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Vojtch Hladk Zdenk Kratochvl

A New Reconstruction and Reading
of Heraclitus Fragments B 1 and B 2 DK1
In this article we would like to reopen the question of the reconstruction and interpretation of
the first lines of Heraclitus famous fragment B 1 which stood most probably at the very
beginning of his whole book. The text is preserved in quotations by six different authors (some
however dependent on one another) and may be reasonably reconstructed in the following way:2

B 13:

Although the account

always men fail to comprehend,

both before hearing it and once they have heard.

Although all things come to pass in accordance with this account (
men are like the untried when they try
such words and works
1 We would like to thank Helena Kurzov, Tom Vtek, ?? for valuable suggestions and critical notes. The work on
this paper has been supported by ??.
2 As for the numbering of Heraclitus fragments we keep to the standard edition of the Presocratics: Diels Kranz
(1951) (DK); for the edition and translation we use the text by Marcovich (1967) which we modify when necessary;
for the background of Heraclitean text and studies we draw mostly upon Kahn (1979), Conche (1986), Fronterotta
(2013) and the monumental work of S. Mouraviev (1999) although we do not always agree either with his
reconstruction of Heraclitus text presented, or the commentary which accompanies it.
3 = fr. 1 Marcovich, I Kahn, 2 Conche, 1 Fronterotta.
4 At the beginning we have chosen to read
instead of
despite the fact that the first variant can be found
in Hippolytus only. We follow the majority of editors of Heraclitus, most notably Diels Kranz, Marcovich, Kahn,
Conche, and Fronterotta. It has been argued that the in question has no function in Hippolytus and thus there is
no reason why he should have supplied it, whereas Clement and Aristotle could have simply omitted it in their texts.
Its meaning may well be inceptive and not adversative or connective, cf. Kirk (1954), p. 36, Conche (1986), p. 30,
and Tarn (1986), pp. 2-3, who, however, attempts to reopen the question. Cf. also the introductory sentence of the
treatise by Ion of Chios, DK 36 B 1, below, n. ??.
Furthermore, along with all the editors just mentioned, we prefer the word order


. On the whole, we nonetheless think that neither of the two readings
significantly affect the general meaning of the sentence.

as I set forth 5
The group of majuscule letters the

deliberately left untranslated at this

moment most probably represents the form how the text appeared in antiquity. As it is a usual
case, it was transcribed to minuscule at the beginning of Byzantine era. It was also the time when
the ancient scriptio continua was divided into the separate words and the punctuation, antecedent to
the modern one, was to be inserted. In our case this can be reasonably done in two ways:

The first reading is usually adopted in the editions of Heraclitus whereas the latter one is being
neglected. This may seem strange since in the second case the division of the word appears more
natural. The first reading is rather awkward since the demonstrative pronoun

is in

postpositive position and elided because of the following word beginning with a vowel (

). Furthermore, if we accept the second, more natural, reading we get an

attractive rhythmic scheme tou-de-logou-tou-deontos with an alliteration which subsequently appears

several times in the same fragment.
One may also ask what this logos should mean the Heraclitus account itself? But how
such an interpretation can be squared with his B 50:6
Listening not to me but to the account, it is wise to agree that all things are one (


This fragment describes a similar situation as B 1 those to whom Heraclitus speaks, should
listen to the account (

), however, at the same time he explains that it should not be his

own words what matters but the Logos in general, presumably the order of the world.7
Some roughly contemporary authors starting their books with the expressions like I write these
things (

) or referring to them as my word (

) or my account (

) and

thus guaranteeing the validity of their exposition through their personal authority.8 However, as

Translation based on Kahn (1979), p. 29 (modified).

