Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Epistles of Heraclitus I-IV

I. "King Darius salutes Heraclitus of Ephesus, a wise man,

You have committed to writing an account of nature which is both difficult to understand and to interpret [in his Fragments, translated on the left]. When it was expounded in some details according to your intent, it seemed to me to display a certain theoretical force in dealing with the cosmos as a whole and with subsidiary phenomena, namely those which are in a state of quite god-like motion. Most of its doctrines, however, seem to inhibit research and learning... King Darius... wishes to hear you lecture and to acquire some abstract learning... Come immediately to my presence at court..."

II. "Heraclitus sends greetings to Darius the King,

Whatever mortal men there are keep far from truth and right. They are intent on greed and ambition, out of base folly. I, who have no personal recollection of any vice and who disdainfully shun in every matter that surfeit which is linked with envy, I certainly would not come to Persian territory, since I am satisfied with a few things, in accord with my set principle."


III. "King Darius to the Ephesians,

A virtuous man is a great boon to a city. He makes people virtuous by leading them at the proper time to good deeds with fine speeches and laws. Yet you have sent into exile Hermodorus, the best man, not only among yourselves, but also among all the Ionians... You lodge shameful charges against a virtuous man... If you have decided to wage war against your royal master, get ready! I am sending an army which you will not be able to resist.--For it is disgraceful for a king not to assist his friends.--If, however, you are attempting nothing of this sort, bring Hermodorus back and restore him to his ancestral estate..."


IV. "Heraclitus to Hermodorus, Greeting,

Do not grieve any longer about your own affairs... Euthycles... has charged me with impiety, thus reproaching in his ignorance a man outstanding for wisdom. The accusation was that I wrote my own name upon the altar which I set up, thus making myself, who am but a man, into a god. I shall then be accounted among the impious by an impious man. What would you expect? Shall I seem to be pious to them when I hold opinions about the gods opposed to what they think? Indeed, if the blind were to judge what is sight, they would say that blindness is seeing!

But, you stupid men, teach us first what god is, so that you may be trusted when you speak of committing impiety. Also, where is God? Is he shut up in temples? You are a fine sort of pious men, who set up God in darkness! A man takes it as an insult if he is said to be stony; but is a god truly spoken of whose honorific title is 'he is born from crags?' You ignorant men, don't you know that God is not wrought by hands, and has not from the beginning had a pedestal, and does not have a single enclosure? Rather the whole world is his temple, decorated with animals, plants, and stars.

I inscribed upon the altar, 'To Heracles the Ephesian,' thus making a god of your fellow citizen, and not, 'To Heraclitus the Ephesian.' If you do not understand letters, your ignorance is not my impiety; learn wisdom and understand. Don't you want to? I won't force you. Grow old in ignorance, delighting in your own vices.

Was not Heracles a man? Indeed, he was even murdered of his guests, as Homer fabricated it. What, then, deified him? It was his own virtue and the most noble of his deeds, when he had successfully concluded so many labors, therefore, sirs, am I not myself virtuous?

I have made a mistake in asking you, for even if you answer in the negative, nevertheless I am virtuous. I, too, have successfully completed many very difficult labors. I have overcome pleasures; I have overcome money; I have overcome ambition, I overthrew cowardice; I overthrew flattery; fear does not contradict me; drunkenness does not contradict me; grief fears me; anger fears me. The struggle is against these opponents, and I have been crowned victor, not by Eurystheus, but by controlling myself.

Will you not stop insulting wisdom and attributing to us faults and indictments proper to yourselves? If you could be reborn and live once again five hundred years from now, you would find Heraclitus still alive, but of yourselves, you would not find even the trace of a name. On account of Culture I shall never be silenced and shall live as long as cities and lands. Even if the city of the Ephesians should be sacked and all the alters destroyed, the souls of men will be my memorials. I, too, shall take a wife a Hebe [goddess of eternal youth]... Virtue bears many daughters, and she gave one to Homer, another to Hesiod, and Culture betroths Renown to each individual who is some way virtuous [that they may live forever].

Euthycles, am I not pious, who alone knows God? Are not you both bold and impious; bold because you think you know him, and impious because you think him to be who he is not? If an altar of a god is not established, he is not a god, according to your reasoning; while if an altar is established for one who is not a god, then he becomes a god, so that stones are witnesses of gods [he's pointing out how observed their reasoning is.]! [Heraclitus' seemingly more-accurate reasoning is:] In fact, his [God's] works bear witness to what he is like. Do not night and day witness to him? The seasons are his witnesses; the whole fruitful earth is his witness. The orb of the moon, his handiwork, is his heavenly testimony."


Translated by Harold W. Attridge in "First-Century Cynicism in the Epistles of Heraclitus."

Read more of Heraclitus letters:

<-| I-IV |-| V-VI |-| VII |->

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