15 February 2007

You Can't Speak about the Same River Twice?

(Apologia: Graham's article led me to think this out to a tentative conclusion. Why not write it as a post? The point is that one may arrive at an alternative view which equally, and perhaps better, accounts for all the evidence.)

I wonder why only one of the 'river fragments' can be genuine. Graham assumes this:

... on the plausible assumption that all sources are trying to imitate Heraclitus, who does not repeat himself, we would be led to choose B12 as the one and only river fragment, the only actual quotation from Heraclitus' book
I shouldn't have thought that giving two aphorisms about rivers would have counted has repeating oneself-- any more than that Heraclitus repeats himself since he wrote two aphorisms about war, or two about how wetness is bad for the soul. Why couldn't he have written two remarks about rivers?

Vlastos states a more generous and sensible canon:
...though Heraclitus may well have used the river image more than once, he is unlikely to have done so without significant variation in thought and expression.
But surely, "You cannot step into the same river twice" and "Upon those who step into the same rivers, different and different waters flow" show significant variation--otherwise, why would Graham suppose that the sense of the first is inconsistent with that of the second!

Now, I wonder if you also don't like the plural ("rivers") in B12:
ποταμοῖσι τοῖσιν αὐτοῖσιν ἐμβαίνουσιν ἕτερα καὶ ἕτερα ὕδατα ἐπιρρεῖ.
Even if we deny that, according to Heraclitus, a river is a paradigm of everything that is, surely rivers are meant to be paradigms of some other things. The river fragment is not simply an observation about rivers. But in other fragments where Heraclitus uses one thing as a paradigm of something that occurs more generally, he typically talks about that thing in the singular. The road up and down (not 'roads') is one and the same. Thunderbolt steers all things. (Not: "Thunderbolts steer all things.") A dry soul is wisest and best. Etc. (Are there any exceptions?)

Of course that is how it should be, since such language is more didactic and concrete. Plato's "You could not step twice in the same river" is like that.

Also, the plural is not well suited to remarks about identity, because it leads easily to ambiguities. ("Those stepping into the same rivers..." One person at different times? Many persons at one time? Many persons at many times?) Even Graham finds himself constrained to switch to the singular when he wants to state clearly his 'subtle and profound' point: "It makes perfectly good sense: we call a body of water a river precisely because it consists of changing waters; if the waters should cease to flow it would not be a river, but a lake or a dry streambed. ... There is a sense, then, in which a river is a remarkable kind of existent, one that remains what it is by changing what it contains."

So consider again:
di\j e0j to_n au)to_n potamo_n ou)k a2n e0mbai/hj
--not a statement about how things are ("You do not step into the same river twice"), or a modal claim about impossibility ("You cannot step into the same river twice"). Rather, it's a claim about what we might try to do, but can't succeed in doing. As such it invites a response.

Suppose someone were to tell you: "You simply are unable, try as you might, to step into a river twice." Caveat: as this might mean that one could not step into river B after having stepped into river A, one would have to clarify by adding "the same":
You simply are unable, try as you might, to step into the same river again, once you've stepped in it once.
Bu this sounds strange and arbitrary. "What's keeping me?", you would ask, "You think I can't? Well, here I go...."

And then one gives the reason:
When people do step into the same rivers, different and different streams of water flow.
That is, what you say is (taken altogether):
You would not step twice into the same river;
On those stepping into the same rivers, different and different waters flow.
(When you say this, someone takes to you be saying both that we do not, and that we do, step into the same rivers: 49a.)

Many sayings of Heraclitus have a similar structure: they consist of an initial, extremely paradoxical statement about a particular thing, followed by an statement that is law-like in character, and typically in the plural, giving an explanation of the paradox, e.g.

"Sea is the most pure and the most polluted water;
for fishes it is drinkable and salutary, but for men it is undrinkable and deleterious." (KRS)

θάλασσα ὕδωρ καθαρώτατον καὶ μιαρώτατον.
ἰχθύσι μὲν πότιμον καὶ σωτήριον, ἀνθρώποις δὲ ἄποτον καὶ ὀλέθριον

"And as the same thing there exists in us living and dead and the waking and the sleeping and young and old;
for these things having changed round are those, and those having changed round are these."

ταὐτό τ' ἔνι ζῶν καὶ τεθνηκὸς καὶ τὸ ἐγρηγορὸς καὶ καθεῦδον καὶ νέον καὶ γηραιόν·
τάδε γὰρ μεταπεσόντα ἐκεῖνά ἐστι κἀκεῖνα [πάλιν] μεταπεσόντα ταῦτα

"Things taken together are wholes and not wholes, something which is being brought together and brought apart, which is in tune and out of tune;
out of all things there comes a unity, and out of a unity all things."

συλλάψιες ὅλα καὶ οὐχ ὅλα, συμφερόμενον διαφερόμενον, συνᾷδον διᾷδον·
καὶ ἐκ πάντων ἓν καὶ ἐξ ἑνὸς πάντα

"God is day night, winter summer, war peace, satiety hunger, [all the opposites, this is the meaning];
he undergoes alteration in the way that fire, when it is mixed with spices, is named according to the scent of each of them."

ὁ θεὸς ἡμέρη εὐφρόνη, χειμὼν θέρος, πόλεμος εἰρήνη, κόρος λιμός [τἀναντία ἅπαντα· οὗτος ὁ νοῦς],
ἀλλοιοῦται δὲ ὅκωσπερ πῦρ, ὁπόταν συμμιγῇ θυώμασιν, ὀνομάζεται καθ' ἡδονὴν ἑκάστου


Anonymous said...

In a Cratylean fashion, allow me to point to Mary Margaret MacKenzie's 'Heraclitus and the art of paradox', Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 6 (1988), pp. 1-37.

There she seems to develop the ideas you express here, viz., that we need not take only one river fragment as authentic (in fact, she argues fot the authenticity of the three), and also that Heraclitus always repeats the pattern of expressing a paradox (a point commonly accepted), but also of explaining, or resolving it. (The examples she uses, though, are a bit different from yours, I'm afraid.)


Michael Pakaluk said...

I'd be quite pleased if my thought had coincided with MM's.

Thanks for the reference. I'll have a look.


JIW said...

The plural 'potamoisi' not only allows a nice Heraclitean jingle as the first four words of the phrase rhyme. Also, isn't it possible to see it generating interesting syntactical ambiguities (as I think Kahn notes), since it is not absolutely certain whether 'autoisin' agrees with the rivers or with the steppers? The identity of the steppers seems to be the focus of B49a, genuine or not.

Michael Pakaluk said...

Dear James,

For the reasons you cite, with which I agree, and also for others that Graham recounts, I would want to count fr. 12 as genuine. Even Vlastos at the end hesitates; he excludes it but only with great regret. But there is something, still, that I don't 'like' about it, which gets remedied sufficiently, in my view, if we simply place it second.

The ambiguity in autoisin, I agree, is especially nice, as it seems to make us slip away as much as the waters in the river. (Catherine Osborne had found the same thing suggested in panta chōrei.)