Those who search for gold dig up much earth and find little

A motto here of my endless reading – Clement of Alexandria, quoting Heraclitus in his Stromata (4.4.2, via Loeb’s Early Greek Philosophy v.3 pg.161):

Those who search for gold dig up much earth and find little.
χρυσὸν γὰρ οἱ διζήμενοι γῆν πολλὴν ὀρύσσουσι καὶ εὑρίσκουσιν ὀλίγον.

possibly to be connected – for verb choice – with a brief quote from Plutarch’s Adversus Colotem (20.1118C, and Loeb pg. 159)

I searched for myself.
ἐδιζησάμην ἐμεωυτόν.

and – though the Loeb editors put it in a different section (pg 189) – with this from Diogenes Laertius (9.7):

He who travels on every road would not find out the limits of the soul in the course of walking: so deep is its account
ψυχῆς πείρατα ἰὼν οὐκ ἂν ἐξεύροι ὁ πᾶσαν ἐπιπορευόμενος ὁδόν· οὕτω βαθὺν λόγον ἔχει.

Is it not better to do this than to engage in politics with you?

Some anecdotes of Heraclitus:

Diog. Laert. 9.12

They say that when he was asked why he kept silent, he said, “So that you can chatter.”

φασὶ δὲ αὐτὸν ἐρωτηθέντα διὰ τί σιωπᾷ, φάναι “ἵν᾽ ὑμεῖς λαλῆτε.”

Diog. Laert. 9.2–3

When he was asked by them [i.e. the Ephesians] to give them laws, he scorned to do so, since the city was already dominated by its bad constitution. And he withdrew into the temple of Artemis, where he spent his time playing dice with the children; when the Ephesians gathered around him he asked, “Why are you surprised, you wretches? Is it not better to do this than to engage in politics with you?”

ἀξιούμενος δὲ καὶ νόμους θεῖναι πρὸς αὐτῶν ὑπερεῖδε διὰ τὸ ἤδη κεκρατῆσθαι τῇ πονηρᾷ πολιτείᾳ τὴν πόλιν. ἀναχωρήσας δὲ εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν τῆς Ἀρτέμιδος μετὰ τῶν παίδων ἠστραγάλιζε· περιστάντων δ᾽ αὐτὸν τῶν Ἐφεσίων, “τί, ὦ κάκιστοι, θαυμάζετε;” εἶπεν· “ἢ οὐ κρεῖττον τοῦτο ποιεῖν ἢ μεθ᾽ ὑμῶν πολιτεύεσθαι;”

For you will undo the endlessly talking tongues of chattering men

From Diogenes Laertius (1.35), some precepts in verse of Thales (via Loeb’s Early Greek Philosophy v.2):

τῶν τε ᾀδομένων αὐτοῦ τάδε εἶναι·

οὔ τι τὰ πολλὰ ἔπη φρονίμην ἀπεφήνατο δόξαν·
ἕν τι μάτευε σοφόν,ἕν τι κεδνὸν αἱροῦ·
λύσεις γὰρ ἀνδρῶν κωτίλων
γλώσσας ἀπεραντολόγους.

Among his songs there are the following:

Many words do not manifest a sensible opinion.
Search for one thing: what is wise.
Choose one thing: what is good.
For you will undo the endlessly talking tongues
Of chattering men.

Diels opted for a different reading – δήσεις – which gives the sense ‘tie up, bind the endlessly talking tongues.’ I’ve not checked whether that’s a variant reading or a conjecture to avoid potential issues with λύω, which does allow the sense ‘undo’ but usually means ‘loosen’ (and there are instances in Euripides and Plato where it specifically is applied to loosening tongues, cited in the linked entry at 1B). I accidentally hear an anachronistic echo here of Benedict’s “To bind me or undo me, one of them” at the close of Much Ado.

ἀπεραντολόγος is a near unique compound adjective with an epic feel. At a glance – assuming these verses are Thales’ and not a later attribution – it feels a sideswipe at fellow early philosopher Anaximander’s pursuit of the apeiron (the boundless) as the origin of all things.

Do not stir the fire with a sword

From Erasmus’ Adagia (2.6).  My own hasty rendering.


‘Do not stir the fire with a sword’, that is to say, do not provoke someone already stirred to anger.  It is far better to yield and calm his enraged spirit with kind words.  This is the opinion of Saint Jerome and of Demetrius of Byzantium, cited by Athenaeus.
Diogenes Laertius explains that the choleric temperament of violent and wrathful men ought not to be stirred up with reproaches, because the more a flame is stirred up, the stronger it grows.
Plutarch does not judge any differently.
Plato, however, in Book 6 of The Laws, has used this saying of men who strive in vain for what can be in no way accomplished, showing this to have been a type of game – that they would cut up a fire with a sword.
Saint Basil mentions a nearly identical sense in his letter to his nephews – how they wish to cut fire with a sword and draw water with a sieve.
And it is surely to that definition that Lucian refers in book 2 of his True History.  He tells that that at his departure from the Isles of the Blessed, Rhadamanthus ordered him to follow three rules when he came back to our earth: not to stir the fire with a sword, not to eat beans, and not to bed a boy more than 18 years old.  If he kept these in mind, he would one day return to the isle.
It seems that Horace, by this saying, points out cruelty mixed with madness.  For love is in itself mad and if it breaks forth into fighting and murder, the fire is pierced by a sword.  Satire 2.3: “Add bloodshed to these and stire the fire with a sword.”

