The Eureka Moment


“Eureka! – I have found it!”



I have often wondered about Eureka moments, sometimes known as an epiphany, which incidentally comes to us from the ancient Greeks, signifying a manifestation or striking appearance.   In the past, it was considered an insight given by the divine, or the supernatural, whereas today, it has lost much of this nuance.  Even so, when someone has an epiphany it usually means there has been a scientific, religious or philosophical breakthrough of grand proportions.

Archimedes is a shining example of this form of the extraordinary.  Diotima and her idea of Platonic love and Hipparchia’s decision to embrace the Cynic’s lifestyle, in my opinion, fit into this category.  In fact, all of the ancient great thinkers seemed to have encountered a new and deeper understanding or perspective. While we gratefully acknowledge their contribution, there is within all of humanity a wistful desire to experience a Eureka insight.

So let us consider the idea that most of us have, indeed, felt that moment without recognizing its profound meaning. We may be expecting a thunderbolt, when the reality may come as a gentle whisper.  Eureka insights usually signal a dramatic shift in thinking.  Some people consider it an “ah ha” moment. The catalyst may be a simple conversation, a line of a poem, or a book that challenged.

The ancients gave substance to their thoughts and ideas by sharing, teaching, documenting and living in accordance with their fresh awareness. Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers: The Story of Success suggested that, “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good.  It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

“People think of these eureka moments and my feeling is that they tend to be little things, a little realisation and then a little realisation built on that.”

Roger Penrose, Mathematical Physicist, Recreational Mathematician and Philosopher


Hipparchia’s Great Love


“Not one tower does my country have, not one roof, But for home and city, the entire earth lies, At my disposition for a dwelling.”

Diogenes Laertius, on a Cynic’s view of the world


The moment Hipparchia of Maroneia, saw Crates of Thebes, the renowned Cynic philosopher, she was passionately and irrevocably in love.  Nothing, not even her parents’ strong misgivings, could dissuade her from marrying him.  She would rather end her life than face the prospect of living without him.   Indeed, Crates warned her of what her life would be with him.  It is said that he disrobed and pointed at his garment, saying, “Here is the bridegroom, and this is his property.”

Crates of Thebes, once heir to a considerable fortune, gave it all away to live a life of poverty on the streets of Athens.  According to many accounts, he lived with a cheerful simplicity, well-liked by all who knew him.  The meeting with Hipparchia came by way of her brother, Metrocles, who was a student of Crates.

Hipparchia became an ardent devotee of the Cynic philosophy and became an eminent Cynic philosopher while still in her early twenties.  Cynics believed that the purpose of life was to seek virtue and live in harmony with nature.  Renouncing conventional desires for wealth, power and fame, Cynics took pleasure in an unadorned life, without the complications of materialism.

Crates and Hipparchia lived remarkable lives.  Their marriage, which produced a son and daughter, was based on mutual respect and equality, a foreign concept for ancient Greece. Hipparchia embraced the Cynic poverty-based lifestyle, donned masculine attire, and accompanied Crates everywhere in public.  The Athenians were stunned by their lack of propriety.   With her husband by her side, Hipparchia fought tirelessly for the rights of women bound within a strict, male dominated culture. She dared to flaunt the status quo and chose her personal destiny.

“I, Hipparchia chose not the tasks of rich-robed woman, but the manly life of the Cynic. 

Brooch-clasped tunics, well-clad shoes, and perfumed headscarves pleased me not;

But with wallet and fellow staff, together with coarse cloak and bed of hard ground,

My name shall be greater than Atalanta: for wisdom is better than mountain running.”

Epigram ascribed to Antipater of Sidon on the life of Hipparchia