6 - MM McCabe on Heraclitus

Posted on 31 December 2010

Peter's colleague Professor MM McCabe joins him in the first interview of the series of podcasts, to talk about Heraclitus.



Further Reading

MM McCabe (as MM MacKenzie), "The Moving Posset Stands Still: Heraclitus fr. 125," American Journal of Philology 1987, 542-55


emiliano 23 November 2011

Hi, I really enjoyed the podcast of MM McCabe on Heraclitus. I want to ask you if you could please send me the passage in Greek and the new translation of fragment B.125 or tell me where can I look for the information on it. Thank you and keep on with the good work.

Hi there,

She actually published her discussion of this in the article I cite on this page, in the "further reading." But her reading is as follows:

ο κυκεων ισταται κινουμενος

Thus, "the barley drink, stands, moving" (i.e. so long as it stays in motion you still have a properly mixed drink, but if it isn't moving it separates)

She got to this by emending διισταται ("separates") to ισταται ("stands"), previously it would have said "the barley drink separates when moving" which doesn't make sense, so later editors had instead inserted μη to get "the barley drink separates when not moving." Her much more elegant emendation produces something that makes sense and is quintessentially Heraclitean!


Kenneth Keenan 27 January 2012

Hi Peter,

Absolute catcher-upper, thanks so much for this resource. In uni it was all exam- focussed, so I actually retained very little. That said, I studied in Maynooth, in Ireland, so I am NOT looking forward to re-dismissing Aquinas! :-)

Peter Adamson 27 January 2012

In reply to by Kenneth Keenan

Dear Kenneth,

Thanks, I'm glad you find it helpful. I'll take that as a challenge to make you find Aquinas interesting... in about 3 years when I get to him, that is!


Charles Herdy 20 June 2012

In reply to by Kenneth Keenan

Kenneth's observation rings true.

One learns more from philosophy when it is the subject of learned discourse, rather than examination. Coursework examinations seem counterproductive to a true education.

Heraclitus might suggest, "Education fails through examination!"

Where I work, testing is all the rage.  And yet people are lacking in a lot of knowledge, creativity, and critical thinking.  I agree with you!

SteveRR 17 March 2013

I thoroughly enjoyed this podcast and indeed the entire series so far.
I am doing a paper on Nietzsche's use of Heraclitus' form of the aphorism in his (Nietzsche) early and later periods.
I was struck by her argument that each aphorism contains an argument and often a resolution - I think N. might have been drawn to this as well.
Has she published anything on this thesis? I was unable to find anything at the university databases?
Thanks for any consideration and thanks so much for this series.
After reading his book so many times it was delight to here 'S' of the famous KRS!

Bob 17 March 2013

The series is a good review of philosophy. Thanks for the work to produce it! I felt somewhat dissatisfied after this segment. It seems we know so little about Heraclitus that everything said in the podcast is very speculative. And further the idea seemed to be that if you do not understand one of the aphorisms then rewrite it to state something you can understand.

TD 3 February 2014

So I suppose Heraclitus is enslaved and emancipated through clear ambiguities . He really had no choice but to speak in contradictions since otherwise he'd refute himself within the the ever changing unchanged One.

I'm beginning to realize how my favourite, Plato, might have misinformed me about Heraclitus.

Dick Costner 15 February 2015

Whether or not Heraclitus had this in mind, I find a profound truth that at 84 never occurred to me; namely, every day is different; every person we meet is not the same as he was yesterday. We do ourselves and others a great injustice in assuming that we feel the same, believe the same, see things the same, as we did yesterday. Even the words we use mean something different today than they did yesterday, and the words mean one thing to us and another to our hearers and readers. 

Charles 24 February 2015

In reply to by Dick Costner

Nicely put, thanks for posting.

laura 30 October 2015

How do you spell the word you referred to from fragment 125 (that describes the Greek "salad dressing like" / emulsion drink (oil/wine/cheese +/- grain))? What does it look like?

Ulysses 10 February 2016

I don't have anything else to say , but thank you for all of this wonderfull podcasts



jp 5 April 2017

anytime i hear or read someone's interpretation of h., i come back and listen to this [and the previous podcast] for refreshment. of course, coming in with new knowledge and experiences, the podcast is different each time. thanks for all the knowledge you make available freely, even if the credentials are expensive [writing from usa].

Peter Adamson 6 April 2017

In reply to by jp

What could be a more appropriate experience for Heraclitus! Thanks, that's very kind of you, I'm glad you enjoy the series.

Robin 27 September 2017


    This is brilliant. I so appreciate your talks. It's a wonderful review from college philosophy courses and so much more - so much clearer. Maybe I am ready to hear now!

Question: I know this isn't related to philosophy, but I was wondering if the philosophers of the ancient Greek world were exposed to, familiar with, engaged in the Eleusinian and Orphic Mysteries and if so, whether it influenced their ideas?  Thank you.

Thanks, glad you like the series! The answer is yes but for that (at least, solid textual evidence) we need to wait until a bit later on in antiquity. The Neoplatonists discuss orphic material in some detail, like Proclus for instance.

Avel 17 May 2018

I am using your Podcasts and the works of Copleston to get a comprehensive understanding of the history of philosophy. I studied philosophy for my undergraduate, but the courses were too sporadic. It's difficult to remember the heat felt convictions of the philosophers and the arguments that came before them if you don't have any history. I find that Podcasts such as this one create a web of philosophers and their ideas. 

Thank you! I can't wait to keep learning.  

Background 5 November 2019

This idea of opposites (that the road is both up and down at the same time, that the seawater is both bad for humans and good for fish at the same time) is quite similar to the Muslim scholar, mystic, poet and philosopher Ibn Arabi. He writes in his Wahdat ul Wujud (unity of existence) that the term 'wujud' to refer to God as the Necessary Being. He also attributes the term to everything other than God, but he insists that wujud does not belong to the things found in the cosmos in any real sense. Rather, the things borrow wujud from God, much as the earth borrows light from the sun. The issue is how wujūd can rightfully be attributed to the things, also called "entities" (aʿyān). Ibn Arabi declares that wujūd belongs to God alone, and, in his famous phrase, the things "have never smelt a whiff of wujud." From the point of view of tashbih, he affirms that all things are wujūd's self-disclosure (tajalli) or self-manifestation (ẓohur). In sum, all things are "He/not He" (howa/lāhowa), which is to say that they are both God and other than God, both wujud and other than wujud. So in this sense the creation is existent and non existent at the same time.
Do you think Ibn Arabi would have developed his philosophy based on Heraclitus'?

You're doing a great job, I'm new to philosophy so I'm ever more enthusiastic in sharing my thoughts with others and welcoming theirs. :)

Right, I can see why you make that connection. But I think there is no historical connection, as far as I know Ibn Arabi would have had no way of knowing the fragments of Heraclitus.

Jonathan Dalton 17 December 2021

I like aphoristic philosophers, exposing their thought and leaving it out their for challenge. There is something incomplete that invites a challenge.

Jonathan Dalton 17 December 2021

I think he is dealing with Time, changes over time.


The river is flowing, it is comprised of H20 all the time, but they are different molecules of H20. The reference is to the replacement by the old with the new of the same, which is how change occurs over time.

x 10 May 2023

Does Heraclitus think of fire as an object, or as a subject?

Peter Adamson 10 May 2023

In reply to by x

Maybe you could explain what you understand by the terms? But if what you mean is "subject" in the sense of a subject of experience or cognition, then actually it may be that fire can be a subject because it seems to be associated with life or "soul" in his thought. 

Thank you, yes I mean subject as an experience.

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