Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Three New Volumes of Serge Mouraviev's Heraclitea, Part 1

Serge Mouraviev's Heraclitea
Cover of Serge Mouraviev's Heraclitea volume III.3.B/i, published by Academia Verlag
Dear Reader,

I last discussed Serge Mouraviev's magnum opus, Heraclitea, in my blog entry of 27 May 2006. Much to my surprise and in the highlight so far of my blogging endeavor, on 10 February of this year (2007), Mr. Mouraviev himself contacted me by email to thank me for my discussion of his work. He also wanted to add to that discussion:
another very important reason of the difficulty in understanding Heraclitus: the present fashion, very widespread among scholars, to cast doubt on the genuineness and/or credibility of any non corroborated or "suspicious" piece of information. I call this the presumption of guilt and consider it to be the methodological original sin of many a student of Ancient Greek philosophy as such.
I quite agree with Mr. Mouraviev. Any serious effort to understand Heraclitus from the second and third-hand fragments that remain must involve at least two quite distinct phases—analysis and synthesis—and the analysis phase must begin with the gathering of all fragments attributed to him regardless of the analyst's judgment about their authenticity. Mr. Mouraviev is the only Heraclitean analyst to date I have encountered who has done this.

Also very much to my surprise and delight, he arranged to send me review copies of the three Heraclitea volumes published in 2006, all part of section III.3.B of the series (the pertinent texts of the fragments of Heraclitus's book):

Heraclitea Volume III.3.b/i: Texts, Translations, and Materials (ISBN 3-89665-368-7)
Heraclitea Volume III.3.b/ii: Language and Poetics (ISBN 3-89665-369-5)
Heraclitea Volume III.3.b/iii: Critical Notes (ISBN 3-89665-370-9)

Even for someone like me whose French is tres rusty the value of these volumes to the serious student of Heraclitus makes the slow work of translation easily worthwhile. These volumes are concise, systematically organized, and thorough in their exploration of the fragments. This is the most complete collection of Heraclitean fragments I have seen to date, since Mr. Mouraviev includes not only relatively unknown authentic fragments but even every spurious fragment attributed to Heraclitus. He uses a simple three-part ranking system for each fragment to rate (1) the reliability of its attribution to Heraclitus, (2) its fidelity to Heraclitus's text, and (3) its fidelity—if correctly interpreted—to Heraclitus's message.

This is all in French and Greek, except that the first of these three volumes, which translates the fragments themselves, also translates them into English and Russsian. The Greek is presented not only in the form familiar to students of classical Greek (which is actually taught using the bicameral, polytonic Greek alphabet invented by Byzantine scholars in the Middle Ages, and thus only tenuously related to Classical Greek) but also in the actual Classical Greek (unicameral, unspaced form of the words in both Old Ionian and Old Attic) matching as closely as possible the way Heraclitus would have written them; he includes the ancient Greek only for those fragments whose text we can trace back to the Greek. For fragments whose oldest remaining source is Latin, he offers the Latin with translation into polytonic Greek. Where the oldest sources are Medieval Greek, he offers the polytonic Greek but again not the genuine Classical. These choices are exactly what we would expect from a man who in every other way throughout this series shows the most serious concern with doing justice to the material, reconstructing as much as we can fairly reliably do but no more.

The English translations are eccentric and entertaining, set in Medieval blackletter with a King James Bible approach to the language (conspicuous use of "evadeth" and "'twas" and "whate'er" and such). The grammar is spun about because he is opting for a fairly literal translation, tying word order more closely to the original Greek than English grammar can successfully bear; this word order is a legitimate approach as a step between the two languages, but it does not make this the most accessible English translation of the fragments. Clearly the translation to French is his first priority here, but in addition he has indicated that in a separate volume he will make his attempt to synthesize all of this material into as close an approximation as he can of Heraclitus's original work. Given that, it is easy to see that in these volumes his priority in translation is not to bring the reader close to Heraclitus's thought but instead close to the raw fragments as we have them. That is, these volumes are primarily concerned with studying the vestiges.

To be continued in part 2 of this review.

Yours truly,

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