Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Enrique Hülsz Piccone (ed.), Nuevos ensayos sobre Heráclito. Actas del Segundo Symposium Heracliteum. Ciudad de México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2009. Pp. 460. ISBN 9786070212055.

Reviewed by Stavros Kouloumentas, University of Patras (skouloumentas@gmail.com)

Version at BMCR home site

This volume is a collection of papers, most of them written in English and Spanish, which were originally presented at the Segundo Symposium Heracliteum held in Mexico City in June 2006.1 It is prefaced by Enrique Hülsz Piccone, the organiser of the colloquium, and consists of sixteen studies differing widely in length, topic and approach. Although the studies are not divided into thematic sections, the editor has arranged them in a meaningful order. The volume is remarkably free from typographical errors, but neither indices nor abstracts are provided.

The first paper is an extensive study by Serge Mouraviev which surveys his long-standing efforts to collect, divide into groups, and interpret the available sources concerning Heraclitus. Students and scholars who may have difficulty in accessing his multi-volume and steadily growing Heraclitea, as well as in studying a vast number of heterogeneous texts that cover the entire period from Epicharmus to Petrarch, would benefit greatly from the abridged edition offered here.2 Mouraviev supplies us with a full, albeit highly conjectural, reconstruction of Heraclitus' book accompanied by a bilingual translation, some figures and a brief commentary.

The following three papers are less ambitious in scope but equally interesting. Daniel Graham expounds Heraclitus' theory of knowledge in the light of the famous pronouncement that "all things are in flux". According to Graham, the striking images given by Heraclitus encourage his perceptive readers to discover the complex structure of reality through a process of induction comparable to what Aristotle calls argument by example in his Organon. Given that all things undergo balanced transformations, "[k]nowledge consists of the ability to comprehend the enduring pattern superimposed upon the changes, and to grasp the changes as integral to the constancy" (p. 90). Thomas Robinson is concerned with the most debated issue in Heraclitean scholarship: the meaning of the term logos. After setting out his hermeneutical assumptions and noting the standard translations of logos in several fragments where its meaning seems clear, Robinson focuses on a set of less straightforward fragments. He proposes that the most appropriate translation of logos is "account", and defends his choice by examining the context of each fragment, rejecting alternative translations, and trying to offer a coherent interpretation of Heraclitus' system. Of particular interest is the suggestion that the function of to sophon, the rational and all-pervading manifestation of the account referred to by Heraclitus, is comparable to the role assigned to the world-soul in the Timaeus. In another well-documented paper, Alberto Bernabé classifies and analyses the various types of polar expressions employed by Heraclitus, drawing illuminating parallels with other archaic thinkers.

Several contributors to the volume under review are interested in the interaction between Heraclitus and the prominent representatives of epic and lyric poetry, as well as his censure of and influence on contemporary thinkers. More specifically, Herbert Granger explains why Heraclitus groups Homer and Archilochus together, and explores some aspects of their work that might have been criticized by Heraclitus. Although we can only conjecture about the reasons that prompted Heraclitus to castigate Archilochus, since his exact words are lost, we possess a Heraclitean saying about Homer's deception by children (fr. 56) and a report that Heraclitus called Homer "astronomer" (fr. 105). 3 These references seem to be a safe starting point for understanding the attack of Heraclitus on Homer, but Granger pays little attention to them. Carl Huffman's scope is to examine the charges made against Pythagoras in fr. 129 in order to specify the subject matter of his teaching.4 A detailed inspection of the meaning of historiē and syggraphē in the fifth and fourth century B.C. shows that Pythagoras was not engaged in natural science, as it is commonly thought, but that he produced a collection of the views of others which were formulated in a concise way and provided a moral code for his followers (the so-called symbola). In fact, Huffman could further support his thesis by citing some Pythagorean maxims indicating plagiarism: for example, the assertion that a rainbow is the reflected splendour of the sun (Ael. 4.17) recalls Anaximenes' meteorology (Aët. 3.5.10), and the prohibition against urinating while facing the sun (Iamb. Protr. 21) is also attested in Hesiod (Op. 727). Other relevant papers include: Francesc Casadesús Bordoy on the use of epic vocabulary in Heraclitus' fragments dealing with war and post-mortem heroizing; Omar Álvarez Salas on the impact of the doctrine of flux on Epicharmus; a critical appraisal of Graham's thesis that Parmenides responded to Heraclitus by Arnold Hermann;5 and Enrique Hülsz Piccone on the reception of Heraclitus in Cratylus and Theaetetus.

