10 February 2007

Plus ça Change

Here's a first question I have about Graham's article on Heraclitus. It has to do with how he handles a line from Plato. Graham is certainly not alone in doing this; he follows common opinion. That opinion may be well-founded. But to me it appears at first glance not to be. So I simply raise this question, and later I will attempt to answer it more conclusively for myself, or, if you know the answer, please tell me.

The line from Plato is a very famous passage from Cratylus 402a:

Le/gei pou 9Hra&kleitoj o3ti pa&nta xwrei= kai\ ou)de\n me/nei, kai\ potamou~ r(oh|~ a)peika&zwn ta_ o1nta le/gei w(j di\j e0j to_n au)to_n potamo_n ou)k a2n e0mbai/hj
Fowler renders this:
Heraclitus says, you know, that all things move and nothing remains still, and he likens the universe to the current of a river, saying that you cannot step twice into the same stream.
Now my question concerns the status of the two phrases in red, in particular, whether we should treat them differently or the same. Graham (following lots of others) presupposes that the first phrase is an interpretation and the second a direct quotation. But what is the reason in the text itself to treat them differently? If we understand Plato to be intending to give a direct quotation in the second phrase, then mustn't we understand him to be intending to do the same in the first?

I am not raising a question about whether Plato actually succeeds in getting the words right or remembering them correctly. My question is simply about his intent: From the way he writes this passage, should we take him to be intending to refer to two passages in Heraclitus that he regards as distinct? And my first impression is that the answer to this question is "Yes". Plato is intending to refer to two distinct passages. (In that case to dismiss the first and give credence to the second, or to explain the first as a recasting of the second, would--without independent evidence--be misguided.)

The argument for taking them as intended in the same way is simply that they are introduced in the same way.

One might respond that the first is introduced with pou ("you know", "I take it", or perhaps even "somewhere"). But if this means, "I take it", its force carries over throughout the sentence, and if it means "somewhere", then it only strengthens the case for an intended direct quotation. (If anything, isn't it the second phrase that is introduced in a weaker way, with w(j rather than o3ti?)

Furthermore, a TLG search quickly reveals that elsewhere le/gei pou o3ti is used by Plato only to introduce (what is taken to be) a direct quotation:

Cratylus, 402b6
le/gei de/ pou kai\ 0Orfeu_j o3ti
0Wkeano_j prw~toj kalli/rrooj h}rce ga&moio,

Protagoras 339a6
le/gei ga&r pou Simwni/dhj pro_j Sko&pan to_n Kre/ontoj u(o_n tou~ Qettalou~ o3ti

a1ndr' a)gaqo_n me\n a)laqe/wj gene/sqai xalepo&n,
xersi/n te kai\ posi\ kai\ no&w| tetra&gwnon, a1neu yo&gou

In the Protagoras the introduced quotation is taken to be so familiar that both Socrates and Protagoras could recite it from memory. Thus pou apparently does not itself indicate any unclarity or vagueness. (Presumably it is used, rather, in a polite and self-depreciating way: a speaker uses it to pretend that he only vaguely remembers what in fact he has a complete grasp of.)

I don't see why "All things move and nothing remains the same" should be regarded as too blunt, not sufficiently paradoxical, to be similar to Heraclitus' original words. It seems paradoxical and clever enough to say that everything remains moving, that constantly nothing stays the same. (Yes, that can be the suggestion of the present tense. And compare the repetition, sc. constancy, in ἕτερα καὶ ἕτερα ὕδατα in B12, which brings out exactly the same paradox.)
In recent decades ... some scholars have become skeptical about the accuracy of the Platonic-Aristotelian interpretation of Heraclitus' views on change; and with good cause, for the fact is that there is nothing in the extant fragments about the constant flux of all things, even though one would have expected the survival of some original support for a view so widely popularized in the fourth century.
Thus Kirk in 1951. My question, in a sense, is why this sort of interpretation isn't simply an exercise in circular argument. It excludes at the start the evidence for the "Platonic-Aristotelian interpretation" (i.e. as much independent evidence as one ever gets as regards Heraclitus), and then it considers that it is making an argument when it says that there is no evidence for it.


JIW said...

Hi Michael
The most recent discussion I know of Plato's reception of Heraclitus is Adomenas in André Laks, Claire Louguet, Qu'est-ce que la Philosophie Présocratique? Cahiers de Philologie vol. 20. Villeneuve d'Ascq: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2002. Pp. 550. ISBN 2-85939-740-X. EUR 29.00. Not sure if he discusses this bit (I don't have the volume to hand here, but I'd be surprised if he didn't.)

Michael Pakaluk said...

Dear James,

Thanks for the lead. I can get that book here ... it will take a couple of days.

I went back and found this paragraph in the BMCR discussion of the book:

Three articles explore the interpretation and use of the Presocratics by Plato and Aristotle. Mantas Adomenas ("The Fluctuating Fortunes of Heraclitus in Plato") looks at Plato's ascription of the idea of "flux" to Heraclitus. This is usually thought to contradict Heraclitus' belief in the unity of opposites, but Adomenas attempts to resolve this contradiction by reinterpreting what Plato means by flux. Rather than seeing it as meaning that all things are constantly changing in every respect, Adomenas sees Plato as referring to the fact that the properties in the world of appearances are constantly changing (i.e. an object is constantly fluctuating between smaller and larger depending on what it is compared to). Adomenas spends far more time discussing Plato's ideas than Heraclitus', but he does provide a way of eliminating Plato's troubling testimonium.

Well, yes, that would be the next step, as I see it, viz. to discuss how "everything flows" would of course need to be nuanced.


Catherine Osborne said...

I'm wondering whether there's a difference between "panta chorei" and "panta rhei". I mean, oughtn't the translation to be "everything gives way and nothing remains"?

It seems to me this is nicely ambiguous, and one should retain the ambiguity (even language gives way and nothing remains...).

Anonymous said...

Dear Michael,

As far as I can see Graham is saying that *neither* phrase is a quotation from Heraclitus, that both are Platonic interpretations based on B12, which he seems to take to be the only authentic "river fragment."

Stephen Menn

Michael Pakaluk said...

Dear Stephen,

Thank you for your comment.

Graham writes, "Marcovich (1967) has succeeded in showing* how a misreading of B12 could lead to an interpretation such as that embodied in A6".

I took him to mean that Plato in A6 was paraphrasing (or misquoting) the 'one genuine river fragment' so loosely, that it counted as an interpretation.

Suppose we accept that the second half of A6 (even though presented as a quotation) is some kind of heavily interpreted recounting of B12.

Wouldn't that still leave the point that A6 contains, apparently, two distinct references to Heraclitean text? The first reference, so different in wording, and clearly presented as distinct, would not be well accounted for as a mistaken reference to B12.

But I'm worried that I'm misunderstanding your point, so easy to do in these matters.


*I should add that I'm uneasy with the language of 'show'. Similarly Kirk: "Karl Rheinhardt has shown...", to which Kirk appends the footnote: "Most clearly in Hermes, 77 (1942)..."--as if one could 'show' something less clearly!