I had another of those dreams last night. But this
time I didn't dream I was at work, slaving laboriously behind the bar,
or about great historical figures like Julius Caesar, René Descartes,
or Friedrich Nietzsche. No, last night I dreamed of both rolled into
It was a typical Friday night until a robed man walked in. His flip
flops slapped on the floor as he made his way to the bar. "A martini,"
he said. He didn't look twenty-one, so I carded him. His driver's license
said he was 2,539 years old.
"Where are you from, stranger?" I asked.
I placed a napkin in front of him and put a rocks glass on top of it,
filled it with ice and splashed in a drop of dry vermouth. On top of
that I poured in a shot and a half of what passes for our best gin.
Then I pierced three olives with a plastic sword and dropped them into
"Stirred, not shaken," said the robed man. I smiled. Even
an amateur bartender like me knows better than to shake a martini, in
case the drink gets cloudy, or 'bruised', in barspeak. Which just goes
to show that James Bond wasn't as smart as his fans like to think. I
gently stirred the vermouth and gin with a straw and pushed the drink
towards him. I've described this in minute detail for reasons that will
become clear, even though the entire process took less than thirty seconds.
"The name's Clitus, Hera Clitus." He held out his hand.
Being the congenial bartender I am, I shook it, and introduced myself
James Bond style. "Nice to meet you. I'm Fer—Jenni Fer."
Our conversation was interrupted when a customer demanded another beer—a
matter of life or death for a thirsty Baptist in a small Midwestern
town. But the sound of Heraclitus repeatedly pounding the bar with his
fist soon regained my attention.
"Is something wrong with your martini, sir?"
"Yes," he stammered. "Where is the dry vermouth?"
I stared blankly at him.
"Dry vermouth," he repeated, "a martini requires dry
I pointed at the glass, but of course I wasn't pointing at any particular
"Where?" asked Heraclitus as he leaned forward to peer into
his glass. "Show me!"
I explained that as dry vermouth was the same colour as gin they couldn't
be distinguished from one another once the two were mixed together.
"Why not taste it?" I suggested, which was a mistake.
"I trust my sense of sight over my sense of taste," snapped
Heraclitus. "If I were to take a sip this instant and another the
next instant I would not be tasting the same martini since all is in
a state of constant flux. Anyway, if I were to taste it, my soul would
get wet and it would die."
I laughed but it was as clear as the gin he wasn't drinking that he
was deadly serious.
"Then why did you order it?" I asked.
"To teach you philosophy, of course."
Heraclitus knew there was dry vermouth in his martini and was only
pretending there wasn't to get my undivided attention (not easy to get
from a cute bartender wearing a skin-tight crop top and hip-hugging
jeans). His martini, he said, was like the cosmos. The dry vermouth
and gin represented separate parts of the whole, which was the drink
itself. Not only did the whole consist of these liquids but also the
ice cubes, olives, plastic sword, napkin, and the glass itself, which
were all part of the drink we refer to as a 'martini.'
"All is one and one is all," he said.
This simple concept even a bartender could understood.
"But you can't tell the gin from the vermouth or the vermouth
from the gin. That's because the ingredients in the drink seem stable.”
He paused, examining me like a student. As each moment passed, the ice
melted a little more and diluted the martini until it was another drink
altogether. Heraclitus didn’t touch it. It sat there, still and
mute on the bar. Even the ice in it seemed in repose. “Is this
drink and its ingredients stable?" Heraclitus asked.
I considered my options. If I said 'yes', it would mean the drink would
always remain the same, which clearly wasn’t true. If I said 'no',
then change was constant and unceasing. As I often do behind the bar,
I played dumb and shrugged my shoulders. Heraclitus supplied me with
his answer. "Indeed it is not stable. Even when it seems
motionless, it is in motion, just as it was when you mixed the ingredients
together. "Yes," he said, holding up the glass as if to make a toast,
"the drink is in constant motion, blending with itself so that
if I were to take two sips, one right after the other, the drink itself
wouldn't be the same drink, just as a river is not the same river if
you step into it twice in succession."
I found Heraclitus's view plausible but I wanted to know more about
the drink's motion. "Well," he said, "the ice is cold
and the gin is warm. The coldness met its opposite when you poured the
drink and this interplay of opposites is what keeps the drink in constant
flux. The movement of hot and cold into and out of each other is the
necessary state the drink needs to exist. But since the two opposites
compliment one another and their strife is harmonious, the drink seems
stable and unmoving."
I found his idea of opposites hard to follow. “But Heraclitus,”
I objected, "you said that the gin was warm, not hot. How can both
warmness and hotness be the opposites of coldness? How can one thing
have more than one opposite?”
“What I mean by warmness is an absence of coldness so that the
opposite I speak of includes anything that isn’t cold, and vice
versa. Whatever isn’t hot lacks hotness and therefore opposes
it as well. A good way to understand opposites is to realize that we
cannot know hot unless we know cold. More precisely, we cannot know
hot until we have an absence of hotness, which I define as coldness.
But don’t misunderstand me. These opposing forces are both in
conflict but also in harmony with each other. They are conflicting forces
because each wants to limit its opposite. But this conflict is the way
in which all things seem stable yet also the way in which all things
change, and change is necessary and good.”
