Poiētic Truth (Alētheia) in Archaic Greece: Comparative Anthropology / Heideggerian Intimations

Fragment from the Mosaics of Delos

This essay is focused on gleaning Heideggerian implications from the comparative anthropology of the French historian-classicist Marcel Detienne. Readers outside the academies are perhaps more familiar with another French historian-classicist, employing similar if not identical methods, Jean Pierre-Vernant, who in addition to publishing groundbreaking research on ancient Greek history, culture, and thought (e.g., The Origins of Greek Thought)1 has popularized Greek tragedy and mythology (see, for example, The Universe, The Gods, and Men: The Greek Myths).2 But herein we focus on Detienne’s impressive and dense scholarship, and when exploring his two seminal texts (among others)—The Greeks and Us3 and The Masters of Truth in Archaic Greece4—we learn that his focus is expansive, for he analyzes and synthesizes elements of ancient Greek history, mythology, epic, tragedy, poetry, and the tradition of works produced by the sophists and pre-Socratic philosophers, as well as by Plato and Aristotle.

In this essay, as the title suggests, we adopt a Janus-faced approach to the subject matter, proceeding simultaneously in two directions, ultimately seeking to glean and succinctly elucidate the Heideggerian implications that might be drawn from Detienne’s comparative anthropology, which for the most part remain unsaid and hence lack direct and explicit formulation. However, we acknowledge at the outset that the Heideggerian project we undertake does not fall within the purview of Detienne’s research project. Prior to confronting the emerging presence of Heidegger, we must first come to terms with Detienne’s intricate and expansive interpretation of truth (alētheia) in archaic Greece. It must also be stated that the project to wrest from concealment intimations of Heideggerian philosophy from Detienne’s scholarship is a novel endeavor, for the surprisingly intimate connection between Detienne’s historical and anthropological readings of the ancient Greeks and Heidegger’s later philosophy has yet to be recognized or acknowledged in the field of Continental philosophy.

In direct terms, Detienne’s approach or method to his subject matter (comparative anthropology) is similar, as mentioned, to that of Vernant, who synthesizes, in a manner often considered controversial, the disciplines of philology and cultural anthropology, which produces works that are moreover both hermeneutic and philosophical, and which embrace the view that no text functions in terms of a plenary source of self-contained meaning, composed by a fully autonomous (historically-solipsistic) author. The so-called controversy revolves around the inclusion of elements of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s structural anthropology,5 a move which, as Detienne acknowledges, “Greek scholars hardly dare mention, even to themselves.”

In The Masters of Truth, Detienne considers how ancient language and its essential features, which must be revealed anew through its historical development, give form and structure to a culture, a society, and a unified way of thought-and-life. In other words, he contemplates the intimate and ineluctable connection between word and deed or logos and ergon on a collective, ecumenical level. Detienne’s analyses are deep and labyrinthian and his exploration of the practices of the ancient Greeks, contributing to an understanding of the unique and protean historical meaning their language conveyed for their changing times, relies heavily on etymology.6 He ultimately demonstrates how both radical and subtle, seemingly imperceptible changes to the Greeks’ linguistic practices alter their worldview. To the point, he demonstrates, in a quite compelling manner, how “lexical systems” or “semantic fields” historically evolve and develop within the ancient Greek culture. For our purposes, what is crucial to note is that Detienne traces the transformation of the Greek experience and understanding of and attitude towardalētheia (truth as revelation) in its complicated and unfolding (counter-striving) relationship to lethē (oblivion) and apatē (the divine personification of cunning and deceit). Specifically, he elucidates the dynamic evolution of this agonistic relationship contained in the overarching notion of “truth” as it undergoes transformation from the time of the Archaic Greeks to the Greeks of the Classical age.

