John Bjarne Grover

Here is a free translation I made in Bergen in 1998 or 1999 of the fragments left after Heraclitus.

There are some 128 numbered quotes from Heraclitus, and, in addition, a few handfuls that are of so dubious origin that they can be discarded. All the authentic fragments are included here, and none of them are stated twice. I have added only a few inessential words to the original text (conjunctions and so forth), which means that the text is composed almost entirely of fragments from Heraclitus. All I have contributed with is, therefore, the serial ordering of the fragments, in addition to that necessary translator's interpretational freedom (here and there the freedom borders onto rather free poetic interpretation) which puts them in a natural relation to each other. The text is composed of the fragments which are found scattered around in ancient works in the form of quotes from Heraclitus by other authors. Hence the collection of fragments is not done by Heraclitus but by the cultural tradition. The interesting observation to be done is that the result seems to conform to the pattern of 1) opening informational subsets, 2) goodness, 3) bit-reversal and 4) arbitrarity. I agree that part 3 smells a little too much of outhouse loo, but it need not be read as more toilet-oriented than necessary.

The idea I have pursued by this may have something in common with Heraclitus' own thoughts. One of his central ideas is the Logos as a collective consciousness which every individual mind exchanges with such as things exchange with gold or fire and vice versa. Given the assumption of such a collective consciousness, we can also extend to the assumption of a collective memory which keeps in store just what it needs to write a poem like this. In the present case, history - as the collective memory - has retained just those fragments which are needed for Heraclitus' poem. This idea, which is consonant with Heraclitus' own paradoxical thoughts on the verge to a new level of knowledge, has been the background for this poetic interpretation of Heraclitus. This is also why I have used all the fragments, and used them only once, and added almost nothing to them myself. The result may be telling of the collective memory, such as it looks upon itself when writing poetry.

There are some interesting conclusions which can be drawn from this poetic experiment. For example, Heraclitus was probably rather widely published and read in antiquity, and he seems to have been rather important for Plato and the Stoics and can be taken to an origin for the alternative branch to Aristotle. At the end of antiquity, his works were lost but fragments survived, mainly by quotes. In this way, his magnificent observation that 'the most unapparent harmony is the stronger one', which has much in common with my ideas of an 'intentional computer' for the cognitive interface to the 'collective historic consciousness', comes out in the tradition that it be about a 'silent flatulence' which escapes unnoticed and thereby causes correspondingly much havoc. There is probably nothing of this in Heraclitus' 'skoteinos' original, but the selection of fragments left after him which history has preserved lends such a taint to it. It is this cultural tradition which eventually came out as nazism, including the ideas of access to eternity by way of the diagonal of 'Mengenle-hre'< - or even 'Mengenle-dre. Nazism is toilet-oriented. It takes the 'loop-aper' of the fast Fourier transform to find its rationale in the concept of 'loo-paper'. This is the way of nazi thought. Arbitrarity is the unknown location of the flushed-down remains after they have spread in the ocean of infinity.

'Bow' = Gr. 'bios' means 'life', 'bios' means 'bow'. 'Harmony' is Gr. 'harmonia', which also means 'connection'. 'Divinity' may also mean 'sulphur' (or 'sulphurous divinity'). 'Ape', Gr. 'pithakos', is here probably a pun on 'Pythagoras' ('the most beautiful pythagorean...'). Pythagoras, in return, instructed his disciples to stay clear of beans: "Eat no beans!". Heraclitus is also rumoured to have undertaken some dung bathing. Heraclitus is the beginning of that Logos-mysticism which led to Christ in a Stoic framework.

I think one should take the puzzling 'private' associations to be telling of the cultural tradition which has preserved Heraclitus and not of Heraclitus himself. It tells of problems of information technology.

I originally translated the word 'athurmata' which simply means 'toy', as 'playthings like doors'. The word is composed of 'a-', the socalled 'A privativum', a negating prefix which here combines with 'thurmata', which derives from 'thuros' which means 'door'. Hence the word should mean 'non-door = toy' or a 'toy' defined by its 'doorlessness'. It could perhaps be translated also as 'toys without doors'. I originally chose the version of 'plaything like doors', also by the somewhat subtle logic that 'A privativum' also refers to the 'private A' as a toy when it combines with a 'door'. However, the reader is free to interpret. I use the alternative 'without doors here'. At the end of part III, the text can be read in the somewhat self-evident way of 'if there were no sun, there would be no night', something which I first took into a slightly more human and 'skoteinos' reading 'If there were no sun, there would still be night / due to the other stars'. The reader is free to interpret. There are some of these in the translation.

