Art and Thought of Heraclitus: A New Arrangement and Translation of the Fragments with Literary and Philosophical Commentary (Edition of the Fragments with Translation and Commentary) Paperback – 12 Jan 2008
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Professor Kahn pieces together the fragments of Heraclitus' thought and finds a philosophy about human existence, a theory of language of multiple meaning and ambiguity, and a vision of life and death. The fragments are presented here in a readable order; translation and commentary aim to make accessible to everyone.
From the Back Cover
Behind the superficial obscurity of what fragments we have of Heraclitus' thought, Professor Kahn claims that it is possible to detect a systematic view of human existence, a theory of language which sees a ambiguity as a device for the expression of multiple meaning, and a vision of human life and death within the larger order of nature.
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Top customer reviews
the author has to be even more astute and painstaking.
For this reason, the editors and acknowledged readers' opinions named in the preface set the benchmark.
The book unravels yet another remarkable mind of an Ancient Greek thinker whose ideas transcend time.
Let me begin by saying that I don't regret paying the high price tag. Kahn's translations of the fragments are most accurate, and in the book he gives you all the linguistic tools you need to work out what you feel is the right meaning for each fragment. So, from this point of view, professor Kahn has done a magnificent job. For his scholarly work in translating the fragments he gets five stars from me. He also shows quite brilliantly which fragments are very likely to be authentic, and why. Kahn points out the fragments' 'linguistic density' and 'linguistic resonance', key conceptions he uses in explaining them. And, in the end, he offers a clear image of Heraclitus' art and though, as the title of the book indicates quite well.
But, and this is a big but, I consider professor Kahn to be utterly blind as to the real meaning of the fragments. Kahn is a scholar of the first rank, but he is fundamentally blind to the spiritual reality of Heraclitus' fragments. It is not that professor Kahn is not logically correct in his analysis, for he is very logical, but he completely misses the mark. What Heraclitus is trying to tell us comes from above and beyond logic. The fragments themselves have the purpose of taking us above and beyond the realm of logical thought, and into the higher realm of intuition. Logic, just like mathematics, has inherent limitations, and they can't be overcome through better or more logic. This is something Gödel has proven, and Einstein, his close friend, firmly believed as well. But both men, true intellectual giants of last century, believed there is a higher way, beyond logic, and above human reason. Heraclitus' fragments have the purpose of bringing us on that way. Their effect is awakening. They lead to more consciousness, not more logic.
And because I felt professor Kahn completely missed the mark with his interpretation of the meaning of the fragments I can only give his book three stars. But, having said that, for anyone who is interested in studying the fragments, and doesn't mind the high price tag, this book is the ultimate tool. For a more spiritual and better interpretation of the fragments' meaning I warmly recommend Richard Geldard's 'Remembering Heraclitus'. Geldard's book offers superb translations of the essential fragments with a far more awakened interpretation of their meaning. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to let the fragments sink into their psyche and do their work.
I hope my review helps, because I didn't actually deal all that much with the fragments themselves in it, but rather presupposed a readership who are acquainted with Heraclitus.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Kahn's approach to the interpretation of Heraclitus is orthodox but sensitive. He appreciates Heraclitus' intentional and artful prose style, including his use of ambiguity and wordplay to create a multiplicity of meanings in many of the fragments. He also gives proper attention to the resonance between fragments, often picking up an echo of a word or image from one fragment while interpreting another.
I enjoyed and learned much from Kahn's commentary, though I would rate his overall success at drawing a systematic Heraclitean worldview from the fragments a limited success at best. In this I think he is surpassed by Roman Dilcher and perhaps M.L. West as well. However, Kahn's command of the ancient material, the secondary literature (in several languages), and the history and culture of the ancient world in general, is truly impressive. His erudition serves the reader very, very well, opening up a wealth of other sources and making connections that only someone with such a mastery of classical and archaic literature can. I would also strongly advise interested folks to hunt down the hundreds of footnotes in his already weighty commentary, as they frequently provide a gem of a comment or an important bibliographical reference.
All in all, this book is essential for any serious study of Heraclitus. Its staying power is testament to Kahn's superb work. I personally feel deeply in Professor Kahn's debt for his fine volume, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this. My one and only complaint has to do with his decision to reorder the fragments and number them with Roman numerals...it's truly and deeply annoying, but if this is the only fly in the ointment, I suppose we can forgive Charles Kahn. A wonderful book.
Here is Wheelwright's translation of Fragment 2 (as numbered in his edition):
"We should let ourselves be guided by what is common to all. Yet, although the Logos is common to all, most men live as if each of them had a private intelligence of his own" (page 19).
Here, in Kahn's Fragment III - yes, he pretentiously numbers the fragments using Roman numerals! - he inexplicably translates Heraclitus's "Logos", a philosophic term of great profundity for which there is no real equivalent in English, with the ridiculous and wholly inappropriate word "account":
"Although the account is shared, most men live as though their thinking was a private possession"
Another example of Kahn's clumsiness and lack of subtlety is found in his translation of Fragment IV:
"Most men do not think things in the way they encounter them, nor do they recognize what they experience, but believe their own opinions."