The historical-cultural analysis provided by Detienne, to reiterate, is quite involved and detailed. In light of this fact, I have space enough only to distill the essence of its major findings and themes, and then to follow the analysis with several observations, an addendum of sorts, drawn from Detienne’s scholarship which might be related, in a unique and productive manner, to contemporary readings of Heidegger, and specifically to his later philosophy following the so-called “Turn” (die Kehre) (which in non-controversial terms translates to philosophical writings that are post-Being and Time,7 written after 1927, when Heidegger moves beyond the phenomenological [transcendental] ontology of Dasein).8 These observations will undoubtedly be of interest to readers of philosophy and literary criticism concerned with what Heidegger refers to as the primordial “essence of poetry,” Dichtung, which he describes as a mode of “projective saying” that is revelatory (and hence an event of alētheia). Dichtung, Heidegger stresses, is intimately related to the Greek understanding of “deiknumi,” which is indicative of the poetic occurrence of making something manifest through a mode or process of gesturing or pointing.9 And the poet, he contends, in preparing and communicating the sayable, simultaneously brings traces of “the unsayable as such into a world.”10

According to Detienne, alētheia is a revelatory force related to archaic “mythoreligious” forms of life (which are also “magicoreligious”), expressive and inclusive of ambiguity, mystery, efficacy, and even prophecy. Alētheia is traced to and linked exclusively with three key historical archaic figures (Masters of Truth): the poet, the prophetic seer or chiro-mantist, and the king or monarch, expressed in the respective archetypes of Hesiod, Tiresias, and Agamemnon. These figures instantiate archaic truth due to their intimate relationship with the ancient and overarching religious (Holy) powers of Memory (Mnemosynē) and Justice (dikē), which are associated with and expressive of the dynamic counter-striving between alētheia and lethē. The Masters of Truth are situated within the context of this unfolding relationship between alētheia and lethē and strive to act as preservers, tasked with the role of facilitating this relationship of symbiotic counter-striving in and through the thoughts they conceive, works they produce, and deeds they accomplish. Detienne contends that the forces of alētheia and lethē do not so much stand opposed as coexist within the context of a living counter-striving relationship. As far as the relationship between the forces is concerned, then, the picture not dissimilar to Heidegger’s ontological view of the counter-striving (Riss) between world and Earth,11 nor to Nietzsche’s metaphysical/psychological view of the interplay (tragic-dance) between the aesthetic forces of the Apollonian and Dionysian.12

Although a detailed critique of the ideas I have thus described cannot be pursued,13 it is worth briefly mentioning a few problems inherent to such views grounded on the interplay or counter-striving between “opposites,” stressing the notion of absolute identity emerging from the clash of opposites, whether in relation to truth, Being, or art.14 This critique may legitimately be applied to certain aspects of Detienne’s analysis of truth, despite his claims regarding the “non-adversarial” relationship and interdependency between alētheia and lethē, because his interpretation tacitly harbors elements of the Hegelian dialectic, and this has been argued to be problematic by post-modern, post-structural strains of interpretation, which includes radical hermeneutics.15 Dialectic is one of the outcomes of the “totalizing axiomatics of philosophy,” in Derrida’s terms, or the drive for logical consistency and coherence, the will to categorical unity.16 For Derrida, this view seeks to declare that a totalizing view of human existence might be produced dialectically and understood in a way that closes off the possibility for any excess or remainder, which is to say, difference and antinomy are excluded. This represents the dialectic production of what all critical thinkers should approach with a healthy dose of skepticism, namely, the establishment of philosophical grand narratives. In direct relation to Hegel, this is categorized by Derrida as the interpretive move to categorize thought, truth, or history as progressing, unfolding in a determinate cycle, through Aufheben (sublation or “cancelling-out”), toward the production of a totalizing explanation of the telos of Being, substance, essence, God, or absolute consciousness—the transcendental subject.

