Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2012.11.25 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.11.25

Serge N. Mouraviev, Heraclitea, IV.A. Refectio: Liber ut a nobis restitutus. A. Textus, translationes, adnotationes (second edition; first published 1991).   Sankt Augustin:  Academia Verlag, 2011.  Pp. xxix, 206.  ISBN 9783896655271.  €44.00.  

Reviewed by Enrique Hülsz Piccone, UNAM (

Since 1999 Heraclitean studies have benefitted greatly from Serge Mouraviev’s magnum opus, Heraclitea, which now reaches its eleventh volume (and its ultimate goal) with a ‘full scale reconstruction’ of Heraclitus’ lost book, correcting and completing both the first edition (166 items, Moscow, 1991) and the more recent version published in 2009 (199 items), presented in 2006 at the Symposium Heracliteum Secundum in Mexico city). Based mainly on the third part of the project, Recensio, and especially on the edition of the fragments (3 vols., III.3.Bi-iii, 2006) and the Placita (vol. III.2, theses and doctrines attributed to Heraclitus, 2008), the book consists of three parts, preceded by a preface to the 1991 edition, an addendum to this, a brief introduction to the volume and a short bibliography. The first part is the Greek text and French translation of the 248 items treated as fragments (32 pages), the second a detailed commentary on each and every one of these (122 pages), while the last part, Annexes, offers three short notes on: H. Gomperz’s and M. Marcovich’s views about the length of Heraclitus’ book; earlier partial reconstructions (Patin, Gomperz, West, Hölscher, Holwerda); and restitutions of the original order of the fragments by Schuster, Bywater, Blonskij, Salucci-Gilardoni and Kahn). The volume closes with an afterword and tables of correspondence.

Mouraviev has assumed from the start the need for and the feasibility of a full-scale reconstruction, a task closely intertwined with his 2006 edition of the fragments themselves (following and supplementing the Diels-Kranz numbering), but irreducible to it. While stressing its provisional character and incompleteness, Mouraviev argues for an optimistic estimate of the remains of Heraclitus’ book (more than one half according to his assessment). The reconstruction offered does indeed integrate all the materials in a single coherent sequence comprising 248 items. It should be noted that these are a mixed bag that includes literal fragments—textual quotations and paraphrases—as well as non-literal fragments, i.e. doxographical testimonia, texts from later authors referring to allegedly authentic doctrines rather than to Heraclitus’ ipsissima verba. The linear ordering purports to bring out the hidden structure of Heraclitus’ book, grouping individual texts into eight parts (the proem, plus seven chapters: I. The foolishness of men and their teachers of wisdom. II. The scarcity of virtue. III. The art of knowing. IV. The law of unity. V. Against irrational and obscene rites. VI. On the cosmos. VII. On the heavens.), making a total of twenty-four blocks. Mouraviev deploys the successive themes, carefully distinguishes statements, developments and articulations, suggesting a dynamic of openings and endings, codas to each theme and block, and occasionally highlights even more subtle intra-textual marks which he labels as ‘hinges’, ‘winks’, and ‘springboards’. The book’s structure can be further reduced to a ‘negative’ exordium (the proem and chapters I-II), followed by an epistemologically charged ‘metaphysics’ (III-V), and concluding with a cosmology, a ‘physics’ (VI-VII). The famous threefold division of the book into λόγοι found in Diogenes Laertius IX.5-6 (λόγος περὶ τοῦ παντός, λόγος πολιτικός, and λόγος θεολογικός) is assumed as a basis for the reconstruction as a whole, although in the end it doesn’t coincide with Mouraviev’s view, which reinterprets and modifies it by postulating a division into four parts, adding a λόγος ϕυσικός at the end of the sequence. Mouraviev acknowledges some of the corresponding difficulties (on the one hand, the exordium doesn’t seem to deal with “the all” or “all things”, and it overlaps with the λόγος πολιτικός; on the other, literal fragments in the last two chapters are more scarce and the gaps are filled with doxographical reports).

The exordium starts with a proem which consists in nine texts, of uneven quality. The very first words in the book Mouraviev conjectures as Γνώμη (?) θεῶν < κἀν> θρόπων, κόσμου ἑνὸς τῶν ξυμπάντων <;>, yielding something like “Is there (?) knowledge of gods and men, of the single ordering of all<?>”, a question that looks back polemically to Xenophanes’ fr. 34. This question is answered in the affirmative, first by an argument formed by three fragments following the common thread of Δίκη, all featuring unorthodox and controversial readings and interpretations (frs. 23, 28, also alluding to Xenophanes, 3-94,107A), then by introducing the notion of logos (frs. 87, 108, and 50, this last one being a very controversial reconstructed and extended version including what has been mostly considered as Hippolytus’ words, which are attributed to Heraclitus himself and are interpreted as referring to Xenophanes’ alleged monistic pantheism), and concluding with fragment 41, which grounds the possibility of knowledge of the unity of all things, and works like an articulation with the next block.

Only then do we come to fragment 1 (or rather to fragment 1a). The presentation of the Heraclitean logos in fr. 50, heavily charged with a metaphysical sense, contrasted with the logoi of men, is further developed as a background for men’s oblivion (frs. 1a, 34, 19, 72, 17, 1b, 73-74, 97 and 70). Four more blocks take on the massive criticism of the most reputed wise men: first, against Homer (featuring frs. 56, 80, 8 and 53 and the notions of strife and harmony), then Homer and Archilochus, following the thread of the fate of dead souls (frs. 27, 110, 20, 25, 24, 63, 96 and 42), against Hesiod (frs. 57, 106, 99, 120), and finally against Pythagoras, Xenophanes and Hecateus (frs. 129, 35, 81, 40 and 104). An equally critical approach to epistemic vices (anger, pleasure, arrogance, and shamelessness) and a sketch of virtue as essentially cognitive (chapter II), containing the praises of Bias and Hermodorus (frs. 39, 49, 29, 125A, 44, 33, 121), completes the exordium (frs. 85, 43, 95, 119, 79, 78 and 47).