As far as the apparently unsocialist fragment about "the many are bad, and the good are few", I suppose it is about finding the right interpretation. A good attempt is that it be about crediting the source of an idea. Could also be the translation is better "the bad are many, and the few are good".

The first version I made was consistently with 'one' instead of 'you'. There is a reason for it in the idea of 'not addressing', but I have landed on 'you' nevertheless.

In the last paragraphs, there is mention of a barley drink which 'disengages' or 'separates' ('skilles' would be the Norwegian term, with obvious reference also to partners splitting up) unless you 'stir in it'. I was long ambiguous about 'stir it' or 'stir in it' and could not find the answer. I eventually went to the aquarium in Bergen and met the sturgeon Nikita who lived there, in a somewhat too small box of glass, it seemed to me - he could hardly move, I thought. He was a gift from Nikita Khrustchov to the state of Norway after the Kennedy assassination and had lived in that little glass showcase since then. The word 'stir' ('stör') is Norwegian for 'sturgeon'. A couple of days after I had visited it in the summer 1999, there were the reports in the local newspapers that Nikita had died from a tragic mixmaxture of fresh and salt water, a regrettable error. I later went back and found a video camera on the wall there.

The translation was made in the spring 1999 with a few emendations in the autumn. Source text is Diels 1922.



I was searching for myself -
to remember
even the forgotten
which the road displays.
How can you escape the impossible...?
The prettiest world
has been poured out randomly
like a heap of sand.

A man in the night kindles a light for himself
when his inner vision is extinguished:
Living, he attends the dead when asleep,
when awake he attends the sleeper.
Death is as large as we see it awake,
as large as we sleep it asleep,
for sleepers are workers
and contributors to what happens
in the world.

We need not act and speak like sleepers,
for even then, in sleep,
we only seem to act and speak.
We need not be
like children of conceivers
- stark naked -
as in the manner we conceive:

Being born,
they want to live
and to have fate
rather than sleep,
and they leave children after them
who have fate,

- for better fates
take a better share
when they are resurrected
and have become guards,
busily for the living and the dead.

For this is one:
The living and the dead,
the awake and the sleeper,
the young and the old -
for the one turns into the other,
and the other again turns into the one.

Those who are awake
live in one and the same world,
but when they fall into a slumber,
each and every turn into their own.

Turning as they die,
men remain in death
what they do not hope to be,
what they do not seem to be.


Of all the words that have reached my ears,
none of them has come to know the wisdom
that wisdom must be something that is separated
from everybody else.
People cannot hear
and cannot speak:
Listening in their culture-sauce
they are like deaf.
Your inner voice can tell of them:
"If they are present,
they are absent".

Eyes and ears
are poor witnesses for humans
if the souls of these senses
cannot understand their mother tongue,
and the ears are poorer than the eyes.
For those senses
they most prefer to keep them company
through all their days
stretched out from the beginning to the end,
that meaning steering everything for them:
That sense they differ from,
and whom they happen to encounter
day after day
seem to them like strangers from abroad.

In Priene,
Force was born from Discourser.
He made things newer than anybody else.
I prefer whatever is vision,
sound, and news for my senses.

There is but one wisdom:
To know the thought,
to know when everything steered
through everything.
Thunderbolt steers everything,
and thinking is common to all.
The language of the soul
is its own growth,
and weariness is
to restart and to grow weary
by the restarts...

Even if the Logos is forever,
men become aliens
before they've heard of it
and when they for the first time hear of it.
For even if everything has come about by Logos,
people say they haven't heard of it,
knowing both the words and deeds
such as I describe it
according to its nature,
dividing each thing
and declaring how it is.

Other people do not notice
how they act awake,
forgetting all the many things from sleep.
Therefore one must follow what is common
(which is the collective,
for the common is collective),
and while the Logos is collective,
the many act as if their thoughts
were their own.

