Brann begins with an image of Heraclitus drawn from Raphael’s The School of Athens — a brooding, withdrawn figure the artist has placed off-center in the lower foreground. Every other figure in the painting is engaged in active communication. Heraclitus alone appears silent, withdrawn. Brann calls him an “engaged solitary, an inward-turned observer of the world” and describes his writing — “the first of philosophical genres, the thought-compacted aphorism” — as “prose that could contend with poetry” (4). In this regard, it is perhaps appropriate that the one remaining fragment of Parmenides is a poem. What remains of Heraclitus is 131 fragments embedded in a variety of texts varying in purpose as well as in proximity. There is remarkable diversity in how Heraclitus has been read, and there is no consensus on how the bits and pieces that have been gathered from diverse sources fit together. Brann is confident that Heraclitus did not write in fragments or set out to be obscure. But he does appear to have delighted in paradox and (as Raphael’s painting suggests) a terse indirection that has always given readers pause. The one thing that is not in dispute about the meaning is that “logos is Heraclitus’s key word” (6). How appropriate that this key word is virtually untranslatable.
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