the fragments

Although this account holds forever, men ever fail to comprehend, both before hearing it and once they have heard. Although all things come to pass in accordance with this account, men are like the untried when they try such words and works as I set forth, distinguishing each according to its nature and telling how it is. But other men are oblivious of what they do awake, just as they are forgetful of what they do asleep.

Not comprehending, they hear like the deaf. The saying is their witness: absent while present.

Although the account is shared, most men live as though their thinking were a private possession.

Most men do not think things in the way they encounter them, nor do they recognize what they experience, but believe their own opinions.

Men forget where the way leads… And they are at odds with that with which they most constantly associate. And what they meet with every day seems strange to them… We should not act and speak like men asleep.

The world of the waking is one and shared, but the sleeping turn aside each into his private world.

He who does not expect will not find out the unexpected, for it is trackless and unexplored.

Seekers of gold dig up much earth and find little.

Men who love wisdom must be good inquirers into many things indeed.

Nature loves to hide.

Let us not concur casually about the most important matters.

In taking the poets as testimony for things unknown, they are citing authorities that cannot be trusted.

We should not listen like children to their parents.

Whatever comes from sight, hearing, learning from experience: this I prefer.

Eyes and ears are poor witnesses for men if their souls do not understand the language.

Not knowing how to listen, neither can they speak.

Much learning does not teach understanding. For it would have taught Hesiod and Pythagoras, and also Xenophanes and Hecataeus.

The teacher of most is Hesiod. It is him they know as knowing most, who did not recognize day and night: they are one.

Hesiod counted some days as good, others as bad, because he did not recognize that the nature of every day is one and the same.

Homer deserves to be expelled from the competition and beaten with a staff — and Archilochus too!

Men are deceived in the recognition of what is obvious, like Homer who was wisest of all the Greeks. For he was deceived by boys killing lice, who said: what we see and catch we leave behind; what we neither see nor catch we carry away.

Pythagoras son of Mnesarchus pursued inquiry further than all other men and, choosing what he liked from these compositions, made a wisdom of his own: much learning, artful knavery.

Pythagoras was the prince of impostors.

Of all those whose accounts I have heard, none has gone so far as this: to recognize what is wise, set apart from all.

I went in search of myself

It belongs to all men to know themselves and to think well.

Speaking with understanding they must hold fast to what is shared by all, as a city holds to its law, and even more firmly. For all human laws are nourished by a divine one. It prevails as it will and suffices for all and is more than enough.

Thinking is shared by all.

Thinking well is the greatest excellence and wisdom: to act and speak what is true, perceiving things according to their nature.

The lord whose oracle is in Delphi neither declares nor conceals, but gives a sign.

The Sibyl with raving mouth utters things mirthless and unadorned and unperfumed, and her voice carries through a thousand years because of the god who speaks through her

You will not find out the limits of the soul by going, even if you travel over every way, so deep is its report.

It is wise, listening not to me but to the report, to agree that all things are one.

The ordering, the same for all, no god nor man has made, but it ever was and is and will be: fire ever living, kindled in measures and in measures going out.

The reversals of fire: first sea; but of sea half is earth, half lightning storm.

Sea pours out <from earth>, and it measures up to the same amount it was before becoming earth.

All things are requital for fire, and fire for all things, as goods for gold and gold for goods.

The death of fire is birth for air, and the death of air is birth for water.

The sun is overseer and sentinel of cycles, for determining the changes and the seasons which bring all things to birth.

There is a Great Year, whose winter is a great flood and whose summer is a world conflagration. In these alternating periods the world is now going up in flames, now turning to water. This cycle consists of 10,800 years.

There is a certain order and fixed time for the change of the cosmos in accordance with some fated necessity,

The sun will not transgress his measures. If he does, the Furies, ministers of Justice, will find him out.

The limits of Dawn and Evening is the Bear; and, opposite the Bear, the Warder of luminous Zeus.

If there were no sun, it would be night.

The sun is the size of a human foot.

The sun is new every day.

The sun is extinguished in old age, but rekindled again.

Cold warms up, warm cools off, moist parches, dry dampens.

As they step into the same rivers, other and still other waters flow upon them.

One cannot step twice into the same river, nor can one grasp any mortal substance in a stable condition, but it scatters and again gathers; it forms and dissolves, and approaches and departs.

It rests by changing.

It is weariness to toil at the same tasks and be always beginning.

The wise is one, knowing the plan by which it steers all things through all.

Human nature has no set purpose, but the divine has.

The most beautiful of apes is ugly in comparison with the race of man; the wisest of men seems an ape in comparison to a god.

A man is found foolish by a god, as a child by a man.

Human opinions are toys for children.

What wit or understanding do they have? They believe the poets of the people and take the mob as their teacher, not knowing that ‘the many are worthless’, good men are few.