Listening not to me
but to the Logos,
it is wise to agree
that all things are One.

Speaking in accordance with the mind,
it is necessary to gather strength
with the common-common of the all,
such as the law of a city
and things much stronger yet.
Law is faith in a common will,
and law is fight for the city wall.
For all the laws of the humans
are nourished by the unity of the divine.
It rules as it wants
and there is enough for all
and there is even something left over...

...but it is expedient to observe
that strife is the collective
and that justice is strife
and that everything has come about
by strife

- and by expedience...

Strife is the father of everything,
the king of everything.
It appointed gods and appointed men,
it made some slaves and others free.
A single One is a myriad to me
if it is the best,
for we compare the biggest things
without comparison.
Eternity is a boy playing chess:
The kingdom of childhood.

Gods and men
honour those fallen in war.
For God,
day is night,
winter is summer,
war is peace,
fullness is hunger,
for they change just like fire
when it blends the spices of incense
and gives a name to each of them
in joy.

Playthings without doors...

For souls
it is joy or death
to become water.
Life for us
is the death of theirs.
Life for them
is the death of ours.

Seawater is the purest
and the most polluted:
For fish it is drinkable and providing life,
for men it is undrinkable and providing death.

For souls it is death to become water,
for water it is death to become earth,
water is born from earth,
soul is born from water,

the living for the dead,
the dead for the living,
the single dead for all the living,
the single life for all the dead.

Fire is born from the death of earth,
air is born from the death of fire,
water is born from the death of air,
earth is born from the death of water,

for fire,
says I,
will come upon everything,
judge it
and conclude it.


Every day is the same.
The sun is new
every day.
The sun
is the size
of a human foot.
Souls who step into rivers -
new and new waters stream past:
And souls rise like vapour from the water.

Into the same rivers
we step and we don't step -
we are and we are not:
You cannot twice step into
the same river,
nor can you twice attend
the same mental substance,
but in the loftiness and vigor of its change
it is scattered and collected once again,
while it is drawing closer
and removes itself again.
Drawing nigh,
the path up and the path down
are one and the same.

But they don't understand
how it can agree with itself
when it branches:
It has a palindromic harmony,
as in the bow or in the lyre.
The bow,
whose name is life,
whose work is death,
is uniting opposites,
and from this tension
beautiful harmonies are created.
A conjunction is a whole and not a whole,
and what is united is tensed.
To sing together
is to sing in competition,
from everything comes One,
from One comes all.

The unapparant harmony
is the stronger one.

Night-rovers, maguses, bacchanalists,
maenads, mystics...
What humans consider mysteries
are initiated in an unholy manner.
For if they don't dispatch to Dionysios
and sing the songs of destiny,
shamelessly they'll work.
Hades and Dionysios, one and the same,
are for whom they rage and rave.
They clean themselves of blood,
like somebody stepping into mud
to wash themselves in mud,
such as swine prefer to clean themselves
in mud rather than in water.
I would say he's raving
if any of these people
considers doing just that.

And praying to those sculptures of the gods,
just like somebody chatting with a house,
not knowing of the gods or heroes
who they are:
The accustomed place
is the human's daimon.
The accustomed thing
of the humans
has no meaning for their minds,
but it has a certain divinity,
and most of the divine
shuns their disbelief
in order that it shall not know.
The speechless man
has listened to his daimon
just like the child
who has listened to a man.

When a man is drunk
he is led by a child.
He is falling, far away from his home,
not knowing which way he is stepping
because his soul is wet.
The dried-up soul
is the wisest and the best.

The best of men
prefer one thing
in place of everything else:
Ever-flowing glory from the humans.
And the humans
are glutted like cattle...
Hunger and fullness -
if happiness were a matter of bodily pleasure,
oxen should be considered happy
when they find a pea to devour.

Donkeys prefer to carry waste
rather than gold.
dig a lot of earth
and find little.
Things exchange with fire
and fire exchanges with things
such as things exchange with gold
and gold with things.

