Heraclitus, Fragment 42A (D 100) 42B (M p.344)


42A Plutarch: [The sun is overseer and sentinel, of cycles, for determining…changes and ‘seasons which bear all things’ according to Heraclitus.] (K 42A)

42B Plutarch: [The year contains in itself beginning and end together of ‘all things which seasons bear and earth brings forth’.] (K 42 B; for both A  and B, cp. D, S 100, and R below)

[The sun … shares with the chief and primal god the job of setting bounds to … (the) changes and] seasons that brings all things, [according to Heraclitus] (R 100)

There has been long dispute about what of this is written by Heraclitus, or whether it may in part constitute a quote by Heraclitus, used for some purpose we don’t know (cp. Kahn, pp. 155ff. and Robinson, 147).

In the one rendering the sun oversees the cycles. In the other, it, together with a god shares the job of doing so. Kahn, however, too points out that in the context of the quote from Plutarch a collaborator in this process is viewed as the ‘first and sovereign god’ (see K 155). Yet, Heraclitus appears to have a demythologized view of the gods. He does not point to personal forces but to a rational order. In the segment in Plutarch from which the fragments come Plutarch is discussing Plato’s view of time in the Timaeaus as consisting of regular cycles. Heraclitus  accepted that the seasons occur at regularly ordered intervals.

Heraclitus here draws attention to law-like character of the cosmos and the passing of time. In the cycle of time the seasons work in cohort with the plant and animal world. Here, the discussion is what is brought forth. But of course, just as the year contains a beginning and end, so do the things brought forth. We are witness to a process of beginnings and endings, of things brought forth and eventually perishing — all part of a well-ordered temporal process. As one cycle of the year draws to a close, a new one begins. Things change, but they do so according to a cosmic rational pattern.

In our own age we have now become aware that even human action can affect the patterns of the seasons. Various indigenous cultures speak of the acceleration of the seasons. Winter now moves faster as summer encroaches earlier and earlier. Things do change. There is an interconnection between the seasonal environmental shift and the emergence of patterns of plant and animal life. But it is less determined than Heraclitus envisioned.

In the Anthropocene we’ve now to understand not only the causal lines between seasons, plants and animals, but the causal lines of humans to the entire earth system. Ends and beginnings are interlinked. Free human action exudes an affect on these that Heraclitus could not have imagined.

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