8. Heraclitus Covered Himself in Poop and Was Eaten Alive by Dogs
The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 – 475 BC) contended that the essence of the universe is constant change. So he coined the phrase “no man ever steps into the same river twice“, in recognition of the notion that everything, like droplets of water drifting downstream on a river, is in constant motion and flux, even if the motion is hard to notice. He also propagated the notion of a “unity of opposites”, whereby the universe is a system of balanced exchanges in which all things are paired in a relationship with things exhibiting contrary properties.
Heraclitus was self taught, and critical of other philosophers. He had a dim view of humanity, and loathed mobs and democracy, preferring instead rule by a few wise men – a concept that Plato later distilled into the notion that the ideal ruler would be a philosopher-king. Heraclitus viewed wealth as a form of punishment, and wished upon his fellow Ephesians, whom he hated, that they would be cursed with wealth as punishment for their sins.
In other words, Heraclitus was a misanthrope, and his misanthropy led him to avoid contact with other people for long stretches, during which he wandered alone through mountains and wilderness, surviving on plants and what he could scavenge. As Diogenes summed him up: “finally, [Heraclitus] became a hater of his kind, and roamed the mountains, surviving on grass and herbs“.
He death came about when he was afflicted with dropsy, or edema – a painful accumulation of fluids beneath the skin and in the body’s cavities. Physicians could offer neither cure nor relief, so Heraclitus applied his self teaching skills to medicine, and tried to heal himself. He attempted an innovative cure by covering himself in cow dung, on the theory that the warmth of the manure would dry and draw out of him the “noxious damp humor” of the fluids accumulated beneath his skin. Covering himself in cow manure, Heraclitus lay out in the sun to dry, only to become immobilized when the dung dried around him into a body cast. He was thus unable to shoo off a pack of dogs that came upon him and ate him alive.