Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Epistles of Heraclitus VII.1

“… Lions do not arm themselves with force against one another, nor do mares take up swords, nor do eagles wear breastplates against eagles. They have no implement for battle; for each his limbs are his weapons. For some there is poison, for some horns, for some hooves… for some wings… speed… size… smallness… for some the ability to swim and for many nothing other than their breath, for none a sword. 

It makes the reasonless animals glad when they see that the law of nature [stability] is preserved in themselves and not in men… instability prevails among [men]…

In regard to the outcome of wars, what should you pray for?... Will you prevent my sorrow through this? How could you? … Many of your kinsmen are slain and their land defoliated, their city sacked, old men dishonored, wives led off, children snatched from their arms, bridal chambers defiled, maidens made concubines… free men chained, temples of the gods pulled apart, shrines of the heroes dug up… I remain without laughter at these things.

In peace you make war with words; in war you deliberate with iron. Justice is raped by your votes and justice is raped by your swords.

Hermodorus is driven out for writing laws; Heraclitus is prosecuted for impiety.

The cities are empty of nobility; the deserts are crowded because of injustice.

Walls stand… symbols of the vice of men. Houses are walled around; everyone has some walls to guard against discord. Those within are hostile, even though they are fellow citizens; those without are hostile, even though they are strangers. All are enemies, none are friends. Am I able to laugh when I see so many enemies?

You think another man’s wealth your own; you consider others’ wives your own. You enslave free men; you eat the living. You transgress the laws; you enact illegalities; you perform by force everything which you cannot do by nature… The laws are evidence of vice. For if they did not exist, you would commit vice freely all the time…

No oxen who are good at fighting with horns are taught by others to run and flee, but each beast fights staunchly against that which is natural for him to resist. You, however, when you have been trained, live in contradictory ways, some flitting swiftly about like flies, some battling like bulls, some exhausted in your belly, some borne along by pleasures… by unjust acts, by evil thoughts; no one of you lives according to nature, but all live overlooking such a marvel as this. Is not this to have a diseased mind?

Astounded at the world of the theaters, you disregard the world of the stars. One is adorned with lifeless items, but the heaven with gods. Look sometime at the sun, which gives life to the soul, and do not let the moon escape your notice… Lay claim to the prerogatives of virtue; love to strive after it.

Lions do not shed lions’ blood, nor do wolves poison wolves, nor do horses conspire against horses, nor de elephants destroy and sack citidels. Even when these animals live with us, they are rendered tame; but men, when they live among men, are made wild. Brothers have killed brothers… fathers have poisoned their children and legitimate sons have cut off their parents’ heads and women have not refrained from murdering their husbands and men have ungratefully slain maidens after seducing them. Licentious and impious at once, they have made those suspected of vice blameless, so that the unjust man seems to do justice. From these things the dumb animals are exempt.

Elephants are not greedy for money, lions nowhere hoard up possessions, nor do oxen prepare cakes and honeyed mixes, nor do bulls wear Milesian fabrics, nor do they have the clothing of any particular race. They do not aid one another in trade, nor do they lay hands on their own kind and make them servants, as men do.

Some of them live in dens, some in caves, some in woods… plains… water… air. None is without a home, as long as there is room. When conditions change, we see them with a thick, hairy shelter, or impervious to the cold or frost. Some take a shell as an outgrowing protection and they have for food pastures on mountains and plains, and for water they have both the bounteous springs and marshy streams.

Therefore they live without plotting, unexposed to killing except through men. [Through men,] that which is gentle by nature becomes beastly. There are swords against fathers, swords against mothers, swords against children, against brothers, against friends, against fellow citizens… against harmless beasts, against things foreign.

"Sate yourselves once and for all with impiety, so that I may bet back my laughter...


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 |->

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