Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
78. Did Herakleitos Teach a General Conflagration? 80. Correlation of Opposites

From Chapter III., Herakleitos of Ephesos

79. Strife and "Harmony"
We are now in a position to understand more clearly the law of strife or opposition which manifests itself in the "upward and downward path." At any given moment, each of the three aggregates, Fire, Water, and Earth, is made up of two equal portions—subject, of course, to the oscillation described above—one of which is taking the upward and the other the downward path. Now, it is just the fact that the two halves of everything are being "drawn in opposite directions," this "opposite tension," that "keeps things together," and maintains them in an equilibrium which can only be disturbed temporarily and within certain limits. It thus forms the "hidden attunement" of the universe (fr. 47), though, in another aspect of it, it is Strife. As to the "bow and the lyre" (fr. 45), I think that Campbell gave the best explanation of the simile. "As the arrow leaves the string," he said, "the hands are pulling opposite ways to each other, and to the different parts of the bow (cf. Plato, Rep. iv. 439); and the sweet note of the lyre is due to a similar tension and retention. The secret of the universe is the same."98 War, then, is the father and king of all things, in the world as in human society (fr. 44); and Homer's wish that strife might cease was really a prayer for the destruction of the world (fr. 43).

We know from Philo that Herakleitos supported his theory by a multitude of examples; and some of these can still be recovered. There is a remarkable agreement between a passage of this kind in the pseudo-Aristotelian Περὶ κόσμου and the Hippokratean Περὶ διαίτης. That the authors of both drew from the same source, namely, Herakleitos, is made practically certain by the fact that this agreement extends in part to the Letters of Herakleitos, which, though spurious, were certainly composed by some one who had access to the original work. The argument was that men themselves act just in the same way as Nature, and it is therefore surprising that they do not recognise the laws by which she works. The painter produces his harmonious effects by the contrast of colours, the musician by that of high and low notes. "If one were to make all things alike, there would be no delight in them." There are many similar examples, some of which must certainly come from Herakleitos; but it is not easy to separate them from the later additions.99

Burnet's Notes


98. Campbell's Theaetetus (2nd ed.), p. 244. Bernays explained the phrase as referring to the shape of the bow and lyre, but this is much less likely. Wilamowitz's interpretation is based on Campbell's. "Es ist mit der Welt wie mit dem Bogen, den man auseinanderzieht, damit er zusammenschnellt, wie mit der Saite, die man ihrer Spannung entgegenziehen muss, damit sie klingt" (Lesebuch, ii. p. 129). Here we seem to feel the influence of the Pythagorean "tuned string."

99. The sentence (Περὶ διαίτης, i. 5), καὶ τὰ μὲν πρήσσουσιν οὐκ οἴδασιν, ἃ δὲ οὐ πρήσσουσι δοκέουσιν εἰδέναι· καὶ τὰ μὲν ὁρέουσιν οὐ γινώσκουσιν, ἀλλ' ὅμως αὐτοῖσι πάντα γίνεται . . . καὶ ἃ βούλονται καὶ ἃ μὴ βούλονται, has the true Herakleitean ring. This, too, can hardly have had another author: "They trust to their eyes rather than to their understanding, though their eyes are not fit to judge even of the things that are seen. But I speak these things from understanding." These words are grotesque in the mouth of the medical compiler; but we are accustomed to hear such things from the Ephesian. Other examples which may be Herakleitean are the image of the two men sawing wood—"one pushes, the other pulls "—and the illustration from the art of writing.

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