Aristotle on Heraclitus

Along with various fellow alumni of St John’s College (Annapolis and Santa Fe), I am currently reading Eva Brann, The Logos of Heraclitus (Paul Dry Books, 2011). This may inspire some incidental posts, such as the present one, which considers the same sentence about Heraclitus by Aristotle in three languages, mainly because of the oddity of a published Turkish translation. The oddity is in the treatment of opinion and knowledge. The distinction between them is important in, for example, Plato’s Republic; but I shall not really have anything to say here about the distinction as such.

Miss Brann spends III.A (pages 15–19) considering Fragment 50 (by the Diels reckoning):

οὐκ ἐμοῦ, ἀλλὰ τοῦ λόγου ἀκούσαντας ὁμολογεῖν σοφόν ἐστιν ἓν πάντα εἶναι

(The fragments in Greek, French, and English are available in a pdf document from Philoctetes.) After suggesting translations and interpretations, Miss Brann concludes by observing,

If to be addressed by a voice both from within and from beyond the world is to receive a revelation, then Heraclitus was such a recipient. That would account for an observation that Aristotle makes of Heraclitus somewhat out of the blue—that he was as convinced of what he believed as others are of what they know.

The passage referred to is in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (VII.3.5, 1146b29). Here is the Greek of Bywater’s edition, taken from Project Perseus:

ἔνιοι γὰρ πιστεύουσιν οὐδὲν ἧττον οἷς δοξάζουσιν ἢ ἕτεροι οἷς ἐπίστανται: δηλοῖ δ᾽ Ἡράκλειτος.

The English of H. Rackham is found at the same site:

since some men are just as firmly convinced of what they opine as others are of what they know: witness Heracleitus.

Now the Turkish of Saffet Babür (Klasik Metinleri/01, Ayraç Yayınevi, Ankara, 1998; this edition provides Bywater’s text as well as the translation):

Nitekim kimi kişiler sanı sahibi oldukları şeylere, başkalarının bılgisine sahip oldukları şeylere inandıklarindan hiç de daha az inanmıyor. Herakleitos da bunu bize kanıtlar.

Babür reports that, while translating from Bywater’s Greek text, he compared his work with Italian and German versions.

A slightly more literal English translation of the first part of the Greek might run:

For, some have faith not less in what they opine than others in what they know.

But a literal translation of the Turkish is thus:

For some people, in the things of which they are owners of opinion, believe not at all less than others believe in the things of which they are owners of knowledge.

Some of the awkwardness here is due to the lack of Turkish relative pronouns. Whereas English can have what, Turkish must say the things which or the things that—and there is not really a word for which or that, but rather there is a verb ending corresponding to this.

Still, in the present case, it is not clear why that verb could not have been used directly. It is not clear why the Turkish could not have been, for example, things they know rather than things of which they have knowledge—especially since Turkish has no verb for have, so that the last really has to be spelled out as things of which they are owners of knowledge.

In short, I do not know why the translator did not write

For some people, in the things they opine, believe not at all less than others believe in the things they know

—that is

Nitekim kimi kişiler sandıkları şeylere, başkalarının bıldikleri şeylere inandıklarindan hiç de daha az inanmıyor. Herakleitos da bunu bize kanıtlar.

One Trackback

  1. By Seventh Hill, March, 2013 « Polytropy on May 19, 2023 at 2:35 pm

    […] are bound in red, and the Greek, green. I could have used one of the latter last summer: it was Heraclitus. I bought it now. I also bought the Greek–Turkish dictionary. I already had a copy of this, and […]

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