4. Heracleitus of Ephesus: Fire

( 535 - 475 B.C. )

 

 

„To think healthy is the greatest perfection; Wisdom is to tell

the Truth, to act according to Nature, to listen to her“.

Heracleitus (Frag. 112)

 

Fiat Lux! Eternal Fieri!

Eternal, infinite, archaic, dialectical explosion: Pýr, Tyr, Fire, Feuer, Fuego! Fieri, Phos, Novas and Supernovas; In, Into, Out of Nyx, of Chaos, of Cosmos.

In an infinitesimal realm of zillionfold Nothing, meteoric, metamorphic

sparks blaze the ancient Indian vrt, the old Slavic vratiti, and transhistorically belively they ignite the fiery atomic chain-reaction of universal Werden, exploding anywhere, everywhere, even far beyond the Being-Becoming and Becoming-Being of Hegel, Marx and Bloch.

 

Panta rhei! Everything Flows!

In this cosmic, hylozoistic fireworks, in this panpsychic Walpurgisnight, in this panvitalistic "negation" of the Olympic Götterdämmerung, Heracleitus of Ephesus visualizes the omnifluent, dynamic thalatta of Pyr, of Fire, his omnipresent Arché. This fiery vis vitalis, this glowing-gloaming, omnivorous, patrian Principle has its matrix in cosmogonic, feminine mythology, as Marx would say, in the prehistoric "superstructure".

Let us now illuminate the cosmogonic background of the materialist philosophy of Heracleitus, in which, inter alia, concepts like "war", "strife", "logos" and "eros" will play central roles.

 

Nyx, Chaos, Fire

A mysterious, obscure letter in the alphabet, "N", historically illuminates highly explosive philosophic concepts. It is a rebellious, obstreperous letter. Returning to ancient Greek mythology, now, who was Miss N, Miss Nyx, who erotically and exotically robed in her fiery night-gown hopefully "stood" in love with Heracleitus, thus procreating the concept Nothing -- Nyx, Nichts, Niks, Nix, Nada, Nihil, Nihil Ad Rem? As can be seen in our own Science a n d

Philosophy, Nothing (Nyx) is one of our postulates, our transcendental

"arché". (See: Franz J. T. Lee, Science a n d Philosophy, Online Publications.)

Feared by Zeus, the King of the Gods, Nyx was a powerful cosmogonical figure, known as the princess of the obscure, of darkness; she was the female personification of the Night, Nacht, Noche, Nag. In nearly all modern patriarchal languages -- in the moral portrayal of mostly "negative" things, persons or values -- most of the concepts beginning with "N" represent her Name, her Née, her "Negative" character: Nature, Negro, Native, Nubia, Nero, Nazi, Night, Nothing, Nihil, No, Non, Not, Negation, Neither, Nor, Never, Nefarious, Nuisance, Neutral, Nadir, Naja, Nasik, Nasalis, Njet, Net, Netscape, Newspeak, NATO, NASA, News of CNN, etc.

For modern linguists studying onomatopoeia, it would be interesting to note that nearly all "black" political leaders from the "Dark Continent", from Nubia, have an "N" in their names: Nelson, Nujoma, Neto, Nkrumah, Nasser, Nyerere, Neville, etc.; even Xhosa colonial rebels and "witches" were called Nxele or Nonquase. This is an excellent example of the ideological, brain-laundering function of official language, a very dangerous tool of "information", "communication", "thinking", thought, theory and philosophy. Look how snarling, growling, "grrrr ...", knurren, murren, ... are presented in the following words: horrisonant, horrid, horrent, horrible, horrifying, horrendous, horror, hirrient, sorrow, terror, terrorist! All associated with an Arab, a Saddam Hussein, an Osama Bin Laden!! In Plato's Kratylos, Socrates explained to Hermogenes and Kratylos how words are coined, from what they are derived and how they function in social reality.

Similarly, in ancient times, Nyx had many names, one of them was the "Yawning Gap", the "Gaping Abyss", that is, primeval Chaos itself. She was the "Great Grandmother", who gave birth to the "Great Mother", Gaea or Gaia. Lately, according to some censured, patrian mythological versions, experts even deny that she, as Chaos, gave birth to Gaea, to the Earth, to Nature.

