Ridiculous Symbols, Beliefs, and Habits From History
Ridiculous Symbols, Beliefs, and Habits From History

Ridiculous Symbols, Beliefs, and Habits From History

Khalid Elhassan - March 5, 2021

Ridiculous Symbols, Beliefs, and Habits From History
Heraclitus, by Johannes Moreelse. Wikimedia

2. The Trend-Setting Philosopher

Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 – 475 BC) 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“. It illustrates 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 advocated 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. Unfortunately, Heraclitus is better known today for his ridiculous demise than for his contributions to philosophy.

A highly introspective man, Heraclitus did not come by his philosophy through learning at the hands of another philosopher, but was self-taught. Critical of other philosophers, had a dim view of humanity, loathed mobs and democracy, and preferred 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.

Ridiculous Symbols, Beliefs, and Habits From History
Heraclitus thought dried cow dung would cure his edema. Farm Homestead

1. A Ridiculous Remedy

Given his views on the rest of mankind, Heraclitus was a misanthrope. That 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“. His ridiculous 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.

Ridiculous Symbols, Beliefs, and Habits From History
Dried cow dung did not Heraclitus of Ephesus, but got him killed in a ridiculous way instead. Ancient History Encyclopedia

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. He 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. He was thus unable to shoo off a pack of dogs which came upon him and ate him alive.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Atlantic, The, December 19th, 2017 – Trofim Lysenko: The Soviet Era’s Deadliest Scientist is Regaining Popularity in Russia

AV Club – Wikipedia Erected a Page to Explain Ancient Rome’s Fascination With the Phallus

BBC – El Dorado: The Truth Behind the Myth

BBC – The Rise, Fall, and Rise of Status Pineapple

Best Glam Health and Lifestyle – Gladiator Sweat and Other Surprising Aphrodisiacs of the Ancient World

Encyclopedia Britannica – Herodotus

Found in Antiquity – The Five Strangest Deaths of the Philosophers

Gizmodo – “Blowing Smoke Up Your Ass” Used to be Literal

Hayes, Joseph, Atlas Obscura – The Victorian Belief That a Train Ride Could Cause Instant Insanity

Haynes, Sterling MD, British Columbia Medical Journal, December 2012 – Special Feature: Tobacco Smoke Enemas

Museum of Hoaxes – Cottingley Fairies

National Geographic – El Dorado

Paris Review, April 25th, 2018 – The Strange History of the “King-Pine”

Smithsonian Magazine, December 15th, 2009 – Crop Circles: The Art of the Hoax

Wikipedia – Trofim Lysenko

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