Title

Welcome. This site offers access to a new book on the Logos of Herakleitos, his ‘theory of everything’. The book includes all the available source material – that is to say, all the fragments of his work that are extant. There is also an interpretation of that material, a discussion of its relevance, and a bit more besides.

Since they were first uttered, the words of Herakleitos have offerred a challenge to those who have come under their spell, and they have been a source of inspiration to many, despite their meaning not always being clear. In my opinion, there has never been a better time than now to seek and gain that clarity – for such is the interest in finding and solving riddles alluding to the existence of secrets or truths of the greatest import, that a best-selling genre has been born around it.

In the genre, all obstacles to the solving of these puzzles are eventually, with great difficulty, overcome - and supposedly esoteric truths are laid bare. However, it is at this point, when the page-turning derring-do has subsided, that we are left somewhat disappointed: the vaunted esoteric truths turn out to have little substance of either cosmic or personal relevance.

The work of Herakleitos, as yet untapped by novelists (to the best of my knowledge), arguably provides the greatest riddle that comes to us from the ancient world. It can lay claim to this status for two reasons: one, because there are now only fragments from which to recreate the whole; and two, that which it ultimately yields does not disappoint in terms of cosmic or personal relevance.

Herakleitos was born and lived in Ephesus, on the coast of what we now call Asia Minor, around two and a half thousand years ago.

Locality of Ephesus
Ephesus

Ephesus (more properly Ephesos) was a prosperous Greek-speaking trading city. The majority of the inhabitants - not only of the city, but of a considerable coastal region - would have considered themselves kin with the people of Athens, situated a couple of hundred miles away across the Aegean Sea. The tradition was that they had settled this coastal territory en masse, over at most a generation or two, having been displaced from mainland Greece in the years following the Trojan War (c. 1150 BC).

The people had a very strong desire to maintain their Greek identity. Couple this with the attractiveness of the region to neighbouring rulers, and it is no surprise to discover that the area was embroiled in armed conflict time and again, both before and during Herakleitos’ lifetime. Quite apart from the impact war has on individual lives, this had a significant effect politically and culturally: West very definitely was introduced to East.

Apart from a brief flourish by the kingdom of Lydia, East in this context meant the Persian Empire. This vast state, stretching as far as India, was itself already multi-cultural, and so its proximity to (and then annexation of) Greek territory contributed greatly to a further enrichment and blending of human ideas, traditions and beliefs. Ephesus, as port and international trading centre, was one of the cities at the very heart of the new mix.

The map below shows the greater world. The Persian Empire appears in yellow, to the right.

The greater Greek world
Ephesus

Very little is known about the historical person of Herakleitos. But we do know that, at around the time of his birth (c. 545 BC) a great temple to Artemis was constructed in Ephesus. This was probably commissioned by the fabulously rich King Croesus of Lydia, just before that kingdom fell to Persia. The temple became one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The relevance of this information is that a number of anecdotes recorded in ancient times indicate that it was one of Herakleitos’ very favourite haunts...

The temple of Artemis as it stands today, and as recreated.

Now

Then

From the steps of this splendid temple, not only could Herakleitos admire the statue of Artemis, he could observe at his leisure the habits and behaviour of city dweller and countryman, rich and poor, woman and child, foreign merchant and slave. Where else would all of these gather to do business or exchange news but around the most prestigious building for miles? The observations he made regarding human nature suggest that he paid very close attention indeed to what he saw there, and was not so very impressed!

As far as the statue of Artemis herself is concerned, her portrayal at Ephesus displays attributes that we might expect of an Earth Mother - markedly different to the lithe virgin huntress found elsewhere in the Greek world. Perhaps when the Greeks arrived in the area they embraced a local goddess (and her attributes), assimilating her into their own pantheon, closetting her with Artemis: archaeology does suggest that consistently similar images made of wood had been worshipped on the site at least as far back as the Bronze Age. Whatever her background, Ephesian Artemis clearly has a function that is fundamental to the emergence, nurture and continuance of life. She was an embodiment, in fact, of processes that very much intrigued Herakleitos.