Other scholars concentrate on a specific fragment or doctrine of Heraclitus, following different methods of interpreting his sayings. Beatriz Bossi, for instance, investigates fr. 62 by discussing a number of possible interpretations, while Aryeh Finkelberg argues against the standard view that Heraclitus is an exponent of cosmological stability. Finkelberg suggests that the fiery god creates the world out of himself and destroys it in a cyclical pattern. Seen from this perspective, "god handles the created things like pieces on draughts-board, making them fight in accordance with certain rules" (p. 334). Livio Rossetti is interested in finding inconsistencies within Heraclitus' system. In Rossetti's view, Heraclitus was the first to suggest a universal norm applicable to all aspects of reality, that is the unity of opposites, but he did not realize that the application of this norm undermines his own system, since he makes several assertions without considering them as a part of a balanced pair (e.g. Heraclitus' insight as opposed to the ignorance of most people).

The editors of Presocratic fragments should take into account the brilliant study of Gábor Betegh who reassesses the textual problems surrounding fr. 45 and accordingly proposes a novel interpretation based on the new evidence. Likewise, the next contribution offers a good example of how a perplexing saying of Heraclitus can be deciphered in a satisfactory manner, provided one places it in the appropriate context and considers the preoccupations and interests of the thinker who quotes it. Catherine Osborne starts with a thorough overview of the best-known references of Aristotle to Heraclitus, then she expounds the common threads of some strange sayings of Heraclitus that Aristotle cites in various places, and finally she sheds light on the obscurities of fr. 7, as well as its interconnection with the texts in question.

While the opening study of Mouraviev offers a tentative reconstruction of Heraclitus' book, the last contribution examines its traces in post-Aristotelian authors. David Sider demonstrates that Simplicius, the richest and most reliable source for many Presocratics, did not possess an original copy of Heraclitus' book but used Aristotle in the few cases where he cites Heraclitus' sayings. In fact, the majority of authors who transmit genuine quotations are not related to the Theophrastean doxographic tradition, and they probably drew from a selection of the most fascinating fragments of Heraclitus, which puts emphasis on epistemology and physics rather than on politics and theology. However, Sider notes that it is difficult to establish with certainty when the abridged collection replaced the original copy of Heraclitus' book and who was the last author to have consulted the latter source.

It turns out that those who want to trace the transmission of Heraclitus' fragments, let alone decode their hidden meaning, undertake a copious task. However, they now have a good companion which supplies them with a number of wide-ranging and thought-provoking studies. We hope that the papers presented in the next Symposium Heracliteum will also be published afterwards and maintain the same high quality.

Table of contents

Serge N. Mouraviev, Le livre d'Héraclite 2 500 ans après. L'état actuel de sa reconstruction
Daniel W. Graham, Representation and knowledge in a world of change
Thomas M. Robinson, Heraclitus and logos – again
Alberto Bernabé, Expresiones polares en Heráclito
Francesc Casadesús Bordoy, La transposición del vocabulario épico en el pensamiento filosófico de Heráclito
Herbert Granger, Heraclitus B 42: On Homer and Archilochus
Carl Huffman, La crítica de Heráclito a la investigación de Pitágoras en el fragmento 129
Omar D. Álvarez Salas, La 'teoria del flujo' de Heráclito a Epicarmo
Arnold Hermann, Parmenides versus Heraclitus?
Beatriz Bossi, Acerca del significado del fragmento B 62 (DK) de Heráclito
Aryeh Finkelberg, The cosmic cycle, a playing child, and the rules of the game
Livio Rossetti, Polymathia e unità del sapere in Eraclito: alle origini di una anomalia
Enrique Hülsz Piccone, Flujo y lógos. La imagen de Heráclito en el Cratilo y el Teeteto de Platón
Gábor Betegh, The limits of the soul: Heraclitus B 45 DK. Its text and interpretation
Catherine Osborne, "If all things were to turn to smoke, it'd be the nostrils would tell them apart", or Heraclitus on the pleasures of smoking
David Sider, The fate of Heraclitus' book in Later Antiquity


1.   The papers from the first colloquium on Heraclitus are published by L. Rossetti (ed.), Atti del Symposium Heracliteum 1981, vols. I-II (Rome, 1983-4).
2.   The edition of Mouraviev will consist of about twenty volumes, when completed, and it is divided into five parts: Prolegomena, Traditio, Recensio (subdivided into Memoria, Placita, Fragmenta and Fontes), Refectio and Indices. Ten volumes have been published so far (Sankt Augustin, 1999-2008).
3.   The numberings of Heraclitus' fragments are those of H. Diels (ed.), Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, vols. I-III, 6th edition, revised by W. Kranz (Berlin, 1951-2).
4.   The English version of Huffman's paper can be found in B. Inwood (ed.), Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy XXXV: 19-47 (Oxford, 2008).
5.   See D. W. Graham, "Heraclitus and Parmenides" in V. Caston and D. W. Graham (eds.), Presocratic Philosophy: Essays in Honour of Alexander Mourelatos: 27-44 (Aldershot, 2002).

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