Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Epistles of Heraclitus IX

IX. "To Hermodorus,

Hermodorus, how wicked will men get? It is no longer a question of individuals the their private vice, but rather entire cities and general vice. The Ephesians have exiled you, the most noble man there is...

The native of a place does not become a citizen because he has been judged to be virtuous. Instead, he is forced to be one because of his birth...

I do not think that there is any Ephesian citizen [supposing a citizen must prove virtuous], unless a dog or a cow is an Ephesian. As for an Ephesian man, if he is virtuous, he is a citizen of the world... in which the law is not some written statute, but rather god. The person who transgresses... commits an act of impiety. Of course, no one will transgress if he will not be overlooked when he has sinned... Wickedness abounds.

As for me, gods are my fellow citizens. I dwell with them through virtue. I know how great the sun is. The wicked do not even know that the gods exist.

Are the Ephesians ashamed that slaves are virtuous? Probably so! For they are wicked free men, who give in to servile passions... If God did not make slaves of dogs, sheep, asses, horses, and mules, did he make slaves of men? Aren't you ashamed that the fact that slavery afflicts greater creatures is in both word and deed a result of your injustice? How far superior are wolves and lions to the Ephesians. They do not enslave one another, nor does one eagle buy another, nor does one lion pour wine for another, nor does one dog castrate another...

'Let no slave sit near me nor dine with me,' say the Ephesians. I will pronounce a more just saying, 'Let a virtuous man sit by me and dine with me. Rather, let him take precedence over me and receive greater honor; for it is not chance but virtue which makes men equal.'

... Vice alone enslaves; virtue alone liberates. No man can do either. If by chance you issue commands to others who are virtuous, you yourselves are slaves on account of desire. You are being ordered about by your own masters...

The body, though enslaved to the soul, cooperates with the soul, and the mind does not object to dwelling with its inferiors. Earth, the least respectable element in the cosmos, rules along with heaven and heaven does not spurn its mortal foundation. Nor does the most sacred organ, the heart, spurn the bowels, the lowliest organ in the body. Also, God did not begrudge lighting everyone's eyes equally, nor opening up ears, nor bestowing taste, smell, memory, and hope. Nor did he shut out the sun's light from slaves, since he enrolled all men as citizens of the cosmos.

The Ephesians, however, believe their city to be superior to the cosmos, since they do not deem it suited to common practices. See that you do not commit an impiety by conducting yourselves in opposition to God.

You wish ever to be hated by the slaves, both at first when they serve you and later when they are dishonored by you. Why, then, did you free them, if you thought them unworthy? Was it because they were obedient to your passions?... Yourselves gave orders out of wickedness. They were pitiable, since they endured their evils out of fear, but you were despicable, since you gave the commands for vile acts. You were, then, enslaved to more severe masters, and now you are still enslaved, since you fear those whom you have ruled...

Hermodorus, the Ephesians will see to their own affairs. As for you, farewell, my virtuous friend."

This is the last of the Heraclitusian Epistles.


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

Who is Heraclitus? Check this out.

Read more of Heraclitus letters:

<-| I-IV |-| V-VI |-| VII |-| VII.1 |-| VIII |-| IX |->

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