33. Heraclitus Declares that All Things are One

Heraclitus thinks about the logos
Heraclitus, by Dutch Painter Johannes Moreelse, 1630

Heraclitus’ Damascus Road Experience

As portrayed above, Heraclitus is an aged and weary man as compared with the resolute and determined Heraclitus in the previous post. His hands are clasped and his head is bowed as if in prayer. He seems to be either meditating as he awaits some profound insight or resigning himself to the pessimistic fate of humanity.

In the book of Acts, St. Paul was humbled by a divine voice and a bright light on the road to Damascus.1 But Heraclitus encountered divinity through a glass, darkly, as he heard the voice of the logos speak to him from within.

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32. Heraclitus – Fire as the Universal Principle

This bronze bust of Heraclitus signifies his development of the logos and fire as the arche.

Heraclitus is, for me, the most difficult of the Presocratic thinkers to write about. This heavyweight of Greek philosophy had gravitas – he was a deep, complex, enigmatic figure, and a brooding thinker.

(I reposted this article as Post 51 in order to answer objections to the comments below by an astute reader. If you will go there, you will find an interesting and enlightening exchange.)

Heraclitus’ Logos – A Redefinition in Greek Philosophy

One of Heraclitus’ main accomplishments was that he redefined the concept of logos which had, prior to him, been an amorphous concept in Greek philosophy. Heraclitus’ logos would reverberate throughout Western civilization. And all of this came from a man who engaged his audience from a distance due to his critical eye toward humanity in general.1

Because of his complexity, I will devote two posts to him: the first discussing his life and ideas in general, and the second discussing his development of the concept of logos.

He was, yet again, a son of the Ionian Enlightenment, having come from the famous city of Ephesus in Ionia.2 Ephesus was close to Miletus, the home of other Presocratic thinkers, namely Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes. He was born around 535 BC and lived at the time of Persian domination of Ionia, yet he did not flee to the West like other Greeks in Ionia.

Heraclitus the Hermit

The Ionians gave Heraclitus the honorary title of “King of the Ionians” but he pawned that off on his brother and went to live the life of a recluse.3 He only returned to the city just before he died at the age of 60. Just as I view Pythagoras as the founder of the first proto-monastery, so I consider Heraclitus the first hermit.

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31. Xenophanes and the Corruption of the gods

Xenophanes of Colophon

Xenophanes could be considered the roving vagabond of the Presocratic philosophers. Like the others discussed earlier, he came from Ionia.1 He was from the Ionian city of Colophon which was near Miletus, home of the Milesian Presocratic philosophers Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes. Also, there was something about Ionia that lent itself to producing great thinkers and Xenophanes was no exception. Thales would have said that whatever it was, it was probably in the water.

This is the birthplace of Xenophanes in Colophon, Turkey who described the nature of God and rejected Greek gods.
Ruins of Colophon, Turkey, Xenophanes’s Birthplace

He left his homeland abruptly at the age of 25 after Cyrus, king of the Persians, invaded Ionia in 550 BC. King Cyrus had the Jews, the people of faith, under his dominion at this time, and now he had the philosophers as well – a prefiguration that one day faith and reason would be united under one head, Jesus Christ. King Cyrus is a prefiguration and a type of Christ, even being called the “messiah” in the Old Testament book of Isaiah.

After leaving Ionia, along with other Greek compatriots, he made his way through the Greek colonies in Sicily. He did not settle in any one place for long, but spent his life moving from town to town.2

In his old age, he composed the following elegy:

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30. On Those Who Suppress the Truth – Power vs. Authority

nature of the truth
Violent Disarming of the Nobility in the Tuileries on February 28, 1791 (Post : nature of truth)

What is the nature of truth? Is it something that we contrive or is it objective and unchangeable? If the latter, then it is a fool’s errand to try to suppress it, but that is indeed what we are witnessing today.

I remember that, as children playing in the pool, we liked to see who could hold a beach ball underwater the longest. It was not an easy task. We tried to push the beach ball further down thinking that it would be less likely to pop back up. Of course, we discovered that the more we tried to keep the ball underwater, the more difficult it became to hold it there. It always popped back up after only a few seconds.

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29. Pythagoras Discovers the Beauty and Harmony of the Cosmos

Pythagoras as depicted in the School of Athens writing about harmony.
Pythagoras in the School of Athens painting by Raphael

Pythagoras was a demigod who went around performing miracles. He talked to the animals and they listened to him.1  Once, he convinced a bear to stop harassing the townspeople and the bear gave its word that it would. He also was renowned for having a “golden thigh.”

These are just some of the legends that surround this historical figure.2 In addition to all of that, he did not invent the Pythagorean theorem. Consequently, when we deal with Pythagoras, we are dealing with an enigmatic figure who is partly mythical and partly real. Like Socrates, he did not leave any writings, but also like Socrates, his followers attributed their ideas to him.3 Pythagoras and his followers lived in a highly secretive community. 

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28. Anaximenes – Air, the Spirit, and the Soul

Here is old Anaximenes of Miletus sitting and pondering the fact that everything comes from air.
Anaximenes (Getty Images)

Anaximenes, the philosopher who theorised that air was the principal element of the universe, may have inadvertently discovered the soul.

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27. Jesus, Food for a Spiritually-Starved World

This is the icon of the nativity that depicts the birth of Jesus who is the bread of the world.
Icon of the Nativity

Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The word Bethlehem means “house of bread.”

After he was born, he was laid out in a manger. A manger is a feeding trough. 

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26. Anaximander of Miletus Discovers Infinity in a Boundless Universe

Anaximander of Miletus was a Presocratic philosopher who said that the apeiron was the arche of the universe
Anaximander Holding a Sundial, Ancient Roman Mosaic, 3rd Century AD

Anaximander, a student of Thales, was known for wearing ostentatious clothes.1 Like Thales, he was a multifaceted character. He was the first person to make a map of the world and thus was the first geographer. Anaximander also speculated that the earth was free-floating in space and not suspended by anything, whereas Thales said that it rested on water. He is said to have predicted an earthquake, something that modern science still cannot do.2

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25. Thales Determines that Water is the Source of Everything

Thales of Miletus said that water was the basic element of the universe.
Thales of Miletus

As the story goes, Thales of Miletus, an astronomer among many other things, was walking along, gazing at the stars, not watching where he was going, when he fell into a well.1 A story like that is stereotypical of a philosopher who has his mind so set on lofty ideas, he loses touch with earthly things. With Thales, nothing could be further from the truth. 

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24. The Ionian Philosophical Revival – from Death to Life

These Greek ruins in Ionia signify the Ionian Enlightenment and the birth of Greek philosophy.
Ancient Greek City of Ionia

The Greek Dark Ages commenced with the fall of Troy in the 12th century.1 It continued for several centuries until a ray of light finally dawned in the region of Ionia in western Asia Minor in the eighth and seven centuries BC.2 This flourishing of art and culture is known as the Ionian Enlightenment or the Ionian Renaissance. The Dark Ages continued in the rest of the Greek territories for a while longer. Why was Ionia different?

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