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Heraclitus – Fragment 112

The Balance of Physis – Notes on λόγος and ἀληθέα in Heraclitus

Part One – Fragment 112

σωφρονεῖν ἀρετὴ μεγίστη, καὶ σοφίη ἀληθέα λέγειν καὶ ποιεῖν κατὰ φύσιν ἐπαίοντας. [1]

This fragment is interesting because it contains what some regard as the philosophically important words σωφρονεῖν, ἀληθέα, φύσις and λόγος.

The fragment suggests that what is most excellent [ ἀρετὴ ] is thoughtful reasoning [σωφρονεῖν] – and such reasoning is both (1) to express (reveal) meaning and (2) that which is in accord with, or in sympathy with, φύσις – with our nature and the nature of Being itself.

Or, we might, perhaps more aptly, write – such reasoning is both an expressing of inner meaning (essence), and expresses our own, true, nature (as thinking beings) and the balance, the nature, of Being itself.

λέγειν [λόγος] here does not suggest what we now commonly understand by the term “word”. Rather, it suggests both a naming (denoting), and a telling – not a telling as in some abstract explanation or theory, but as in a simple describing, or recounting, of what has been so denoted or so named. Which is why, in fragment 39, Heraclitus writes:

ἐν Πριήνηι Βίας ἐγένετο ὁ Τευτάμεω, οὗ πλείων λόγος ἢ τῶν ἄλλων [2]

and why, in respect of λέγειν, Hesiod [see below under ἀληθέα] wrote:

ἴδμεν ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγειν ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα,
ἴδμεν δ᾽, εὖτ᾽ ἐθέλωμεν, ἀληθέα γηρύσασθαι [3]

φύσις here suggests the Homeric [4] usage of nature, or character, as in Herodotus (2.5.2):

Αἰγύπτου γὰρ φύσις ἐστὶ τῆς χώρης τοιήδε

but also suggests Φύσις (Physis) – as in fragment 123; the natural nature of all beings, beyond their outer appearance.

ἀληθέα – commonly translated as truth – here suggests (as often elsewhere) an exposure of essence, of the reality, the meaning, which lies behind the outer (false) appearance that covers or may conceal that reality or meaning, as in Hesiod (Theog, 27-28):

ἴδμεν ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγειν ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα,
ἴδμεν δ᾽, εὖτ᾽ ἐθέλωμεν, ἀληθέα γηρύσασθαι [3]

σωφρονεῖν here suggests balanced (or thoughtful, measured) reasoning – but not according to some abstract theory, but instead a reasoning, a natural way or manner of reasoning, in natural balance with ourselves, with our nature as thinking beings.

Most importantly, perhaps, it is this σωφρονεῖν which can incline us toward not committing ὕβρις (hubris; insolence), which ὕβρις is a going beyond the natural limits, and which thus upsets the natural balance, as, for instance, mentioned by Sophocles:

ὕβρις φυτεύει τύραννον:
ὕβρις, εἰ πολλῶν ὑπερπλησθῇ μάταν,
ἃ μὴ ‘πίκαιρα μηδὲ συμφέροντα,
ἀκρότατον εἰσαναβᾶσ᾽
αἶπος ἀπότομον ὤρουσεν εἰς ἀνάγκαν,
ἔνθ᾽ οὐ ποδὶ χρησίμῳ

It therefore not surprising that Heraclitus considers, as expressed in fragment 112, the best person – the person with the most excellent character (that is, ἀρετὴ) – is the person who, understanding and appreciating their own true nature as a thinking being (someone who can give names to – who can denote – beings, and express or recount that denoting to others), also understands the balance of Being, the true nature of beings [cf. fragment 1 – κατὰ φύσιν διαιρέων ἕκαστον], and who thus seeks to avoid committing the error of hubris, but who can not only also forget this understanding, and cease to remember such reasoning:

τοῦ δὲ λόγου τοῦδ᾽ ἐόντος ἀεὶ ἀξύνετοι γίνονται ἄνθρωποι καὶ πρόσθεν ἢ ἀκοῦσαι καὶ ἀκούσαντες τὸ πρῶτον [6]

but who can also deliberately, or otherwise, conceal what lies behind the names (the outer appearance) we give to beings, to “things”.

DW Myatt


[1] Fragmentum B 112 Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, ed. H. Diels, Berlin 1903

[2] ” In Priene was born someone named and recalled as most worthy – Bias, that son of Teuta.”