Πῦρ σιδήρῳ μὴ σκαλεύειν, id est• Ignem gladio ne fodito, hoc est ira percitum ne
lacessas. Quin magis concedere conuenit et blandis verbis tumidum animum
placare. Ita diuus Hieronymus et apud Athenaeum Demetrius Byzantius.
Diogenes Laertius exponit potentium et ferocium iracundiam non esse
conuitiis exagitandam, propterea quod flamma quo magis exagitatur, hoc
magis atque magis inualescit. Neque dissentit ab hoc interpretamento Plutarchus.
Quanquam Plato libro De legibus sexto sic vsurpauit, vt de iis dici
solitum videatur, qui frustra moliuntur quod effici nullo pacto queat, osten-
dens id lusus genus quoddam fuisse, vt ignem gladio dissecarent. Ad eundem
ferme sensum retulit diuus Basilius in Epistola ad nepotes, vt idem sibi velint
ignem gladio dissecare et cribro haurire aquam. Huc nimirum allusit Lucianus
in secundo Verarum narrationum libro, cum ex insulis fortunatis dimitteretur,
fingens se a Rhadamantho admonitum, vt si quando rediret in hunc nostrum
orbem, tria quaedam obseruaret, Μὴ πῦρ μαχαίρᾳ σκαλεύειν, μήτε θερμούς
ἐσθίειν, μήτε παιδὶ ὑπὲρ τὰ ὀκτωκαίδεκα• ἔτη πλησιάζειν, id est Ne gladio ignem
diuerberaret, ne lupinis vesceretur, ne se puero decimumoctauum annum egresso adiunge-
ret. Si quidem horum meminisset, futurum vt aliquando ad eam insulam
reuerteretur. Horatius hoc dicto videtur indicare crudelitatem cum insania
coniunctam. Amor enim per se furor est, qui si erumpat in pugnas ac caedes,
ignis gladio perfoditur. Libro Sermonum secundo, satyra iii.: His adde cruorem
/ atque ignem gladio scrutare.

It needs a Delian diver

Two anecdotes from Diogenes Laertius on the difficulty of Heraclitus:

They say that Euripides, giving him [Socrates] a work of Heraclitus to read, asked him what he thought of it, and he replied: ‘The part I understand is excellent, and so too is, I dare say, the part I do not understand; but it needs a Delian diver to get to the bottom of it (2.22).


The story told by Ariston of Socrates, and his remarks when he came upon the book of Heraclitus, which Euripides brought him, I have mentioned in my Life of Socrates. However, Seleucus the grammarian says that a certain Croton relates in his book called The Diver that he said work of Heraclitus was first brought into Greece by one Crates, who further said it required a Delian diver not to be drowned on it (9.12)

Delian diver seemed a curiously specific image, especially since the Greek ( Δηλίου γέ τινος δεῖται κολυμβητοῦ) lacks the pleasant alliteration of the English.  In a casual search I found something of an overly ingenious interpretation for the phrase offered by one scholar.  The overwrought summation is as follows:

In conclusion, the expression attributed to Socrates that a Delian diver was required
to comprehend the book by Heraclitus must be understood in a mocking and
metaphorical sense. Thus, and according to this interpretation, not only is a diver
required to reach its depths, but he must necessarily be Delian. This means that he must be someone versed in the arcane oracles of the god Apollo to be able to move freely in the sibylline depths of Heraclitean thought. This explains why an answer that was supposed to be witty and ingenious, put in Socrates’ mouth  with the intention of producing a comical effect, had resource to the island of Delos, ‘the transparent’, ‘The clear’, to refer to the deep water diver. The superficial and literal sense of a Delian diver alluding to an actual pearl or sponge fisherman form that island does not fit with the comical context in which it was expressed, nor with Socrates’ incisive irony, nor, obviously, with the enigmatic and pretentious Heraclitean style. If, conversely, the notion of a Delian diver is understood not as a reference to a true diver from that island, but a metaphorical locution to describe the difficulty to manage the enigmatic and sibylline depths of Heraclitean thought, the hidden meaning of that expression is disclosed. And paraphrasing Diogenes Laertius’ epigram again, only with the aid of the Delian diver, the deep Delian waters become clearer and brighter than sunlight.

I’m somewhat simpler a person and find the sponge diving process a convincing enough metaphor by itself, without recourse to torturing out a pun on Delos.  Wikipedia gives me the following:

When sponge diving, the crew went out into the Mediterranean Sea in a small boat, and used a cylindrical object with a glass bottom to search the sea floor for sponges. When one was found, a diver went overboard to get it. Free diving, he was usually naked and carried a 15 kilograms (33 lb) skandalopetra, a rounded stone tied on a rope to the boat, to take him down to the bottom quickly. The diver then cut the sponge loose from the bottom and put a special net around it. Depth and bottom time depended on the diver’s lung capacity. They often went down about 30 metres (100 ft) for up to 5 minutes