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The Logos of Heraclitus: Updating the Report

  • Ed. L. Miller (a1)

In 1952 there appeared a short article in Theological Studies entitled “Heraclitus' Alleged Logos Doctrine.” As one may guess from the title, the author, T. F. Glasson, reported to his largely theological audience that the conception of Heraclitus' Logos as a cosmicmetaphysical principle, far from being a possible source for the Logos of the Fourth Gospel, rests upon a gigantic mistake. The truth is, rather, that Glasson's report rests upon a gigantic mistake, as well as several lesser ones. At the very least it does not do justice to a quite different interpretation, an interpretation which, indeed, has become in the meantime the “accepted” one. Our task, also intended primarily for theologians and nonspecialists in pre-Socratic philosophy, is to provide a corrected and updated report, and to make a few observations of our own.

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1 Glasson, T. F., “Heraclitus' Alleged Logos Doctrine,” JTS n.s. 3 (1952) 231–38.

2 Ibid., 232.

3 Ibid., 232–38.

4 The cosmic-principle interpretation is at least as old as the Stoics on the pagan side (cf. the discussion below), and Clement of Alexandria on the Christian side.

5 Burnet, John, Early Greek Philosophy (London: Black, 1892) 133 (note).

6 Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy (2d ed.; 1908) 146 (note).

7 Adams, James, Religious Teachers of Greece (Edinburgh, Scotland: Clark, 1908) 216–18.

8 Letter to Glasson dated August, 1944. The relevant portion of the letter is reproduced by Glasson, “Heraclitus' Alleged Logos Doctrine,” 237.

9 Gigon, O., Untersuchungen zu Heraklit (Leipzig: Dietrich, 1935) 4, 19.

10 Diels, Hermann and Kranz, Walther, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker (5th ed.; Berlin: Weidemann, 1952) 1. sec. 22, B.

11 I take the almost identical genitive clause in Frg. la and Frg. 2b as involving an intended parallelism. Thus the genitive clause in Frg. la is absolute as it is in Frg. 2b, and άϵί in Frg. la no doubt modifies έόντος.

12 Cherniss, Harold, Aristotle's Criticism of Presocratic Philosophy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1935).

13 LSJ, s.v.

14 Guthrie, W. K. C., A History of Greek Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1967) 1. 420–24.

15 Cf. also the articles in TDNT, 4. 71–91, and PW 13. 1035–81.

16 The genuineness of the Epicharmean Fragments has been generally doubted, but for a case recently made for the probable authenticity of at least Fragments 1–6, see my “Critical Analysis of the Philosophical Fragments of Epicharmus” (Ph.D. diss., University of Southern California, 1965) chap. 5. I notice that both Quiring, Heinrich (Heraklit [Berlin: de Gruyter, 1959] 39, 48, 77, 125) and Kurtz, Ewald (Interpretationen zu den Logos-Fragmenten Heraklits [Hildersheim: Olms, 1971] 75 n. 26) cite Epicharmus for the meaning of λόγος without batting an eye.

17 We would venture that the hundred-and-thirty-odd Fragments of Heraclitus provide evidence of the earliest extant “philosophical system.” It is not only possible but natural to divide the Heraclitean Fragments into general blocks dealing with different but always related aspects of Heraclitus' thought; e.g., the Logos-Fragments, the Fire-Fragments, the Flux-Fragments, the Strife-Fragments, and the Unity-Fragments. Of course many Fragments fall into more than one of these categories.

18 I am aware that this begs the question inasmuch as it presupposes a certain meaning of λόγος in Frg. 1, etc.

19 Punctuating with Kirk, G. S., Heraclitus: The Cosmic Fragments (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1954) 307, 311.

20 Reading with Kirk ὅκη for ότέη (Heraclitus: The Cosmic Fragments, 386, 389).

21 Jaeger, Werner, The Theology of the Early Greek Thinkers (trans. Robinson, Edward S.; Oxford: Clarendon, 1947).

22 Ibid., 7–8.

23 Ibid., 116.

24 Freeman, Kathleen, Anelila lo the Pre-Socratic Philosophers (Oxford: Blackwell, 1956) 24.

25 Freeman, Kathleen, The Pre-Socratic Philosophers (2d ed.; Oxford: Blackwell & Motts, 1959) 116.

26 Kirk, Heraclitus: The Cosmic Fragments, 70.

27 Kirk, G. S. and Raven, J. E., The Presocratic Philosophers (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1957) 188.