To briefly extend this line of thought, Derrida’s notion of différance seeks to undermine dialectic stability and certainty, which in a crucial move places the emphasis on the instability of all interpretations, for language is viewed as an ever-changing interweaving and comingling of differences in highly unpredictable ways.17 Thus, Derrida stresses flux, change, and transitoriness over the sense of stability and permanence. Ultimately, what this post-modern critique of the totalizing effect of dialectic thought is seeking to accomplish, to be direct and succinct, is the undermining of all such views that seek totalizing explanations (dialectic or otherwise) for the complexity and unpredictable nature of the human’s life and world. This critique is grounded in the acknowledgement and understanding that there is no sub specie aeternitatis or God’s eye view (universal perspective) from which to peer down, survey the scene, as it were, in a way that situates us outside of our “lived” and involved interpretive activities. Such a God’s eye view would be required if we were to state with certainty that this is how the world worlds, or unfolds, as either Being or Becoming, or the counter-striving, dialectic interplay thereof.

Detienne argues that the poets and diviners have privileged access to alētheia through their relationship to Holy Memory and the Muses, both of which are indicative of the trans-temporal power, the mantic ability, to envision and experience the simultaneity of past, present, and future. Detienne argues that the poet, in communion with divine forces, experiences an ecstatic (ek-stasis) moment of standing out (transcendence). Within a poetically-inspired mode of enraptured attunement that transcends time itself, as an event of trans-temporality, a moment that Detienne labels “Kairos-time,” which transcends chronological time, the poet stands out and beyond everyday modes of existence. The kings, in their relation to the gods, for example, Zeus or Nereus (The Old Man of the Sea), are human (god-like) dispensers of Justice (dikē) and also imbued with Holy insight into the cosmological nature of things, for Justice also instantiates the primordial or archaic experience of alētheia, and so it too is oracular and divinely inspired. Detienne contends that kings such as Minos and Agamemnon “embody a mantic power whose wisdom the ancients always praised and whose ‘pronouncements’ [were] preserved and passed on,” and their mandated decrees were inspired by the guiding and revelatory light of alētheia, drawing the power of legitimacy from the heavens (Ouranos).

It is possible to understand Detienne’s analysis of the radical alteration of the Greeks’ relationship to alētheia by examining the thought and practices of both the sophists and the philosophers. (Here, for the sake of brevity, we will not consider other transitionary changes occurring that Detienne identifies, e.g., those revealed in his analysis of the rise of the “warrior society.”) The change in the view and experience of truth is described by Detienne as the “secularization of the semantic context of alētheia,” this despite his claim that the philosophicorelgious group sought to retain a connection to the “magicoreligious” tradition (e.g., consider such pre-Socratic thinkers as Heraclitus, Empedocles, and Parmenides, all of whom philosophized in a poetic manner). These early philosophers and their successors attempted the precarious task of reconceptualizing a view of truth that was simultaneously “a homologue to and antithesis of religious truth.” But they failed and ultimately severed divine ties to archaic alētheia, and divinely inspired linguistic practices degenerated into “dialogue-speech” in opposition to the “sung-speech” of the poets. I note here that Detienne is dismissive of the philosophers, and thus a discipline and art that is seemingly irrefutably linked with truth is fancied to have inauthentic and spurious ties to it.

With this new form of communication, debate, and argumentation, which Detienne links with the sophists, rhetoricians, and philosophers, alētheia is no longer associated with and expressive of efficacy, mystery, or the “logic of ambiguity,” and becomes an instrument that expresses, through language, the “logic of non-contradiction,” and this trend influenced the burgeoning legal practices and politics of the Greeks. With this transformation, it is crucial to note that language is severed from its divine (Holy) origins. After the archaic era, Detienne argues that alētheia divides along two specific and unique lines: the manner in which it was understood by the sophists (and rhetoricians), on the one hand, and the manner in which it was experienced by the philosophers, on the other. With respect to the former, where persuasion through emotional appeal is central to their respective purposes, alētheia “regressed, melted away, and disappeared,” and in its place apatē (deceit) rose to prominence and supplanted alētheia. In the latter group, alētheia becomes “consolidated,” and this indicates that the primordial religious connection to lethē is covered over. The counter-striving relationship between revelation and oblivion so important to the original Masters of Truth was lost, or, more appropriately, obscured and relegated to oblivion.

Detienne focuses heavily on Parmenides’ relationship to alētheia, as expressed within the pre-Socratic’s metaphysical and cosmological poem, On Nature,18 and highlights the importance of truth understood in relation to Being (on) in its opposition to non-Being (me on). Being is plenary, simple, and true, and as non-Being is related to apatē, being deceptive, ambiguous, and dissembling, alētheia is related to “correctness” (orthotēs), standing opposed to error, falsehood, and contradiction, in dialogue, debate, and argumentation. It bears repeating, for this is related to Heidegger, that during the emergence of philosophy in Greece (Plato) the intimate ties to magicoreligious ways of being-in-the-world are severed and efficacy, mystery, fluidity in thought and language are devalued, with instrumentality, clarity, and immutability elevated to a position of privilege. Detienne therefore states the following about Parmenides: “[although he is] connected in some ways to the lineage of the Masters of Truth, [his understanding of alētheia] is also the first kind of truth in ancient Greece that is open to rational challenge. It is the first instance of objective truth [stripped of all ambiguity and efficacy], a truth established in and through [rational] dialogue.”

Moving to consider the Heideggerian intimations and allusions present to Detienne’s study on the archaic Masters of Truth, the author makes an exceptionally interesting observation that is rich with potential for new philosophical insight: “Few scholars of antiquity or educated readers are aware of how carefully Heideggerians and ‘deconstructionists’ have built a veritable wall to separate themselves from the explorations of Greek Scholars.” He admits that classicists are more often than not blind to Heidegger’s crucial contributions to Greek scholarship. Offering high praise, Detienne lauds Heidegger as “the only real innovator in Greek thought,” this despite the concerns Detienne has with some of Heidegger’s etymologies, especially the translation, for philosophical purposes, of the Greek polis.19 Conversely, Detienne is also critical of Heidegger scholars that refuse or resist rendering legitimate critique against Heidegger, for they accept “at face value his notion of the ‘unconcealed’ or the ‘deconcealed,’ making no attempt to deconstruct it or set it alongside those archaic representations” of alētheia”—an issue, interestingly enough, that this essay addresses directly.

The mentions of Heidegger in Detienne’s work do not extend beyond these aforementioned issues, which include a brief and limited commentary on Heidegger’s understanding of truth as alētheia. Since the only text of Heidegger’s that is mentioned in Masters of Truth is Being and Time, it is unclear how much Heidegger Detienne has actually read, and it would be interesting to learn whether he is familiar with some of the later works on language and Being, Being and truth, Hölderlin’s poetry, and the pre-Socratics such as Anaximander, Heraclitus, and Parmenides.20 Indeed, the only texts cited by Detienne in the discussion of Heidegger and truth are secondary works of French philosophical scholarship, which are concerned with analyses of and about Heidegger’s philosophy of truth.

Detienne only speaks of “Being” in relation to Parmenides, and as readers are probably aware, Heidegger’s entire project, albeit unfolding via manifold routes (Dasein, art, poetry, language), is grounded in and driven by the authentic concern with the question of Being qua Being, or the Grundfragen der Philosophie. Since we discuss the topic of “Being,” a few words proceed its introduction. Being for Heidegger is not to be construed as an entity, essence (essentia), or substance (substantia), in terms of a hypostatized or reified object. Thomas Sheehan provides one of the most direct explanations for what the Being-event signifies for Heidegger. The concern for the question of Being, and this is indeed to be conceived in terms of the primordial relationship between truth-and-Being, argues Sheehan, is the search for the enabling power that makes possible, and so is responsible for, “the correlation between an entity’s givenness and the dative of that givenness.” This enabling power “makes Parousia possible,” and this power is “beyond beings-as-givenness.” This enabling power, the recession of Being into its primordial mode of concealment or mystery (finitude), breaks open the lighted clearing (die Lichtung), the context where presencing occurs.21

In light of the ground covered, those interested in Heidegger’s philosophy will note that it is possible, with great reward, to plumb the rich depths of Detienne’s analysis to glean compelling insights that might potentially contribute to expanding on the themes and issues in Heidegger’s interpretation that are well-known and well-researched. Indeed, based on the fruitful insights to be found in Detienne’s writings, an in-depth series of articles could be written on the issues raised herein. However, for the sake of brevity and directness, I focus on three issues:

(1) The human’s relationship to truth and how this relationship has deteriorated since immemorial times. According to Heidegger, Plato’s philosophy (and as a result: Platonism) is primarily responsible for inaugurating the forgetfulness and oblivion of truth, since it obscures and covers over the original question of the “sense” of Being. For example, he writes that, “since Plato, the truth of the interpretation of ‘being’ has never been questioned.” 22 Plato’s thought is thus understood by Heidegger to play a kind of reorienting role within the history of metaphysics. Truth as an experience or occurrence of immediate revelation, alētheia, truth in its intimate relation to the so-called “Being-event,” is supplanted with “truth as correctness” (orthotēs). This ultimately leads, contends Heidegger, to an erroneous devaluation of the original experience of alētheia, the event of unconcealment, which in turn paves the way for misunderstanding truth. According to this misunderstanding, the locus of truth resides within the proposition itself, whereas the essence of truth is expressed through the correspondence between intellect/idea and object/thing (adaequatio rei et intellectus”).23

According to Detienne, as stated above, the transformation of alētheia is also a monumental historical event. However, as opposed to an event in the history of Western metaphysics (onto-theology) linked to Plato’s philosophy, for Detienne, it is actually the poet Simonides of Ceos (c. 556–468 BC) who is among those chiefly responsible for the devaluation of alētheia. Detienne argues for this position by pointing to Simonides’ view and practice of poetry (and art, more generally) as a technical, instrumental, and profitable endeavor, since with this pragmatism of sorts comes the secularization and mechanization of poetry. For one thing, Holy Memory becomes a secularized technique, a “psychological faculty available to all via definitive rules, no longer a privileged [and divine] form of knowledge, nor was it an exercise [askēsis] for salvation.” To recover the original notion and experience of alētheia, as discussed throughout, demands a return to and recovery of the understanding of the archaic age and the manner in which the three Masters of Truth were related to the primordial inter-workings and counter-striving between alētheialethē, and apatē, while drawing sustenance and creative life from the heavenly forces permeating and enlivening their existence.

Unlike Detienne, who viewed the pre-Socratics as already obscuring the original poetic relationship to alētheia, Heidegger believed that philosophers such as Heraclitus philosophized within an original experience of the truth of Being, but their extant, fragmented philosophical remnants only intimated this relationship. This indicates, according to Heidegger, that the pre-Socratics were unable to express the full extent of the experience in such a way as to properly conceive and formulate a grounding question, as such, which could structure and guide their philosophical inquiry. For Heidegger, to provide but one example, the original truth of Being is already tacitly present in Heraclitus (Fragment 123): phusis kruptesthai philei (“Nature loves to hide”). Heidegger translates this Fragment as, “Being [facilitating emerging appearance] intrinsically inclines toward self-concealment…”24 And here recall our earlier discussion of Sheehan’s interpretation of the “Being event.” The return to this primordial relationship to truth (alētheia) as it is ineluctably related to Being marks a return to the experience of the original fire from the heavens that inspired the early Greeks. Such a return and recovery is possible, as Heidegger philosophizes, much in the manner of Detienne, through embracing the primordial power of alētheia in poetry (Dichtung), specifically through the participation in the most Holy poetry of Hölderlin. Such participation, for Heidegger, marks the celebration or Holy Festival (das Festliche) of the reunion of the gods and humankind.25

