Heraclitus, Fragment 78 (D 51)


“They do not comprehend how being at variance it agrees with itself: it is a harmony turning back upon itself like a bow and a lyre.” (S 51; Cp. R and D 51, K 78).

The word for variance is diapheromenon. It is also translated as “quarreling” or “differing from.” This quote is taken again to emphasize the underlying strife out of which harmony emerges. Harmonie¬†is sometimes translated as “fitting together.” It can also mean “attunement” (R p.115). Here there is a dual analogy, one with bow, used in war and hunting, one with music. Both were symbols for Apollo, often depicted with a bow or with a lyre. Sweet notes that in the Illiad Homer uses the term to signify the agreement among those who are hostile. In Hesiod, it is the offspring of Aphrodite (love) and Ares (conflict) (S, p. 23; cp. K, p. 196).

Conflict in the cosmos is clear to us. However, wisdom requires that we see the unity emergent from it — that day and night constitute a whole, that the seasons, with their opposing characteristics comprise a year, that the elements dissolve one into another as over time things change. The harmony of the universe is not a harmony without tension. It is a harmony out of tension. Strife will not pass away, and tension will not fade. The unity of the cosmos is built from such strains and conflicts. Those who possess logos can see the emergent unity from such variance.

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