 

Feminine Nyx versus Masculine Chaos

Now, let us see how the dialogical healthy relation between Nyx a n d Chaos, between Nature a n d Society was destroyed, maltreated and perverted by the labour process.

Of course, intellectual labour competition -- materialism, idealism, nihilism, etc. -- was already rife in Ancient Greece, hence we have various competing, conflicting, cosmogonic versions concerning Nyx and Chaos. Hesiod's Theogony (around 700 B.C.) is the only cosmogony which had survived in more than doubtful fragments. In this work, he (or the official ancient cosmogonic club) recorded the generation of Greek gods until Zeus and his divine contemporaries.

How does Hesiod explain Chaos, the masculine version of the female Nyx,

in his Theogony? How did "Great Men", Champions like Charles, Christopher, Christ or Christian become associated with heroic, noble Chaos?

According to him, Chaos is either Primordial Emptiness or the Abyss of Tartarus, of Hades, of the Underworld. Thus, strictly in the style of the biblical genesis, in the beginning was Chaos, and he, like Yahweh or God the Father, gave birth to Gaea (Earth, Nature) and Eros (Desire, Lust). Then this patriarchal Epigenesis continued: Gaea produced Uranus, the Mountains, and Neptune, the Sea. From Gaea's subsequent erotic union with Uranus were born the Titans, the Cyclopes, and the Hecatoncheires, etc. ...

Thus, expressed in literature and arts, the historical social falsification began, the ideological infowar was launched. Now, suddenly, Eros, like Jesus Christ, became the son of Chaos, of an effeminated, voluptuous, transformed Nyx, and he was no more the offspring of Gaea, of Earth, of Nature. However, later some uncensured traditions still baptized him as the son of Aphrodite, also called Minerva, Diana or Venus, the goddess of sexual love and beauty. These archaic versions did not even bother to give him a divine father. However, because of the well-known exemplary lustful life of the Olympic gods, at random we could choose her lascivious lover among the following: Zeus (the King of the Gods), Ares (God of War and of Battle) and Hermes (Messenger God of Wealth and Communications).

These glorious, noble titles, reflecting future politico-economico-military social structures, express very well current Corporate America and its "New Wars". Surely, at that historical stage of development, the above reflected the profound social changes and contradictions in ancient Greek society, the labour agony of the transformation of the slave-owning society into the Periclean Age, towards the cosmopolitan "imperialism" of Alexander the Great, further towards agro-productive, absolutist Roman Catholic feudalism, and eventually, towards oligopolic, metropolitan, corporate globalization.

Concerning Heracleitus, further elaborating the patriarchal rape of natural, feminine beauty, we should note the following: according to ancient Greek mythology, a famous Titan was Iapetus, who fathered Prometheus and Epimetheus. It was his son, Prometheus, who stole Pýr, Fire, from the Gods, from the Olympus, and gave it to the earthly beings, to the philosopher Heracleitus. Zeus, fearing that the earthly creatures would become just "like one of us", would eat from the proverbial fiery "tree of knowledge", as a neutralizing divine gift, as mind and thought control, sent them a huge Pandora Box full of lovely, wonderful "goodies". Ever thereafter, for the "wretched of the earth", as we all know, in this divine box, now only Hope remains, as the gift of the gods, of the holy ghosts, as delightful never-coming divine succour in spe. This then is the mythological-philosophical genealogy from the cosmogonic, feminine Nyx, Chaos, to the philosophic, masculine Fire, to the Logos of Heracleitus. Let's proceed with his gnome: panta rhei.

 

Heracleitus: Everything Flows!

As we have seen before, the three Milesians, Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes, had regarded the Cosmos, in its chemical, natural essence as being composed of four major elements: water, air, fire and earth. Everything else was derived from the interaction of these elements; like in the future formal logics: All Non-A is derived from A.

