logos...


But it always was and will be: an ever-living fire.

Like the previous Milesians, Thales with water and Anaximenes with air, Heraclitus considered fire as the arche, the most fundamental element, which gave rise to the other elements, perhaps because living people are warm. Norman Melchert interpreted Heraclitus as using "fire" metaphorically, in lieu of Logos, as the origin of all things. Others see it as a metaphor for change, like a dancing and flickering flame, or perhaps all of these. It is also speculated this shows the influence of Persian Zoroastrianism, with its concept of Atar.

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.

All things are an interchange for fire, and fire for all things, just like goods for gold and gold for goods.

The thunderbolt that steers the course of all things.

The first quote is the earliest use of kosmos in any extant Greek text.

On Heraclitus using Fire as a new primary substance, Burnet writes:

"All this made it necessary for him to seek out a new primary substance. He wanted not merely something from which opposites could be “ separated out,” but something which of its own nature would pass into everything else, while everything else would pass in turn into it. This he found in Fire, and it is easy to see why, if we consider the phenomenon of combustion. The quantity of fire in a flame burning steadily appears to remain the same, the flame seems to be what we call a “ thing.” And yet the substance of it is continually changing. It is always passing away in smoke, ‘and its place is always being taken by fresh matter from the fuel that feeds it. This is just what we want. If we regard the world as an ” ever-living fire ” (fr. 20), we can understand how it is always becoming all things, while all things are always returning to it."

Unity of opposites

In a seeming response to Anaximander, Heraclitus also believed in a unity of opposites. He characterized all existing entities by pairs of contrary properties

Athánatoi thnetoí, thnetoì athántatoi, "Mortals are immortal, immortals mortal"

This is most famously expressed with his claim "Mortals are immortals and immortals are mortals, the one living the others' death and dying the others' life". This is taken to mean men are mortal gods, and gods immortal men. He would also point out that sleep is like death. He was fond of speaking this way. He also said "Man kindles a light for himself in the night-time, when he has died but is alive. The sleeper, whose vision has been put out, lights up from the dead; he that is awake lights up from the sleeping," and "All the things we see when awake are death, even as all we see in slumber are sleep."

Dike eris, "strife is justice"

In this union of opposites, of both generation and destruction, Heraclitus called the oppositional processes ἔρις (eris), "strife", and hypothesizes that the apparently stable state, δίκη (dikê), or "justice", is a harmony of it. Anaximander described the same as injustice. Aristotle mentions that Heraclitus disliked Homer because he wished strife would leave the world, which for Heraclitus would destroy the world; "there would be no harmony without high and low notes, and no animals without male and female, which are opposites."

War is the father of all and the king of all.

Heraclitus is the original philosopher to claim that war is a good thing. He also wrote "Every beast is driven to pasture by blows."

We must know that war is common to all and strife is justice, and that all things come into being through strife necessarily.

War is the father of all and king of all; and some he shows as gods, others as men, some he makes slaves, others free.

Gods and men honor those who are slain in battle.

The people must fight for its law as for its walls.


In a metaphor and one of the earliest uses of a force in the history of philosophy, Heraclitus compares the union of opposites to a strung bow or lyre held in shape by an equilibrium of the string tension:

There is a harmony in the bending back (παλίντροπος palintropos) as in the case of the bow and the lyre.

He claims this shows something true yet invisible about reality; "a hidden harmony is better than an apparent one." He also noted "the bow's name is life, though its work is death," a play on both bow and life being the same word as written - biós; further evidence of a continuous, written work.

On the unity of opposites, Burnet says:

"The " strife of opposites " is really an “ attunement ” (armonia). From this it follows that wisdom is not a knowledge of many things, but the perception of the underlying unity of the warring opposites. That this really was the fundamental thought of Herakleitos is stated by Philo. He says: " For that which is made up of both the opposites is one; and, when the one is divided, the opposites are disclosed. Is not this just what the Greeks say their great and much belauded Herakleitos put in the forefront of his philosophy as summing it all up, and boasted of as a new discovery? ” "

The One and the Many

On Heraclitus' teachings of the one and many, Burnet writes:

"The truth Herakleitos proclaimed was that the world is at once one and many, and that it is just the “ opposite tension ” of the opposites that constitutes the unity of the One. It is the same conclusion as that of Pythagoras, though it is put in another way."

