Heraclitus: Ethos Anthropos Daimon

The ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher, Heraclitus (or Heraklitos), wrote at the dawn of Western philosophy. He is a very important (but very neglected) influence on intellectual history despite the paucity of writings available to us. No one thought to preserve them, it seems. In his own time, he was referred to as “Heraclitus the Obscure” or “Heraclitus the Dark,” and was largely ignored in favour of his arch-philosophical foe and contemporary, Parmenides. But basically, the controversy that raged between Heraclitus and Parmenides was over the meaning of time. Heraclitus has been generally characterised as the philosopher of Becoming, while Parmenides has been described more as the philosopher of Being. This distinction can be summarised as the tension between dynamis and stasis. Or in contemporary terms, “progressive” and “conservative” orientations.

Paremindes, however, has been the biggest influence on Western philosophy… until lately.

One of Heraclitus’s most memorable statements was “ethos anthropos daimon“, which roughly translates as “character is fate” (or “character is destiny”). The word “ethos,” translated as “character,” is also our word “ethic.” The word “anthropos” is our word for human being or “man.” The word “daimon” is the source for our word “demon,” but actually translates as “fate,” but also has the meaning “messenger”. Socrates, for example, famously had his “daimon” who advised him against foolish action (but never commended wise ones). Ironically, in Latin the corresponding word to “daimon” is “angelus.”

“Character is fate” is the usual translation of “ethos anthropos daimon.” Character can be described as your “psychic make-up” — your ingrained system, conscious or not, of beliefs, assumptions, ideas about yourself and your reality. You might recognise that description from earlier posts about Seth’s “you create the reality you know.”

“You must understand the nature of reality before you can manipulate within it intelligently and well. In this environment and in physical reality, you are learning — you are supposed to be learning — that your thoughts have reality, and that you create the reality that you know.”


“You are in physical existence to learn and understand that your energy, translated into feelings, thoughts and emotions, causes all experience. THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS.”

All that is a persistent theme of the Seth material, as interpreted through Jane Roberts and published under her name. In essence, however, it all has the same meaning as Heraclitus’s famous (and often misunderstood) statement.

William Blake stated much the same principle as Heraclitus (and Seth), where he describes this “ethos” of Heraclitus as “impulse.” This is recorded in one of Blake’s “Memorable Fancies,” in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell where one of the “demons” bests an angel in argument about the character and nature of Jesus. The demon chastises and rebukes the angel for false thinking with the words: “I tell you, no virtue can exist without breaking these ten commandments: Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse: not from rules.”

Once I saw a Devil in a flame of fire. Who arose before an angel that sat on a cloud, and the devil utter’d these words: ‘The worship of God is: honouring His gifts in other men. Each according to his genius, and loving the greatest men best: those who envy or caluminate great men hate God; for there is no other God, ‘ The angel hearing this became almost blue, but mastering himself grew yellow.& at last white, pink,& smiling, and then replied: ‘Thou idolater, is not God one? & Is not He visible in Jesus Christ? And has not Jesus Christ given his sanction to the law of ten commandments, and are not all other men fools, sinners & nothings? ‘The devil answer’d: ‘Bray a fool in a mother with wheat. Yet shall not his folly be beaten out of him; if Jesus Christ is the greatest man, you ought to love him in the greatest degree; now hear how He has given His sanction to the law of ten commandments: did He not mock at the Sabbath, and so mock the sabbath’s god? Murder those who were murdered because of Him? Turn away the law from the woman taken in adultery? Steal the labour of others to support him? Bear false witness when He omitted making a defence before Pilate? Covet when He pray’d for His disciples, and when He bid them shake off the dust of their feet against such as refused to lodge them? I tell you, no virtue can exist without breaking these ten commandments. Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse, not from rules! When He had so spoken, I beheld the angel who stretched out his arms, embracing the flame of fire & he was consumed and arose as Elijah. Note: this angel who is now become a devil, is my particular friend; we often read the bible together in its infernal or diabolical sense which
the world shall have if they behave well. I have also the bible of hell, which the world shall have whether they will or no.

One law for the lion & ox is oppression.

This passage has much the same meaning as Heraclitus’s “character is fate,”. “Ethos” might be best translated here as “essence,” insofar as Jesus did not act from “rules” (or the Law) but from what Blake calls “impulse.” This makes Jesus the “Lord of Misrule,” so to speak. Nietzsche also called this “automaticity” (but was quite misunderstood in his meaning).

It is for this reason (and others) that Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy once described Heraclitus as “the Greek Buddha,” and that characterisation is very apt.

Heraclitus was also called “The Weeping Philosopher” in his time, but without any explanation. I might propose that it was his distress at the course human beings had chosen to follow that made him weep profusely.

Heraclitus is also known for his view of the soul as infinite and unbounded. It was he who first described the soul as the “Logos“, which was subsequently greatly misunderstood by his successors. This “Logos” is “essence” and is the source of the “impulse” that Blake refers to in Jesus’ conduct. In due time, this “Logos” came to be applied to Jesus himself, in the famous opening words of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.” This “Logos” has been translated in the English Bible as “Word.”

But, in “essence” (so to speak), it is the soul — undefinable, unbounded, and limitless.


4 responses to “Heraclitus: Ethos Anthropos Daimon

  1. amothman33 says :

    As there is Heraklitus there is Paremindes, those who are occupied with being and those who are occupied with becoming. This is the design.Let each team choose what they want. it is a free universe.It is a fight, internal and external. Please bear with me I am only trying to understand the Word.The word that is with God.

    • Scott says :

      LOL. You make it sound like a soccer (football) match when you speak of “teams” and “fight”. That’s funny, because the Monty Python comedy troop once did a skit just like that in which philosophers teamed up and played soccer against each other (but not too well). I can just imagine it: Team Being meets Team Becoming for the match of the millennium.

  2. Leonardo says :

    Logos can have no literal translation in English.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Certainly no straight dictionary definition. I once read about 20 different attempted definitions of logos. Nonetheless, it can have a determinate meaning depending upon the context in which it is used… sort of like projective geometry. It’s not entirely clear what Heraclitus intended by Logos. Some have translated it as “soul” in his usage. St. John translated it as “The Word”. Without more of Heraclitus’ works, it’s speculative. But in my judgement it seems to approximate the meaning of “Tao”, which also has no literal translation in English either, and perhaps none in any language except as the proverbial “finger pointing at the moon” — an index into the ineffable

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: