Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
70. Flux 72. Measure for Measure

From Chapter III., Herakleitos of Ephesos

71. The Upward and Downward Path
Herakleitos appears to have worked out the details with reference to the theories of Anaximenes.60 It is unlikely, however, that he explained the transformations of matter by means of rarefaction and condensation.61 Theophrastos, it appears, suggested that he did; but he allowed it was by no means clear. The passage from Diogenes we are about to quote has faithfully preserved this touch.62 In the fragments we find nothing about rarefaction and condensation. The expression used is "exchange" (fr. 22), a very good name for what happens when fire gives out smoke and takes in fuel instead.

It has been pointed out that, in default of Hippolytos, our best account of the Theophrastean doxography of Herakleitos is the fuller of the two accounts given in Laertios Diogenes. It is as follows

His opinions on particular points are these:

He held that Fire was the element, and that all things were an exchange for fire, produced by condensation and rarefaction. But he explains nothing clearly. All things were produced in opposition, and all things were in flux like a river.

The all is finite and the world is one. It arises from fire, and is consumed again by fire alternately through all eternity in certain cycles. This happens according to fate. Of the opposites, that which leads to the becoming of the world is called War and Strife; that which leads to the final conflagration is Concord and Peace

He called change the upward and the downward path, and held that the world comes into being in virtue of this. When fire is condensed it becomes moist, and when compressed it turns to water; water being congealed turns to earth, and this he calls the downward path. And, again, the earth is in turn liquefied, and from it water arises, and from that everything else; for he refers almost everything to the evaporation from the sea. This is the path upwards. R.P. 36.

He held, too, that exhalations arose both from the sea and the land; some bright and pure, others dark. Fire was nourished by the bright ones, and moisture by the others.

He does not make it clear what is the nature of that which surrounds the world. He held, however, that there were bowls in it with the concave sides turned towards us, in which the bright exhalations were collected and produced flames. These were the heavenly bodies.

The flame of the sun was the brightest and warmest; for the other heavenly bodies were more distant from the earth; and for that reason gave less light and heat. The moon, on the other hand, was nearer the earth; but it moved through an impure region. The sun moved in a bright and unmixed region and at the same time was at just the right distance from us. That is why it gives more heat and light. The eclipses of the sun and moon were due to the turning of the bowls upwards, while the monthly phases of the moon were produced by a gradual turning of its bowl.

Day and night, months and seasons and years, rains and winds, and things like these, were due to the different exhalations. The bright exhalation, when ignited in the circle of the sun, produced day, and the preponderance of the opposite exhalations produced night. The increase of warmth proceeding from the bright exhalation produced summer, and the preponderance of moisture from the dark exhalation produced winter. He assigns the causes of other things in conformity with this.

As to the earth, he makes no clear statement about its nature, any more than he does about that of the bowls.

These, then, were his opinions. R.P. 39 b.

Now, if we can trust this passage, it is of the greatest value; and that, upon the whole, we can trust it is shown by the fact that it follows the exact order of topics to which all the doxographies derived from the work of Theophrastos adhere. First we have the primary substance, then the world, then the heavenly bodies, and lastly, meteorological phenomena. We conclude, then, that it may be accepted with the exceptions, firstly, of the probably erroneous conjecture of Theophrastos as to rarefaction and condensation; and secondly, of some pieces of Stoical interpretation which come from the Vetusta Placita.

Let us look at the details. The pure fire, we are told, is to be found chiefly in the sun. This, like the other heavenly bodies, is a trough or bowl, with the concave side turned towards us, in which the bright exhalations from the sea collect and burn. How does the fire of the sun pass into other forms? If we look at the fragments which deal with the downward path, we find that the first transformation it undergoes is into sea, and we are further told that half of the sea is earth and half of it πρηστήρ (fr. 21). What is this πρηστήρ? So far as I know, no one has yet proposed to take the word in the sense it usually bears elsewhere, that, namely, of hurricane accompanied by a fiery waterspout.63 Yet surely this is just what is wanted. It is amply attested that Herakleitos explained the rise of the sea to fire by means of the bright evaporations; and we want a similar meteorological explanation of the passing of fire back into sea. We want, in fact, something which will stand equally for the smoke produced by the burning of the sun and for the immediate stage between fire and water. What could serve the turn better than a fiery waterspout? It sufficiently resembles smoke to be accounted for as the product of the sun's combustion, and it certainly comes down in the form of water. And this interpretation becomes practically certain when taken in connexion with the report of Aetios as to the Herakleitean theory of πρηστῆρες. They were due, we are told, "to the kindling and extinction of clouds."64 In other words, the bright vapour, after kindling in the bowl of the sun and going out again, reappears as the dark fiery storm-cloud, and so passes once more into sea. At the next stage we find water continually passing into earth. We are already familiar with this idea (§10). Turning to the "upward path," we find that the earth is liquefied in the same proportion as the sea becomes earth, so that the sea is still "measured by the same tale" (fr. 23). Half of it is earth and half of it is πρηστήρ (fr. 21). This must mean that, at any given moment, half of the sea is taking the downward path, and has just been fiery storm-cloud, while half of it is going up, and has just been earth. In proportion as the sea is increased by rain, water passes into earth; in proportion as the sea is diminished by evaporation, it is fed by the earth. Lastly, the ignition of the bright vapour from the sea in the bowl of the sun completes the circle of the "upward and downward path."

Burnet's Notes


60. See above, Chap. I. § 29.

61. See, however, the remark of Diels (Dox. p. 165) quoted R.P. 36 c.

62. Diog. ix. 8, σαφῶς δ' οὐθὲν ἐκτίθεται.

63. This was written in 1890. In his Herakleitos von Ephesos (1901) Diels takes it as I did, rendering Glutwind. Cf. Herod, vii. 42, and Lucretius vi. 424. Seneca (Q.N. ii. 56) calls it igneus turbo. The opinions of early philosophers on these phenomena are collected in Aetios iii. 3. The πρηστήρ of Anaximander (Chap. I. p. 68, n. 2) is a different thing. Greek sailors probably named the meteorological phenomena after the familiar bellows of the smith.

64. Aet. iii. 3. 9, πρηστῆρας δὲ κατὰ νεφῶν ἐμπρήσεις καὶ σβέσεις (sc. Ἡράκλειτος ἀποφαίνεται γίγνεσθαι).

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