Day 2070, stoicism.

Meteora – Greece, 2014

One of the advantages of living in a foreign country is that I am no longer tempted to buy all kinds of old books. I lived close to a place called Deventer, and Deventer is known for the biggest outdoor book market in Europe. Because of this market that is open for a long weekend at the end of the summer, Deventer has a lot of stores where you can buy used books. I love going to these stores and buying old books like the one you see underneath. Modern books like this often have better translations and interpretations, but I just like that feeling that lasts for a second of me being there in 1911 and buying that book and opening the pages sitting in one of those old-fashioned café’s. Touching an old book is the closest I can get to that fleeting feeling.

This particular book goes about Roman stoicism, but because I want to keep it to Greek Philosophers, I chose a chapter about Heraclitus. Heraclitus is not as well known as the big three (Socrates, Plato, and Aristoteles), but there are enough more modern philosophers that have him in high regard, and through these philosophers, I came in contact with his work. There is not much over from his writings, and he is best known because others talked and wrote about him. I will leave you now with one chapter of this book from 1911 written by Edward Vernon Arnold.

  1. With the opening of the fifth century b.c. we reach Heraclitus of Ephesus, a philosopher of the highest importance to us, since the Stoics afterwards accepted his teaching as the foundation of their own system of physics. The varied speculations of the sixth century were all examined by Heraclitus, and all found wanting by him; his own solutions of the problems of the world are set forth in a prophetic strain, impressive by its dignity, obscure in its form, and lending itself to much variety of interpretation. For the opinions of the crowd, who are misled by their senses, he had no respect; but even learning does not ensure intelligence, unless men are willing to be guided by the ‘Word,’ the universal reason. The senses shew us in the universe a perpetual flowing: fire changes to water (sky to cloud), water to earth (in rainfall), which is the downward path; earth changes to water (rising mist), and water to fire, which is the upward path. Behind these changes the Word points to that which is one and unchanging. Anaximander did well when he pointed to the unlimited as the primary stuff, but it is better to describe it as an ‘ever-living fire.’ Out of this fire all things come, and into it they shall all be resolved. Of this ever-living fire a spark is buried in each man’s body; whilst the body lives, this spark, the soul, may be said to be dead[37]; but when the body dies it escapes from its prison, and enters again on its proper life. The ‘Word’ is from everlasting; through the Word all things happen; it is the universal Law which holds good equally in the physical world and in the soul of man. For man’s soul there is a moral law, which can be reached only by studying the plan of the world in which we live. But of this law men are continually forgetful; they live as in a dream, unconscious of it; it calls to them once and again, but they do not hear it. Most of all it is needed in the government of the state; for ‘he who speaks with understanding must take his foothold on what is common to all; for all human laws are nourished by the one divine law.’

You can read the rest at Project Gutenberg.

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