Re: Still on the Logos?

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sun Oct 12 1997 - 07:23:48 EDT

At 4:03 AM -0500 10/12/97, Peter Phillips wrote:
>Just a little query to our Classics experts. I can't actually remember
>much mention in Heraclitus of the soul. I did PreSocratics during my first
>Classics degree and it would seem that Heraclitus did not mention souls at
>all. In fact he seemed quite a-animistic!!! Wasn;t logos simply the
>balance of the universe?
>Pete Phillips
>he with clouded memory of undergraduate days

Now, if you are probing memories of books and memories "heard and unheard,"
you are advancing from the first to the third degree ;-) Heraclitus was
termed by the ancients SKOTWDHS, an epithet which would appear quite
appropriate to anyone attempting to make sense of all the fragments
collected in whatever edition of Diels-Kranz, _Fragmente der Vorsokratiker_
or Kirk & Raven, _The Presocratics_ one chooses to consult. One of my
favorite Heraclitean fragments is a statement about Apollo that always
seemed to me to say as much about Heraclitus himself: "The lord who rules
over Delphi neither affirms nor denies; he simply points." The fact is that
we have ONLY fragments of Heraclitus, not a single whole treatise, and most
people who know one or two fragments tend to remember best PANTA hREI or
hODOS ANW KATW MIA KAI hH AUTH (the superscription of the first of T.S.
Eliot's Four Quartets), or the one about the impossibility of stepping
twice into the same river. What this means is that one is not that likely
to find a fully consistent interpretation of all the surviving fragments
that is not idiosyncratic. One of the more interesting discussions of
Heraclitus I've ever read was a book by Philip Wheelwright entitled, if I
recall aright, _The Burning Tree_. It is certainly easier to talk about the
LOGOS of the Stoics than to expound a doctrine of the Heraclitean LOGOS. As
I probe my memory I can recall only one or two weird fragments that
actually uses the word YUCH, something like, "For a soul it is death to
become wet" and another, "Dry souls are best." This is not really the forum
to enter into a detailed discussion of Heraclitus, and I don't think I'd
want to venture much further than stating a view that, acc. to H, the soul
that approaches more nearly the cosmic fiery state is better enabled to
grasp the balanced ebb and flow of the universal process, which is
ultimately rational, even if apparently paradoxical in its reconciliation
of opposites. But I think there's an implication here that a cognizant
state of individual human consciousness is attuned to a rational principle
that governs the cosmic process itself, and this, I take it, is the
fundamental notion that is developed so much further by the Stoics.
Finally, "soul" in the sense in which Will was using it, may derive much
more from Platonic usage of the word YUCH than from either the Heraclitean
or the Stoic usage. But "soul" is a word that is itself as difficult to pin
down in terms of a fully intelligible doctrine, and the endeavor to do so
seems to plunge one deeper and deeper into an abyss of metaphoric language.
Now Will may readily believe that "Reality is the best metaphor," but,
however perspicuous that statement may appear to be, I would have to
contend that it comes as close to being Heraclitean as any of the surviving
fragments of the obscure Ephesian thinker himself. And this post,
considering that "Brevity is the soul of something or other," is quickly
losing whatever soul it had.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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