Heraclitus of Ephesus (c.535-c.475 BC) was an influential Greek philosopher. We know little about his life, as Ancient Greek biographies usually comprised a system of references and aphorisms across diverse texts. We know the man chiefly through his works, which is perhaps how he would have chosen to have been remembered. From the works of others, we know that he was a child prodigy, and did not hold back on his opinions of others. He saw Hesiod and Pythagoras as learned but lacking true understanding of the world, and said that the poets Homer and Archilochus deserved to be flogged.
Heraclitus saw the world as made up of unified opposites. That is, opposite things are mutually-defining, and thus identical. As Heraclitus said, ‘the road up and the road down are the same thing.’ His pioneering ideas on the division between ordinary people and philosophers (who better understand the universe) were especially influential on Plato and his Allegory of the Cave. Heraclitus had a very low opinion of humanity in general: ‘Poor witnesses for men are their eyes and ears if they have barbarian souls’. Likewise, his ethical thought was the fundamental basis for the later philosophical school of Stoicism.
Unfortunately, Heraclitus also suffered from dropsy. He attempted to cure himself… by covering himself in manure. In one account, he then lay in the sun to dry, but became stuck, and was eaten by dogs. Other accounts state that Heraclitus buried himself in a cowshed and simply died from prolonged exposure to the dung. Diogenes Laertius remembered him thus: ‘often have I wondered how it came about that Heraclitus endured to live in this miserable fashion and then to die. For a fell disease flooded his body with water, quenched the light in his eyes and brought on darkness.’