The Ephesian hylozoistic aristocrat, Heracleitus, wanted to explain why things change, why they have to change. In our unilogical conception, he wanted to explain the " and " Bezug, the Non-Relations within the One Principle, within Cosmos, within his "World of Worlds", within the Universe. Of course, he saw this as Being-In-Flux, as Change, as Motion -- patrian conceptual meanings which all differ from the dialogical connotations of our diagory: Rest a n d Motion. He wanted to know why things, why beings exist, why they move, why they labour, why they work, why they live. Why they drink Thales' water; why they breathe the air of Anaximenes; why they think at all; why they are reasoning in apeironic manner.

These questions logically produce contradictions, dilemmas, dialectics, all things that nowadays are being declared by homo ignoramus as forbidden fruits, as communist gibberish, as Marxist obsolescence. Today, even in patrian terms, although very fast global potable hydor is evaporating from the face of the Earth, and although very rapidly oxygen is vanishing from the aer, yet as the result of the systematic annihilation of apeironic thinking, of the current dissocialization for savagery, billions on Earth do not even dream about asking such fundamental, childlike, existential, dialectical questions anymore. It was Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel who had decorated Heracleitus as the Originator of the Laws of Dialectics, and it was Friedrich Engels who had praised the Ancient Greek philosophers, including the Milesians, as having been excellent "natural-born" dialecticians. Heracleitus was the first philosophic analyser of the general Laws of Motion. Surely, even the Patria had a lively, vivid, productive, reproductive youth; it still bore the historic birth-marks of creative, recreative, natural feminism. For this very reason, we could learn quite a lot about ourselves, and also a few historic, emancipatory things from these early Western Philosophers.

 

Being in Motion, Becoming-Being

Now, what preoccupied Heracleitus? As stated above, he wanted to know why things cannot remain as they are, at rest, and why they have to change, why they are in motion.

Anaximenes still had considered Fire to be rarefied Air, but Heracleitus has agitated the Arché, precisely because he placed Pýr and Phos, Fire and Light, into his primordial Being; by placing Supreme Light, the Empyreum and the Bringer of Light, Lucifer, all together in his genetic, archaic crucible, he logically brought about strife, commotion, dialectics; he converted Being into Becoming-Being, thus, he set Being in Motion. As the fiery essence of cosmic dikaiosyne (justice), now Agon (Strife, War, Dialectics) was agonizing Being in its totality.

As such, in Western Philosophy, the cosmogonic, cosmological Promethean Fire luciferously, dialectically, entered into many of its idealist and materialist currents. As we could note, it was not the mythologic, "heroic" Hercules, but the philosophic, "obscure" Heracleitus, who had rescued "divine" Fire to be placed productively in the service of earthly, patrian development and progress. Now we understand why Karl Marx in his doctoral dissertation fierily had ordained Prometheus as the first heroic saint in the philosophic calendar of historical materialism.

For Heracleitus, Virgil's words are quintessentially true: flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo, If I can't move the Gods, I'll stir up Hell! But, let Heracleitus for himself speak clarus et distinctus:

"This world, which is the same for all, no one of gods or men has made; but it was ever, is now, and ever shall be an ever-living Fire, with measures kindling and measures going out. ... War is the father of all and the king of all; and some he has made gods and some men, some bond and some free. ... Homer was wrong in saying: 'Would that Strife might perish from among Gods and men!' He did not see that he was praying for the destruction of the Universe; for, if his prayers were heard, all things would pass away. ... We must know that War is Common to All, and Strife is Justice." (See: Diels, Fragments 30 and 53.)

In all the preserved "Fragments' of Heracleitus, about 140 in number, of which some 14 are either not genuine, or are falsified, we can trace the fiery, blazing trails of eternal gignestai (Motion, Change).

Finally, like Thales, also the aristocratic slave-owning Heracleitus expressed the superstructure of his epoch, of primitive accumulation of Capital. Again, let Heracleitus himself say it expressis verbis; he wrote:

"All Things are in exchange for Fire, and Fire for all things, even as wares for gold and gold for wares." (Diels, Fragment 90)

This confirms that, in ancient Ephesus, gold, money, as economic exchange element, had already become an essential social reality, but, simultaneously, this fluent fact found its philosophic reproduction In the search for the primordial, micro- and megacosmic arché.

