Chance Sweepings, Heraclitus 124

I’ve chose “Chance Sweepings” as the title of what I’m somewhat improbably calling the first volume of my autobiography because (1) it evokes what has been my main means of employment during my prime working years, and (2) suggests something of the shambolic, desultory character of the work itself, which, at least as of this writing, doesn’t go anywhere, and resembles more than anything a sort of collage or pile.

There was also, however, a recollection of a Heraclitus fragment that involved a ‘heap of random sweepings’ and I now see, after a superficial investigation into it, that there is significant dispute about what Heraclitus said and meant. The fragment is 124, which I recall as being something like:

“The most beautiful order in the world is a heap of random sweepings”

(You can find various versions of that translation about) And I’ve always taken it to be a statement that Nature’s order is capable of greater beauty than the sort we humans create (or in terms of human creations, that the unplanned will be the most beautiful, as is sometimes the case, for example, with city blocks). But this paper from 1941 reveals that considerable revision of the source text for the quote (a Theophrastus work) is needed to arrive at that formulation; and that the unrevised version, which says something quite different, makes sense if taken in its context.

I will not give its version of the translation of the quote, which is not nearly so pithy as the above, and which I don’t in fact understand very well, but the paper itself is quite short: Note on Heraclitus, Fragment 124, John B. Mcdiarmid.

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