Burnet also writes about Plato's understanding of Heraclitus:

"According to Plato, then, Herakleitos taught that reality was at once many and one. This was not meant as a logical principle. The identity which Herakleitos explains as consisting in difference is just that of the primary substance in all its manifestations. This identity had been realised already by the Milesians, but they had found a difficulty in the difference. Anaximander had treated the strife of opposites as an “ injustice,” and what Herakleitos set himself to show was that, on the contrary, it was the highest justice (fr. 62)."

Hodos ano kato, "the way up and the way down"

Heraclitus also said "The way up and the way down is one and the same." Similarly he said "In writing, the course taken, straight and crooked, is one and the same." This can be interpreted in various ways.


One interpretation is that it shows his monism, though perhaps a dialectical one. Heraclitus does believe all is one. The full quote is "Listening not to me but to the Logos it is wise to agree that all things are one."

The one is made up of all things, and all things issue from the one.

Hesiod is most men's teacher. Men think he knew very many things, a man who did not know day or night! They are one.

Concerning a circle the beginning and end are common.

Heraclitus depicted in 1655.

Another is it illustrates the cyclical nature of reality and transformation, a replacement of one element by another, "turnings of fire". This might be another "hidden harmony" and is more consistent with pluralism, not monism.

The death of fire is the birth of air, and the death of air is the birth of water.

For it is death to souls to become water, and death to water to become earth. But water comes from earth; and from water, soul.

Cold things become warm, and what is warm cools; what is wet dries, and the parched is moistened.

And it is the same thing in us that is quick and dead, awake and asleep, young and old; the former are shifted and become the latter, and the latter in turn are shifted and become the former.


This has also been interpreted to advocate relativism.

Good and ill are one.

Asses prefer straw to gold.

The sea is the purest and impurest water. Fish can drink it and it is good for them, to me it is undrinkable and destructive.


He recognizes the fundamental changing of objects with the flow of time. This is the full expression of the becoming aspect of his philosophy.

Panta rhei, "everything flows"

He is credited with the phrase πάντα ῥεῖ (panta rhei) "everything flows." This famous aphorism used to characterize Heraclitus' thought comes from Simplicius, a neoplatonist, and from Plato's Cratylus. The word rhei (as in rheology) is the Greek word for "to stream", and is etymologically related to Rhea according to Plato's Cratylus. Compare with the Latin adages Omnia mutantur and Tempora mutantur (8 AD) and the central Buddhist doctrine of impermanence.

On Heraclitus' teachings on Flux, Burnet writes:

"Fire burns continuously and without interruption. It is always consuming fuel and always liberating smoke. Everything is either mounting upwards to serve as fuel, or sinking down wards after having nourished the flame. It follows that the whole of reality is like an ever-flowing stream, and that nothing is ever at rest for a moment. The substance of the things we see is in constant change. Even as we look at them, some of the stuff of which they are composed has already passed into something else, while fresh stuff has come into them from another source. This is usually summed up, appropriately enough, in the phrase "All things are flowing ” (panta rei), though this does not seem to be a quotation from Herakleitos. Plato, however, expresses the idea quite clearly. " Nothing ever is, everything is becoming ”; " All things are in motion like streams ”; "All things are passing, and nothing abides ”; " Herakleitos says somewhere that all things pass and naught abides; and, comparing things to the current of a river, he says you cannot step twice into the same stream ” (cf. fr. 41). these are the terms in which he describes the system."

The River

His philosophy has been summed up with another famous adage, "No man ever steps in the same river twice." It can be contrasted with Parmenides's statement that "whatever is, is, and what is not cannot be." Heraclitus uses the river image more than once:

Ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers.

We both step and do not step in the same rivers. We are and are not.

The idea is referenced twice in Plato's Cratylus. Instead of "flow" Plato uses chōrei, "to change place" (χῶρος; chōros).

"All entities move and nothing remains still"

"Everything changes and nothing remains still ... and ... you cannot step twice into the same stream"

Simplicius references it thus:

"...the natural philosophers who follow Heraclitus, keeping in view the perpetual flux of generation and the fact that all corporeal things are coming to be and departing and never really are (as Timaeus said too) claim that all things are always in flux and that you could not step twice in the same river."

According to Aristotle, Cratylus went a step beyond his master's doctrine and proclaimed that one cannot step into the same river once. Compare the Japanese tale Hōjōki, (1200 AD) which contains the same image of the changing river.

However, the German classicist and philosopher Karl-Martin Dietz interprets this fragment as an indication by Heraclitus, for the world as a steady constant: "You will not find anything, in which the river remains constant. [...] Just the fact, that there is a particular river bed, that there is a source and an estuary etc. is something, that stays identical. And this is [...] the concept of a river".

