The Classical Quarterly (New Series)

Shorter Notes

On Fire in Heraclitus and in Zeno of Citium

R. W. Sharplesa1

a1 University College London

In a recent discussion note1 C. D. C. Reeve investigates the reasons for Heraclitus assigning a primary position to fire, as contrasted with the other substances like earth and water which go to make up the physical universe. (I shall henceforth refer to these substances as ‘elements‘; the term is strictly incorrect for Heraclitus, in that the substances can change into one another, but it is a convenient form of shorthand.) Reeve considers and rejects other reasons for the primacy of fire that have been put forward, such as the symbolic associations of fire, the role of fire in governing the universe, or the claim that everything becomes fire at some time or other. Rather, Reeve argues, the primacy of fire in Heraclitus' physical theory can be explained purely in terms of that physical theory.