Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Joshua Wilburn


The early Greek philosopher Heraclitus writes in a puzzling, cryptic way which makes his ideas difficult to work out. Many commentators are content to make some broad statements about his place in the development of philosophy as a natural philosopher or metaphysician; statements for which there is ample support.

In this essay, I argue that we can use Heraclitus’ biography and his historical context to recover his ideas about religion, ethics, and politics. I believe that this method reveals a Heraclitus who was grasping for an early sort of political theory and ethics in response to the turbulent period in which he lived. I also believe that the religious practices at Eleusis and Delphi inspired Heraclitus to express his ideas in the cryptic way that he does. In short, I argue that he was borrowing the oracular ambiguity of Delphi to make his readers metaphorical “initiates” into his ideas in a way that is modeled on the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Further, I examine the way in which Heraclitus ideas arguably influenced later thinkers from Democritus to the Stoics. Each taking this or that aspect of Heraclitus’ thought to shape their own ideas about value and/or politics.