Heraclitus, Fragment 63 (D 49)


“One man is ten-thousand, if he is the best.” (Kahn, 63; cp. S, R, DK 49, L&M D12)

Various translations personalize this statement. Laks and Mott do so, noting: “One man, for me, is ten-thousand, if he is the best” (D12). Here, they follow Cicero. Based on the fact that the personalization of this is not found in the earliest sources, but only by the time of Cicero, Kahn argues that it is best not to personalize the statement. Heraclitus, in any case, generally isn’t proposing personal views but is making more general truth claims.

The use of the term myrioi (translated ten-thousand here) was characteristically used to mean “innumerable” or “countless” (see Kahn, p. p. 177). But who are the best men, and what differentiates them from the multitude? Bias of Piene, discussed in Fragment 62 is one example of the best. Hermodorus, discussed in Fragment 64, is another. Such rare individuals, as we see in reference to Bias, have better accounts than others. Their views, unlike the ten-thousand, reflect logos.

Robinson mentions the unsavory prospect of interpreting Heraclitus as affirming the status of the aristocracy as superior to that of the masses. Yet that turns on the use of aristos in the text in an unusual manner, as a substantive indicating “noble,” which Robinson notes “is not parallel in the language” and thus not probable (Robinson, p. 112). The main emphasis we have seen in the fragments so far is on the superior thinking of the superior men. This is reflecting the Pre-Socratic focus on theoretical reasoning. We shall later examine the extent to which the superior man will also have a moral superiority.


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