Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“When Herakleitos finished his book on nature and the mind, he put it on the altar of the Artemis of Ephesos, for whatever nature is, we know it first through her knowing eyes, her knowing hands.” These words are spoken by a character in another story in the same book (Tatlin!, 1974), which contains “Herakleitos.” The speaker is also a philosopher, though living in the twentieth century. Guy Davenport, the author, has provided this “footnote” in the later story to emphasize the theme of knowledge. The archaic Herakleitos saw human knowing as a response to the signs, the logos, which nature offers to a man’s senses. For Davenport, what is most crucial is Herakleitos’s ability to have seen and interpreted the world with a clarity and rightness that the most current modern science only restates, albeit with more complexity and an array of technological “proof.” This logos, the speech of the universe, is a constant down through the centuries.

Hence, Knaps’s initiation by Herakleitos proceeds from the master’s first official philosophical pronouncement: “Let us begin by noting that understanding is common to all men.” Why, Herakleitos asks Knaps, should a man act as if his intelligence were private, an extension of his inner self, belonging to him alone? The eyes, nose, ears, hands, nervous system, and brain he uses to know things together constitute an organic structure, marvelous when attuned to the universe of which it is part, but tending frequently to forget its basis in process, the flow of miraculous creation for which the Greeks worshiped Artemis, the giver and sustainer of life’s rich bounty. Whenever a thinker breaks his connection with the logos, Artemis’s voice, he becomes less intelligent, for, as Herakleitos instructs Knaps, “Men are not intelligent . . . the gods are intelligent.”