Unformatted text preview: Heraclitus: Greek Text with a Short Commentary by Miroslav Marcovich
Second Edition, including Fresh Addenda, Corrigenda, and a Select
Bibliography (1967–2000). International Pre-Platonic Studies 2. Sankt
Augustin: Academia Verlag, 2001. Pp. xxviii+681. ISBN 3–89665–171–
4. Cloth ¤ 79.00 Reviewed by
Daniel W. Graham
Brigham Young University
When this book ﬁrst appeared in 1967, it established itself as the
fullest, most thorough edition of Heraclitus ever made. But since it
was published in Venezuela it was diﬃcult to purchase, and it has
remained a rare book. I spent months searching for a used copy on
the internet before I found one. Now it is reissued as a second edition
(with minor additions) by Academia Verlag.
Heraclitus has been treated as the Mad Hatter of Presocratic
philosophy. Plato and Aristotle attributed to him a theory of radical ﬂux, according to which everything was constantly changing and,
hence contradictory statements were true, so that rational discourse
was impossible. Karl Reinhardt challenged this view in a book on
Parmenides  and a couple of later articles, and he was followed a
generation later by Geoﬀrey Kirk . According to their interpretation, Heraclitus was a natural philosopher in the Ionian tradition
who stressed constancy rather than change and had a rational outlook on the world. Marcovich is an adherent of this revisionary view
and he presents Heraclitus as a philosopher with a coherent physical
theory (or mostly coherent: he misprizes Heraclitus’ consistency at
times [cf. 1965, col. 271], though he views him as more properly a
metaphysician [1965, col. 295]). Subsequently, Charles Kahn 
published an edition of Heraclitus that downplayed his commitment
to natural philosophy and stressed his focus on the human condition. This more humanistic philosopher used rhetorical and linguistic
tools to present a complex message in which the human microcosm
is more important than the cosmos. The view that presented Heraclitus as a physicist and that which presented him as a humanist
2004 Institute for Research in Classical Philosophy and Science
All rights reserved
ISSN 1549–4497 (online)
ISSN 1549–4470 (print)
ISSN 1549–4489 (CD-ROM)
Aestimatio 1 (2004) 80–85
C 81 Aestimatio marked important advances in scholarship. But the view of Heraclitus as philosopher of radical ﬂux is not dead: it has been revived
or reaﬃrmed more recently by Jonathan Barnes . All of these
views have something important to contribute to our understanding
of Heraclitus, and some limitations.
Marcovich’s edition consists of a collection of the fragments and
related texts with a brief commentary. He begins with a preamble
of only three pages in which he lays out his scheme without any
methodological discussion. Here some background is helpful. Convinced that Heraclitus’ work consisted of gnomic utterances rather
than connected discourse, Hermann Diels arranged the fragments in
the (for philosophical purposes) arbitrary order of the alphabetic sequence of the names of the secondary sources in which they were
found. Rejecting this approach (for unstated reasons), Marcovich
organizes the fragments into groups of thematically related utterances. Today some scholars would defend Diels’ curious order on
the grounds that it forces us to pay more attention to the sources
from which the fragments came, and that this can allow us to understand their meaning better. Yet for the purposes of philosophical
reconstruction, Diels’ approach is frustrating. For instance, in Diels
and Kranz 1951 1 the three alleged fragments about a river, which
all seem connected in some way, are given as B12, B49a, and B91;
here the order interferes with the interpretation. Marcovich divides
Heraclitus’ statements into lines, really cola or phrases; but unfortunately he never explains or justiﬁes his practice, nor more generally
his hermeneutical principles.
Marcovich’s edition ignores the testimonies about Heraclitus except as they immediately bear on fragments. In most cases the biographical testimonies in particular are notoriously unhelpful. But
there are interesting background testimonies. Diogenes Laertius [Vitae philos. 9.5] says that Heraclitus’ book was divided into three sections by topic, but Marcovich ignores this potentially important piece
of information. In other writings Marcovich claims that such division
is a Hellenistic fabrication, but in the present book he simply ignores
Diogenes’ report. The result is that, while Marcovich’s approach enriches the range of texts under consideration in some ways, in other
ways it impoverishes the selection and prejudges the issues.
