Heraclitus, Fragment 35

“One would never discover the limits of the soul, should one traverse every road — so deep a measure does it possess.” (Robinson 45)

“You will not discover the limits of the soul by wandering, even if you travel every way–so deep is its logos” (S 45; cp. DF 45, K 35)

“You will not be able to discover the limits of the soul on your journey, even if you walk every path; so deep is the principle it contains” (W 48)

The soul is generally identified with our human (and at times personal) essence. Waterfield interestingly suggests reading this passage against Heraclitus’ statement that “I went in search of myself” (F28). It appears that we are charged with searching for something that we can never fully know. Yet Heraclitus has also said “It belongs to all men to know themselves and to think well” (F41).

The soul is that which endows us with the possibility for thought, with consciousness. So this fragment is also fruitfully read against the Heraclitian aphorism that “thinking is shared by all” or “thinking is held in common” (F31). Such thought, held in common, we have also learned opens us to a law or principle, nourished by the divine law (F30).

How can it belong to us to know this self (F41) if the limits of the soul are so deep, or its principle is so deep, that they can never be discovered? Indeed, how would it be possible to know this self if it is intricately linked to what is common in others and what is shared with the divine mind?

The mind does link us with others. It links us with the past, as ideas that have been developed over history become integrated into the accounts or reports of reality that are part and parcel of the world in which we live and have our consciousness. Is the metaphorical voice of Apollo, the voice that “carries through a thousand years” (F34), a voice to which we, born into our unique historical space and time, still become linked? Does self-knowledge open us to all that?

If so, then any self-knowledge will be very partial. But we might know at least that our own voice, our own account, is tied to an account (or accounts) vast and expanding through time.

Heraclitus of course does not have a developed sense of this soul as part of history. Hegel or, in a less spiritualized form, hermeneuticists will have a greater sensativity to that. But while Heraclitus may not be indicating it clearly, he is also not concealing it. Instead, he is pointing toward it, or giving a sign (F33).

Perhaps the major feature of the soul (of the mind) is its openness, its ability to assimilate, to learn, not only to calculate but to imagine and creatively synthesize. It can travel a myriad of roads and never exhaust itself, never run up against its end, for it is created ever anew. The soul may preserve through time, but in some sense, since its nature is to learn, its nature is to change. Though Heraclitus may at the same time have a view that there is a singular divine mind in which all individual minds participate, from the perspective of individual experience, as a learning, changing being, you will never be the same soul twice.

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