Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
75. Life and Death 77. The Great Year

From Chapter III., Herakleitos of Ephesos

76. The Day and the Year
Let us turn now to the world. Diogenes tells us that fire was kept up by the bright vapours from land and and sea, and moisture by the dark.77 What are these "dark" vapours which increase the moist element? If we remember the "Air" of Anaximenes, we shall be inclined to regard them as darkness itself. We know that the idea of darkness as privation of light is not primitive. I suppose, then, that Herakleitos believed night and winter to be produced by the rise of darkness from earth and sea—he saw, of course, that the valleys were dark before the hill-tops—and that this darkness, being moist, so increased the watery element as to put out the sun's light. This, however, destroys the power of darkness itself. It can no longer rise upwards unless the sun gives it motion, and so it becomes possible for a fresh sun (fr. 32) to be kindled, and to nourish itself at the expense of the moist element for a time. But it can only be for a time. The sun, by burning up the bright vapour, deprives himself of nourishment, and the dark vapour once more gets the upper hand. It is in this sense that "day and night are one" (fr. 35). Each implies the other; they are merely two sides of one process, in which alone their true ground of explanation is to be found (fr. 36).

Summer and winter were to be explained in the same way. We know that the "turnings back" of the sun were a subject of interest in those days, and it was natural for Herakleitos to see in its retreat to the south the advance of the moist element, caused by the heat of the sun itself. This, however, diminishes the power of the sun to cause evaporation, and so it must return to the north that it may supply itself with nourishment. Such was, at any rate, the Stoic doctrine,78 and that it comes from Herakleitos seems to be proved by its occurrence in the Περὶ διαίτης. The following passage is clearly Herakleitean:

And in turn each (fire and water) prevails and is prevailed over to the greatest and least degree that is possible. For neither can prevail altogether for the following reasons. If fire advances towards the utmost limit of the water, its nourishment fails it. It retires, then, to a place where it can get nourishment. And if water advances towards the utmost limit of the fire, movement fails it. At that point, then, it stands still; and, when it has come to a stand, it has no longer power to resist, but is consumed as nourishment for the fire that falls upon it. For these reasons neither can prevail altogether. But if at any time either should be in any way overcome, then none of the things that exist would be as they are now. So long as things are as they are, fire and water will always be too, and neither will ever fail.79

Burnet's Notes


77. Diog. ix. 9 (R.P. 39 b).

78. Cf. Cic. N.D. iii. 37: "Quid enim? non eisdem vobis placet omnem ignem pastus indigere nec permanere ullo modo posse, nisi alitur: ali autem solem, lunam, reliqua astra aquis, alia dulcibus (from the earth), alia marinis? eamque causam Cleanthes (fr. 29 Pearson; I. 501 v. Arnim) adfert cur se sol referat nec longius progrediatur solstitiali orbi itemque brumali, ne longius discedat a cibo."

79. For the Greek text see below, p. 162, n. 3. Fredrichs allows that it is from the same source as that quoted above (p. 151, n. 1), and, as that comes from Περὶ διαίτης, i. 3, he denies the Herakleitean origin of this passage too. He has not taken account of the fact that it gives the Stoic doctrine, which raises a presumption in favour of its being Herakleitean. If I could agree with Fredrichs' theory, I should still say that the present passage was a Herakleitean interpolation in the Physiker rather than that the other was an interpolation from the Physiker in the Herakleitean section. See p. 150, n. 2.

Created for Peithô's Web from Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, 3rd edition (1920). London: A & C Black Ltd. Burnet's footnotes have been converted to chapter endnotes. Greek unicode text entered with Peithô's Younicoder.
Web design by Larry Clark and RSBoyes (Agathon). Peithô's Web gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Anthony Beavers in the creation of this web edition of Burnet. Please send comments to:
agathon at classicpersuasion