Heraclitus does seem to say change is what unites things, as with his unity of opposites, or the quote "Even the kykeon falls apart if it is not stirred." and "Changing it rests."

The Sun

Flux is also expressed by the fact that, rather than thinking the same Sun will rise tomorrow as rose today, Heraclitus said the Sun is new every day.

God and the Soul

By "God" Heraclitus does not mean the Christian version of a single God as primum movens of all things, God as Creator, for the universe is eternal, "it always was and will be;" but the divine as opposed to human; the immortal as opposed to the mortal, the cyclical as opposed to the transient. It is arguably more accurate to speak of "the Divine" and not of "God".


Heraclitus distinguishes between human laws and divine law (τοῦ θείου toū theiou lit. "of God"). He said both God and fire are "want and surfeit". In addition to seeing fire as the most fundamental substance, he presents fire as the divine cosmos. Fire is both a substance and a motivator of change, it is active in altering other things. Heraclitus describes it as "the judging and convicting of all things." Judgment here is literally "to separate" (κρίνειν krinein).

In antiquity this was interpreted to mean that eventually all things will be consumed by fire, a doctrine called ecpyrosis. Hippolytus, from whom we get the quotation, sees it as a reference to divine judgment and Hell. However, he removes the human sense of justice from his concept 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. 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 (κάλλιστος κόσμος kállistos kósmos) is but a heap of rubbish (σάρμα sárma lit. "sweepings") piled up (κεχυμένον kechuménon, i.e. "poured out") at random (εἰκῇ eikê "aimlessly")." Bertrand Russell presents Heraclitus as a mystic in his Mysticism and Logic.

Aion esti pais, Eternity is a child
Heraclitus, by Rubens

There is the frivolity of a child in both man and God. "Eternity is a child moving counters in a game; the kingly power is a child's." Nietzsche explains this enigmatic quote as "And as the child and the artist plays, so too plays the ever living fire, it builds up and tears down, in innocence – such is the game eternity plays with itself." This quote may also be why there is the story of Heraclitus giving up his kingship to his brother.

Heraclitus also stated "human opinions are children's toys." However, "Man is called a baby by God, even as a child [is called a baby] by a man." Heraclitus also states "We should not act and speak like 'children of our parents", interpreted by Marcus Aurelius to mean not simply accept what others believe.

Fragment from the Derveni Papyrus

The Soul

He regarded the soul as being a mixture of fire and water, with fire being the noble part of the soul, and water the ignoble part. A soul should therefore aim toward becoming more full of fire and less full of water: a "dry" soul was best. According to Heraclitus, worldly pleasures (drinking most apparently) made the soul "moist", and he considered mastering one's worldly desires to be a noble pursuit which purified the soul's fire. The soul also has a self-increasing Logos. He believed we breathe in the logos, as Anaximenes would say of air and the soul. He also stated "It is hard to fight with one's heart's desire. Whatever it wishes to get, it purchases at the cost of soul."

Ethos anthropoi daimon, "Man's character is [his] fate"

This influential quote by Heraclitus "Ethos anthropoi daimon" has led to numerous interpretations. It seems to state one's luck is related to one's character. Whether in this context "daimon" can indeed be translated to mean "fate" is disputed; however, it lends much sense to Heraclitus' observations and conclusions about human nature in general. While the translation with "fate" is generally accepted as in Kahn's "a man's character is his divinity", in some cases, it may also stand for the soul of the departed.

The senses

Some have interpreted and some fragments support Heraclitus as a kind of proto-empiricist, such as "the things that can be seen, heard and learned are what I prize the most," or "The sun is the size that it appears," "the width of a human foot. but W. K. C. Guthrie disputes this interpretation, citing for "Eyes and ears are bad witnesses to men who have barbarian souls." He also said "sight tells falsehoods" and that "nature loves to hide". He also warned against hearsay, "Eyes are better witnesses than the ears."

The sense of smell also seemed to play a role in his philosophy. "If all things were turned to smoke, the nostrils would distinguish them." and "Souls smell in Hades."




Heraclitus's most famous follower was Cratylus, who was presented by Plato as a linguistic naturalist, one who believes names must apply naturally to their objects. According to Aristotle, he took the view that nothing can be said about the ever-changing world, and "ended by thinking that one need not say anything, and only moved his finger." He seemed to hold the view continuous change warrants skepticism because we cannot define a thing that does not have a permanent nature. 20th century linguistic philosophy saw a rise in considerations brought up by Cratylus in Plato's dialogue, and thus offered the doctrine called Cratylism.


