The Vocabulary of Myth, Part XXXII

The Homeric Gulf between the Human and Divine…

And the inalienable Connection…

The Inhalation of the Logos…

Human Reason as a Spark of the Divine Fire…

Heracleitean Introspection, Contemptus Mundi, and Interiority…

Living “according to Nature”, and in Conformity with the Divine…

Heracleitus’ Anticipation of the Stoics…

And his Continuance of the Doctrine of the Pythagoreans…

The failure to perceive the underlying unity and immutability of the world is once again a failure of human perception, which is endemic to man’s condition. “It is not characteristic of men”, laments Heracleitus, “to be intelligent; but it is characteristic of god”. “Even the wisest of men”, as another fragment continues, “appears to be but an ape in comparison with god, both in wisdom and in beauty and in every other way.”

Here, then, is that traditional Greek conception, founded in Homer as we’ve seen, of the vast and unbridgeable gulf that separates the human and the Divine. Yet as wide as the gap appears, the two orders are inalienably connected through the indwelling of the Logos; for men have a share in the intelligence by which “all things are steered through all things”.

Inevitably, Heracleitus resorts to a variety of ancient mythological images to explain the immanence of the Logos. “We become intelligent by drawing in the divine logos when we breathe”, as he posits by invoking the traditional imagery of God as air or breath, who breathes his own rational Soul into man, man’s reason being an exhalation, so to speak, of the divine Reason itself. Elsewhere, Heracleitus employs the analogy of coals which become alight when close to the fire, anticipating the later Stoic conception of the human reason as a scintilla dei, a spark of the celestial Fire.


But, whatever the imagery employed to express it, it is the immanence of the universal Logos in the human reason that both guarantees the unity and universality of truth, and connects man inalienably with the Godhead. The obligation of man is thus to discover and live in accordance with the God within–to live, as Pythagoras had enjoined, “in accordance with what is highest in us”–through introspection:

I searched out myself,

runs another famous fragment.

The man who “searches out himself” becomes conscious of a power that reaches in every direction:

The soul has a logos which increases by itself.

The potency and profundity of the inner Logos, as Heracleitus exclaims, is unfathomable:

You would not find out the boundaries of the soul though you travelled every road, so deep is its logos.

And here again, we observe that characteristically Greek tendency to interiority: to seek for reality and truth by turning away from the external order of matter and sensation–from the goods and pleasures of the flesh and the world–, and withdrawing instead into the psychic depths.


In this vein, Heracleitus regularly rails against the vulgar vices of gluttony, drunkenness, avarice, and lust, insisting that “If happiness consisted in bodily pleasures, we ought to call oxen happy who find vetch to eat.” Rather, wisdom lies in moderation, which, he says is “acting according to nature”.

To live in harmony with nature would become another recurrent moral theme of the Stoics, for whom it meant essentially what it meant for Heracleitus two centuries before. It is to act in accordance with the universal Law that governs the rational transformations of the Logos-Fire in the cosmos. The man who is governed by reason, that is, will reflect in his own life the larger life of the macrocosm, setting limits to his desires even as the universal Logos sets limits to the course of the sun as it passes from summer to winter and back again.

To follow one’s inner Logos is thus to observe in oneself the measure and order observed in nature, using to this end the same rational intelligence, or rather a particle of that Rational Intelligence, that in the world-order “steers all things through all things”. It is, in short, to conform one’s life to the life of the Divine.


Finally, we come to Heracleitus’ teaching on the fate of the soul in the afterlife. Though “corpses are fitter to be cast out than dung”, as he says with the wonted contempt of the Greeks for the body, the soul is “fiery”, and thus shares, once again, in the nature of the Logos. Indeed, as a particle of the Divine Fire, the soul inevitably returns to and is reabsorbed into the Godhead.

For Pythagoras, as we have seen, this reunion with the Divine is the goal and end of both the Pythagorean eschatology and the philosophical life; but unfortunately Heracleitus–or rather, the Heracleitean fragments that survive–tell us nothing more about it.

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