Monday, March 26, 2018


Enrica Fantino, Ulrike Muss, Charlotte Schubert, Kurt Sier (ed.), Heraklit im Kontext. Studia praesocratica, 8. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2017. Pp. ix, 609. ISBN 9783110425888. $172.99.

Reviewed by Jan Maximilian Robitzsch, Sungkyunkwan University (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed at the end of the review.]

Heraklit im Kontext grew out of a conference on the Presocratic philosopher Heraclitus jointly organized by the Universities of Leipzig and Vienna in 2013 in Selçuk, Turkey, the modern site of the ancient city of Ephesus, Heraclitus' hometown. The volume consists of 23 papers (twelve in German, ten in English, and one in French); an index locorum and an index nominum et rerum round off the book, which is also accompanied by a map of the archeological sites in Ephesus. Whereas two of the 23 contributions have already been published in other languages,1 the remaining 21 papers are previously unpublished. The target audience for the volume is scholars working on Heraclitus and the Presocratics, who will find the essays of this book to be an engaging and rewarding read. As is perhaps to be expected of a roughly 600-page work written by a multitude of authors, the quality of the scholarship is uneven: while some papers are exceptionally well written and intellectually stimulating, others are a bit disappointing.

Heraklit im Kontext is dedicated to an interdisciplinary study of Heraclitus. Accordingly, the editors write in the introduction that the papers in the volume can be clustered into three thematic groups: (1) "Ephesus at the Time of Heraclitus", (2) "Politics and Society," and (3) "Heraclitus' Philosophical Profile." This classification has the disadvantage of grouping three papers in the first cluster, two in the second, and leaving 18 in the last, which are then—as the editors note—classed into two sub-groups, namely, those that directly deal with particular problems in Heraclitus' fragments (nine papers) and those that deal with questions of reception history (nine papers). I found the alternative classification given in the preface ("Vorwort") that grouped papers according to the approaches taken by the authors more compelling. According to this classification, the volume contains: (A) papers that analyze Heraclitus' "Lebenswelt", that is, ancient Ephesus from an archeological and geographical perspective (papers 1-3), (B) papers that deal with Heraclitus' philosophy proper, mainly, but not exclusively, using a hermeneutical/ philological approach (papers 4-13), (C) papers that are dedicated to the ancient as well as modern Rezeptionsgeschichte of Heraclitean ideas (papers 14-23). Be this as it may, in what follows, let me briefly comment on some of the papers and approaches taken in the volume, pointing out what I take to be their strengths and shortcomings.

Examining Heraclitus from an archeological and geographical perspective, as the first three papers of the volume do, at first, seemed to me to be an especially interesting and refreshing suggestion. However, after reading the papers by Ulrike Muss, Anton Bammer, and Michael Franz on the Artemis temple and the geography of ancient Ephesus (which are admittedly very interesting in their own right), it seemed to me that the payoff of such an approach was rather minimal. For instance, while it is interesting to know what plants and animals were found in Ephesus at the time of Heraclitus (pp. 19-24), it was not clear to me how exactly this knowledge helps us to understand Heraclitus' philosophy better. I would have wished that the authors connect their analyses more with Heraclitus' ideas to help their readers appreciate the relevance of the background knowledge on Ephesus more fully.

The hermeneutical and more philological papers were for me the most interesting of the volume. Among these papers were two that dealt explicitly with Heraclitus' social and political ideas. Kurt Raaflaub's paper skillfully contextualizes Heraclitus' political ideas by situating them among the ideas of his predecessors, and Charlotte Schubert's paper presents an interesting argument for why Heraclitus may have been in favor of isonomic forms of government. These two papers seemed especially valuable to me because social and political ideas in Heraclitus have traditionally been somewhat neglected in favor of 'metaphysical' or 'cosmological' ones.2 I was also impressed by Lutz Käppel's paper "Heraklits Kosmologie als Praxis von Modellierung." It offers a close analysis of DK 22 B 94 and discusses it as a paradigm for how to understand Heraclitus' philosophizing and obscure use of language. Furthermore, methodologically interesting, even if not entirely convincing, is Robert Hahn's paper. It takes up Graham's thesis that Heraclitus is a proponent of "Generating Substance Theory", that is, the theory that there is an original stuff, but "that the original stuff perished in the process of generating other new things" (p. 190). This theory was meant to replace Aristotle's contention that the Milesians (and consequently also Heraclitus) were proponents of "Substance Monism", that is, the theory that there is an original stuff that forms an underlying unity in processes of change. In order to refute Graham's thesis that Aristotle classified Heraclitus' type monism incorrectly, Hahn offers an argument by "ethnic analogy" (p. 193). Hahn draws on the modern day practice of felting (that is, of condensing wool under pressure to create a textile) to argue that this gives us clues to Heraclitus' understanding of change (insofar as the modern practice is analogous to the ancient one): felting shows, Hahn contends, that there is an underlying substratum to the process of change. Finally, I was surprised that Aylin Cankaya's paper "What is the Source of Knowledge?" was included in Heraklit im Kontext. At six pages (including bibliography and abstract), it is not only the shortest of the volume, but also lacks a thesis and would have profited from more careful language editing.