“Bills are better,” I said, trying to be witty but the
pre-Socratic philosopher didn’t get my joke. “There is an
organized intelligence governing the change. The strife of opposites,
because it results in continual change, is also harmonious. And furthermore,
this drink is only a small part of the cosmos, but the cosmos is the
same. Always in constant flux, its gin and vermouth forever mixing.
The world is one large martini.”
Normally by this time my other customers would’ve been screaming
for service. But remember, this was a dream, and my attention was focused
solely on Heraclitus. “But why is this change good?" I asked.
"The opposing forces which are at work in this drink keep it in
a state of constant change, but if it didn’t change at all, would
it be any less good? If the cosmos never changed, would it be any less
“It would be neither less good, nor less bad. It would be nothing
at all," he answered with a smile. "This drink would not exist.
The cosmos would not exist. Without change nor would you or I.”
“If you didn't exist, you couldn’t leave me a tip. Now that
is a horrifying thought,” I quipped. "But what causes this
change? I want to know who to thank for the large tip you’re going
to leave me.”
The philosopher leaned forward, as if he were about to tell me a secret—like
who to bet on in the Kentucky Derby. “The thing from which all
things come is...” And then he whispered: “fire.”
I was shocked. “Fire?”
“Shhhhhh!” He reached into the pocket of his robe and pulled
out a cigar. I handed him a book of matches. “Most don’t
know,” he said as he struck a match, “that Fire is at the
top of the hierarchy of life. It is change. It destroys and rebuilds,
again and again."
The match burned down to his fingers and he lit another.
“The cosmos consists of material parts, fire, air, water, and
earth, in that order. They each change into each other, going up and
down, back and forth. Remember the drink, hot to cold, dry to wet? The
bottom end of the hierarchy is the earth, representing all that’s
dark and inert. The upper part is fire, which is bright and active.
Governing all things and their upward and downward ways is the Logos,
an active intelligence behind the processes of the world."
“I thought you said it was fire?”
“It’s both. Fire is both the unifying source of the cosmos
and also the active organizer by which things change.”
“I think I understand, Heraclitus. The spirit of fire changes
all things, from material fire to material earth and vice versa, and
this spiritual fire—or, as you call it; the logos, is in all things,
since all things change and change is in all things. One might then
ask, why does the logos, or spiritual fire, change things from fire
to earth if fire is obviously the better of the two?” Heraclitus
started to speak, but I already knew his answer and interrupted him.
“If things didn’t go both up and down, there would be no
change, and change is both good and necessary for life. So things must
move both up and down, or else they cannot be?”
“Very good.” He puffed on his cigar as if to congratulate
me. By now all the ice had melted in his untouched drink.
“But what does all this mean?" I asked. "How should
it change they way we live?”
“Most of us sleepwalk through life, believing the cosmos to be
stable when it’s not, trusting our senses when they tell us nothing
ever changes. The first step to awakening is realizing that the world
has always and will always be changing. Then we must realize why it
changes. Once this is realized we must attune ourselves with the fiery
logos, and kindle our soul. The soul is much like the cosmos, but not
entirely. It exists as a very small version, or a microcosm to the macrocosm.
Just as there are upward and downward ways in this martini and also
in the cosmos, so there are upward and downward ways in our souls."
“That makes sense,” I said. “Is the soul the equal
“You’re getting ahead of me. Please attend. The upward
way for a soul is the awakening I have spoken of. The downward way is
living life as if it were as stable as it seems, cutting oneself off
from the logos. If a soul goes down too far and becomes wet, it dies.
The further down it goes, the less it moves. When it stops moving, it
ceases to exist.”
“Best for it to move up, then?” I said.
“Indeed. I am the highest advocate for the soul’s upward
"But if the soul was the equal of fire, how could it go up? Surely
it could only go down. So I suppose it must be somewhere in the middle
so it can go both ways.”
“Very good,” he said again and lit another cigar.
As he nursed the flame, I sang Jim Morrison's lyrics to him. “You
know that it would be untrue; you know that I would be a liar; if I
was to say to you, girl we couldn’t get much higher. Come on baby
light my fire...”
Heraclitus laughed and suggested I take singing lessons. Sensing that
I was about to awaken from my dream, I asked the philosopher to sum
up his argument.
“A martini consists of many things, which blend together through
an interplay of opposites. Like a martini, the cosmos also contains
many things and is affected by many opposing forces. It is the strife
of these forces which creates harmony and ensures stability in an ever
changing world. Overseeing this change is the Logos, which I associate
with fire. Souls too, are ever changing, through their upward and downward
ways. To live an awakened life, one must live in harmony with the Logos
and realize that all is change. The soul must attune itself with it
and have a passion for the changes of life. Only then can the soul move
upward to be like fire in the cosmos, and to be one with the Logos.”
I applauded, as did many who were listening. Other customers began
buying Heraclitus drinks, but he refused, saying: “a man when
drunk is led by a boy, stumbling and not knowing where he goes, having
his soul moist."
“But Heraclitus,” said one wag from the end of the bar,
“a martini is made with dry vermouth, so your soul can't get wet.”
“Good point!” laughed the old philosopher and proceeded
to down the four martinis lined up in front of him. By the end of the
night, Heraclitus was rolling drunk. He even sang 'Light My Fire' (badly).
People have said that Heraclitus is arrogant. But I found him a fun-loving
guy and a generous man who gave me huge amount of knowledge and an even
bigger tip. Of course, his soul died that night because it got so wet.
But he was 2,539 years old.
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