The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy Newsletter

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Heraclitus was known in antiquity for the obscurity and the ambiguity of his expression, and there can be little doubt .that he purposely made use of ambiguity to emphasize the paradoxical character of some of his doctrines. For us who so many centuries later wish to understand his thought, these characteristics are increased and magnified by the very way his thought has been transmitted: citations and paraphrases by others whose interests were in most cases alien to his. Yet many ancient authors cited him to find authority and corroboration for their views in such an archaic thinker. Other writers, among whom the Christian apologists are prominent, saw in him the ultimate origin of opinions they set out to confute. Of Heraclitus’ fragments, those concerned with the changing rivers are among the most interesting, but also among the most difficult. It is therefore important to avoid discussing everything at the same time. And so I shall begin by making certain assumptions, though I shall discuss the related issues later on. There are three river fragments: B 91. B 12, and B 49a. One (or more of them) makes use of the image of changing rivers —the waters are never the same— in relation to Heraclitus’ general doctrine of change: He believed that no individual thing in this universe has stability and permanence, for it will eventually be destroyed and changed into something else. Heraclitus doubtless included men as composites of soul and body among the things that are perishable, but the question for us is this: did he use the image of the changing rivers to refer directly or primarily to our changing frames or, if not that, to our changing souls, or did he not? 1 believe he did not, and that the evidence points to his employing the image of the changing rivers for other, more general purposes.