Nonetheless, we are still investigating the philosophic realities of the 6th Century B. C., a socio-historic part of res externae, in which the contradictions of mythology and primitive science continuously and continuatively erupted. In that human environment, clairaudience and clairvoyance, but also éclaircissement, that is obscurity and enlightenment, dialectically existed side-by-side.

Heracleitus, who had the nickname „The Obscure One“, in spite of all his Promethean Fire and Light, was himself an expression of these contradictions. His philosophy reflected and reproduced the social contradictions and conflicts, the strife and war of that epoch. He even had the mythological "negation" of interpreting the world-out-of-itself as contradiction in his very "aristocratic blood". Within himself, the agon between theoría, mythós and empeiría raged.

After the destruction of Miletus by the Persians in 494 B. C., Ephesus, not only had become the new flourishing economic and cultural centre of Hellas, but, moreover, it still remained the seat of the mystery cult of Artemis (Athena or Diana), to which Heracleitus’ aristocratic family belonged and which they even supervised. Heracleitus, like Marx later, first had to emancipate himself from the family superstitions. This explains ipse in re why he later fundamentally attacked all such religious cults and all “mystery-mongers“.

But, like Prometheus, Heracleitus „stole“, discarded and saved much of the fiery emancipatory substances and essences from the divinities and mythology; thus, simultaneously, he negated and affirmed these contradictory elements. However, when his aristocratic friend, Hermodorus, was banished; in protest, Heracleitus withdrew into Artemis’ temple, and sought philosophic solace, inspiration and chastity in the arms of the daughter of Zeus and the twin sister of Apollo; there, he later faded into eternal material bliss. In the next century, the „great men“ of the Periclean Age would do likewise, with the differentia specifica, that their hetairaí like Aspasia were real, wise, intelligent, chthonic beauties.

With the philosophic obscurity and profundity of the works of Heracleitus, numerous materialists had to grapple in the centuries to come; some of them were intellectual authorities of no lesser stature than Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Lasalle and Bloch. (See: Georg Max Hartmann, Der Materialismus in der griechisch-römischen Antike, Lebendiges Altertum, Band I, Akadamie-Verlag, Ost-Berlin, 1959, pp. 10 - 14.) In his philosophical bequest, Lenin concluded that the ancient panpsychic, panvitalistic materialism of Heracleitus „is an excellent exposition of the principles of dialectical materialism”.

The following fragments will serve further as a noteworthy elucidation of these hylozoistic principles, as expounded by Heracleitus’ intellectual genius, by his light and shade contrasts, by his Rembrandtesque chiaroscuro of philosophic imagery:

„The sun is new every day“. (Frag. 6)

„Good and ill are one“. (Frag. 58)

„Common is the beginning and the end of a circumference“. (Frag. 103)

„The way up and the way down is one and the same“. (Frag. 60)

„The fairest harmony is born ofthings different, and discord is what produces all things. ... Couples are things whole and not Whole, what is drawn together and what is drawn asunder, the harmonious and the discordant. The One is made up of all things, an all things issue from the One“. (Fragments 8 and 10)

„Men do not know what is at variance agree with itself; it is an attunement of opposite tensions, like that of the bow and the lyre“. (Frag. 51)

„What lives in us is always one and the same, a living and dying, an awakening and a slumber, young and old; it is a perpetual interchange of the one for the other“. (Frag. 88)

„Coldness warms itself, warmth cools itself down, wetness dries itself, and dryness wets itself“. (Frag. 12)

(Also see: Diels, pp. 21 - 31, Russell, pp. 57 - 65; and, George Novack, The Origins of Materiality, Pathfinder Press, New York, 4th printing, 1979, pp. 97 - 100.)

Of course, in these fragments are reflected patriarchal norms, concepts and beliefs. In respect of what is within or behind (méta) Being-Becoming (phýsis), concerning its influent and effluent essence; about that which cannot be interpenetrated by dóxa; in relation to that which is metempirical; Heracleitus boldly focused his attention on Thales’ psyché, on Anaximenes' pneuma, on nous or even lógos, namely, on those entities which are generally known as gods, devils; intellect, reason, mind; angels, spirits or souls. We would recollect that Thales had thought that in the lodestone, in the hýle or arché a mysterious, incognizable „spirit“ lives, which enlivens, gives bíos or zoé to the seemingly inorganic magnetic stone.

