καὶ ὁ κυκεὼν διίσταται μὴ κινούμενος
If you don’t keep stirring the custard it separates.
Actually κυκεὼν doesn’t mean custard but a sort of mixture of barley, grated cheese and wine. But the principle is the same. When Mrs Sparks makes egg custard, she has to keep stirring it or else it gets lumpy and separates out.
This statement really sums up one whole strand of Heraclitus’ thinking. Everything is always in motion (Πάντα ῥεῖ) and changing. If you stop stirring the custard it ceases to be custard and becomes an inedible lumpy goo. Likewise if the waters in a river stopped flowing it ceases to be a river. It becomes a pond or lake or canal rather then a river. Likewise with us humans. Supposing we never changed at all, we could never have experiences or in any way be called human. We would be no different from statues. Could we have experiences without changing? I don’t think so because at the very least we would have new memories.
But this leads to other consequences; if we are changing, we are becoming something else. Heraclitus said there was a new sun every day (ὁ ἥλιος … καθάπερ ὁ Ἡράκλειτός φησι, νέος ἐφ’ ἡμέρῃ ἐστίν) and some said there was a new sun every moment because it is made out of fire and flames are continually generated. But if we are becoming something else this has a number of implications. First we shouldn’t be afraid of death because we are dying all the time. Or perhaps we should be in constant terror because we know we will be dead in less than a second. Second it raises the question as to whether the me who exists now is responsible for the bad deeds of me in the past. The comic playwright Epicharmus apparently made something of this.
ὅμοιόν ἐστι τῷ πολλοὺς τὸν ἕνα ποιεῖν ἄνθρωπον, ὅτι νῦν πρεσβύτερός ἐστι πρότερον δὲ νεώτερος ἀνωτέρω δὲ μειράκιον ἦν. μᾶλλον δ᾽ ὅλως ταῦτά γε τοῖς Ἐπιχαρμείοις 1 ἔοικεν, ἐξ ὧν ὁ αὐξόμενος ἀνέφυ τοῖς σοφισταῖς λόγος ὁ γὰρ λαβὼν πάλαι τὸ χρέος, νῦν οὐκ ὀφείλει γεγονὼς ἕτερος: ὁ δὲ κληθεὶς ἐπὶ δεῖπνον ἐχθὲς ἄκλητος ἣκει τήμερον:
It is like making many men out of a single man because now he is older but before that younger and further back a mere youth. This is rather like that bit in Epicharmus from which sophists take the “Grower” argument – that the man who owed money does not owe it now because he has become someone else and although he was invited to dinner yesterday he turns up today uninvited.
Plut. De Sera 559b
Most famously Heraclitus liked this process of change to a river. No man steps into the same river twice.
Plutarch describes it much better than I can – but he does not make it clear in this particular passage that we do not die just when we move from youth to middle age and middle age to old age etc but every single moment of existence.
