Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
73. Man 75. Life and Death

From Chapter III., Herakleitos of Ephesos

74. Sleeping and Waking
This, however, is not all. Man is subject to a certain oscillation in his "measures" of fire and water, which gives rise to the alternations of sleeping and waking, life and death. The locus classicus on this is a passage of Sextus Empiricus, which reproduces the account given by Ainesidemos.71

It is as follows (R.P. 41):

The natural philosopher is of opinion that what surrounds us72 is rational and endowed with consciousness. According to Herakleitos, when we draw in this divine reason by means of respiration, we become rational. In sleep we forget, but at our waking we become conscious once more. For in sleep, when the openings of the senses close, the mind which is in us is cut off from contact with that which surrounds us, and only our connexion with it by means of respiration, is preserved as a sort of root (from which the rest may spring again); and, when it is thus separated, it loses the power of memory that it had before. When we awake again, however, it looks out through the openings of the senses, as if through windows, and coming together with the surrounding mind, it assumes the power of reason. Just, then, as embers, when they are brought near the fire, change and become red-hot, and go out when they are taken away from it again, so does the portion of the surrounding mind which sojourns in our body become irrational when it is cut off, and so does it become of like nature to the whole when contact is established through the greatest number of openings.

In this passage there is clearly a large admixture of later ideas. In particular, the identification of "that which surrounds us" with the air cannot be Herakleitean; for Herakleitos knew nothing of air except as a form of water (§ 27). The reference to the pores or openings of the senses is probably foreign to him also; for the theory of pores is due to Alkmaion (§ 96). Lastly, the distinction between mind and body is far too sharply drawn. On the other hand, the important rôle assigned to respiration may very well be Herakleitean; for we have met with it already in Anaximenes. And we can hardly doubt that the striking simile of the embers which glow when brought near the fire is genuine (cf. fr. 77). The true doctrine doubtless was, that sleep was produced by the encroachment of moist, dark exhalations from the water in the body, which cause the fire to burn low. In sleep, we loss contact with the fire in the world which is common to all, and retire to a world of our own (fr. 95). In a soul where the fire and water are evenly balanced, the equilibrium is restored in the morning by an equal advance of the bright exhalation.

Burnet's Notes


71. Sextus quotes "Ainesidemos according to Herakleitos." Natorp holds (Forschungen, p. 78) that Ainesidemos really did combine Herakleiteanism with Skepticism. Diels (Dox. pp. 210, 211), insists that he only gave an account of the theories of Herakleitos. This controversy does not affect the use we make of the passage.

72. Τὸ περιέχον ἡμᾶς, opposed to but parallel with τὸ περιέχον τὸν κόσμον.

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