Parmenides may have been responding to Heraclitus.

Parmenides's proem argues that change is impossible, and may very well have been referring to Heraclitus with such passages as "Undiscerning crowds, who hold that it is and is not the same, and all things travel in opposite directions!".


The pluralists were the first to try and reconcile Heraclitus and Parmenides. Anaxagoras may have been influenced by Heraclitus in his refusal to separate the opposites. Empedocles forces of Love and Hate were probably influenced by Heraclitus' Harmony and Strife. Empedocles is also credited with introducing the concept of the four classical elements.


Plato is the most famous to try and reconcile Heraclitus and Parmenides, and through him both influence virtually all subsequent Western philosophy. Plato knew of Heraclitus through Cratylus, and thus wrote his dialogue of the same name. Plato thought the views of Heraclitus entailed that no entity may ever occupy a single state at a single time, and argued against him as follows:

How can that be a real thing which is never in the same state? ... 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 ....

However, Plato does seem influenced by Heraclitus in his concept of the world as always changing, and thus our inability to have knowledge of particulars, and by Parmenides in needing another world, the Platonic realm, where things remain unchanging and universals exist as the objects of knowledge, the Forms. He gives this in the Symposium, sounding very much like Heraclitus:

Even during the period for which any living being is said to live and retain his identity - as a man, for example, is called the same man from boyhood to old age - he does not in fact retain the same attributes, although he is called the same person: he is always becoming a new being and undergoing a process of loss and reparation, which affects his hair, his flesh, his bones, his blood and his whole body. And not only his body, but his soul as well. No man's character, habits, opinions desires pleasures pains and fears remain always the same: new ones come into existence and old ones disappear.


Pyrrhonism is a school of philosophical skepticism which flourished between the 3rd century BCE and about the 3rd century CE. One major figure in the school, Aenesidemus, claimed in a now-lost work that Pyrrhonism was a way to Heraclitean philosophy, since opposites appearing to be the case about the same thing leads into opposites being the case about the same thing, and the Pyrrhonists say that opposites appear to be the case about the same thing, while the Heracliteans move from this to their being the case. A later Pyrrhonist philosopher, Sextus Empiricus, disagreed, arguing that opposites' appearing to be the case about the same thing is not a dogma of the Pyrrhonists but a matter occurring not only to the Pyrrhonists but also to the other philosophers, and, indeed, to all mankind.


Coin from c. 230 AD depicting Heraclitus, with club and raised hand.

Stoicism was a philosophical school which flourished between the 3rd century BC and about the 3rd century AD. It began among the Greeks and became a major philosophy of the Roman Empire before declining with the rise of Christianity in the 3rd century.

While most scholars believe Heraclitus had little effect on the Stoics, scholar A. A. Long argues otherwise. According to him, throughout their long tenure the Stoics believed that the major tenets of their philosophy derived from the thought of Heraclitus, "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, which Long concludes are "modifications of Heraclitus."

The Stoic modification of Heraclitus' idea of the Logos was also influential on Jewish philosophers such as Philo 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.

With regard to Stoic modification of Heraclitus, Burnet writes:

"Another difficulty we have to face is that most of the commentators on Herakleitos mentioned in Diogenes were Stoics. Now, the Stoics held the Ephesian in peculiar veneration, and sought to interpret him as far as possible in accordance with their own system. Further, they were fond of “ accommodating ” the views of earlier thinkers to their own, and this has had serious consequences. In particular, the Stoic theories of the logos and the ekpyrosis are constantly ascribed to Herakleitos, and the very fragments are adulterated with scraps of Stoic terminology."

Hymn to Zeus

The Stoics were interested in Heraclitus' treatment of fire. The earliest surviving Stoic work, the Hymn to Zeus of Cleanthes, a work transitional from pagan polytheism to the modern religions and philosophies, though not explicitly referencing Heraclitus, adopts what appears to be the Heraclitean logos modified. Zeus rules the universe with law (nomos) wielding on its behalf the "forked servant", the "fire" of the "ever-living lightning." So far nothing has been said that differs from the Zeus of Homer. But 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 nomos", which Zeus uses to "make the wrong (perissa, left or odd) right (artia, right or even)" and "order (kosmein) the disordered (akosma)."

Possible statue of Hippolytus

Church Fathers

The Church Fathers were the leaders of the early Christian Church during its first five centuries of existence, roughly contemporaneous to Stoicism under the Roman Empire. The works of dozens of writers in hundreds of pages have survived. All of them had something to say about the Christian form of the Logos. The Catholic Church found it necessary to distinguish between the Christian logos and that of Heraclitus, in order to distance itself from pagans and convert them to Christianity. Church use of the methods and conclusions of ancient philosophy as such was as yet far in the future, even though many were converted philosophers.

