The Harmony of Opposites

Heraclitus was an enigmatic Greek philosopher and because of this defined by his contemporaries as “the obscure”, but one thing turns out to be clear from the fragments at our disposal, namely his doctrine concerning the harmony of opposites:

“The opposite concordant and from the discordant 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 downward”.

“The same are 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

hendrik_ter_brugghen_-_heraclitus

Heraclitus understood that the Eternal Law of the Universe, the Logos (intended as “reason”“relation” and “bond”, in reference to the infinite series of relations and bonds generated according to reason 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, death-life, past-future, inhalation-exhalation, cold-hot, etc.) that are apparently in constant conflict with each other, but in reality and at the same time need each other because every essential reality originates from its opposite: the opposites can indeed be defined only for opposition, and they can never be independently determined, i.e. nothing would exist if there was not, at the same time, also its opposite.

Note: here lies the meaning of the symbolic figure of the Androgynous (from Greek androgynos, composed by andros, “man”, and gyne, “woman”), the integral and undivided being best known for its description made by Plato in the Symposium. The symbolism inherent in this figure refers to the coexistence and interdependence of opposites, the underlying unity hidden by their apparent separation and opposition: in biological terms it refers to the restoration of the primordial and absolute unity of the human being. The coincidentia oppositorum (a Latin expression meaning “coincidence of opposites”) is the state of being in which the opposites coincide: for example, at the climax of sexual love occurs 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 trascendent state, what in philosophy would consist in the culmination of the metaphysical speculation, i.e. the inner realization of the coincidence between the concepts of Being and Becoming, that are therefore two ways of appearing of a single reality, union that results in a single principle, a metaphisical reality that lies beyond the complementarity between opposites, which in it instead coincide: the Universal Reality.

androgino

If night didn’t exist, what would give us the opportunity to define day as such? If winter didn’t exist, what would give us the opportunity to define summer as such? If death didn’t exist, 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 uphill path seems a downhill path if seen from above.

winter-summer

As it’s evident from the fragments quoted above, Heraclitus thought that everything is destined to pass eternally from one state of the being to another: what is cold and becomes hot will cool down, what is slow and becomes fast will slow down, what is alive and dies will return to life. I’m alive, once again, because I died, and I’m destined to die, once again, to then return to life, once again, in the same way as I’m awake because I fell asleep but I’ll be destined to fall asleep again and then to wake up again. The end of the circle coincides with its beginning, there is no immobility, only an eternal and unceasing metamorphosis, a current without beginning and end, a constant change and transformation: panta rei (“everything flows”) and “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 and that it doesn’t vanish after death, but that instead it continues to exist even outside the body: indeed from what we would return to life if not from it that is eternal and immortal, whereas the body is temporary and mortal?

Anyway, we need both the opposites and there will always be both: their alternation generates harmony and equilibrium and in their constant flux Heraclitus saw the Logos, the Eternal Law of Nature.

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