Contrast the awkwardness of this with the clarity and elegance of Wheelwright's English:
"Most people do not take heed of the things they encounter, nor do they grasp them even when they have learned about them, although they suppose they do" (page 58).
I would also suggest that the more scholarly inclined turn to Thomas McEvilley's The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies where, in Chapter Two, 'The Problem of the One and the Many,' they will find a fascinating treatment of Heraclitus which goes far beyond anything Kahn has to offer. On page 149 of this same book they will find a valuable footnote (92) which will provide them with a good idea of the quality (or lack of it) of Kahn's 'scholarship'.
Readers should also not overlook the startling Amazon review of Kahn by Alcofribas Nasier, 'Look elsewhere', of February 8, 2013, in which they will find mention of two very important editions of Heraclitus, those of M. Marcovich and Serge Mouraviev. I have not had the opportunity to consult these but bibliographical details of both are given below.
As for the general reader who doesn't need the Greek but who simply wants to read an un-annotated English translation of Heraclitus, their needs will perhaps be better served by a book such as Guy Davenport's 7 Greeks which gives an excellent translation of the complete fragments:
Davenport's translations really are superb and the 124 fragments he gives us, which are tragically all that remain of Heraclitus, take up a mere 12 pages of his book. As a bonus, the remainder of '7 Greeks' is devoted to equally fine translations of Archilocus, Sappho, Alkman, Anacreon, Diogenes, and Herondas.
Davenport's Heraclitus is pithy, pungent, and very much to the point:
16. "Awake, we see a dying world; asleep, dreams."
82. "Defend the law as you would a city wall."
97. "Life is bitter and final, yet men cherish it and beget children to suffer the same fate."
107. "Having cut, burned, and poisoned the sick, the doctor then submits his bill."
Another of Davenport's 7 Greeks, Diogenes, was for me a wonderful find and I'm still chuckling over this one:
Diogenes 109. "I've seen Plato's cups and table, but not his cupness and tableness."
For those who would like a little more than a bare translation of the fragments there is also Dennis Sweet's Heraclitus: Translation and Analysis, a much sought-after edition that is happily now back in print. Of it we are told that it "maintains the "flavor" of the Greek syntax as much as meaningful English will allow, and uses more archaic meanings over the later meanings. In the footnotes [Sweet] includes, along with various textual and explanatory information, variant meanings of the most important terms so as to convey some of the semantical richness and layers of meaning which Heraclitus often utilizes."
Finally there is Roger Von Oech's somewhat idiosyncratic though intriguing Expect the Unexpected (or You Won't Find It): A Creativity Tool Based on the Ancient Wisdom of Heraclitus. This book, although offering a selection with commentary of just 30 of Heraclitus's fragments, approaches them in a unique way by suggesting that, when we are confronted with a problem, selecting one at random (using the table provided in the book or a 30-sided die) and thinking deeply about its implications can lead us to new and unexpected solutions.
I decided to try this method out and, amazingly, it worked (although to anyone who has pondered the new understanding of consciousness brought to us by quantum theory it might not seem quite so amazing). After formulating a specific question on which I wanted a fresh perspective and then asking "What do I need to focus on to gain understanding of this problem?" I received in answer Von Oech's Heraclitean fragment #9: "Lovers of wisdom must open their minds to very many things." This resolved a problem that has bothered me for years.
To return to Kahn, the affluent student who simply must own every edition of Heraclitus should by all means acquire his (it isn't completely worthless although his translations read poorly and for a cheaply manufactured paperback the price is outrageous) plus Wheelwright's and Sweet's and also McEvilley who translates and comments on many of the fragments. Others may find Davenport's translations adequate to their needs, somewhat more memorable than Kahn's, and his book better value for money. And for the adventurous there is of course Roger Von Oech.
But whatever you do, you should certainly equip yourself with one or other of these editions. Considering that our philosopher, 2500 years before the advent of Quantum Physics, was able to intuit that "the cosmos is generated not by time but by mind" (Stobaeus, in Wheelwright, p.41) Heraclitus is clearly a thinker it would be unwise to overlook.
Bibliographical details of the Marcovich and Mouraviev editions are as follows:
Marcovich, M. Heraclitus: Greek Text with a Short Commentary. Editio Maior, Merida, Venezuela: Los Andes University Press (1967), 665 pp.
Mouraviev, Serge. Heraclite d'Ephese. Les vestiges, Les fragments du livre d'Heraclite, Les textes pertinents. 3 volumes. Sankt Augustin, Academia, 2006, XXIII, 374; XXVIII, 177; XXXIII, 209 pp. Edition critique complete des temoignages sur la vie et l'oeuvre d'Heraclite d'Ephese et des vestiges de son livre. Troisieme partie. Recensio. 3. Fragmenta Heraclitea. Textes, traductions et commentaire. Volume III.3.B/i: textes, traductions, apparatus I-III (Libri reliquiae superstites. Textus, uersiones, apparatus I-III) / Volume III.3.B/ii: Langue et forme: apparatus IV-V et schemas (Libri reliquiae superstites. Apparatus iV-V: formae orationis) / Volume III.3.B/iii: Notes critiques (Libri reliquiae superstites. Ad lectiones adnotamenta).
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