We have many ways to conceal – to name – certain things
And the skill when we wish to expose their meaning

[4] Odyssey, Book 10, vv. 302-3

[5] “ Insolence plants the tyrant. There is insolence if by a great foolishness there is a useless over-filling which goes beyond the proper limits. It is an ascending to the steepest and utmost heights and then that hurtling toward that Destiny where the useful foot has no use…” (Oedipus Tyrannus, vv.872ff)

[6] ” Although this naming and expression, which I explain, exists – human beings tend to ignore it, both before and after they have become aware of it.”  (Fragment 1)


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Heraclitus – Fragment 123

Φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ
Physis, Nature, Concealment, and Natural Change

The phrase Φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ – attributed to Heraclitus [See Note 1] – is often translated along the following lines: Nature loves to conceal Herself (or, Nature loves to hide).

Such a translation is somewhat inaccurate, for several reasons.

First, as used here, by Heraclitus, the meaning of Φύσις is rather different from his other usage of the term, as such usage is known to us in other fragments of his writings. For the sense here is of Φύσις rather than φύσις – a subtle distinction that is often overlooked; that is, what is implied is that which is the origin behind the other senses, or usages, of the term φύσις.

Thus, Φύσις (Physis) is not simply what we understand as Nature; rather, Nature is one way in which Φύσις is manifest, presenced, to us: to we human beings who possess the faculty of consciousness and of reflexion (Thought). That is, what we term Nature [See Note 2] has the being, the attribute, of Physis.

As generally used – for example, by Homer – φύσις suggests the character, or nature, of a thing, especially a human being; a sense well-kept in English, where Nature and nature can mean two different things (hence one reason to capitalize Nature). Thus, we might write that Nature has the nature of Physis.

Second, κρύπτεσθαι does not suggest a simple concealment, some intent to conceal – as if Nature was some conscious (or anthropomorphic) thing with the ability to conceal Herself. Instead, κρύπτεσθαι implies a natural tendency to, the innate quality of, being – and of becoming – concealed or un-revealed.

Thus – and in reference to fragments 1 and 112 – we can understand that κρύπτεσθαι suggests that φύσις has a natural tendency (the nature, the character) of being and of becoming un-revealed to us, even when it has already been revealed, or dis-covered.

How is or can Φύσις (Physis) be uncovered? Through λόγος (cf. fragments 1, and 112).

Here, however, logos is more than some idealized (or moralistic) truth [ ἀληθέα ] and more than is implied by our term word. Rather, logos is the activity, the seeking, of the essence – the nature, the character – of things [ ἀληθέα akin to Heidegger’s revealing] which essence also has a tendency to become covered by words, and an abstract (false) truth [ an abstraction; εἶδος and ἰδέα ] which is projected by us onto things, onto beings and Being.

Thus, and importantly, λόγος – understood and applied correctly – can uncover (reveal) Φύσις and yet also  – misunderstood and used incorrectly – serve to, or be the genesis of the, concealment of Φύσις. The correct logos – or a correct logos – is the ontology of Being, and the λόγος that is logical reasoning is an essential part of, a necessary foundation of, this ontology of Being, this seeking by φίλος, a friend, of σοφόν. Hence, and correctly, a philosopher is a friend of σοφόν who seeks, through λόγος, to uncover – to understand – Being and beings, and who thus suggests or proposes an ontology of Being.

Essentially, the nature of Physis is to be concealed, or hidden (something of a mystery) even though Physis becomes revealed, or can become revealed, by means such as λόγος. There is, thus, a natural change, a natural unfolding – of which Nature is one manifestation – so that one might suggest that Physis itself is this process [ the type of being] of a natural unfolding which can be revealed and which can also be, or sometimes remain, concealed.

Third, φιλεῖ [ φίλος ] here does not suggest “loves” – nor even a desire to – but rather suggests friend, companion, as in Homeric usage.

In conclusion, therefore, it is possible to suggest more accurate translations of the phrase Φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ. All of which correctly leave Φύσις untranslated (as Physis with a capital P), since Φύσις is the source of certain beings [or, to be precise, Physis is the source of, the being behind, our apprehension of certain beings] of which being Nature is one, and of which our own, individual, character, as a particular human being, is another.

One translation is: Concealment accompanies Physis. Or: Concealment remains with Physis, like a friend. Another is: The natural companion of Physis is concealment.

Or, more poetically perhaps, but much less literally, one might suggest: Physis naturally seeks to remain something of a mystery.

DW Myatt


[1]  Fragmentum B 123  – Fragmente der Vorsokratiker ed. H. Diels, Berlin 1903. An older reference for the text, still sometimes used, is Fragment 10 [Epigrammaticus] (cf. GTW Patrick, after Bywater; et al). If the first letter of φύσις is not capitalized, then the phrase is φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ

Heraclitus flourished c. 545 – 475 BCE.

[2] Nature can be said to be both a type of being, and that innate, creative, force (that is, ψυχή) which animates physical matter and makes it living.


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