Heraclitus, Fragment 100 (D 24)


“Those slain by Ares, gods and man honor” (R 24)

Compare Kahn: “Gods and men honor those who fall in battle (those who are slain by Ares)” (K 100, See D, S 24)

Ares is of course the god of war, hence Kahn’s translation. In F 54 Heraclitus also refers to War (Ares) as the father of all, who has shown some as gods, others as men.

A difficulty given Heraclitus’ monism is to correctly understand what type of existence he views gods as having. In much of his writing he seems to be demythologizing Greek religion, translating it into philosophical language.

The logos in any case appears to stand behind everything. Might we imagine this as some rough parallel to the Eastern idea of the Tao, from which the gods and men emerge? If so, we would be faced with the same difficulties known in Asian thought of having to speak of levels of reality or levels of existence: those gods and men would have an lower level of existence (a subsidiary and contingent existence), but still have some characteristics, such that we might speak of them honoring those who fall in battle. Since we only have fragments to deal with and not explanations of them, we can speculate along these lines. Another alternative is to understand this text more metaphorically, like poetry. Then we are left with something like: It is honorable to die in battle.

Those philosophically inclined will of course want to ask whether that is true. And it is by no means clear that it is. At best, many would acquiesce that it is honorable to die in a just war, for a just cause. But we do not tend to see obedience itself to those who have power and might send young soldiers to die in an unjust war to be a good thing. Living or dying for an ignoble purpose hardly seems honorable.



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