Coin
A coin, minted hundreds of years after Herakleitos. It demonstrates that existing local deities are adopted by incomers: Ephesian Artemis has now become Roman Diana
Artemis

And so, the concerns and interests of Herakleitos bring us back to his riddles. Just as those fictional works in vogue today hint at locating a hitherto unknown and possibly esoteric truth, so do the words of Herakleitos. Due to their inscrutability, his words even earned him the nickname of the Riddler. This was not, I should say, because he wished to be obscure for the sake of it - although he certainly wasn't innocent of playing tricks with the meanings of words. Nor was it because he wanted to encode and encrypt his work in order to preserve the content for a chosen few. Quite simply, his work is enigmatic because what he was revealing was itself mysterious, somewhat removed from our normal view of the world.

This is not yet the place to discuss that content, but whatever one thinks of his riddling words, they are incontrovertibly among the oldest recorded words in the Western tradition to ask serious questions about the nature of the universe and the nature of life. Despite their age, though, the intention here is not to be overawed so that we find ourselves simply tasting the words and marvelling at their sheer vintage. The book on this web site attempts to be functional, attempts to coherently un-riddle the work of Herakleitos, and make manifest to all his vision of the nature of the cosmos - its logos.


Herakleitos?
An impression of Herakleitos as a green man,
a European symbol of
rebirth or regeneration,
as carved by the author.

The following will assist navigation of the book:

The preface - Why Bother With Herakleitos - contains my personal views on life in the western world, particularly Britain, over the last 40 - 50 years. (These views may not match the reader’s, but do not worry - agreeing with them is not germane to getting to grips with Herakleitos.) They simply set the backdrop against which I found Herakleitos so useful and relevant, but I am sure there are many other reasons for finding him so.

In my view, Herakleitos was primarily concerned with contrasting how we do see with how we might see our world, and how the latter vision might alter the way we operate in it, for the better. The universe and everything in it, as far as he was concerned, has a one-ness of origin and purpose, and he called this the Logos. He believed we should put all our endeavours into achieving understanding of its operating principles, after which we should align ourselves with them, as far as possible, in order to achieve harmony in our selves and with our surroundings.

Because the subject of clear understanding was so important to Herakleitos, Appendix C contains a list of the 41 different words describing various nuances of cognition and understanding, or its lack, that he employed. Between them, these same 41 words notch up 84 occurrences, and appear in 54 of the 126 extant fragments of his work that are generally considered authentic.

The Introduction looks in reasonable detail at what is known of Herakleitos, at what is not present or adequately addressed in past interpretations of Logos, and concludes by anticipating my own interpretation.

The book itself, two decades and more in the making, is my re-creation of Herakleitos’ ideas, and I believe that it convincingly presents his work - a work so powerfully thought provoking, that even after two and a half millennia (since he had those ideas), it still takes the intellect to the absolute limit of its conceptual capabilities. Beyond that, it also takes the heart and soul to a sustainable place worth the effort of attaining!

Each of the ten chapters begins with two lists of the fragments discussed there: one in the original Greek, and one in my translation. Each chapter has a distinct area of discussion, cumulatively taking my interpretation towards Chapter Ten, in which the salient points are comprehensively reviewed (in a prologue to the chapter) before the final fifteen or so fragments are added to the picture, and the Logos is made manifest.

(Appendix A is a cross-reference between my numbering and the numbering system of Hermann Diels - probably the most commonly used collator of Herakleitos' fragments.)

Appendix B is the complete (newly translated) text of book IX of Diogenes Laertius' Lives of the Eminent Philosophers: Herakleitos.

There is a Bibliography which includes suggested reading, other books on the subject, and all books referenced.

Mick Botten


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