He lived a lonely life near the sea, in a place that was home to a legendary fertility goddess. Beard? Check. Clad in black? Check. Inscrutable and cynical and fond of kicking people into cauldrons of fire? Check and check and triple check!!! He's the nameless Man In Black, of course but he was also the philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus, last spotted living and breathing back in 475 B.C. To my knowledge, the show has never referenced Heraclitus. Not directly, at least. However, in investigating this ancient egghead, I am convinced that Heraclitus should be anointed a patron philosopher of Lost.
If Heraclitus was alive today or if he was capable of picking up future-time transmissions in the reflecting pool or looking glass of his local psychomanteum he'd surely be a big fan of Lost's cryptic, hyper-clever storytelling. Check out this description of the philosopher from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Swap out the philosopher's name for Lost and you'd have a pretty spot-on characterization of the show. ''Heraclitus does not reveal or conceal, but produces complex expressions that have encoded in them multiple messages for those who can interpret them. He uses puns, paradoxes, antitheses, parallels, and various rhetorical and literary devices to construct expressions that have meanings beyond the obvious.... To read Heraclitus the reader must solve verbal puzzles, and to learn to solve these puzzles is to learn to read the signs of the world.'' Hence, the nickname Heraclitus is known by: ''The Obscure.'' SUPER-COOL LOST/HERACLITUS SYNCHRONICITY! Remember the season finale, when we saw Jacob wade into the surf and fetch his morning breakfast from a woven fish basket? Check this out: Earlier this year, a philosophy professor from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, named Phil Hopkins published an essay on Heraclitus entitled ''Weaving the Fish Basket: Heraclitus on Riddles and the Relation of Word and World.'' In an email exchange, Hopkins told me that the Greek word for riddle, griphos, originally referred to...a woven fish basket. Hopkins explains that Heraclitus wanted his riddles to be pondered and appreciated but not necessarily solved. ''For Heraclitus, riddles...are reflective of the nature of things themselves. The world is a riddle, and writing and thinking in riddles invites us to see something about how things are.'' In other words: Heraclitus' riddles = J.J. Abrams' ''mystery box.''
Other Lost connections evoke both Jacob and the Man In Black. Heraclitus resided in the seaside town of Ephesus, home to the Temple of Artemis, where he often hung out. Artemis was a goddess of fertility, just like the Island's four-toed Egyptian deity, Taweret. Heraclitus also had a rather dim view of mankind. He was convinced we were too stupid or too disinterested in becoming better people and understanding the significance of the mysterious world they lived in and the forces that shaped their lives. He blasted mankind for being ''uncomprehending'' and ''sleepwalking through life.'' He blasted unbelievers and believers alike, believing most religious people were ''impious'' and ''superstitious.'' In his later years, Heraclitus became such a misanthrope, he retreated from Ephesus to live alone in the mountains, though ultimately was forced to return after he got sick from eating some bad plants. If he could have seen ''the Incident'' and heard the Man In Black moan, ''They come. They fight. They destroy. They corrupt...'', I think Heraclitus would have said, ''That's what I'm talking' about!'' Because of this pessimism, Heraclitus was also known as ''the weeping philosopher.'' It's also why he's always depicted in paintings wearing dark robes a man in black.
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