Heraclitus for string quartet



Callimachus of Cyrene (c. 310 BC – c. 240 BC) was a Greek poet, critic and bibliographer, of Libyan birth.
He is considered the most influential figure of the Alexandrian school.
He wrote this poem in memory of his friend Heraclitus.

(Note: this is not Heraclitus of Ephesus whose philosophy is well known and who famously said
“πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει” καὶ “δὶς ἐς τὸν αὐτὸν ποταμὸν οὐκ ἂν ἐμβαίης”
“Everything changes and nothing remains still … and … you cannot step twice into the same stream”
and, of course, “πάντα ῥεῖ ” (“all things flow”),
but this Heraclitus of Halicarnassos was clearly a poet of great distinction himself, sadly unknown now,
apart from the mention in this poem)

Εἰπέ τις, Ἡράκλειτε, τεὸν μόρον ἐς δέ με δάκρυ
ἤγαγεν ἐμνήσθην δ᾿ ὁσσάκις ἀμφότεροι
ἠέλιον λέσχῃ κατεδύσαμεν. ἀλλὰ σὺ μέν που,
ξεῖν᾿ Ἁλικαρνησεῦ, τετράπαλαι σποδιή,
αἱ δὲ τεαὶ ζώουσιν ἀηδόνες, ᾗσιν ὁ πάντων
ἁρπακτὴς Ἀίδης οὐκ ἐπὶ χεῖρα βαλεῖ.

Someone told me of your death, Heraclitus, and it moved me to tears,
when I remembered how often the sun set on our talking.
And you, my Halicarnassian friend, lie somewhere, gone long long ago to dust;
but they live, your Nightingales, on which Hades who seizes all shall not lay his hand.
(translation by W. R. Paton)

2 millennia later, William Johnson Cory, 1823-92 wrote this version of the poem

They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead;
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed;
I wept, as I remembered, how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking, and sent him down the sky.

And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.

… and this was set to music by Charles Villiers Stanford.