= fr. 26 Marcovich, XXXVI Kahn, 1 Conche, 5 Fronterotta, transl. Kahn (1979), p. 45 (modified).
7 Cf. Kahn (1979), pp. 97, 130, Tarn (1986), p. 15.
8 See Kahn (1979), pp. 97, 307, nn. 58-59, including the references and translations (modified): Hesiod, Theog. 29:
This word (
) did the Muses speak to me first of all, Hecataeus of Miletus, FGrH I F 1a: I write these
thinks (
) as they seem to me (
) to be true. For the reports (
) of the Greeks are, in my

the comparison with fragment B 50 shows, in the case of Heraclitus the situation is more
complicated as he seems to regard himself as a kind of prophet of a deeper Logos than his own.
Furthermore, the subsequent text of fragment B 1 is the only another occurrence where
the term Logos appears together with the pronoun this. But one may wonder why such a
skilful writer as Heraclitus certainly was did not avoid a word to word repetition of this account
) with the pronoun in postpositive position in both cases. Could it perhaps be that

the second occurrence of the expression in question helped the editors to decipher the

at the beginning of the fragment?

To add some further minor points regarding the interpretation of the text B 1, there

might be difficult to explain why and in what sense this Logos exists always although one could
contrast its eternal existence with the temporal becoming of humans (
the epithet always existing (

).9 Moreover,

) is traditionally given to the Olympic gods10 and this

would give to the Logos with a divine status which is in a good accord with what Heraclitus
claims about it. Finally, one could point at the parallels with the expression to tell the existing
account (

), that is, true story which we find in some contemporary

Greek authors, most notably Herodotus.11 However, being an interpretation of already

established text, none of these suggestions must be taken as a decisive argument for the division
of the


Let us now turn to the textual tradition of Heraclitus fragment B 1. Nearly all the
important manuscripts of the authors who preserve the beginning of Heraclitus B 1, namely,
Hippolytus,13 Clemens,14 Eusebius (who takes the passage from Clemens),15 Aristotle16 and the
Byzantine anonymous commentator to him17 adopt the reading
being almost unanimously corrected by editors to

. However, it is

, mostly tacite, without discussing

judgment, many and ridiculous. Ion of Chios, DK 36 B 1: The starting point of my discourse (
9 But see Kirk (1954), pp. 40-41.
10 Cf. Kahn (1979), p. 97, (2003), pp. xxi, 242, 354, n. 26, 379, (2009), pp. 28-29, 126-127, 174, 204, Tarn (1986), p.
6, with the references. According to Kahn the expression is used by Heraclitus in B 30 about the cosmos.
11 Herodotus, Hist. I,95, 116. See Kahn (2003), p. 354, with further references.
12 One may note that the two last interpretations of
are classified into two different categories according to
Kahns in his studies of the semantics of Greek word be. They are, however, blended in the case of Heraclitus B 1,
cf. Kahn (1979), p. 93-95.
13 Hippolytus, Refut. IX,9,3.2 Marcovich:

Bernays; Miller in his 1851 edition also

14 Clement, Strom. V,111,7.2 le Boulluec:

15 Eusebius, Praep. ev. XIII,13,39.2 des Places:

16 Aristotle, Rhet. 1407b16-17 Wartelle:
(: Parisinus gr. 1741, X.-XI. century, : texte conjectural
de la Vetusta translatio, XIII. century, : scholia);
(: all the MSS from XIII-XVI. century without

Vettori Roeme; Spengel in his 1867 edition also keeps

and comments his reading as
follows: Aristoteles
legit; nam si

scripseris, ei necessario
adhaeret, neque ambiguum est quod
auctor vituperat, Spengel (1867), vol. II, p. 379.
17 Anonymus, In Arist. Rhet. 183.19-21 Rabe:


the problem.18 The main counterevidence is provided by Sextus Empiricus who preserved the
fragment in the greatest length which is also probably the reason why it is his text which is usually
taken as the ultimate source of B 1. However, its beginning as found in his text is clearly
defective. If we compare it with the other witnesses, some words are plainly missing (<

elision in

< >

(as in standard reading


) and there should also be an

).19 (Furthermore, in Sextus

closely after B 1 another fragment follows, B 2, which is not preserved anywhere else and in
which a similar problem occurs. We will have to return to it in the due course.) The manuscript
tradition thus points rather to

. It is really remarkable that in the case of five

different ancient authors the Byzantine scribes who were responsible for the transcription of all
these different texts to minuscule and the subsequent recopying chose independently this reading

appears only in the case of Sextus and in an obviously corrupted form.

