Heraclitus is notorious for his "obscure" and distinctive style. Many readers seem to love it or hate it. Heraclitus' stylistic devices include metaphor, simile, aphorism, pun, word play, allusion, riddles, rhythm, and sound.
Examples of puns and word plays:
Fr. 65, p. 30 plays upon the word bios (life), accent on the first syllable, and bios (bow), accent on the second syllable.
Fr. 48, p. 31 plays upon the phrases "xun noi" (with nous or intelligence) and "xunoi" (in common).
Fr. 23, -. 27 plays upon the term "haptetai" which can mean "touch" or "kindle" as in "kindling a light".
Some readers, like Jonathan Barnes, seem to suggest that Heraclitus' seemingly oracular sayings simply paper over his out-and-out contradictions. In short, Heraclitus is "fundamentally inconsistent". For an interesting discussion of whether Barnes' charge can be answered, see Timm Triplett, "Barnes on Heraclitus and the Unity of Opposites," Ancient Philosophy 6, pp. 15-23.
Someone who admires Heraclitus; style and offers a useful reference on it is Charles Kahn, The Art and Thought of Heraclitus. Kahn writes, "Heraclitus was a great prose artist, one of the most powerful stylists not only of Greek antiquity but of world literature" (Art and Thought, p. ix).
Kahn articulates three key assumptions about Heraclitus' style (p. 89): It manifests linguistic density, resonance, and ordering. He explains these as follows:
linguistic density: a multiplicity of ideas are expressed in a single word or phrase;
resonance: a single verbal theme or image is echoed from one text to another, so that their meaning is enriched when they are understood together;
ordering: ordering the fragments has some sort of linear effect, leading from one point to another, as a plot leads through action to a climax.
Heraclitus is an Ionian by geographical location, but is he an Ionian if by that we mean to designate a natural philosoher who proposes a physical arche for the universe? That is, is fire akin to Thales' water?
No: Marc Cohen (See his Heraclitus notes.)
Yes: Cynthia Freeland
My view of Heraclitus is not completely opposed to Professor Cohen's. Perhaps we differ more about the Milesians. He writes, "For the Milesians, what is real is fixed and permanent; change somehow had to be explained away. They understood changes as alterations of some basic, underylying, material stuff which is, in its own nature, unchanging."
While I think there is something new and different going on in Heraclitus in terms of his symbolic or oblique expression of ideas, together with his stern moral imperatives, nevertheless I still find that there are many similarities between Heraclitus' fire and the physical elements chosen by the earlier Milesian thinkers as their archai. I would tend to interpret Thales or Anaximenes as choosing an element that they see as dynamic; water is itself changing (think of rain falling or the ocean swelling in waves), as is air (think of wind or hurricanes!).
rules the cosmos (Fr. 78, 81)
is the very nature of the cosmos (Fr 74)
is exchanged for all other things in a cyclical process reminiscent of the exchange of air or the phases of air in Anaximenes (Fr. 77)
is associated with soul, in a type of physicalist theory similar to those of Thales and Anaximenes, who also associated soul with their primary elements
As Kahn notes, every ordering of the fragments itself is an interpretation of Heraclitus, or the beginning of an interpretation. I find it useful to group the fragments into categories expressing some of his key themes or ideas. Perhaps you will also find it useful to examine fragments in the light of these categories, or perhaps you will want to suggest others of your own.
Three key interpretations of Heraclitean flux:
See G.S. Kirk, "Natural Change in Heraclitus," in The Pre-Socratics: A Collection of Critical Essays, Edited by Alexander P.D. Mourelatos (Anchor Doubleday, 1974).
Key Fragments: River fragments.
Key Fragments: Logos fragments.
Nietzsche, in Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks; (Gateway, 1962).
The Logos IS change; everything IS its opposite.
The meaning of terms is limited; Heraclitus uses language to make a point about the limitations of language. He actually does assert contradictory things in order to make the point that our assertions about reality are meaningless, in that they are too limited to get at what reality is really like.
Nietzsche: "The total value of the world cannot be evaluated."
Key fragments: Justice fragment: Justice and strife constantly shift.
"Changing, it rests."