Heraclitus, Fragment 96 (D 25)


“Greater deaths are allotted greater destinies.” (Kahn, 96; cp. R 25, S 25, DK 25, L&M D122b)

Compare this to Sweet’s rendition: “Greater destinies obtain greater rewards.” Sweet’s translation more clearly aligns with a view that Heraclitus accepts some form of afterlife for the individual soul. However, if Heraclitus does accept such a view of the afterlife, it comes at the cost of consistency with his monism.

To avoid such an inconsistency, I agree with Kahn and Robinson that we might better interpret this in alignment with the heroic ideal prevalent in the Ancient Greek world. As Kahn points out, Heraclitus also expresses ideas consistent with this military ideal, for example, in Fragment 65, where he writes of “fighting for the law as for the city wall.” In alignment with that ideal, posterity will celebrate those who make sacrifices for the civic community and understand, as Heraclitus admonishes us, to “hold fast to what is shared by all” (F 30).

Much is made of the structure of this fragment as well as the word plays in the Greek. The terms for “deaths” and “destinies,” as rendered here, are near synonyms in Greek. Moroi is translated variously as “death” or “destiny”; moiras is translated as “destinies” or “reward.” As Kahn notes, the terms are “masculine and feminine noun formations from the root meiromai ‘to receive one’s share'” (K 231). Each of the first four words of the Greek begin with the same letter. The final word is lanchanousi, a word with a meaning very similar to moroi and moira, often translated as “(receive as) ones share or potion” (K 231). For more details on the Greek, see Kahn.

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