(2) The primordiality of language, which is to say, language as a celestial gift as opposed to purely a human invention and possession. For the “later” Heidegger, language, rendered in reverential terms, is the “House of Being.”26 It is not a possession of the human so much as it is a primordial power that emerges from Being. The human is called to respond to language, and in so doing does not become a linguistic practitioner but rather a guardian and custodian of the deep mystery of language. Language is a primordial gathering force for our life and world. And it is not the human that speaks; it is language that speaks, and language becomes possible only when we “listen” in anticipation for the address of Being. Our rejoinder then instantiates the phenomenon of the original call to language. The “poietic” power of language, of both the poet and thinker, is the silent source of the reticent mystery of Being, and much like the unfolding of physis, language serves to facilitate the bringing-forth of phenomena into their originary coming-to-presence.

For Heidegger, especially following the “Turn,” language is irreducible to mere words or a linguistic system of signs and their corresponding signification. In light of Hölderlin’s poetry, language is rather the primordial conversation that we all are and have always been. This stresses the primordiality of language. “Conversation and its unity support our existence,” says Heidegger, and, he continues, to the extent that we have always been a conversation, it is in “the naming of the gods and in the world becoming word that authentic conversation, which we ourselves are, consists.”27 Language in this sense, the sense that we have been one conversation since time immemorial, opens and marks a path to thinking and inhabiting a more original, archaic form of ēthos in terms of living within an ethical abode, inhabiting an intimate space of “poetic dwelling” with others.28

This precise relationship to language is traced by Detienne to the archaic poets and prophetic seers, as previously described, and this relationship to language is highlighted by and established within their primordial relationship to alētheia. For example, the poets’ language, or specifically, “sung speech,” derives its efficacy and power of vision and prophecy directly from its divine sources, Holy Memory and the Muses, the daughters of Holy Mnemosyne—all powers that stand beyond the human being. Memory, in this archaic context, was not comparable or reducible to a “psychological function” or formal technique upon which the art of poetry is founded. Instead, Detienne notes, it was “above all a religious power that gave poetic proclamations the [divine] status of magicoreligious speech.” This gift of language that takes the form of “sung speech” is therefore, on Detienne’s reading, ontologically antecedent to and more primordial than human beings. And it imbued and empowered the poet with the “gift of second sight.”

Heidegger also highlights the “singing-saying” of poetic speak (and here we recall Detienne’s insightful critique of the ancient poet Simonides’ bastardization of the original essence of poetry, by means of obscuring the archaic embrace of alētheia, which is highlighted by a relationship to language that the Masters of Truth respected and honored). Moreover, Heidegger stresses the primacy of the poetic relationship to language, which features thought and speech that is non-objective in nature. As stated, Dichtung, as a poetic medium for disclosure and revelation, is a form, for Heidegger, of “singing,” which, in more concrete terms, means that it is not so much a way of speaking and thinking “about” things as an attuned manner of dwelling in their presence—speaking “of” them and “with” them. “The singing-saying of the poet” does not covet or solicit that which is “ultimately accomplished by humans as an effect”; it does not “posit and represent anything as standing over and against us as an object” (since non-objectifying thinking and saying is a willingness that wills nothing); and it does not attempt to bring anything to firmly stand in language that is beyond question, beyond the potential for the emergence of mystery. Truth in poetic language is rather always cloaked beneath the ever-present and looming shadow of lethē.29 According to Heidegger, if poets were to approach language in such a manner then the emergence of the Holy would become a possibility, which is essential insofar as humans are ever to once again “dwell” and prosper under the sky and on the earth in the presence of the divine gods, under the luminescent and radiating Holy light.30