In Heracleitean méta ta physiká - metaphysics, understood in its archaic, metonymical sense - the basic elements of mythology, cosmogony, religion, theology and idealism, the Word, Idea, Spirit, God, Devil, Soul, etc., have a material, "historical" existence. All of them are intellectual and physical products of Being-Becoming and Becoming-Being. In consequence, they cannot exist apart from the arché in perpetuum mobile; they are not natura naturans, they do not create matter; they are not even its major contradiction, its non-ens, Non-Matter; obviously, also not its total apóphasis, Nothing. Here we note the philosophic limits of Heracleitus, caught up in his single principle, in his one and only fiery arché.

Furthermore, for him these basically mythological elements are not primordial elements, not creative- and creating-in-themselves, like, for example, the arché, the „ever-living Fire“. This is the reason, why for Heracleitus nothing „supernatural“, supramundane, natural or human could be mysterious, strange or indifferent to him.

In the last analysis, Heracleitus had explained all divinities, spirits, transcendental beings, transcending essences and surpassing thoughts scientifically, id est, out-of-themselves; and because of their real, material existence, they do not enter the multiplex processes of eternal pýr as a deus ex machina. This is what is meant when a patrian dialectical materialist states that matter is primordial and primeval. Of course, in the patria, god, mind, spirit or the idéa are basic contradictions and opposites but not necessarily negations, of matter; they are part of its superstructure, of its essential products. Seemingly, Idealism contradicts, opposes materialism; but, it was Gorgias' nihilism which negates both ancient philosophic trends; Nihilism, which was ostracized out of patrian philosophy, is the Nothing of the universal, dialectical Contradiction “Materialism-Idealism.”

In reality, all the magical-superstitious, mythological-theological, religious-idealist, existentialist-agnostic, and even nihilistic-absurd ideas, concepts and categories were all true historical reflections of different being-becoming and becoming-being, were different ancient Greek philosophical levels and degrees of human consciousness-in-process. When Heracleitus vigorously attacked them, especially in their Bacchic-Orphic forms, perhaps sub-consciously he had considered them to be philosophically false, unscientific intellectual interpretations and interpenetrations of the equal, unequal and combined multiplex levels of material development, in the human and social spheres, as well as in universal dimensions.

Studying Heracleitean philosophy, a part of the history of Western Materialism, is investigating the human record of intra-systemic "negation", of intellectual acceleration-deceleration in its momentous task of approximating the multiveloce motions of matter, as functions of totality, of the "Whole Truth" (Hegel), thus, is reflecting the real, ancient Greek production process, the quintessence of Man.

 

Heracleitus' "soul"

Taking one step backward to Heracleitean „metaphysics“, in the attempt to grasp his historical level of reflections concerning the psyché, we first have to note that his soul is material, consequently, alive. The psyché is the synthesis of a dialectical commixture of Thales’ water and Heracleitus’ own fire, where the former is the antithesis and the latter the thesis, in other words, water is the opposite of fire and vice versa. This is the case with all qualitative dialectical processes.

However, it should he noted further, that for Heracleitus fire is a synthesis of its own internal contradiction, a unity-and contradiction-of-opposites. As such, in process, it produces a new contradiction to itself, its opposite, its not-Being, water. The synthesis of the contradiction, fire-water, is the psyché, the soul.

The human psyché with the most luciferous Promethean fire in it, is the „dry soul“; is the „wisest and best“ (Frag. 11), it has the greatest amount of sophía in its contents and its motion strives to achieve virtuous perfection to the summum bonum, but not in a Socratic-Platonic sense.

However, note, it is not the essence of an aristocratic philosopher-king or king of philosophy, but of patrian philosophic man - novus homo, the coming homo faber. The erotic, fiery drive to achieve virtuous perfection we will encounter later again in Epicurus’ pursuit towards human hedoné, fraternal, philanthropic happiness - total human eleuthería (freedom).

