Heraclitus

, the founder of the sect of Heraciiteans, was born at Ephesus. He discovered an early propensity to the study of wisdom, and, by a diligent attention to the operations of his own mind, soon became sensible of his ignorance, and desirous of instruction. He was initiated into the mysteries of the Pythagorean doctrine by Xenophanes and Hippasus, and afterwards incorporated them into his own system. His fellow citizens solicited him to undertake the supreme magistracy; but, on account of their dissolute manners, he declined it in favour of his brother. When he was, soon afterwards, seen playing with the boys in the court of the temple of Diana, he said to those who expressed their surprize that he was not better employed, “Why are you surprised that I pass my time with children? It is surely better than governing the corrupt Ephesians.” He was displeased with them for banishing from their city so wise and able a man as Hermodorus; and plainly told them that he perceived they were determined not to keep among them any man who had more merit than the rest. His natural temper being splenetic and melancholy, he despised the ignorance and follies of mankind, shunned all public intercourse with the world, and devoted himself to retirement and contemplation. He made choice of a mountainous retreat for his place of residence, and lived upon the natural produce of the earth, Darius, king of Persia, having heard of his fame, invited him to his court; but he treated the invitation with contempt. His diet, and manner of life, at length brought him into a dropsy; upon which this philosopher, who was always fond of enigmatical language, returning into the city, proposed to the physicians the following question “Is it possible to bring dry ness out of moisture?” Receiving no relief from them, he attempted to cure himself by shutting himself up in a close stable of oxen; but it is doubtful how far he succeeded, for the cause and manner of his death are differently related by different writers. He flourished, as appears from his preceptors and contemporaries, about the sixty-ninth olympiad, B. C. 504. Sixty years are said to have been the term of his hfe. | It has been a tale commonly received, that Heraclitirs was perpetually shedding tears on account of the vices of mankind, and particularly of his countrymen. But the story, which probably took its rise from the gloomy severity of his temper, ought to be ranked, like that of the perpetual laughing of Detnocritus, among the Greek fables. He wrote a treatise “On Nature,” of which only a few fragments remain. Througb the natural cast of his mind, and perhaps too through a desire of concealing unpopular tenets under the disguise of a figurative and intricate diction, his discourses procured him the name of the “Obscure Philosopher.” Neither critics norphilosopbers were able to explain his writings; and they remained in the temple of Diana, where he himself had deposited them for the use of the learned, till they were made public by Crates, or, as Tatian relates the matter, till the poet Euripides, who frequented the temple of Diana y committing the doctrines and precepts of Heraclitus to memory, accurately repeated them. From the fragments of this work, which are preserved by Sextus Empiricus, it appears to have been written in prose, which makes Tatian’s account the less credible. Brucker, to whom we refer, has given as good an account of Heraclitus’s systera as his obscure manner will permit. His sect was probably very soon extinct, as we find no traces of its existence after the death of Socrates, which may be ascribed, in part, to the insuperable obscurity of the writings of Heraclitus, but chiefly to the splendour of the Platonic system, by which it was superseded. 1

1 Enfield’s translation of Brucker. Fenelon’s Lives. Stanley’s Philosophy.