Heraclitus The Obscure


Before Plato, Greek philosophers are called presocratics. In this merry band, I have kept a special fondness for the most authentic, Heraclitus. He is said to be obscure, but I find him so luminous. The original thought of the sage of Ephesus came to us in the form of fragments: some are pure gold. Enjoy!


The Speech

This word, which is true, is never understood by men, whether they have already heard it, or that they hear it for the first time. Although all things are done according to this word, they seem to have no experience of words and facts as I expose them, describing their nature and saying as they are. Men do not realize what they do when they are awake, that they do not remember what they did while sleeping.

This is not the opinion of those we meet. They learn, but do not know, although they imagine it. They can neither listen nor speak.

It is therefore necessary to follow the common verb; but although it is shared by all, most live as if they had an intelligence of their own.

The sibylle, with her furious mouth, throws words that are not laughing, nor adorned or painted. But the god extends his voice for a thousand years.

Of all those whose speeches I have heard, none have come to understand that wisdom is cut off from all things.


The Gods

Celebrating bloody sacrifices does not cleanse better than the mud would wash the stain she made. Praying pictures is like talking to a wall.

They do not know what gods or heroes are.

If all things became smoke, we would know by the nostrils.

Gods and men honor those who succumb to the war.

The Eternal is a child playing petrificially chess; royalty is to a child.

The god is day-night, winter-summer, war-peace, satiety-hunger. He changes as one mixes perfumes; he is then named after their scent.

The most beautiful monkey is ugly in front of the human race. Before God, the wisest man looks like a monkey.

The god whose oracle is at Delphi does not reveal. He does not hide. He indicates.

The natural human has no reason, the divine has.

Reason is intelligence taking exercise. Imagination is intelligence with an erection. (Victor Hugo)




The One

One, who alone is wise, wants and does not want to be called by the name of Zeus. The law and the sentence is to obey one.

There is only one wise thing, to know the thought that can govern everything everywhere.

It is not to me, but to the logos that it is wise to grant that one becomes all things.

War is father of all, king of all, has designated these as gods, those as men, these as slaves, those as free.



What is contrary is useful; what struggles forms the most beautiful harmony ; everything is done by discord.

Join what is complete and what is not, what is in harmony and disagreement ; from all things, one ; and from one, all things.

They do not understand how what struggles with oneself can match. The harmony of the world is by opposing tensions, as for the lyre and the bow.

War is father of all, king of all, has designated these as gods, those as men, these as slaves, those as free.
There is a hidden harmony, better than the apparent and where the god has mingled and deeply hidden differences and diversities.



Unintelligent listeners look like deaf people; the proverb testifies that, however present they are, they are absent.

The foolish man is put out of him by any speech.

Presumption is a sacred disease.

It’s hard to resist anger; it is cheap for the soul.

It is better to hide one’s ignorance; but that is difficult when one indulges in inattention or drunkenness.

The crowd is mastered by Hesiod; she takes for the greatest scholar who does not know what day or night is; because it’s the same thing.

Dogs bark after those they do not know. What is their mind or their intelligence?

Those who speak intelligently must rely on the intelligence common to all, as a city on the law, and even much stronger. For all human laws are nourished by a single divine, who dominates as much as he wants, who suffices for everything and overcomes everything.

The Ephesians deserve that all men of old age die, that the children lose their homeland, the ones who drove out Hermodorus, the best of them, saying, “May there be no better among us ; if there is one, let him live elsewhere.”



We would not know the word of justice, if there was no evil.

The experienced man knows how to preserve his opinions ; the punishment will reach the artisans of lies and the false witnesses.

It is necessary to know that the war is common, that the justice discords, that everything is done and is destroyed by discord.

The people must fight for the law as for its walls.

The Sun will not exceed the measurements; otherwise, the Erynnies, following Zeus, will find it well.





The biggest dead get the biggest fate.

Man in the night, lights a light for himself; dead, he is extinct. But alive, sleeping with eyes shut, he burns more than the dead; awake, more than aslept.

Men do not hope or believe what awaits them after death.

When they are born, they want to live and suffer death and leave children for death.

For souls, death is to become water; for water, death is to become earth; but from the earth comes water, water comes the soul.

The immortals are mortal and the mortals immortal; the life of some is the death of others, the death of some, the lives of others.

From there they rise and become vigilant guardians of the living and the dead.

The same thing is what lives and what is dead, what is awake and what sleeps, what is young and what is old; for the change of one gives the other, and vice versa.

The dead are to be rejected even more than the manure.



Polymath is the in-depth knowledge of many different subjects, especially in the arts and sciences. The associated noun is polymath, sometimes also called “universal spirit person”. does not teach intelligence; it would have taught Pythagoras, Xenophanes, and Hecataeus.

Pythagoras, son of Mnesarchus, more than any man applied himself to the study, and collecting these writings he made his wisdom, polymathy, evil art.

What we see, what we hear, what we learn, that’s what I value more.

Men are mistaken for the knowledge of obvious things, like Homer, the wisest of the Greeks, no doubt ironic, for Heraclitus also said of Homer that he should be expelled from poetry competitions. Children, who were hunting their vermin, deceived him by saying, “What we see and take, we throw it away; what we do not see or take, we carry with us”.

It is not good that men can become what they want.

I looked for myself.


The Soul

They are bad witnesses for men only eyes and ears when souls are barbarians.

The drunk man is guided by a young child; he staggers, does not know where he is going; it’s because his soul is wet.

Where the earth is dry, the soul is the wisest and the best.

The wisest soul is a dry glow.

The character of a man is his daemon.





You can not bathe twice in the same river.

The sea is the purest and most polluted water; clean and healthy for fish, it poisons men.



Those who seek gold search a lot of land to find small parcels.

The donkey would choose straw rather than gold.

Doctors prune, burn, torture the sick anyway, and doing them a good which is the same thing as a disease, claim gold that they do not deserve.

Against the fire are changed all things and all things fire, as goods against gold and gold against goods.



This world was made by none of the gods or any of the men. He has always been, and will always be, a living fire, lighting up by measure and extinguishing himself.

Fire is indigence and satiety.

The coming fire will judge and devour all things.

Choking excess is better than extinguishing a fire.

Death of fire, birth of air. Death of the air, birth of water.

The fire first changes at sea, and the sea becomes half land, half lightning. The sea spreads and is measured as before the earth was.



Lightning is at the helm of the universe.

It is the dry soul, the best, the one that runs through the body like a flash of the cloud.

Who will hide from the fire that does not go down?


Ursa Major 

From dawn and evening the limits are the Bear, and, in front of the Bear, the Guardian of sublime Zeus (Arcturus).

Same way above, and under.



Translation by the author from Tannery (1887)