Now, let us look at the contexts in which the fragment B 1 was preserved. If we are to
judge how these writers themselves understood Heraclitus saying while commenting upon it the
situation is no less puzzling. Apart from Sextus, Hippolytus may be claimed to read the


but the text of the manuscript is corrupted and other readings are possible. The situation is
further complicated by the fact that the manuscript gives a different reading of the fragment itself

). In the modern edition of Hippolytus Heraclitus B 1 is thus emended on the

basis of a corrupted context that itself needs an emendation which considerably undermines the
reliability of this author for the reconstruction. The alleged echo of Heraclitus B 1 in Cleanthes
Hymn to Zeus (v. 21:

) encounters the same or even worse problems as regards

the state of the text. It contains two conjectures and one may doubt whether if an alternative

18 For the major exceptions cf. Dufour Wartelle (1973), p. 107, n. 6 (to p. 52) (author of this note is A. Wartelle):
Tout en conservant ici la leon de Vettori adopte par M. Dufour et la traduction de ce dernier, on se demande
cependant sil ne vaudrait pas mieux suivre la leon du mss. A,
: que la raison leur
fasse dfaut toujours, les hommes en sont inconscients . La remarque dAristote garderait dailleurs toujours la
mme ambigut : que la raison leur fasse dfaut, les hommes en sont toujours incoscients . Diels et Kranz (fr. 22
A 4) adoptent la leon

sans signaler la leon de A. Cependant, la suite du texte napporterait pas de

dmenti cette leon : Sextus Empiricus, Adv. Math., VII, 132, donne ce dbut (fr. 22 B 1 D-K, t. I, p. 150) avec, il
est vrai, la leon

, mais la suite est significative : de cette raison qui leur manque toujours [= leon de
A] les hommes sont inconscients, aussi bien avant den avoir entendu parler quen en entendant parler pour la
premire foi; bien que tout arrive selon cette raison (
) les hommes ressemblent des
ignorants, en sessayant des paroles et des actes pareils ceux dont moi je fais un expos conforme la nature, en
distinguant chaque chose et en expliquant comment elle est; les autres hommes nont aucune conscience de ce quils
font quand ils sont veills, tout de mme quils oublient ce quils font dans leur sommeil . Cest bien dire que, selon
Hraclite, la raison reste toujours pour lhomme un besoin, mais la difficult majeure est encore de savoir ce
quHraclite entend exactement par raison [Note rdige en collaboration avec P. Thillet].
19 Sextus Empiricus, Adv. math. VII,132.26-27 Mutschmann:

(XV.-XVI. century).
20 Hippolytus, Refut. IX,9,3.1:

is a
reasonable emendation by Miller adopted also by Marcovich for the obviously corrupted
in the only extant
manuscript P. However, an alternative
has been suggested by Bernays.

emendation were adopted, on could find any parallel with Heraclitus at all.21 The only conclusive
evidence that an ancient author was able to read

in Heraclitus B 1 is thus the

paraphrase by Neoplatonist Amelius. However, he comments on the beginning of the Gospel

according to John, and this reading may well be suggested by the context where eternally existing
Logos is put into a contrast to the things that are becoming.22
In contrast, we have an important testimony in the Anonymous Commentary to Aristotles
Rhetoric written probably in 12th century A.D.23 The Byzantine author of this treatise discusses
Aristotles critique of the ambiguity of Heraclitus style using the beginning of B 1 as an
example.24 In this case the reading

is attested beyond any doubt since the

anonymous author uses it with a definite article, that means, as a metalanguage or a quotation (
, i.e. deontos).25 This testimony is even more valuable since both, Aristotle and the
anonymous commentator, are discussing the very text of Heraclitus fragment and not
interpreting his teaching. Nevertheless, if we count Sextus in, both ways how to interpret the
beginning of B 1 seem to occur in antiquity or Byzantium. We thus may conclude that, despite
the way the text of B 1 is usually treated in modern editions, the

is confirmed not

only by the manuscript tradition but also as a reading of the anonymous commentator to
Aristotles Rhetoric which is an important testimony indeed.
Since the version of the fragment as it is preserved by Sextus is the longest and obviously
also the trickiest one, it is useful to look on the treatment of Heraclitus by this ancient sceptical
philosopher in more depth. Sextus seems to be much preoccupied to show that Heraclitus is a
dogmatist, presumably because his otherwise revered predecessor Aenesidemus thought the
contrary and followed Heraclitus in certain points.26 For this reason Sextus tries to show, most
fully in his Pyrrhonian Hypotheses, that Heraclitus thesis that the contraries may be attributed to the