1 Hereafter, Diels and Kranz 1951 = DK. DANIEL W. GRAHAM 82 Marcovich puts connected texts together in the same group and
thus allows us to compare them. (Of course it is no easy matter
to decide which of Heraclitus’ often enigmatic texts belong together,
but at least Marcovich’s method allows for the content to count in
the ordering.) Marcovich assigns a fragment number to each separate statement of Heraclitus; and he accompanies each fragment
with texts that quote, allude to, or echo it. In this way he sometimes assembles a large number of related texts, which he orders by
their value for understanding the original statement and by their
connections to one another. This way of assembling texts is the real
beauty of Marcovich’s edition: it allows the reader to see what words
or ideas the ancient sources attributed to Heraclitus, and how they
understood those words or ideas.
One example in which Marcovich’s method proves itself is in
his handling of the alleged river fragments, already mentioned. Following Reinhardt and Kirk, he shows that there is really only one
river fragment, his fr. 40 [= B12 DK], which reads, in his translation,
‘Upon those who are stepping into the same rivers diﬀerent and again
diﬀerent waters ﬂow’. Thus, statements that you cannot step twice
into the same river are seen to be misreadings foisted on Heraclitus
by an interpretive tradition. This point deals a death blow to the
theory of radical ﬂux which makes identity over time impossible: the
river stays the same even though (or better, because) the waters are
always diﬀerent. Thus Heraclitus balances ﬂux with constancy.
Marcovich’s interpretations are not, however, always so successful. Take for instance B36 = 66 M, which he renders as follows:
For souls it is death to become water,
for water it is death to become earth;
but out of water earth comes-to-be,
and out of water, soul.
Marcovich turns this into a physiological discussion, in which water
stands for blood and earth for ﬂesh , and he infers that Heraclitus may have agreed with the Homeric view that souls in Hades can
be nourished by blood oﬀerings . But in the ﬁrst line, ‘water’
may well mean just water, and the last two lines closely parallel the
earth-water-ﬁre scheme of B31 = 53 M. So it is not clear why we need
to bring in ﬂesh and blood, given that there is no warrant for this in
the other fragments. We need to drink water to live. So why not take 83 Aestimatio water as a source of soul? If in the preceding instance Marcovich is
too speculative, some of his interpretations on other occasions seem
too literal. For example, when Heraclitus says that the width of the
sun is the length of a human foot [B3 = 57 M], Marcovich takes him
as meaning precisely that the sun is the one foot in width. Now,
given the unusual statements we ﬁnd in Heraclitus, we cannot rule
out the literal interpretation a priori. But at least one would like to
know what implications such a doctrine had for Heraclitus’ physical
theory in general, and what other doctrines might entail or at least
be consistent with it. Marcovich gives us no help. Marcovich’s Heraclitus is also sometimes less than the sum of his doctrinal parts. B3
should now be joined with B94 = 52 M, as indicated by a reading in
the Derveni Papyrus [P. Derv. IV.6–9: see Sider 1997].
In sifting through textual variants, Marcovich is painstaking and
usually reliable. However, he sometimes misses some valuable corrections. In B51 = 27 M, he argues for pal…ntonoc (‘back-stretched’)
rather than pal…ntropoc (‘back-turning’) as an epithet for the structure of a bow or lyre. Although his arguments are attractive, they
overlook a simple point made by Vlastos almost a half century ago
[1955, 348]: the only real quotation we have is from Hippolytus, who
actually had a book of Heraclitus’ sayings in front of him (as we can
see from his series of lengthy quotations)—and he writes pal…ntropoc.
All the other citations are partial citations from memory (mostly
from Plutarch, who gives both readings in diﬀerent places and is notoriously cavalier). Thus, it is not the case that Plutarch’s text of
Heraclitus has a diﬀerent reading from Hippolytus’; Plutarch has no
text at all and he cannot remember just how it goes. (Kirk never
appreciated the point either, ignoring Vlastos’ decisive argument in
his rejoinder: see Kirk, Raven, and Schoﬁeld 1983, 192n1).
