Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
62. Monotheism or Polytheism 64. His Book

From Chapter III., Herakleitos of Ephesos

63. Life of Herakleitos
HERAKLEITOS of Ephesos, son of Bloson, is said to have "flourished" in Ol. LXIX. (504/3-501/0 B.C.);1 that is to say, just in the middle of the reign of Dareios, with whom several traditions connected him.2 It is more important, however, for our purpose to notice that, while Herakleitos refers to Pythagoras and Xenophanes by name and in the past tense (fr. 16), he is in turn alluded to by Parmenides (fr. 6). These references mark his place in the history of philosophy. Zeller held, indeed, that he could not have published his work till after 478 B.C., on the ground that the expulsion of Hermodoros, alluded to in fr. 114, could not have taken place before the downfall of Persian rule. If that were so, it might be hard to see how Parmenides could have known the views of Herakleitos at the time he wrote his poem;3 but there is no difficulty in supposing that the Ephesians may have sent one of their citizens into banishment when they were still paying tribute to the Great King. The spurious Letters of Herakleitos show that the expulsion of Hermodoros was believed to have taken place during the reign of Dareios,4 and it seems probable that the party led by him had enjoyed the confidence of the Persian government. His expulsion would mark the beginnings of the movement against Persian rule, rather than its successful issue.

Sotion quotes a statement that Herakleitos was a disciple of Xenophanes,5 which is not probable; for Xenophanes left Ionia before Herakleitos was born. More likely he was not a disciple of any one; but it is clear that he was acquainted both with the Milesian cosmology and with the poems of Xenophanes. He also knew something of the theories taught by Pythagoras (fr. 17). Of his life we really know nothing, except, perhaps, that he belonged to the ancient royal house and resigned the nominal position of Basileus in favour of his brother.6 The origin of the other statements bearing on it is quite transparent.7

Burnet's Notes


1. Diog. ix. 1. (R.P. 29), no doubt from Apollodoros through some intermediate authority. The name Bloson is better attested than Blyson (see Diels, Vors. 12 A 1, n.), and is known from inscriptions as an Ionic name.

2. Bernays, Die heraklitischen Briefe, pp. 13 sqq.

3. For the date of Parmenides, see p. 169.

4. Bernays, op. cit. pp. 20 sqq. This is quite consistent with the Roman tradition that Hermodoros took part later in the legislation of the Twelve Tables at Rome (Dig. 1, 2, 2, 4; Strabo, xiv. p. 642). There was a statue of him in the Comitium (Pliny, H.N. xxxiv. 21). The Romans were well aware that the Twelve Tables were framed on a Greek model; and, as Bernays said (op. cit. p. 85), the fact is attested as few things are in the early history of Rome.

5. Sotion ap. Diog. ix. 5 (R.P. 29 c).

6. Diog. ix. 6 (R.P. 31).

7. 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. 14) 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.

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