Panta Rhei

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The formula panta rhei ( ancient Greek πάντα ῥεῖ 'everything flows' ) is an aphorism traced back to the Greek philosopher Heraklit , suggested by Plato (in the dialogue “ Kratylos ”), but literally first appearing in the late ancient Neo-Platonist Simplikios to characterize the Heraclitic doctrine. This formulaic summary of the thoughts of Heraclitus was already in use in Augustan times. Its Latin translation (cuncta fluunt ) can be found in the 15th Book of Metamorphoses in the “Speech of Pythagoras ”, in which Ovid explains the natural philosophical foundation of his metamorphoses.


In his characterization of the cosmological theory of Heraclitus, Plato combines some of Heraclitus' best-known tenets - especially: (" Pánta chorei kaì oudèn ménei Πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει ", "Everything moves and nothing remains.") - with "all sorts of ancient wisdom, Of course, about Kronos and Rhea , whom Homer also told us ”. He assumes that the name of the titan Rhea can be traced back to the meaning "flow".

In literal form, the phrase is first found in Simplikios (* around 490; † around 560), a late antique commentator on the writings of Aristotle .

Flow theory

In essence, the phrase in the theory of the river represents a not inaccurate, yet shortened interpretation of Heraclitus' statements. It is supported by the so-called "river fragments" in which Heraclitus compares being with a river:

"If you step into the same river, different and different water flows to you."

"We step into the same river and yet not into the same, we are and we are not."

"You can't step into the same river twice."

Philosophical classification

The river doctrine is to be understood in connection with Heraclitus doctrine of the unity of all things :

"Connections: whole and not whole , coming together and diverging, harmony and discord and from all one and from one all."

Plato's quotation Pánta chorei kaì oudèn ménei is the most succinct formulation of the river theory of Heraclitus, which says: Everything flows and nothing remains; there is only an eternal becoming and walking. In contrast to Heraclitus itself, the focus here is on the aspect of becoming and passing away. In the tradition of the Platonic school , but also in numerous more recent interpretations (e.g. in Holderlin and Hegel ), the teaching of Heraclitus appears only as one of growth and decay. According to Nietzsche , it is essentially a concept of the "affirmation of the offense".

On the other hand, according to the theory of flow, the primary world experience lies in the constant change of metabolism and form. It is a metaphor for the processuality of the world. Being is the becoming of the whole. Accordingly, being is not static, but can be grasped dynamically as eternal change. But behind and at the same time in the incessant flow stands unity: unity in multiplicity and multiplicity in unity. Karl-Martin Dietz interprets the theory of the river as a reference to Heraclitus to the world of the constant common.

Reception at Goethe

In the poem duration Goethe referred directly to Heraklit in alternation :

With every downpour
your lovely valley changes
Oh, and in the same river
you do not swim a second time

Eternal change is also the subject of his poem One and All :

It should move, act creatively.
First shape itself, then transform.
Only apparently moments stand still.
The eternal moves on in all.
Because everything has to disintegrate into nothing
if it wants to persist in being

See also


Individual evidence

  1. Ovid, Metamorphoses 15.178.
  2. Ovid, Metamorphoses 15.60–479; Franz Bömer refers in his commentary to P. Ovidius Naso, Metamorphoses XIV-XV. Commentary by F. Bömer. Heidelberg 1986, p. 176 ff. To this point on the πάντα ῥεῖ of Heraclitus , which in turn "passed into the Stoa, the New Pythagoreanism and the popular philosophy."
  3. Kratylos 402A = A6; quoted from the edition by Gernot Krapinger, Reclam: Stuttgart 2014, p. 71.
  4. ^ Hermann Diels : Simplicius, In Aristotelis physicorum libros quattuor posteriores commentaria . Reimer, Berlin 1895 (reprint: De Gruyter 1954), ( Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca 10) p. 1313.
  5. On the problem of river theory and the river fragments see Christof Rapp : Vorsokratiker (= Becksche Reihe. Volume 539). 2nd Edition. CH Beck Verlag, Munich 2007, pp. 67-72.
  6. Fragment 12 The fragments of the pre-Socratic , translation after Wilhelm Capelle , Die pre-Socratic , p. 132.
  7. Fragment 49a The fragments of the pre-Socratics , translation after Wilhelm Capelle, Die Vorsokratiker , p. 132; B 49a, however, is only a vague reference to the original text, whereby the entire second part is not authentic; Hero, Heraclitus, Parmenides and the Beginning of Philosophy and Science , p. 326.
  8. Fragment 91 The Fragments of the Pre-Socratics
  9. Fragment 10 DK , translation after Wilhelm Capelle, Die Vorsokratiker , p. 132.
  10. Cf. Störig, Kleine Weltgeschichte der Philosophie , p. 136 with further references.
  11. Karl-Martin Dietz: Heraklit von Ephesus and the development of individuality (= metamorphoses of the spirit. Volume 3). Free Spiritual Life Publishing House, Stuttgart 2004, p. 60.
  12. ^ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Complete Works in 18 Volumes, Volume 1: Complete Poems . Artemis, Zurich 1950, p. 512 f.
  13. ^ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Complete Works in 18 Volumes, Volume 1: Complete Poems . Artemis, Zurich 1950, p. 514.