Refutation of All Heresies

Hippolytus of Rome therefore identifies Heraclitus along with the other Pre-Socratics (and Academics) as sources of heresy. In Refutation of All Heresies, one of the best sources on quotes from Heraclitus, 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 an inscrutable quote: "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 if taken literally. German physicist and philosopher Max Bernard Weinstein classed his view as a predecessor of pandeism.

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 the fragment 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.

First Apology

The Christian apologist Justin Martyr, however, took a much more positive view of him. In his First Apology, he said both Socrates and Heraclitus were Christians before Christ: "those who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them."


Heraclitus from the Nuremberg Chronicle

The weeping philosopher was still considered an indispensable motif for philosophy through the modern period.

French philosophy

Michel de Montaigne proposed two archetypical views of human affairs based on them, selecting Democritus' for himself.

German philosophy

G. W. F. Hegel gave Heraclitus high praise. According to him, "the origin of philosophy is to be dated from Heraclitus." He attributes dialectics to Heraclitus rather than, as Aristotle did, to Zeno of Elea. "There is no proposition of Heraclitus which I have not adopted in my Logic."

Friedrich Engels who associated with the Young Hegelians also gave Heraclitus the credit for inventing dialectics, relevant to his own dialectical materialism. Ferdinand Lasalle was another socialist also influenced by Heraclitus.

Heraclitus plaque on Path of Visionaries in Berlin

Friedrich Nietzsche was profoundly influenced by Heraclitus, as can be seen in his Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks. Nietzsche sees him as a confident opposition to Anaximander's pessimism. Oswald Spengler was influenced by Nietzsche and also wrote his dissertation on Heraclitus.

Martin Heidegger is also influenced by Heraclitus, as seen in his Introduction to Metaphysics, and takes a very different interpretation than Nietzsche and several others. According to Heidegger, "In Heraclitus, to whom is ascribed the doctrine of becoming as diametrically opposed to Parmenides' doctrine of being, says the same as Parmenides."

Karl Popper wrote much on Heraclitus, and both Popper and Heraclitus believe in invisible processes at work.

British philosophy

The weeping philosopher may have also been mentioned in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. J. M. E. McTaggart's illustration of the A-series and B-series of time has been seen as an analogous application to time of Heraclitus and Parmenides views of all of reality, respectively. A. N. Whitehead's process philosophy bears a resemblance to Heraclitus.

Depictions in art

Heraclitus has been done several times in western art, especially as part of the weeping and laughing philosopher motif, and with globes.


Donato Bramante painted a fresco, "Democritus and Heraclitus," in Casa Panigarola in Milan in 1477. Heraclitus's most famous depiction in art is in Raphael's School of Athens, painted around 1510. Raphael chose to depict Michelangelo as Heraclitus. He and Diogenes of Sinope are the only ones to sit alone in the painting.

The laughing philosopher and the weeping philosopher by Johann Christoph Ludwig Lücke

Salvator Rosa also painted Democritus and Heraclitus, as did Luca Giordano, together and separately in the 1650s or so. Giuseppe Torretti sculpted busts of the same in 1705. Giuseppe Antonio Petrini painted Weeping Heraclitus circa 1750.


Franz Tymmermann in 1538 painted a weeping Heraclitus. Johann Christoph Ludwig Lücke sculpted busts of the same in the 1750s. Franz Xaver Messerschmidt also sculpted them.


In 1619, the Dutch Cornelis van Haarlem also painted a laughing Democritus and weeping Heraclitus. Hendrick ter Brugghen's paintings of Heraclitus and Democritus separately in 1628 hang in the Rijksmuseum, and he also painted them together.

Around 1630, Dutch painter Johannes Moreelse painted Heraclitus ringing his hands over a globe, sad at the state of the world, and another with Democritus laughing at one. Dirck van Baburen also painted the pair. Egbert van Heemskerck did as well.


Peter Paul Rubens painted the pair twice in 1603. Nicolaes Pickenoy also painted the pair.


Etienne Parrocel painted him, as did Charles-Antoine Coypel.


Jusepe de Ribera painted the pair in 1630.

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 08 Mar 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
comments so far.
From our partners
Reference sources
Sections Heraclitus

arrow-left arrow-right instagram whatsapp myspace quora soundcloud spotify tumblr vk website youtube pandora tunein iheart itunes