The central chapters (III-V) contain Heraclitus’ ‘metaphysics’ –about a hundred items distributed in 10 blocks, roughly covering the λόγος πολιτικός and the λόγος θεολογικός. The common theme, l’art de connaître, starts developing from the idea of divine knowledge in fragments 93 (on Delphic Apollo), 92 (on the voice of the Sybil), and 123 (the famous saying φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ), which invite the fragments on search (54 on the hidden harmony, 18 on expecting the unexpected, 22 on gold searchers, and 101 on self-searching, followed by Mouraviev’s own fragment 16A). There follows a series of fragments on the cognitive roles of the senses and the soul (frs. 55, 101A, 7, 107, Hippolytus’ version of 36, 117, among others), and some items derived mostly from Sextus on Heraclitus’ physiology of cognition. Fragments 26, 21 and 89 on sleepers give way to a cluster of fragments on the common and intellectual virtue (frs. 2, 113, 116, 112 on soundness of mind and wisdom, and 114 on the divine law). The ‘theological’ section flows naturally and proceeds from a characterization of the divine itself as a unity of opposites (frs. 32 on the name of Zeus, 67 on the god as day and night, 102 on all things beautiful, good and just for god) to a focusing on opposition as such and on the opposites themselves. In the latter a first string is formed by frs. 83B, from Plato’s Sophist 242e; 51 on men’s lack of understanding of palintropos harmonie; and 10 on the dynamical unity of the one and all things, which approach unity in opposition in general. Then comes a second string: 88 on continuity of the asleep and the awake, the living and the dead, 62 on immortal mortals and mortal immortals, 48 on the name and the work of the bow, 103 on the beginning and end of a circle, 111, 58, 9, 4, 84, 81B (“everything flows, nothing stays still” from Plato Crat. 402a), 91a-b, and 49A (two river-fragments), 125 on the kykeon, 82-83 on the proportional relationship ape-man-god, 61 on sea-water for fish and men, 37 on pigs delighting in mud, and others, which provide numerous instances or concrete examples. The closing chapter of the ‘metaphysics’ is devoted to irrational and obscene rites (frs. 13, 14, 69, 5, 128, 127, 68, 15, 16 and 11).

The last section is the λόγος ϕυσικός, comprising about a hundred items. The opening is the cosmic fragment par excellence , fr. 30, which identifies kosmos with fire, interpreted as referring to the universe as the total order of things, endowed with intelligence and being the origin and ending of everything. This last section comprises cosmogony, cosmology, psychology and astrometeorology. Fragment 30 is followed by fragment 90, on the interchange of fire and all things, and by frs. 31a-b, which describe the turnings or conversions of fire into the cosmic masses (sea, earth and prester). This last term is interpreted as synonymous with ether and/or air (which opens the door to including frs. 76a, b and c, on the genesis and death of fire, air, water and earth, the authenticity of which has been reasonably doubted precisely because of the presence of air). These cosmic processes, governed by Keraunos (fr. 64) and identified as indigence and excess, are thus construed as the cycle described in fr. 60 on the way up and down, implying cosmogenesis as well as cosmophthoresis (universal conflagration). The block ends with frs. 59 (on the crooked and straight way of graphoi, interpreted as “elements”, and referring to the cosmic masses) and 126 (on the reciprocal conversions of the cold and the warm, the humid and the dry).

Cosmological psychology is the theme of the next block, which starts with fr. 38, on Thales being the first astronomer, cited by Heraclitus to reinforce his own “panpsychism”. This is stated in item 188 (extracted from Diogenes Laertius IX, 7) : πάντα ψυχῶν εἶναι πλήρη, “All is full of souls” (derived from Mouraviev’s fr. 44A, featuring the well-known attribution to Thales of πάντα πλήρη θεῶν as well as the phrase εἰσι καὶ ἐνταῦθα θεοί, from the anecdote in Aristotle De part. an. A 5, 645a21). In this setting comes in famous fr. 36 (Clement’s version) on the cycle of deaths and births of souls, water, and earth. At this point Mouraviev inserts a good fifteen items from several doxographical sources, covering a number of doctrines, such as the world’s soul as fire, air, anathumiasis from the humid, the descent of souls into bodies, their purification, and their immortal fate. Items 206-214 return to a more solid ground presenting some important fragments in a suggestive sequence: from fragment 98 (the souls in Hades), we come to the river fragments (91a and 12, in the extended version with souls being exhaled from the waters towards heaven), separated by 45 on the limits of soul and the deep logos, and 115, on the self-increasing logos of soul. This series closes with 118 on the dry soul, wisest and best, as a beam of light, and 70A (from Macrobius, in Latin) on soul as a star-like spark. Three last blocks deal with the heavens, months, seasons and years, and “other phenomena”, featuring only two traditionally acknowledged fragments: 6 on the sun being new every day, and 52, on the Aion as a playing child.

It would be impossible to do full justice to Mouraviev’s generous proposal in this limited space, but as far as the reconstruction alone is concerned, it is certainly a fundamental contribution to Heraclitean studies and will become an indispensable reference for specialized scholarship in time to come. Perhaps one of its highest merits is its interpretive boldness, which is however tempered by the author’s awareness of the tentative character of the results. Refectio is a learned and bona fide proposal which contains a treasure of Heraclitean problems and stands tall as an open invitation to the reader to engage in discussion and interpretation of the individual texts and their complex unity.

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