Heraclitus, Fragment 5 (D 71-73)


“Men forget where the way leads … And they are at odds with that with which they most constantly associate. And what they meet with every day seems strange to them … We should not act and speak like men asleep.” (here K 5; cp. WF 8, DK B72)

“Although intimately connected with the Logos, men keep setting themselves against it.” (W 64)

Kahn’s longer quotation here includes a broader section of the text from Marcus Aurelius, from whom we have this fragment. The longer quote repeats two recurring metaphors: it speaks of a way; and again of those who are asleep.

The reference to the way underscores that, in Marcus Aurelius’ depiction, we are also dealing with a process here. Is it the unfolding of the logos in the world. People traverse a path. But to where does it lead? Those spoken of here don’t know: they exist aimlessly. The ordinary people discussed here are sleeping, which as Heraclitus often indicates, means that they are not awake to the universal law or common purpose. As is stated here, while these people do not know where the path leads, it isn’t that they have never known. The indication is that they have forgotten, which of course implies that they once knew. Is Marcus Aurelius here hinting a theory of remembrance like that developed by Plato?

The second sentence in Kahn’s translation provides the core of the statement, as also offered by the other translators: those of whom Heraclitus is speaking are at odds with that with which they associate. In line with Marcus Aurelius’ longer quote, those who know where the way leads would apparently exist in harmony with that with which they most constantly associate–that is, they would be in harmony with the Logos, which permeates all, which guides all things.

The ordinary people spoken of here are those who have elsewhere been said to have heard the words of the logos, of the principle, but not to have understood them (F 1). These are also the same individuals who remain asleep. The common Logos, with which we are daily in contact, remains strange to them. Living for individual purposes, they do not acknowledge the common purpose that unites individuals.

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