Heraclitus, Fragment 76 (D 11)


“Every animal is driven to pasture with a blow.” (S 11, Cp. R, D 11, K 76).

Both Robinson and Kahn interpret the text together with fragment 77 (D12) as pointing to a law of necessary intervention in the cosmos. The term nemetai (is driven to pasture) is a cognate of nomos (“law,” accented on the first syllable) with nomos (“pasture,” accented on the second).

Animals, like the cosmos itself, in Robinson’s reading, tend toward inertia. Active intervention is needed to herd animals or, in Robinson’s view to keep the cosmos functioning. Robinson suggests this is true of any closed system. Yet, it seems confused here, since animals are not viewed as closed systems. Still, the view that Heraclitus means for this to apply more generally does make sense, not only given Fragment 77, which we will examine shortly, but also given Heraclitus’ view that “All things the thunderbolt steers” (L&M D82). In the last passage, Zeus, the thunderbolt, appears to be intervening to create order in the cosmos. If this is read literally, rather than figuratively, then the order of the cosmos wouldn’t be entirely self-imposed after all.  The word plege, as Kahn notes, recalls an ancient poetic trope of “the stroke of Zeus” (p. 194).

Yet, this reading also seems to fly in the face of the traditional Hegelian reading that the change of the cosmos is characteristic of the internal order of the cosmos, not imposed upon the cosmos by an external power. Might we not interpret the Thunderbolt metaphorically as indicating an oder of the heavens (the sky) and the earth that is intertwined?

For this particular fragment, it seems more likely to me that Heraclitus is simply asserting that for some important purposes, human intervention is necessary. It is not appropriate to simply allow all things to run their natural course. Rather, in numerous cases good comes from human direction. Human directionality, for it’s part, need not be seen as imposing something foreign on the cosmos, but itself as a relevant activity aligned with cosmic order, perhaps a necessary measure for some necessary and useful forms of order. That said, human action surely is not necessary for all forms of cosmic order. Nonetheless we can see in Heraclitus the roots of some natural law perspective that certain forms of human action ought accord with the cosmic order — that we want to align our action with a higher divine law. The development of techniques of management and human industriousness are not viewed as foreign to the appropriate cosmic order.



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