Cleanthes, Hymn. Iov. 21 Zuntz (Marcovich, Heraclitus B 1 = 1 (e)). The manuscript reading is:

. Whereas
really seems to be corrupted because of the meter and
the emendation to
by Ursinus is an obvious and natural correction, Bruncks emendation of

may not be necessary. Thom (2005), pp. 110-111, argues for the traditional emendation supported by
Heraclitus B 1, however, at the same time he claims: A strict Heraclitean interpretation is forced to admit a
tenstion between vv. 18-21 and the surrounding context. Although Cleanthes may have been influenced by
Heraclitus, he gives a different interpretation to the role of Zeus. His phraseology is also much closer to that of
Hesiod and Solon than to that of Heraclitus. Ibid., pp. 23-24. Thom also quotes a line from Hesiod, Theog. 21,
closely resembling the unconjectured text, ibid., p. 37, to v. 21, p. 111, n. 338:

22 Amelius ap. Eusebius, Praep. ev. IX,19,1 (= fr. 1 Zoubos):

23 Rabe (1896), p. xii, with n. 2.

24 Aristotle, Rhet. 1407b11-18 (= A 4,1).
25 Anonymus, In Arist. Rhet. 183.18-21 Rabe:



26 Cf. Aenesidemus apud Sextus Empiricus, Pyrrh. Hyp. I,210, Adv. math. VII,349-350, VIII,8, IX,337, X,216-217, 233.

same thing at the same time (

) cannot be taken as a

sceptical position as Aenesidemus and his followers would like to. According to Sextus this
alleged sceptical thesis of Heraclitus is in a blatant contradiction with other dogmatic statements
of his.27 Similarly, in his other work, in the passage where Heraclitus fragments in question are
preserved, Sextus tries to demonstrate that Heraclitus does not differ in any way from other
dogmatists as regards the criterion which enables us to attain truth.28 On the basis of fragment B
107 he claims that according to Heraclitus the criterion of truth cannot be senses but reason
(logos).29 He even provides the reader with a kind of physiological interpretation of Heraclitus
thought by claiming that according to him we acquire reason through respiration and lose it when

we sleep.30 This common and divine reason (

) is thus supposed to be


the criterion of truth for Heraclitus. After this introductory remarks Heraclitus fragments B 1
and B 2 are evoked and commented in a way that (as Sextus claims after quoting B 1) everything
we do or think is due to the participation in this divine reason (
) and that (after B 2 is quoted) this is the explanation of the order of the Whole (

). As Sextus claims, according to Heraclitus

we are able to tell the truth only through the relation to the Logos that is common and we lie if
we stick to our private opinions or individual matters in general. Thus in Sextus interpretation
Heraclitus Logos becomes the criterion of truth.32 This also explains why Sextus says elsewhere
that man is not rational, the only thing that is reasonable is the circumambient (

).33 But we will have to

take up again the problem of Heraclituss thought as expounded by Sextus in due time.
Now, let us have go back to the fragment B 2 which we have ignored so far and which, if we are
to believe Sextus, followed closely after B 1:
B 2:34 {





Sextus Empiricus Pyrrh. Hyp. I,209-212.

Idem, Adv. Math. VII,46 ff.
29 ibid. 126-128.
30 ibid. 129-130
31 ibid. 131.
32 ibid. 132-134.
33 ibid. VIII,286 (= A 16/2), cf. VII,127.
34 = B 23 Marcovich, III Kahn, 7 Conche, 7 Fronterotta.
may have well been supplied by Sextus, cf. the parallel beginnings of sentences in the passage in question (Adv.

math. VII,133):


That is why one must follow that which is <common>;

Although the account


the many live as though they had a private understanding.36

What is striking is the resemblance between the overall structure of the fragments B 1 and B 2 as
quoted by Sextus. Such a structure is even strengthened when the beginning of B 1 is taken as a
genitive absolute as is the case of the beginning of B 2 (and the second sentence of B 1):37
B 1:



< >

B 2:

In both cases the word Logos is in genitive case and followed by the ( )
text that follows the

. In the

is missing from B 1 as has been shown by comparison with other

authors where the fragment is preserved. If we compare the three remaining pairs, in the case of
the first of them uncomprehending (

) is obviously antithetical to common (

whereas the next two pairs are clearly analogous: prove to be (

or humans (

) and many (

) and live (


) respectively. This shows pretty well that in B

2 Heraclitus takes up B 1 again. We should not, however, overweight this parallel too much since
in the case of fragment B 1 the missing

along with the difficulties we have with reading of

remind us that Heraclitus fragment B 2 as quoted by Sextus may be in a

defective state too. This counts also for the interpretation of the


in B 2

which is the sole variant in manuscripts according to the editors. Given the obvious bad
treatment of Heraclitus text by Sextus in the case B 1, this might not be the only possible
reading. In fact, as far as the ancient text is concerned, there seems no obstacle that prevents us
to read the original

as the

similarly to the situation in the case of B 1.

But why then Sextus chooses the reading

as the manuscript seem to read in

both cases, the fragment B 1 as well as B 2? As we have seen above when going through the
context in which both fragments are preserved, Sextus wanted to show that Heraclitus is not a
sceptic as the followers of Aenesidemus would like to claim, since he, too, accepts a criterion

Translation based on Robinson (1987) (modified).

Cf. Kahn (1979), p. 29, Tarn (1986), pp. 7-8: According to the testimony of Sextus, the second fragment of
Heraclitus in Diels edition came soon after the first. It is in fact possible, perhaps even likely, that the first part of
Heraclitus book contained a series of predicates of the Logos, in the genitive absolute, followed by contrasting
statements in which mens failure to understand was emphasized.

which is supposed to be the circumambient divine reason which is able to correct the
information coming to us from senses. This aim of Sextus might help to explain why in the case
of B 1 he has chosen the reading of the logos that (really) exists humans always prove to be

uncomprehending (

), omitting

always ( ). In the case of B 2 the situation is analogous since Sextus reads: although the
Logos is common (or alternatively even: although there exists the common Logos), the many

live as if they had their own understanding (

). The reading

thus sustains the fact that the Logos is,

that is, exists, or is common which is to show that there is a criterion of truth of things even for
Heraclitus. This is perfectly in accord with Sextus overall interpretation of Heraclitus thought.
Needless to say, one may not find such an interpretation of his the only thinkable. And given the
differences shown by comparison with other authors one also cannot exclude the possibility of
Sextus deliberately modifying the text.
Yet should we rather trust the majority of Byzantine scribes or an otherwise unknown late
commentator to Aristotle who, in B 1, seem to read

? The problem obviously is how

much they pondered over the meaning of the sentence in question. When transcribing the

such a division is perhaps more natural for a hasty superficial copyist or

commentator but is it viable in the perspective of correct grammar? In the standard Greek to
English dictionary the verb

in active meaning is listed under two independent entries

although they both may be connected after all:

miss, together with its participle

(A) to bind and

fit, proper. From the first

(B) to lack,
(A) two other

important words are derived (with independent entries in the dictionary): impersonal
is need, one must and participle
meaning based on the second entry


that which is binding, needful, right.38 Now, the

(B) missing Logos (

) as

has been suggested by some,39 does not seem to be possible since according to the dictionary
entry, including the examples listed in it, this meaning designates an object missing to the subject,
not the fact that the subject itself is missing. Let us therefore turn rather to the first entry
(A) and its derivatives. The attractive reading of B 1 based on
what is needful/right (
of B 2 where

the Logos concerning

)40 is unfortunately very hard to apply in the case

must be a part of the absolute genitive construction. This is a serious

obstacle since it is preferable to find the meaning applicable in both fragments because of their

Srv. LSJ, s. v., p. 372, 379, 383.