A fool loves to get excited on any account.

Dogs bark at those they do not recognize.

One man is ten thousand, if he is the best.

What the Ephesians deserve is to be hanged to the last man, every one of them, and leave the city to the boys, since they drove out their best man, Hermodorus, saying Let no one be the best among us; if he is, let him be so elsewhere and among others.

The people must fight for the law as for their city wall.

It is law also to obey the counsel of one.

It is not better for human beings to get all they want. It is disease that makes health sweet and good, hunger satiety, weariness rest.

For god all things are fair and good and just, but men have taken some things as unjust, others as just.

If it were not for these things, they would not have known the name of Justice.

The sea is the purest and foulest water: for fish drinkable and life sustaining; for men undrinkable and deadly.

Asses prefer garbage to gold.

Swine delight in mire more than clean water; chickens bathe in dust.

Doctors who cut and burn and torture their patients in every way complain that they do not receive the reward they deserve.

The path of the carding wheels is straight and crooked.

The counter-thrust brings together, and from tones at variance comes perfect atonement, and all things come to pass through conflict.

All beasts are driven by blows.

Even the potion separates unless it is stirred.

They do not comprehend how a thing agrees at variance with itself; it is an atonement turning back on itself, like that of the bow and the lyre.

The name of the bow is life; its work is death.

The hidden atonement is better than the obvious one.

Homer was wrong when he said: ,,Would that Conflict might vanish from among gods and men!” For there would be no atonement without high and low notes nor any animals without male and female, both of which are opposites.

One must realize that war is shared and Conflict is Justice, and that all things come to pass (and are ordained?) in accordance with conflict.

War is father of all and king of all; and some he has shown as gods, others men; some he has made slaves, others free.

What awaits men at death they do not expect or even imagine.

The great man is eminent in imagining things, and on this he hangs his reputation for knowing it all.

Incredibility escapes recognition.

Justice will catch up with those who invent lies and those who swear to them.

Corpses should be thrown out quicker than dung.

Death is all things we see awake; all we see asleep is sleep.

A man strikes a light for himself in the night, when his sight is quenched. Living, he touches the dead in his sleep; waking, he touches the sleeper.

Men asleep are laborers and co-workers in what takes place in the world.

Immortals are mortal, mortals immortal, living the others’ death, dead in the others’ life.

The same . . . : living and dead, and the waking and the sleeping, and young and old. For these transposed are those, and those transposed again are these.

Lifetime is a child at play, moving pieces in a game. Kingship belongs to the child.

A generation is thirty years, in which time the progenitor has engendered one who generates. The cycle of life lies in this interval, when nature returns from human seed-time to seed-time.

Greater deaths are allotted greater destinies.

The best choose one thing in exchange for all, ever flowing fame among mortals; but most men have sated themselves like cattle.

Once born they want to live and have their portions; and they leave children behind born to become their dooms.

The beginning and the end are shared in the circumference of a circle.

Gods and men honor those who fall in battle.

To the soul belongs a report that increases itself.

For souls it is death to become water, for water it is death to become earth; out of earth water arises, out of water soul.

The way up and down is one and the same.

One must quench violence quicker than a blazing fire.

It is hard to fight against passion; for whatever it wants it buys at the expense of soul.

A man when drunk is led by a beardless boy, stumbling, not perceiving where he is going, having his soul moist.

It is better to hide one’s folly;but that is difficult in one’s cups and at ease.

It is delight, not death, for souls to become moist.

A gleam of light is the dry soul, wisest and best.

(…) to rise up (?) and become wakeful watchers of living men and corpses.

Souls smell things in Hades.

If all things turned to smoke, the nostrils would sort them out.

The soul is an exhalation that perceives; it is different from the body, and always flowing.

Man’s character is his fate.

The mysteries current among men initiate them into impiety.

If it were not Dionysus for whom they march in procession and chant the hymn to the phallus, their action would be most shameless. But Hades and Dionysus are the same, him for whom they rave and celebrate Lenaia.

They are purified in vain with blood, those polluted with blood, as if someone who stepped in mud should try to wash himself with mud. Anyone who noticed him doing this would think he was mad. And they pray to these images as if they were chatting with houses, not recognizing what gods or even heroes are like.

The wise is one alone, unwilling and willing to be spoken of by the name of Zeus.

The thunderbolt pilots all things.

(Fire is?) need and satiety.

Fire coming on will discern and catch up with all things.

How will one hide from that which never sets?

The god: day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, satiety and hunger. It alters, as when mingled with perfumes, it gets named according to the pleasure of each one.

Graspings: wholes and not wholes, convergent divergent, consonant dissonant, from all things one and from one thing all.

The fairest order in the world is a heap of random sweepings.


translated by
Charles H. Kahn