The Harmony of Opposites

Heraclitus was an enigmatic Greek philosopher, defined because of this as “the obscure”. During his last years of life he became a hermit of the mountains, being an aristocratic spirit that disdained the multitudes: not bad for one who lived in Ancient Greece! He should have seen the world as it is today…

manifestazione_parigi_terrorismo_alto_1_place_de_la_republique_ansa

Anyway, one thing that is clear from the fragments at our disposal is his doctrine concerning the harmony of opposites:

“The opposites concordant, and from the discordant comes beautiful harmony, and everything happens according to contention”.

“The same thing are the living and the dead, the awake and the sleeping, the young and the old: these indeed changing are those and those again changing are these”.

“What is cold becomes hot, what is hot becomes cold, what is moist becomes dry, what is dry becomes moist”.

“Immortal mortals, mortal immortals, living their death and dying their life”.

“One and the same is the path that goes upward and the path that goes down”.

“The same is in fact the beginning and the end in the circumference of the circle”.

“God is day-night, winter-summer, war-peace, satiety-hunger”.

“Junctions are entire-not entire, concordant-discordant, harmonic-disharmonic, and from all things the one and from the one all things”.

Listening not to me, but to the lógos, it is wise to agree that all things are one“.

Heraclitus understood that the Law of the Universe, the Logos (intended as “relation” or “connection”, in reference to the infinite series of relations/connections generated by Nature and operating in it, through the mediation of opposites that alternate), is the relation of contraposition, complementarity, interdependency and alternation between two opposite concepts (being-becoming, one-many, eternity-time, infinite-finite, life-death, past-future, inhalation-exhalation, peace-war, hot-cold, etc.) that are apparently in constant conflict with each other, but in reality, at the same time, they need each other because everything originates from its opposite: the opposites can indeed be defined only for opposition, and they can never be independently determined: nothing would exist if there were not, at the same time, also its opposite.

Note: here lies the meaning of the figure of the Androgynous (from Greek androgynos, composed by andros,”male”, and gyne, “woman”), the complete and undivided being best known for its description given by Plato in the Symposium. The symbolism that lies in this figure refers to the coexistence of opposites and their interdependence, the underlying unity hidden by their apparent separation and opposition: in biological terms it refers to the restoration of the absolute and primordial unity of the being. The coincidentia oppositorum (a Latin phrase meaning “coincidence of opposites”) is the state of being in which the opposites coincide: for example, at the climax of sexual love there is a coincidence between man and woman, a momentary emersion of the androgynous state of being, the erotic impulse having its deepest meaning in the reintegration and reunification of the two divided parts of the human being; this biological coincidence, in specific cases and conditions, allows to momentarily experience a purely spiritual and trascendental state, what in philosophy would consist in the culmination of the metaphysical speculation, namely the inner realization of the coincidence between the concepts of Being and Becoming (therefore two ways of appearing of a single reality), union that results in a single principle, a metaphisical reality that is beyond the opposition between contraries, that in it instead coincide: the Universal Reality.

androgino

If there was no night, what would give us the opportunity to define the day as such? If there was no winter, what would give us the opportunity to define summer as such? If there was no war, what would give us the opportunity to define peace as such? If there was no death, what would give us the opportunity to define life as such? The same on the contrary and for all the opposites that exist. They are two faces of the same coin, bound in the same way as an upward path seems a path that goes down if seen from above.

winter-summer

As it’s evident from the fragments cited above, Heraclitus thought that everything is destined to pass eternally from one state to another: what is cold and becomes hot will cool, what is slow and becomes fast will slow down, what is alive and dies will return to life. I’m alive (again) because I died, and I am destined to die (again) and then to return to life (again), in the same way as I’m awake (again) because I fell asleep, only to be destined to fell asleep (again) and then to return to be awake (again). The end of the circle coincides exactly with its beginning. There is no immobility, only an eternal and unceasing metamorphosis, a current with no beginning and no end, a constant change and transformation: panta rei (“everything flows”). As Heraclitus said: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river (in its perennial flow) and he’s not the same man (in his perennial becoming)“.

We can affirm that Heraclitus believed in the immortality and eternal rebirth of the individual spirit: if it is possible to be reborn then it is necessary that the spirit exists (from what we would return to life if not from it that is eternal and immortal, while the body is temporary and mortal?) and that it doesn’t disappear after death, but that it continues to exist even outside the body.

Anyway, we need both the opposites and there will always be both: their result is harmony and equilibrium: war will come after peace but at a certain point there will be peace again, winter will come after summer but at a certain point there will be summer again, etc. In this Heraclitus saw the Logos, the Universal Law of Nature!

hendrik_ter_brugghen_-_heraclitus

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5 thoughts on “The Harmony of Opposites

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