Heraclitus, Fragment 80 (D 54)


“The hidden attunement is better than the obvious one. “(K 80; cp. R, S 54; L&K D50)

The term kreitton is rendered variously as “better,” “stronger,” “more desirable.”  The word harmonie is translated sometimes as “attunement,” sometimes as “fitting together,” sometimes as “harmony.” The text takes on a compelling meaning if  the latter term is translated as “harmony,” since it brings to mind the Pythagorean view of the harmony of the spheres, which were thought to make a refined music unsensible to the human ear. Here, the harmony of the heavens would be superior to those of earth. Heraclitus again and again emphasizes that the human perspective is limited, the divine superior. Though Heraclitus was quite negative about Pythagoras, he does also emphasize the need to evaluate perspective on the basis of its virtues, not on the basis of who it was that generated the perspective. The hidden harmony (to humans) would be better than the accessible one.

Robinson’s translation is “the unapparent connection is stronger (or better) than the one that is obvious.” We may well see the truth of this statement in some cases. The unapparent connection between a parent and a child may be stronger in most cases than that of two unrelated individuals bound by chains. The hidden love that in optimal cases binds the former would be stronger than the obvious chains that bind the latter. At least, then, in some cases, the unapparent connection would be stronger than the apparent one. Given Heraclitus’ dialectical thinking, we can of course, also see him at pointing to the unapparent ways (to most) that satiety and hunger are joined, or life and death, or illness and health. In each case, a negative term is connected with a positive one in a manner that is seldom apparent to us. But as dialecticians like Heraclitus emphasize, we have to think such terms together, in some sense, since the positive terms can only be understood against the backdrop of the negative ones that they are defined in reference to. The plausibility of this dialectical reading of the “hidden attunement” or “unapparent connection” is strengthened in light of Fragment 81.


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