Overall, however, Marcovich is reliable in his textual criticism
and in his treatment of Heraclitus’ physical doctrines. The realm
in which his commentary seems most inadequate is in his treatment
of Heraclitus’ expressions, his rhetoric and verbal techniques. Marcovich often observes word play and ambiguity. But he does not ever
seem to recognize the full signiﬁcance of Heraclitus’ expression. In
this area Kahn has made a major step forward. Marcovich 
wrote a scathing review of Kahn’s book, faulting it for everything
from bad textual readings to inadequate translations to an indefensible hypothesis about the order of Heraclitus’ discourse. But the DANIEL W. GRAHAM 84 most innovative thing about Kahn’s approach he does not mention:
Kahn takes Heraclitus’ verbal techniques to be integral to his message rather than extrinsic to it. Whereas scholars had standardly
argued about whether a„e… (‘always’) in B1 = 1 M went with the preceding or the following words, Kahn made a good case for taking the
wording as ambiguous by design. Kahn’s treatment of B12 = 40 M
is masterful: the whole fragment is syntactically ambiguous, yielding
two mutually reinforcing statements. Heraclitus’ Logos has multiple
meanings that careless readers miss, as sleepwalkers miss the signiﬁcance of experience; his texts are microcosms rich with ‘meaningful
ambiguity’. The subtlety and sensitivity of Kahn’s readings do not
appear in Marcovich’s account.
One ﬁnal observation: the present work is called a second edition. Yet there is no real editorial intervention in the 1967 text. What
Academia Verlag gives us is the original edition with addenda, corrigenda, and an updated bibliography. One important addendum is
the collection of new fragments from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri [P. Oxy.
3710.2.43–47, 3.7–11], which reveal an interest in practical astronomy
previously unattested. (These new texts tend to undermine Kahn’s
over-emphasis on Heraclitus as philosopher of the human condition.)
But these fragments are diﬃcult and no commentary is oﬀered. If
one already has the 1967 edition and access to articles on the new
fragments, it is not clear that one needs to purchase the so-called second edition. Yet this book has been unavailable for far too long, and
deserves a place on the shelf of every serious student of Heraclitus.
Serge Mouraviev is currently engaged in producing a new edition of
the fragments and testimonies for Academia Verlag which may one
day supersede Marcovich; but until that time Marcovich provides the
best access to the texts of Heraclitus.
Barnes, J. 1982. The Presocratic Philosophers. rev. edn. London.
Diels, H. and Kranz, W. edd. 1951. Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker.
6th edn. 3 vols. Berlin.
Kahn, C. H. 1979. The Art and Thought of Heraclitus. Cambridge.
Kirk, G. S. 1954. Heraclitus: The Cosmic Fragments. Cambridge. 85 Aestimatio Kirk, G. S.; Raven, J. E.; and Schoﬁeld, M. edd. 1983. The Presocratic Philosophers. 2nd edn. Cambridge.
Marcovich, M. 1965. Herakleitos’. Cols. 246–320 in G. Wissowa et
alii edd. Paulys Encyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft. Supplementband 10. Stuttgart.
1982. Review: The Art and Thought of Heraclitus by
Charles H. Kahn. Gnomon 54:417–436.
Reinhardt, K. 1916. Parmenides und die Geschichte der Griechischen Philosophie. Bonn.
1942. ‘Heraclitea’. Hermes 77:225–248.
Sider, D. 1997. ‘Heraclitus in the Derveni Papyrus’. Pp. 129–148 in
A. Laks and G. Most edd. Studies on the Derveni Papyrus. Oxford.
Vlastos, G. 1955. ‘On Heraclitus’. American Journal of Philology
View Full Document
This note was uploaded on 03/17/2012 for the course PHILOSOPHY 2012-2 taught by Professor Piccone during the Spring '12 term at UNAM MX.
- Spring '12