Fragments : the collected wisdom of Heraclitus

by of Ephesus. Heraclitus

Other authorsBrooks Haxton
Book, 2001



Call number


Call number



New York : Viking, 2001.

Original publication date

1901 (critical edition)
500 BCE

Physical description

xxviii, 99 p.; 22 cm

Local notes

The wisdom poetry of the ancient Greek poet Heraclitus is collected into a single volume that covers everything from the nature of matter to human psychology.

User reviews

LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
Hmmm, I’m not completely sure I know where I stand on Heraclitus the Obscure. On the one hand, he stresses the logos and its collective, shared nature, as the basis of knowledge (or he seems to! It should go without saying that 90% of what we think we know about Heraclitus is wrong, given that all we have is fragments), a stance with which I have much sympathy. On the other hand, he seems to approach this in a literal-minded way—in the beginning is the Word—and that I have less patience for.

At least, if we’re trying to be real. If we’re aphoristic, more can be forgiven. And Heraclitus is very aphoristic. But it’s not Nietzschean and wild—it’s mystical, but more this plodding mysticism of homespun commonplaces dressed up as portents—signs taken for wonders. BUT THEN, you really can’t blame Heraclitus for that, because he wrote a whole book and it was the rest of us who let it get burned when the Temple of Artemis was sacked and then combed out the quotes from Plato and whoever and numbered them and treated them like koans.

Speaking of koans, the main thing that H shares with the Buddhists is seemingly the interest in flux—you can’t step in the same river twice, change is eternal, panta rhei and all that. For me, that’s beauty, and it goes right to moral philosophy—ripeness is all, or all that is solid melts into air in the sense of its Marxist implications. But Heraclitus goes ontological instead—all that is solid melts into air, and air gives birth to fire, just as earth gives birth to water and vice versa. A pretty but inconsequential physics.

I think that might be where I would have let things rest on our guy—pretty but inconsequential; or more accurately, pretty but I am in no way even remotely capable of evaluating his consequentiality given what’s been lost and misused and appropriated in him (the internet, because he was the big name in philosophy BS,* makes him responsible for everything from dialectical materialism to the Tao to something called “process philosophy”).**

But then he still leaves me with a little additional frowny feeling I’d like to express while I’m on my soapbox. They call Heraclitus the “weeping philosopher,” in contradistinction to Democritus, the laughing, and while I’m very clear that I stand with big D (as did Montaigne),*** certainly the world is beautiful and awful and it is apposite to laugh through your tears. But weeping of any sort doesn’t seem to be Heraclitus’s MO, really, in the event: he’s more the quietly judgmental philosopher, looking down his nose at the people and their small minds and their weak wisdom and their easily led herdsheepery. But not in an extensive, magnificently misanthropic way, or like, with the sincerity to elaborate an alternative protofascistic political philosophy like Plato, or to pull out the people in the agora like Socrates, or any number of other possibilities. No, Heraclitus (who let it be noted should have been king in Ephesus, but the Persians installed a satrap and left him a figurehead and so he renounced the throne) is more the philosopher of taking his ball and going home: quitting his job (king!!) writing a big book and leaving it with the goddess so people could come and consult and see that Heraclitus thinks that they are foolish and ephemeral. No snarling hermit, but a bit of a sulk, perhaps, like how I imagine Henry James.

But aphorism sells, and (because?) you can’t say shit based on it. So I will endeavour to appreciate Heraclitus for his beauties, mull how it is that a sulk of Becoming is so much easier to take than a sulk of Being, remember that I can’t step in the same river twice (OR, ERGO, EVEN ONCE), and try to get some things done today.

*before Socrates! Not whatever you thought.


***definite extra credit question: is there something intrinsically comforting about a static atomism and intrinsically depressing about quantum relativity? The laughing and weeping pals say yes?
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LibraryThing member ronsea
nature loves to hide
LibraryThing member AFlickering
Easily the most interesting and important of the pre-Socratic philosophers, and among the greatest Greeks, Heraclitus was everything from pre-Nietzsche to pre-Einstein. His poetic declarations that energy in flux is the essence of the world was unique and largely ignored in favour of Plato and Aristotle, as was his inclination to highlight the importance of perspective and relativity, the strength and harmony that results from strife and conflict, the sleepwalking idiocy of most men, the illusory nature of progress and the oneness of the Earth. Whilst much of his work has been lost, historians believe Heraclitus was the first man to form a coherent philosophical treatise, and the fragments which remain are more than enough to justifiably place Heraclitus among the greatest of thinkers.… (more)
LibraryThing member CurrerBell
A very loose, non-literal translation (Brooks Haxton in the Penguin paperback), but interesting because it's got the Greek text on the left-hand facing pages to the English translation. A volume that could entice someone to learn ancient Greek.
LibraryThing member madepercy
The introduction to this work is inevitably longer than the fragments themselves. What survives is a mish-mash of various interpretations and I daresay unreliable sources. What strikes me about the pre-Socratics, and Heraclitus specifically, is the melding of religion and reason in a way that the West would not mention when the modern cultural monolith seeks its origins in a part of the world where it is fine to claim mythic philosophical ancestry, yet it is despised when one's pedigree is pure. On the first page of the fragments, Heraclitus mentions the trouble with those who will not learn: "III. - ...Those who hear and do not understand are like the deaf. Of them the proverb says: "Present, they are absent,"

IV. — Eyes and ears are bad witnesses to men having rude souls.

V. — The majority of people have no understanding of the things with which they daily meet, nor, when instructed, do they have any right knowledge of them, although to themselves they seem to have.

VI. — They understand neither how to hear nor how to speak.

This is not entirely a Western idea, for indeed, Confucius said, “When you see that [students] do something wrong, give them sincere and friendly advice, which may guide them to the right way; if they refuse to accept your advice, then give it up”.
Reading Heraclitus leads me to Pythagoras as my next venture into pre-Socratic philosophy, and also to Hesiod's Theogony. It would seem that there is much to learn from this period of history, and how it echoes down through the ages.
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LibraryThing member laurenillo
I found this translation of the Fragments of Heraclitus to be disappointing. When comparing Brooks Haxton's translation of various fragments to other translations, I often find Haxton's to be rather off-base. Sometimes it even seems that his translations convey the opposite meanings to that of other translations. I believe the problem lies in his desire to see similarities between Heraclitus and Lao Tzu.

While there do seem to be some surface similarities with regard to Heraclitus' ideas about flux and the logos, many of the fragments attributed to Heraclitus seem pretty far from the Tao Te Ching's philosophy. (Those fragments in which Heraclitus scowls at the behaviour of his fellow men seem to be especially at odds with the playfulness of Taoism & Haxton's poetry.)

Of course with anything like the fragments of Heraclitus, it's impossible to tell which if any were actually written by him. More so, how can anyone know with any degree of certainty what the tone of the original manuscript (if there was one) was?

Still, my favourite thing about this edition is the abundant white space, which leaves plenty of room for marginalia.
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