Heraclitus, Fragment 79 (D 48)


“The bow’s name is life, its deed is death.” (S 48; cp. R, D 48; K 79, L&M D53).

Much is made of of the play on the word bios. It was the ancient word for bow (after Heraclitus’ time distinguished in writing with an accent mark on the second syllable). It also meant life (written without an accent)(cp. Sweet, p. 21; K, p 201ff.; R, p. 111ff). The name of the bow here is identified with a paradoxical purpose. It is used to kill one form of life so that another can be preserved. Like Fragment 78, this fragment again for the Greeks calls for the image of Apollo, the god of war, often depicted with a bow. Apollo, who signifies an ordering principle of the universe, also symbolizes war.

Heraclitus again and again emphasizes the unity of opposites in a greater whole. Here life begets death to beget life, which begets death, which begets life. Opposites are intwined in a process that encompasses both.



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