The third and last thematic cluster of papers concerns the reception of Heraclitus' ideas from antiquity to today. Especially noteworthy among the ten papers of this section were the close analyses of Heraclitean motifs in Plato's Phaedo by Catherine Rowett, who argues that Heraclitus and not the Pythagoreans are behind the harmonia-doctrine of soul that is presented in the dialogue. In addition, I was impressed by Christoph Rapp's careful study of Aristotle's discussion of Heraclitus in different passages of the Aristotelian corpus. A bit disappointing, by contrast, was the paper by Pirmin Stekeler-Weithofer, which was hard to follow and needed more signposting and a more clearly articulated thesis.

Given the length of the book as a whole as well as the diversity and specificity of topics covered, it is unlikely that Heraklit im Kontext will be read cover to cover by many people. In addition, the price of the book will mean that the volume will first and foremost be acquired by academic libraries and be consulted by researchers when they are working on a particular topic in Heraclitus. Nevertheless (and despite the shortcomings I pointed out above), several papers in Heraklit im Kontext are very well written and intellectually engaging. Accordingly, I hope that they will find many readers.

Table of Contents

Vorwort, V
Einleitung, 1
Ulrike Muss, "Ephesos und Heraklit", 7
Anton Bammer, "Der Artemistempel von Ephesos—Intellekt und Macht", 49
Michael Franz, 'Heraklit und das Artemision. Die Erfindung eines neutralen Standpunktes in der Politik", 83
Kurt A. Raaflaub, "Shared Responsibility for the Common Good: Heraclitus, Early Greek Philosophy, and Political Thought", 103
Charlotte Schubert, "Heraklit und die ionischen Isonomien", 129
Uwe Walter, "Schlechte Zeugen sind für die Menschen Augen und Ohren derjenigen, die Barbaren-Seelen haben": Heraklit und Herodot, zusammengedacht", 151
Leonid Zhmud, "Heraclitus on Pythagoras", 171
Robert Hahn, "Heraclitus, Milesian Monism, and the Felting of Wool", 187
Lutz Käppel, "Heraklits Kosmologie als Praxis von Modellierung", 211
Andrei V. Lebedev, "The Metaphor of liber naturae and the Alphabet Analogy in Heraclitus' logos- Fragments (with some remarks on Plato's 'dream theory' and the origin of the concept of elements)", 231
Marianne Garin, "Le Sage dans le Pénombre. Masques de l'Énonciateur et de ses Destinataires dans les Fragments B 5 et B 42 d'Héracilite d'Éphèses", 269
Martin Thurner, "Heraklit: Die 'bathyphysische' Denkform", 287
Aylin Cankaya, "What is the Source of Knowledge in Heraclitus?", 303
Serge Mouraviev, "The Reconstructed Book of Heraclitus in English Translation", 309
Laura Gianvittorio, "Der Klang prophetischer Stimmen. Kassandra und die Sibylle in performance", 343
Catherine Rowett, "On Being Reminded of Heraclitus by the Motifs in Plato's Phaedo", 373
Christof Rapp, "His Dearest Enemy. Heraclitus in the Aristotelian Oeuvre", 415
Dominic J. O'Meara, "Tracking the Sources of the Fragments of Heraclitus in Stobaeus' Anthology'", 439
Oliver Primavesi, "Olearius über Atomismus und Theismus bei Heraklit: Zur Vorsokratiker-Rezeption in Deutschland um 1700", 451
Renate Reschke, "'Die Welt ist ein Spiel des Zeus…': Friederich Nietzsches ästhetische Sicht auf Heraklit", 485
Pirmin Stekeler-Weithofer, "Philosophical Oracles. Tropical forms in speculative reflections from Heraclitus to Heidegger", 507
Paul Good, 'Dem Fließenden Stimme geben. Heraklits Wirkungen in Kunst und Philosophie", 533
Mischa Meier, "Heraklit in der Musik", 557
Indices, 583


1.   Primavesi's (German) paper was previously published in English in Rhizomata and Mouraviev's reconstruction is available on his page in different versions, e.g. in Greek, French, Spanish, Italian, and Russian (even if not in the English translation that is printed in the volume).
2.   See also my paper "Heraclitus' Social and Political Thought", Aperion, forthcoming, in which I touch on the same material as Raaflaub and come to somewhat different conclusions than Schubert.

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