What appears tends to disappear


Φύσις δε… kαθ’ Ηραkλειτον… kρύπτεσθαι φιλεΐ
Phúsis de… kath’ Erakleiton… krúptesthai phileî
(Qtd in Themistius, Orations 5.69b, DK B123)

The story I am about to tell therefore begins symbolically at Ephesus, in Asia Minor, around 500 BCE, on the day when tradition reports that Heraclitus, one of the most ancient thinkers of Greece, deposited the book, probably without a title, in which he had summarized all his knowledge, in the temple of the celebrated Artemis of Ephesus.1

The book contained an enigmatic saying, made up of three little Greek words—’phusis kruptesthai philei”—which traditionally have been translated by the formula “Nature loves to hide ” although in all likelihood this meaning never occurred to Heraclitus—three words that future generations never ceased trying to interpret… (1)

…Yet in a way that is very interesting for our subject, Sophocles’ verses oppose the two verbs phuei and kruptetai, thereby encouraging us to retain the two interpretations that I proposed, that is, in the ac tive sense, “What causes things to appear tends to make them disap- pear,” “What causes birth tends to cause death,” or “What unveils is also what veils,” and in the passive sense, “What appears tends to dis- appear” or “What is born wants to die.” (11)

Hadot, Pierre. The veil of Isis: an essay on the history of the idea of nature. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006 .

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