ABSTRACT

In her 2006 article “The Task of the Bow” Carol Poster shows through an analysis of the fragment “For the bow, its name is life but its task is death” that for Heraclitus the instability of the material world also infects language and that investigating the unstable logos—its hidden, double, oblique meanings—discloses this extralinguistic world instability. This article conducts similar analysis of the wordplay in Heraclitus's opening lines, challenging the long-standing debate over the meaning of logos in the first fragment. Through reconsidering the context of Aristotle's references to Heraclitus's paradoxes, this article develops a set of hermeneutic criteria that may be applied to contemporary interpretations of the first fragment. Understood as a paradox, the hidden meaning of this logos must be sought through its primary meaning (speech or discourse), and its fuller interpretation requires an expansion (not contraction) of its possible signification. By such an interpretation, the logos as speech of the first fragment is concomitant with the volatile flux of the material world itself.

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