Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
74. Sleeping and Waking 76. The Day and the Year

From Chapter III., Herakleitos of Ephesos

75. Life and Death
But in no soul are the fire and water thus evenly balanced for long. One or the other acquires predominance, and the result in either case is death. Let us take each of these cases in turn. It is death, we know, to souls to become water (fr. 68); but that is what happens to souls which seek after pleasure. For pleasure is a moistening of the soul (fr. 72), as may be seen in the case of the drunken man, who has so moistened his soul that he does not know where he is going (fr. 73). Even in gentle relaxation over our cups, it is more difficult to hide folly than at other times (fr. 108). That is why we must quench wantonness (fr. 103); for whatever our heart's desire insists on it purchases at the price of life, that is, of the fire within us (fr. 105). Take now the other case. The dry soul, that which has least moisture, is the best (fr. 74); but the preponderance of fire causes death as much as that of water. It is a very different death, however, and wins "greater portions" for those who die it (fr. 101).

Further, just as summer and winter are one, and necessarily reproduce one another by their "opposite tension," so do life and death. They, too, are one, we are told; and so are youth and age (fr. 78). It follows that the soul will be now living and now dead; that it will only turn to fire or water, as the case may be, to recommence once more its unceasing upward and downward path. The soul that has died from excess of moisture sinks down to earth; but from the earth comes water, and from water is once more exhaled a soul (fr. 68). So, too, we are told (fr. 67) that gods and men are really one. They live each others' life, and die each others' death. Those mortals that die the fiery death become immortal,73 they become the guardians of the quick and the dead (fr. 123);74 and those immortals become mortal in their turn. Everything is the death of something else (fr. 64). The living and the dead are always changing places (fr. 78), like the pieces on a child's draught-board (fr. 79), and this applies not only to the souls that have become water, but to those that have become fire and are now guardian spirits. The real weariness is continuance in the same state (fr. 82), and the real rest is change (fr. 83). Rest in any other sense is tantamount to dissolution (fr. 84);75 So they too are born once more. Herakleitos estimated the duration of the cycle which preserves the balance of life and death as thirty years, the shortest time in which a man may become a grandfather (frs. 87-89).76

Burnet's Notes


73. The word is used for its paradoxical effect. Strictly speaking, they are all mortal from one point of view and immortal from another.

74. Those who fall in battle apparently share the same lot (fr. 102). Rohde, Psyche (II. pp. 148 sqq.), refused to admit that Herakleitos believed the soul survived death. Strictly speaking, it is no doubt an inconsistency; but I believe, with Zeller and Diels, that it is one of a kind we may well admit. The first argument which Plato uses to establish the doctrine of immortality in the Phaedo is just the Herakleitean parallelism of life and death with sleeping and waking.

75. These fragments are quoted by Plotinos, Iamblichos, and Noumenios in this connexion (R.P. 46 c), and it does not seem possible to hold, with Rohde, that they had no grounds for so interpreting them. They knew the context and we do not.

76. Plut. Def. orac. 415 d, ἔτη τριάκοντα ποιοῦσι τὴν γενεὰν καθ' Ἡράκλειτον, ἐν ᾧ χρόνῳ γεννῶντα παρέχει τὸν ἐξ αὑτοῦ γεγεννημένον ὁ γεννήσας Philo, fr. Harris, p. 20, δυνατὸν ἐν τριακοστῷ ἔτει αὖ τὸν ἄνθρωπον πάππον γενέσθαι κτλ. Censorinus, De die nat. 17. 2, "hoc enim tempus (triaginta annos) genean vocari Herakleitos auctor est, quia orbis aetatis in eo sit spatio: orbem autem vocat aetatis, dum natura ab sementi humana ad sementim revertitur." The words orbis aetatis seem to mean αἰῶνος κύκλος, "the circle of life." If so, we may compare the Orphic κύκλος γενέσεως.

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