(3) The privileged access of certain poets to transcendent modes of reality, who are also in an important sense prophetic. When the poet experiences an enlightened, attuned, and transformative relationship to a “magicoreligious” or Holy source, then, according to Heidegger, he acquires the salvific potential to found and ground a new historical epoch—but only if people are suitably attuned and respond authentically to the poet’s song, which holds the potential to reinvigorate, inspire, and facilitate a culture’s vitality and ascending development. Heidegger argues that this relates directly to the urgent problem of the destitution of the modern era, a time, that is, when the gods have fled the scene due to the absence of the Holy source and ground. This issue is highlighted in Heidegger’s many readings of Hölderlin, whose poetic vision (“remembrance-commemoration”), he says, is a form of non-objective, poetically-philosophically inspired thinking (Andenken), which seizes Hölderlin and affords him a glimpse into the Holy source itself. This vision offers insight into that which has not yet come to pass as well as all that is still on the approach, and these futural intimations relate to a potential new historical origin, a founding and grounding in relation to the Holy source.31

In Detienne, as already discussed, there is mantic vision afforded to the poet that is ecstatic in nature, transcending temporality, granting a prophetic vision into the events that his “memory” invokes, and we have described this as a vision of the simultaneity and unity of past, present, and future—a kind of prophetic-poetic vision which is linked to and inseparable from the poet’s communion with the “symbolicoreligious world that [is] indeed reality itself.” In Detienne’s words: “His privilege was to enter into contact with the other world, and his memory granted him the power to ‘decipher the invisible’…”

Hölderlin’s thinking, his being-in-the-world, and his vocation as poet necessitate the experience of suffering the “abyss of the world.” In an attuned state of Holy mourning, enduring the loss of the gods, he seeks to reveal the hidden and obscured Holy source, which must be uncovered; for it is only through its radiating and prevailing light and power that the gods can once again be as gods, that Holy names can recover their power to communicate.32 Hölderlin situates himself between the earth and sky, working to capture veiled divine messages in order to acquire the proper measure that structures the human’s poetic dwelling, and that entails catching sight of what has already been completed. In terms of a poetic-futural prophetic seeing, Hölderlin foretells what has not yet been actualized, or better, fulfilled, and thereby wields the potential to establish a new time, one grounded in a renewed relationship to the Holy. To this point, what Detienne and Heidegger describe in their respective interpretations regarding the poet’s relation to the Holy is the experience of receiving mantic-prophetic visions, which is a phenomenon fraught with danger. Poiētic-seeing comes with a heavy price, for when attempting to intercept the hints, intimations, and distant echoes of the absent and fugitive gods in order to pass their cryptic and barely audible messages along the poet is exposed to intense, heavenly lightning flashes. And such exposure to excessive brightness, as Hölderlin himself testifies, holds the potential to destroy the poet, plunging him into the darkest depths of insanity.33

In conclusion, reading Detienne’s scholarship, and the type of scholarship consistent with the French school of anthropology, in tandem with Heidegger opens the possibility for interested readers and interpreters of philosophy and poetry to reconceptualize the wondrous, mystical, and even veiled religious elements of Heidegger’s writings following the “Turn” in a way that gathers and acquires a renewed sense of historical reality. This reconceptualization exhibits the potential for gleaning a unique and reconceptualized insight into Heidegger’s analyses of the ancient Greeks, truth, poetry, and language, as all of these issues relate intimately to the ever-present and persistent question of Being that Heidegger fervently pursued in his philosophy. ∎