A. Wartelle, see note 19?? above, and Fronterotta (2013), p. 14, n. 3.
40 Cf. the Latin version of Vetusta translatio of Aristotles Rhetoric: sermonis oportuni semper imperspicaces homines fiunt.

analogous structure we have observed above. The same holds about the similarly attractive
fit/proper Logos. What remains is thus the verb

reading based on participle


in the first sense the binding Logos. Such a reading fits well into both fragments.
Furthermore, we have seen that the verb

(A) is connected with the

and the

which means that apart from the physical literal meaning it may well have more abstract ethical
or normative overtones. Thus the Logos may be binding not only because it binds or
connects together the humans as well as the things together, but also because it binds or
obliges someone to do what is proper. This meaning may be supported by
B 2, which is exceptional for Heraclitus who otherwise prefers

at the beginning of

.41 The translation of both

fragments in question thus would be:

B 1:

Although the account (Logos) binds always men fail to comprehend,

both before hearing it and once they have heard.
B 2:



That is why one is bound follow that which is <common>;

Although the common account (Logos) binds
the many live as though they had a private understanding.
But in other Heraclitus fragments is there some concept which corresponds to the
account (Logos) that binds? As has just been claimed, this binding may be understood as
an obligation of a listener to understand Heraclitus account of the world. However, it also reflects
the nature of the world itself, describing the rules that determine its transformations and hold the
whole cosmos together. Naturally we cannot go here into a detailed and much disputed
interpretation of Heraclitus notion of Logos and the related fragments.42 However, we may point
at similarities with his other key words, namely, graspings (
and harmony (

) from fragment B 10,43

) appearing in B 8,44 B 51,45 and B 54,46 the latter being derived from the


Cf. Conche (1986), p. 57. This is also reason why this fragment was also sometimes considered as spurious.
For a basic overview see Kahn (1979), pp. 97-102, Fronterotta (2013), pp. lii-lxviii.
43 = 25 Marcovich, CXXIV Kahn, 127 Conche, 16 Fronterotta.
44 = 27d1+28b1 Marcovich, LXXV Kahn, 116 Conche, 14a Fronterotta.


meaning join, or fit together. These two terms have both a literal, almost

bodily and physical meaning and a more abstract one. Thus, according to Kahn, in the case of
syllapsies the sense may be seizing, laying hold of, arresting, apprehending, but also
comprehending in a cognitive act whereas harmoni may be understood as a physical fitting
together of parts, as a principle of reconciliation between opponents, and as a pattern of musical
attunement. In Heraclitus both terms are supposed to describe the united order of the world
emerging from (competitive) relations among many things.47 It seems that the notion of biding
Logos fits well into this picture. It represents a cosmic order which unites various things within
itself, each getting to its proper place which is delimited against the others. Everything is thus
bound, that is, entangled or even seized in an overall structure. At the same time it is bound,
because it is constrained and forced not to transgress the proper limits (see further B 30, 41, 53,
66, 80, 94, 124). Furthermore, the one who listens to Heraclitus logos is bound, that means,
obliged and compelled to accept it as true and act according to it (see further B 108, 114).
To summarize, we have made an attempt to show that the manuscript variant (
) of Heraclitus fragments B 1 and B 2 is a viable one and gives a satisfactory sense in
both cases (the binding Logos). It is not only the majority reading of medieval manuscripts but
is also supported by the Byzantine commentator to Aristotles Rhetoric. The only important author
who thus seems to prefer the standard scholarly reading (

the existing

Logos) is Sextus Empiricus whose text is nonetheless obviously corrupted or even deliberately
altered and who chooses such a reading because he is lead by his own general interpretation of
Heraclitus. (The same case seems to be a loose paraphrase of Amelius.) Although in the end the
reading chosen naturally depends on the overall interpretation of Heraclitus thought, we have
tried to show that there are some reasons to reconsider the other variant, mostly neglected so


= 27 Marcovich, LXXVIII Kahn, 125 Conche, 14 Fronterotta.

= 9 Marcovich, LXXX Kahn, 126 Conche, 15 Fronterotta.
47 Kahn (1979), pp. 196-197, 281-282.
48 The reading
does not necessarily exclude all the arguments mentioned above that are proposed by the
interpreters in favour of the standard emendation of the text. Most notably the formula always existing (

), connected with the Olympian gods, could still have been associated to an ancient reader due to a close
vocal resemblance with the


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