Christopher's Reviews > Fragments

Fragments by Heraclitus
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's review
Aug 09, 07

did not like it
Read in September, 2005

Heraclitus' FRAGMENTS come here in the original with a facing-page translation by Brooks Haxton that tries to do to the pre-Socratic philosopher what no earlier translator has done, make him a New-Ageish wisdom poet in tune with our modern needs. It is a disastrous experiment, and I cannot recommend it either to students of Greek or readers interested in the pre-Socratics.

The problems here are legion. For one, Haxton doesn't use Diels' numbering scheme, favouring Bywater's dinosaur-era numbers, which means this work is out of touch with most collections of Heraclitus. The Greek typeface used is very idiosyncratic and not conformant to classical norms. But the translation itself is horrid.

A lot of what the reader is getting here simply isn't Heraclitus. Instead of providing a footnote with his opinion on what the fragment may mean in context, as reputable scholars would do, Haxton simply adds content to the translation. Unless he were to look at the translation notes in the back, the average reader would be unaware that much of what he was reading wasn't actual said by the philosopher, but is just one modern translator's opinion. Take, for example, Haxton's rendition of the fragment "Nyktipoloi, magoi, bakchoi, lenai, mustai", which is literally translated "Night-walkers, mages, bacchants, lenai, and the initiated", but which Haxton inexplicably expands to "Nightwalker [sic:], magus, and their entourage, bacchants and mystics of the wine press, with stained faces, and damp wits". One that really takes the cake is 89: "Ex homine in tricennio potest avus haberi," which simply means "A man could be a grandfather in thirty years." Haxton somehow comes up with "Look: the baby born under the new moon under the old moon holds her grandchild in her arms".

This translation is a crime. If you are interested in Heraclitus' thought, try getting a reputable scholarly translation. Dennis Sweet's HERACLITUS: Translation and Analysis (University Press of America, 1995) is quite easily readable and entertaining. Stay far away from Haxton's kookish work.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Charlotte Sofia Thank you. I agree wholeheartedly.

message 2: by Axolotl (new) - added it

Axolotl I wish more people in-the-know would dish on shoddy works in translation. The key here is "dish" as I am grateful that you took the time to explicate exactly what is wrong with this translation/book; it sounds like such a disrespectful piece of work. Thank you!

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