This world
(the same for all) -
neither god nor man has made it,
but it always was
and is
and will be
everlasting fire,
kindling in measures
and going out in measures,
and even the sun will not overstep its own measure,
for if it does,
the Erinnyes, the helpers of Justice,
will find out of it.

The fire's turnings
are first the sea,
then sea again is halfway earth,
halfway subterranean winds:
The earth is melted into sea,
measured according to its own logic,
such as it was before it turned to earth.

If everything were turned into smoke
our noses would discern among the things.
Souls smell from death,
and one should rather throw away corpses
than dung,
for it is more important
to quench the pride
than the pyred,
and dogs bark at those they do not know.
I say that pride is a holy disease
and vision is a deceit.

If there were no sun,
there would be no night
due to the other stars.

Swine bathe in earth,
birds bathe in ashes
and dust.


Just like the spider
in the middle of its net
feels it when a fly destroys a thread
and hurries to the place
as were it incensed by the sudden tear,
so the human soul
hurries to a wounded part of the body,
as if it couldn't care just less
about the rupture of this body
so firmly and proportionally composed,

and yet, it is difficult to fight against
the spirit,
for if it wants something,
it bribes it from the soul,
both good and bad.
For the doctors
cut, burn, treat the diseased badly,
and then they even charge them money
for this work,
both good and bad.
Disease makes healthiness sweet and good,
hunger makes fullness sweet and good,
toil makes rest sweet and good.

All but men and birds
are held by plagues from heaven.

As they say,
those men are disappointed
with their knowledge of the world,
just like Homer,
the wisest of the Greeks.
Pinching lice,
those children are just disappointed
when they say:
What we see and touch
we leave behind.
What we do not see or touch
we take along.

He who does not hope
does not find,
for it is unsearchable
and unreachable.

The man who said that "all is water"
was the first astrologer.
Homer was an astrologer.
Homer can be thrown out of the assembly
and have a box on his ear.
The same for Archilochos.
Polyhistory does not teach sense:
If it did,
Hesiod and Pythagoras
as well as Xenophanes and Hekataios
would have been sensible.
Philosophers must know
a lot of things very well,
while the lazy man
loves to let himself be petrified
by every word he hears.

It is no gain for humans
if everything they want
come true,
for the many do not think these things,
to the extent that they come across them,
nor do they know them from learning,
but fancy these things by themselves.
The Ephesians may as well
hang themselves up sportily
and leave after them
those who are out of the city,
for they have thrown out Hermodoros,
the best of men among them,
with the words:
"Among us, none shall be the best,
and if there is one such,
he must go somewhere else,
to other people".
May the riches never leave you,
in order that your wickedness
may never be revealed!
It is better to conceal one's ignorance
than to show it openly.

For what is their mind, their thought?
They believe in the minstrels of the people,
and they use the masses as their teacher,
and they do not know
that "the many are bad, and the good are few".
Hesiod is the teacher of the many:
They believe that he has seen what is
when he discerns no day from night,
as these are one.

The name of Justice
would not be known
if it did not exist.
The most valuable man
knows appearance
and guards it,
and indeed even Justice
will seize the masters and witnesses
of lies...

The most beautiful ape
is ugly when compared with human kind,
but for God,
the wisest man appears like an ape
in wisdom and beauty and in other virtues.
For gods,
everything is good and beautiful and just,
but for men,
what is unjust wriggles under what is just.

The whores,
bringing everything...

Self-moderation is the greatest virtue
and wisdom is to speak the truth
and to write poetry according to the nature.
All humans have a share
in self-knowledge
and wisdom.
Only one thing
- the truly wise -
wants and does not want
to be selected by God's name.
The sibyl with a raging mouth
articulating through a thousand years,
pronounces her voice through the God,
and the Lord, whose oracle is in Delphi,
neither reads nor conceals, but signifies.

Chill warms itself,
heat cools down,
moist dries up,
dryness turns wet.
Nature loves to hide.
Even the barley drink
unless you stir in it.

However far you travel,
you will never find the end of the soul,
so deep is its logic.
Beginning and end are common
at the circumference of the wheel.
The boundary to the morning and to the evening
is the Great Northern She-Bear,
and beyond -
the bright God.

¡¦John Bjarne Grover
On the web 25 May 2004
Last updated 21 February 2007