ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω μία καὶ ὡυτή 1. p.89. Fr.60 Diels: Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker (Herakleitos)
We're sorry—what's that? You don't read original Greek? Well, welcome to T.S. Eliot's world, gang, where ancient languages are just par for the course. You know what else, though? Welcome to Shmoop, where we've got your back on all this ancient and obscure stuff.
That first quote, translated, is "Although logos is common to all, most people live as if they had a wisdom of their own." "Logos" here means logic, or knowledge. The second quote, for all you non-Greek-speakers, means "The way upward and the way downward are the same." And that last bit? That's letting us know that these quotes are from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, whose writings—in fragments—were translated by the German translator Hermann Diels.
Got that? Great. So, what's all this doing at the start of the "Four Quartets"? Eliot, who was a big fan of epigraphs, wants to put us in a certain mindset heading into this work. And don't worry if your mindset is one of total confusion right now. We'll be with you every step of the way.
In this case, we have one idea about what kind of knowledge people have in common, and what they might think they know as individuals. Hmm. It seems as though Heraclius might be suggesting that our own, individual sense of the world may not be as rich, or as accurate, as the greater wisdom that we might all share. So, let's put that idea and stick it into our back pocket as we dive into these lines of poetry.
Before we do, though, the second quote lets us know that… um, well, we're in an elevator, we guess. "The way upward and the way downward are the same"? It seems here that, taken alongside that first quote, Heraclitus is describing a simpler, unified approach to… something. How does that fit with Eliot's poetry here? Well, Shmooper, there's only way to find out…