Volume 23, Issue 2, Spring 2019
Jessica Elbert Decker
How to Speak Kata Phusin
Magico-Religious Speech in Heraclitus
Heraclitus has often been read through Aristotelian and Stoic paradigms that do not contextualize his text in the poetic tradition with which his fragments engage. This paper is a close study of Heraclitus’s DK 1 as a demonstration of his poetic methods, and argues that Heraclitus’s text is an example of what Marcel Detienne calls magico-religious speech. Heraclitus’s logos is a living thing, not only words but ‘works,’ as Heraclitus refers to his logos in DK 1, using the Homeric formula “words and works.” Heraclitus’s teaching is experiential, and depends on memory as the antidote to oblivion and forgetting, often associated with sleeping and death. In reading DK 1 and following the paths that it traces to other fragments, Heraclitus’s teaching as a method of escaping the private world (idion kosmos) is revealed.