As stated earlier in spite of his philosophic openness of mind, in the attempt to cognize the essence of the multiple obscure and radiating phenomena, and his scientific preparedness to interpenetrate the horizons of the unknown, Heracleitus was resolutely hostile to all superstitious, religious beliefs, including all their concomitant, conservative, reactionary-social practices.

With revolutionary anger he opposed the „moist“; intoxicating, opiating elements of Bacchic religious cults; he fervently attacked all „night-walkers, magicians, priests of Bacchus, priestesses of the wine-vat and mystery-mongers“ (Frag. 14) „and promised them Cosmic Justice of Fire after death. He considered Hades, the underworld, as being „the same as Dionysus, in whose honour they became insane“ (Frag. 15), where their „souls smell“ (Frag. 98), obviously, of wine. Hence a mental excursion into moist airiness, accompanied by intellectual aquabatics and ideological opiates, certainly, would „wet“ and stupefy the human soul, human intellect and reason.

A careful analysis of the Heracleitean fragments reveals that he, like Anaximander, had elevated the essence of the Cosmos, as necessary justice, as intensive, hylozoistic contradiction, as living dialectics,to the same level as that which generally is being considered as the „Divine“, the „godly“:

„God is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, surfeit and hunger; but, He takes various shapes, just as fire, when it is mingled with apices, is named according to the savour of each“. (Frag. 67)

Logos, Cosmic-Ontic, Panvitalistic God, Fire But, his spicy, savoury God is not the arché, He is like Fire; He regulates the processes of Fire, according to anánke (part of a dialectical category), „with measures kindling and measures going out“, in accordance with the rhythmic, multiveloce movements of the eternal, living arché. This God, the symphonic conductor of Cosmic Justice, has His limits and limitations, He cannot „overstep His measures” if He does, the Erinyes, the handmaids of Justice, will find Him out“. (Frag. 94) Thus, female universal guards watch Helios’ operations within the Cosmos, of which he is part and parcel, and, as „Sun-God“, he has no alternative but to rule democratically and universal-dialectically; hence, He has no affinity; to either a despotic philosopher king, or a republican „queen“ of all the sciences. Certainly, instead of a Puritan or Roman Catholic God, the contemporary Highest Courts of Justice of the USA and Venezuela urgently need such a philosophic God, such a "Logos" in whom we all democratically could really trust.

 

Transcendental "Hope"

Referring to the formal-logical tendency within all universal processes, Everything or Nothing, „it is Death to souls to become Water“ (Frag. 36), and concerning the „wisest and best“ human soul, Heracleitus made a philosophic statement which is fundamentally paradoxical and obscure, and which causes momentary mental apoplexy, if not perfervid perplexity; „He who does not hope for the unexpected, will not find it, because it is incognizable and unattainable“. (Frag. 18) This statement surely seems to differ from, seems to transcend the normal accepted connotation of "hope".

Nonetheless, this philosophic intransparent, intranslucent jewel, which seriously challenges any form of translation or transmediation, is a direct supratemporal, anticipatory, transhistoric déja vu of Ernst Bloch’s coming 20th century "Prinzip Hoffnung“ (principle of hope), already shining more than twenty-five centuries. Hoping (elpís) and Finding (praxis) are dialectically linked and are precisely aimed at the concrete-utopian, Blochian Not-Yet-Cognizable-Not-Yet-Attainable. Thus, according to Heracleitus, „one should not speak and act like a sleeping person“ (Frag. 73), one should practise gnóthi seautón, „should thoroughly examine oneself“ (Frag. 125); and, last, but not least: „To think healthy is the greatest perfection; Wisdom is to tell the Truth, to act according to Nature, to listen to her“. (Frag. 112)

Here we see the still close, intimate "healthy" relation with Mother Nature, with Nyx, still with emancipatory, feminist magic touches of ancient Greek Mythology, inherited (or plagiarized) from the whole African and Asian region. It is evident now, why, in previous chapters, we have emphasized sensitive „magnetic needle like“ thinking and underlined „atomic-watchlike“ conceptual precision, and also stressed that human social praxis must

have the corresponding scientific-philosophic, influent-effluent, delitescent-deliquescent, theoretic-theoretical contents, under the straight, conscious directions, but not directives, of Sophía.

 

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