Heraclitus the Philosopher
Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 – 475 BC) was an Ancient Greek philosopher who advanced the notion that the essence of the universe is constant change. To that end, he coined the phrase “no man ever steps into the same river twice” in recognition of the notion that everything, like the ever moving droplets of water drifting downstream on a river, is in constant motion and flux, even if the motion is not readily perceptible. 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 those things exhibiting contrary properties.
A highly introspective man, he did not come by his philosophy through learning at the hands of another philosopher, but was self-taught. Critical of other philosophers, Heraclitus had a dim view of humanity, 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. Deeming wealth a form of punishment, Heraclitus wished upon his fellow Ephesians, whom he hated, that they would be cursed with wealth as punishment for their sins.
In short, 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, or, as Diogenes summed him up: “finally, [Heraclitus] became a hater of his kind, and roamed the mountains, surviving on grass and herbs“.
His bizarre end came as a result of his affliction with dropsy, or edema – a painful accumulation of fluids beneath the skin and in the body’s cavities. Doctors could offer neither cure nor relief, so Heraclitus, the self-taught philosopher, sought to apply his self-teaching skills to medicine and heal himself. Heraclitus tried 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”, or the fluids accumulated beneath his skin. Covering himself in cow manure, Heraclitus lay out in the sun to dry, only to be immobilized by the cow dung drying around him into a body cast, and was thus unable to shoo off a pack of dogs which came upon him and ate him alive.