Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Epistles of Heraclitus VII

VII. "Heraclitus to Hermodorus, greetings,

I have learned that the Ephesians are about to introduce a quite illicit law against me... They know, Hermodorus, that I helped you... and they want to drive me out, but not before I convict them of having unjustly made their decree: 'Every man who does not laugh and who is a misanthrope is to depart from the city before the setting of the sun.' This is what they are planning to enact! But, Hermodorus, there is no one who does not laugh except Heraclitus, and so it is me that they are driving out.

Sirs, don't you want to learn first why I am always without laughter? It is not out of hatred for men, but rather for their vice.

Write a law like this: 'If anyone hates vice, let him depart from the city,' and I shall be the first to go. Gladly shall I be banished, not from my country, but from vice... But if you admit that 'vice' equals 'Ephesians' and that I do hate you, would it not be more just for me to be the legislator, decreeing that 'Those who make Heraclitus humorless through vice are to depart this life.' The decree might rather be 'they are to be fined ten thousand,' since you are more chastened by a penalty in coin. This for you is exile, this is death.

You have done me wrong in depriving me of what God gave, and now you force me into exile unjustly. Or shall I rather admire you for this, that you have cut away my gentleness of disposition and that you do not stop contending against me with laws and decrees of banishment? For while remaining in the city have I not already been exiled from you? With whom do I commit adultery, with whom do I shed blood, with whom do I get drunk, with whom am I corrupted? I do not corrupt anyone; I do not treat anyone at all unjustly. I am alone in the city; you have made it deserted through vice... Heraclitus could make you, the city, virtuous; but you do not desire it. I do desire it and am a norm for others, but being a single individual, I am incapable of chastening a city.

You are amazed that I do not laugh, but I am amazed at those who do laugh and at how they delight in doing injustice, when it is fitting for those who act unjustly to blush. Give me an opportunity for laughter in peacetime, when you do not do battle in the lawcourts with weapons on your tongues, after committing frauds, seducing women, poisoning friends, spoiling temples, procuring, being found faithless in your oaths, beating cymbals, each one filled with a different vice.

Shall I laugh when I see these things, men producing clothing and beards and vainly grooming their heads, or a druggist's woman who has attacked a child, or youths eaten out of house and home, or a citizen deprived of his wife, or a maiden forcefully deprived of her virginity in night festivals, or a courtesan who is not yet a woman but who experiences the sufferings of a woman, or a youth who through licentiousness is made the sole lover of a whole city, or the waste of olives in perfumes, or the drunkenness in banquets which are brought about through rings, or the extravagant expenditures for meats, expenditures which flow into stomachs, or the mimes acting on stage? These are your great acts of righteousness! Can I rejoice at the sight of virtue placed second to vice? [Surely not!]

Shall I rather laugh at your real wars, when upon pretexts of injustices you shed blood, wretched creatures, having become beasts instead of men, who provoke yourselves through the music of flutes and trumpets to non-musical emotions? The iron of plows and implements more properly used for farming are readied as instruments of slaughter and death. The gods, Athene called warlike and Ares who is called martial [even the gods of these things would be appalled by their actions], are insulted; the gods are slandered, being the excuse for your lawless deeds. You stand in phalanxes, men against other men; you pray for mutual slaughter, punishing as deserters those who do not shed blood, while rewarding as heroes those who are steeped in blood..."


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

Read more of Heraclitus letters:

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

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