Heraclitus, Fragment 64 (D 121)


“The Ephesians deserve, from the young men to the old, to be hanged, and to leave the city to the beardless youths, since they cast out Hermondorus, their best man, saying, ‘let no one be the best among us; if he is, let him be so elsewhere and among others’.” (Sweet 121; Cp. R, D 121, K 64)

Let it not be said that Heraclitus was not cantankerous.

Hermondorus is one of two people who Heraclitus praises, the other being Bias of Priene. We know little about Hermondorus. This text doesn’t tell us why Hermondorus is considered the best. Kahn notes that Pliny and others relate a story of him having visited Rome to write or interpret the 12 Tables, the basic text of Roman law. Pliny even maintains there was a statue of him in the public square. But this composition of the Tables occurs a generation after Heraclitus, so is not plausible. Nonetheless, this was a broadspread account, also recounted by Cicero (see Kahn, 178).

This text, however, not only indirectly praises Hermondorus, it also directly condemns the Ephesians. Heraclitus expresses that they had an absurd egalitarian sentiment. If each who is better than the next were expelled, none would be left but the absolute worst. Heraclitus suggest hanging the lot and letting a new generation attempt to do better.

This passages also clearly implies that age does not necessarily beget wisdom. Robinson notes other passages in which the vision of the youth is portrayed as potentially superior to that of the old (see F 22 [DK 56] and F 106 [DK 117]). But those contrast with his general dismissal of the perspective of children.



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