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Heraclitus²

Or how I really feel about ol' Nimis Obscurē

· Philosophy,Thinking Different,History,Writing,Informing Ignorance

I've already written this, so I might as well post it here, too. (The blog has been getting dusty as of late.)

This one is somewhat embarrassing and frustrating.

 

For one, I never set out to parse the most infamously obscure mind in Philosophy, who scholars unanimously accord the fourth (and last) seat at the table otherwise occupied by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. In short, the founders of Western thinking.

 

Indeed, Heraclitus of Ephesus is not only seated with them, but he was in fact the first among that seminal peerage, having written his ‘book,’ On Nature, before any of the others had begun to make their names.

 

He coined the term λόγος, or reason, in the significant sense that the others would adopt it and influenced them all to a greater or lesser extent.

 

Socrates, in particular, was greatly inspired by reading On Nature. In fact, not only is he on record as being highly impressed by Heraclitus’ teachings, he even admits that some of them are over his head.

 

Further, as reading both invariably shows, many of Socrates’ ideas and methods are reflections of Heraclitus’ – albeit adapted from the written medium to the spoken word.

 

If nothing else, and there is a good deal more, to put it mildly, scholars have been fascinated by the notion of Socrates’ Daimon, that source of divine inspiration that the old Greek coyly hinted at.

 

Just reading Heraclitus’ assertions that there are three stages of man puts all questions concerning Socrates’ divine inspiration to rest.

 

I’ve made no effort to convince any reader as to the accuracy of my grasp of his methods and teachings. In addition to being against my nature to do so, his words, as I have understood and explained them are self-proving. If there is found consistent, compelling, coherent and cohesive teachings where before there was nothing but muddled sections and an overall lack of theme or methodology then, to my mind, and those of everyone I am aware of who has read the book, no matter how skeptical they were going in.

 

(And, as a rule, they are extremely skeptical. One more area in which any claim to being the only person in 2,500 years to understand the ‘famously’ obscure philosopher – no less a mind than Aristotle’s affixed to him the label ‘nimis obscurē,’ or ‘too obscure,’ raises peoples’ hackles and invites disbelief.)

 

But Socrates himself argues for these interpretations. Reading him after having written Heraclitus, the many beliefs, teachings and methods they have in common are both a revelation, offering new context to Socrates’ words and, in seeing in them something like a man facing a mirror, it becomes ever increasingly difficult to deny any links between them.

 

Again, this does me little good, being of no academic reputation as I am, in getting myself taken sufficiently seriously as to persuade people to read the book.

 

Furthermore, to my mind at least, it is painfully embarrassing to attempt to make any claim to the unusual rarity of what I accomplished in understanding Heraclitus of Ephesus. Particularly when the book itself is such a poor offering.

 

(It was written quickly and under some duress, my only goal at the time being to get it published at all, so that I might spend what I then thought might be my final days content, at least, that I’d gotten Heraclitus off my back, and that there was no way that he’d go another two and a half millennia unrecognized, and that the numerous, startlingly insightful, lessons he’d laid out would finally profit those whose interest lies in cognition, learning, the nature of and limitations of knowledge, etc., etc.)

 

I do plan a revised edition, and one which will take an entirely different approach to reaching the potential reader.

 

That said, however clumsy my first book was, the core of it, the explanations of Heraclitus’ intent, methods and teachings will remain unchanged. They were correct the first time.

 

Other than being frustrating and embarrassing to lay claim to such an accomplishment, and the consistent manifestation of what I call the ‘uncanny valley’ separating me from credibility, or indeed even empathy in the prospective readers’ minds, there is one other source of aggravation that I have rarely addressed:

 

I didn’t somehow manage to puzzle through Heraclitus’ words when I first tripped over him, parsing him faster than I could subsequently read that those words were in any way obscure.

 

I simply recognized myself, albeit employing different, more eloquent metaphors. As my family, or my older friends can wearily attest, several of Heraclitus’ famous offerings are notions upon which I have been gnawing and bitching about for about twenty years now.

 

Once I’d recognized this, and recovered from a long moment’s cognitive dissonance (irony there) upon being informed that these notions were in any way in question, I was well-equipped to peruse the remainder of Heraclitus’ Fragments in a determined effort to prove myself an arrogant idiot for having presumed…

 

Yet he continued to fall into place, when approaching him employing the tools by which I’d come to reach many of the same conclusions during a period of intense self-examination and efforts to better understand for myself such morals and values as I felt achingly lacking in those around me at the time.

 

I am not particularly proud, nor egotistical, and the approbation of others, particularly in the academic world, means nothing to me.

 

That said, however, I do admit to a certain resentment where Heraclitus of Ephesus is concerned.

 

Not only did I feel the need to get him published, so that in time others might benefit from his lessons and, even better, that sooner or later some more eloquent voices than mine might pick him up and manage what seems unlikely I will: To make him known to the public at large and stir interest in studying his teachings.

 

But doing so, especially given certain similarities in temperament and social friction we experienced, perhaps it’s a flaw in my character, but I feel cheated when I accord to him the credit and respect I have.

 

After all, I got there first.

 

Chronologically, of course, it’s pretty impossible to get around the fact that Heraclitus preceded me by some 2,500 years, but in my own life’s timeline I reached certain observations and convictions twenty years before I ever read anything by any of the Ancient Greek philosophers. (I had in fact avoided them with a kind of superstitious awe.)

 

And so I feel cheated somehow, even as I believe I have some notion as to just how utterly unendurable such complaints would seem. It goes hand in hand with being well aware how insufferable it must seem to make any claim to the singular accomplishment that parsing him in the first place represents.

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