‘ποταμῷ γὰρ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐμβῆναι δὶς τῷ αὐτῷ καθ᾽’ Ἡράκλειτον οὐδὲ θνητῆς οὐσίας δὶς ἅψασθαι κατὰ ἕξιν ἀλλ᾽ ὀξύτητι καὶ τάχει μεταβολῆς ‘σκίδνησι καὶ πάλιν συνάγει,’ μᾶλλον δ᾽ οὐδὲ πάλιν οὐδ᾽ ὕστερον ἀλλ᾽ ἅμα συνίσταται καὶ ἀπολείπει καὶ ‘πρόσεισι καὶ ἄπεισι,’ ὅθεν οὐδ᾽ εἰς τὸ εἶναι περαίνει τὸ γιγνόμενον αὐτῆς τῷ μηδέποτε λήγειν μηδ᾽ ἵστασθαι τὴν γένεσιν, ἀλλ᾽ ἀπὸ σπέρματος ἀεὶ μεταβάλλουσαν ἔμβρυον ποιεῖν εἶτα βρέφος εἶτα παῖδα, μειράκιον ἐφεξῆς, νεανίσκον, εἶτ᾽ ἄνδρα, πρεσβύτην, γέροντα, τὰς πρώτας φθείρουσαν γενέσεις καὶ ἡλικίας; ταῖς ἐπιγιγνομέναις. ἀλλ᾽ ἡμεῖς ἕνα φοβούμεθα γελοίως θάνατον, ἢδη τοσούτους τεθνηκότες καὶ θνήσκοντες. οὐ γὰρ μόνον, ὡς Ἡράκλειτος ἔλεγε, ‘πυρὸς θάνατος ἀέρι γένεσις, καὶ ἀέρος θάνατος; ὕδατι γένεσις,’’ ἀλλ᾽ ἔτι σαφέστερον ἐπ᾽ αὐτῶν ἡμῶν: φθείρεται μὲν μὲν γὰρ ὁ ἀκμάζων γενομένου γέροντος, ἐφθάρη δ᾽᾽ ὁ νέος εἰς τὸν ἀκμάζοντα, καὶ ὁ παῖς; εἰς τὸν νέον, εἰς δὲ τὸν παῖδα τὸ νήπιον ὃ τ᾽ ἐχθὲς εἰς τὸν σήμερον τέθνηκεν, ὁ δὲ σήμερον εἰς τὸν αὔριον ἀποθνήσκει; μένει δ᾽ οὐδεὶς οὐδ᾽ ἔστιν εἷς, ἀλλὰ γιγνόμεθα πολλοὶ, περὶ ἕν τι φάντασμα καὶ κοινὸν ἐκμαγεῖον ὕλης περιελαυνομένης καὶ ὀλισθανούσης ἐπεὶ πῶς οἱ αὐτοὶ μένοντες ἑτέροις χαίρομεν νῦν, ἑτέροις πρότερον, τἀναντία φιλοῦμεν ἢ μισοῦμεν καὶ θαυμάζομεν καὶ ψέγομεν; ἄλλοις δὲ χρώμεθα λόγοις ἄλλοις πάθεσιν, οὐκ εἶδος οὐ μορφὴν οὐ διάνοιαν ἔτι τὴν αὐτὴν ἔχοντες; οὔτε γὰρ ἄνευ μεταβολῆς ἕτερα πάσχειν. εἰκός, οὔτε μεταβάλλων ὁ αὐτός ἐστιν: εἰ δ᾽ ὁ αὐτὸς οὐκ ἔστιν, οὐδ᾽ ἔστιν, ἀλλὰ τοῦτ᾽ αὐτὸ μεταβάλλει γιγνόμενοσἕτερος ἐξ ἑτέρου. ψεύδεται δ᾽ ἡ αἴσθησις ἀγνοίᾳ τοῦ ὄντος εἶναι τὸ φαινόμενον.’
For we cannot, as Heraclitus says, step twice into the same river, or twice find any perishable substance in the same state; but by the suddenness and swiftness of the change, it disperses and again gathers together, comes and goes. Whence what is generated of it reaches not to the perfection of being, because the generation never ceases nor is at an end; but always changing, of seed it makes an embryo, next an infant, then a child, then a stripling, after that a young man, then a full-grown man, an elderly man, and lastly, a decrepit old man, corrupting the former generations and statues by the latter. But we ridiculously fear one death, having already so often died and still dying. For not only, as Heraclitus said, is the death of fire the generation of air, and the death of air the generation of water; but you may see this more plainly in men themselves; for the full-grown man perishes when the old man comes, as the youth terminated in the full-grown man, the child in the youth, the infant in the child. So yesterday died in to-day, and to-day dies in to-morrow; so that none remains nor is one, but we are generated many, according as matter glides and turns about one phantasm and common mould. For how do we, if we remain the same, delight now in other things than we delighted in before? How do we love, hate, admire, and contemn things contrary to the former? How do we use other words and other passions, not having the same form, figure, or understanding? For neither is it probable we should be thus differently affected without change, neither is he who changes the same. And if he is not the same, neither is he at all; but changing from the same, he changes also his being, being made one from another. But the sense is deceived through the ignorance of being, supposing that to be which appears.
De E apud Delphos 18
This is as far as I will go in this post. I will be looking at some other aspects of Heraclitus in some of my future blogs.