28 Wheelright, Philip, Heraclitus (New York: Atheneum, 1964) 23.

29 Guthrie, History of Greek Philosophy, 1. 428.

30 Marcovich, M., Heraclitus (Merida, Venezuela: Los Andes University, 1967) 8.

31 Robinson, John Mansley, An Introduction to Early Greek Philosophy (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1968) 95.

32 Hussey, Edward, The Presocratics (London: Duckworth, 1972) 40.

33 Kirk and Raven, Presocratic Philosophers, 188.

34 Timon of Phlius (in Diogenes Laertius 9.6); Cicero De finibus 2.5, 15, etc.

35 I realize that the interpretation of Parmenides' poem is much disputed, but cf. my brief discussion, “Parmenides the Prophet?” Journal of the History of Philosophy 6 (1968) 6769.

36 Guthrie, History of Greek Philosophy, 2. 6. Note also Guthrie's brief note on Heraclitus' “prophetic character” (History of Greek Philosophy, 1. 413–15) and Jaeger's comment on Frgs. 1 and 2: “This is not the language of a teacher and scholar, but that of a prophet intent on rousing men from their slumber” (Theology of the Early Greek Thinkers, 112).

37 Whether Heraclitus actually wrote a book may be irrelevant here. For even if not, one could still argue the connection (in oral tradition) between fragments. There is evidence from the ancients for Heraclitus' “work,” generally called “On Nature". But this is discounted, for example, by Kirk who prefers to speak rather of Heraclitus' “sayings” and who attributes many of the connective particles in the Fragments to later sources (Heraclitus: The Cosmic Fragments, 7).

38 Cf. (1) the almost identical genitive absolutes, τοῦ δέ λόγου τοῦδ' έόντος άϵί (Frg. 1), and τοῦ λόγου δ' έόντος ξυνοῦ (Frg. 2); (2) the parallelism between the Logos which is eternal (έόντος άϵί) (Frg.l), and the Logos which is universal (ξυνοῦ) (Frg. 2); and (3) the parallelism between the men who are ignorant (άξύνϵτοι) of the eternal Logos (Frg. 1), and those who have a private understanding (ίδίαν ϕρόνησιν), of the universal Logos (Frg. 2).

39 Guthrie, History of Greek Philosophy, 1. 425.

41 Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy, 2d ed., 146 (note).

42 It is a common judgment of pre-Socratic scholars that, as was mentioned earlier, Burnet's interpretation of Heraclitus as well as his treatment of the pre-Socratics as a whole suffered too much from an anti-metaphysical bias.

43 Barnes, Jonathan, The Pre-Socratic Philosophers (2 vols.; London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979).

44 Ibid., 59.

45 For a short but useful summary, see Manson, T. W., On Paul and John (ed. Black, Matthew; London: SCM, 1963) chap. 4. For a summary bibliography on the Prologue generally, see Brown, Raymond E., The Gospel According to John: I-XII (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966) 3637.

46 We do not raise here the question of the authorship of the Fourth Gospel and my references to “John” are to be taken as shorthand for the Evangelist, whoever he was. For a recent discussion of this question see Cullmann, Oscar, The Johannine Circle (trans. Bowden, John; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976) Appendix 1.

47 Cf. Clement of Alexandria Stromata, passim.

48 Justin Martyr Apology 1.46.

49 Examples: Sanders, J. N., The Gospel According lo St. John (ed. Mastin, B. A.; New York: Harper & Row, 1968) 6869; Barrett, C. K., The Gospel According to St. John (London: SPCK, 1955) 127; it is interesting, however, that in the 2d ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978) Barrett adds that “early philosophical use of λόγος is questionable; it is probably wrong to claim that Heraclitus had a ‘logos-doctrine’ …,” and cites Glasson's article (152).

50 Kranz, Walther, “Der Logos Heraklits und der Logos des Johannes,” Rheinisches Museum fur Philologie n.s. 93 (1950) 8195.

51 Ibid., 88.

52 This is somewhat of a variation of Kranz's list (“Der Logos Heraklits und der Logos des Johannes,” 89–90).

53 This of course requires taking άϵί with έόντος rather than with άξύνϵτοι.

54 καταλαμβάνω (here a gnomic aorist κατέλαβϵν) can mean both to seize, overpower, etc. and to grasp with the mind and thus to understand.

55 Kranz, “Der Logos Heraklits und der Logos des Johannes,” 92. It is revealing that Kranz refers to Bultmann as “der heute beste Kenner des Johannesevangeliums” (93).

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