  1. Jean-Pierre Vernant. The Origins of Greek Thought. New York: Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984.
  2. Jean-Pierre Vernant. The Universe, the Gods, and Men: Ancient Greek Myths, trans., L. Asher. New York: Harper Collins, 2002.
  3. Marcel Detienne. The Greeks and Us, trans., J. Lloyd. UK: Polity Press, 2007.
  4. Marcel Detienne. The Masters of Truth in Archaic Greece, trans., J. Lloyd. New York: Zone Books, 1999. All quotations from Detienne are traceable to this text, for the analysis that appears in The Greeks and Us is a condensed representation of the original scholarship contained in Masters of Truth.
  5. Claude Lévi-Strauss. Structural Anthropology, trans., C. Jacobson & B. G. Schoepf. New York: Basic Books, 1963. Detienne is critical of two distinct schools of philology. One of these schools includes Greek scholars whose work embraces only a philosophical-and-hermeneutic component, and as a result “excludes anthropology.” The other may then be identified with “historical contextualism”. Detienne expostulates that the latter school fails to emphasize the importance of the evolution of language, and hence is unable to analyze authentically the temporal mechanism of human thought across different cultures (which necessitates, for Detienne, the inclusion of ethnographic and religious contexts).
  6. Crucial to Detienne’s project, as stated, is his extensive but pointed use of etymology. Even so, it can be legitimately argued that he avoids the fallacy of the argument from etymology (or “proof through etymology”), for he is adamant throughout his text that no “etymology can be singled out as infallible.”
  7. Martin Heidegger. Being and Time, trans., J. Macquarrie & E. Robinson. New York: Harper & Row, 1962.
  8. James Risser. Heidegger Toward the Turn: Essays on the Work of the 1930s. Albany: SUNY Press, 1999.
  9. Martin Heidegger. Hölderlin’s Hymns: “Germania” and “The Rhine,” trans., W. McNeill & J. Ireland. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014.
  10. Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art,” in: D. Krell (ed.) Basic Writings. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1993.
  11. Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art.”
  12. Friedrich Nietzsche. The Birth of Tragedy Out of the Spirit of Music, trans., S. Whiteside. UK: Penguin Books, 1993.
  13. This fallacy of philosophical interpretation and thought I have labeled the Heraclitean Fallacy, and it is based on the scholarly consensus—importantly, an “interpretive” consensus—of what Heraclitus might have meant when uttering his obscure and mystical proclamations. Heraclitus, despite his talk of the preponderance and dominance of change, flux, and becoming in the universe, is offering a totalizing view that all Being is “becoming”—interestingly enough, this is the precise critique that Heidegger levels against Nietzsche, the last metaphysician. If we briefly examine the fallacy we see how interpretations that claim to avoid a totalizing view find themselves unwittingly endorsing one. Heraclitus claims: (1) Being is permanent, immutable, and eternal (changeless); (2) Being is an illusion (his negative claim); (3) the universe is in a perpetual state of change, flux, and transition, and this is the permanent, immutable, eternal condition of the universe (his positive claim). In (3) Heraclitus is actually defining and embracing the notion of Being, thus smuggling in, in a contradictory manner, the notion of Being into his ontological narrative, and hence unwittingly rejecting the understanding of Being as illusory. The negative claim in (2) must then be called into question and rejected and Heraclitus’ original position must ultimately be amended, because it actually states the following, in stark contradiction to his original claim: the Being of existence (the universe) is Becoming.
  14. In stating that the views discussed are haunted by the specter of Hegelian dialectics, I offer Nietzsche’s own description of the origin of Attic tragedy as evidence: “These two very [different] tendencies walk side by side, usually in violent opposition…inciting one another to ever more powerful births, perpetuating the struggle of the opposition…until, finally…in this coupling they seem, at last, to beget the work of art that is as Dionysiac as it is Apolline.” (emphasis added) See The Birth of Tragedy.
  15. John D. Caputo. Radical Hermeneutics: Repetition, Deconstruction, and the Hermeneutic Project.  Bloomington: Indiana State University Press, 1987. In this groundbreaking text, Caputo tackles both Heideggerian ontology and hermeneutics and Derrida’s deconstruction, for there is a critique of Derrida that recognizes his thought harbors the potential to fall victim to the very type of philosophical totalization of which he is critical.
  16. Jacques Derrida. Of Grammatology. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1976.
  17. Jacques Derrida. Writing and Difference. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.
  18. Kathleen Freeman. Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996.
  19. Interested readers can find this etymology (polis) developed and analyzed by Heidegger in two lecture courses translated and published as: Martin Heidegger. Introduction to Metaphysics, trans., G. Fried & R. Polt. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000, and Martin Heidegger. Hölderlin’s Hymn der Ister, trans., W. McNeill & J. Davis. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.
  20. Martin Heidegger. Early Greek Thinking: The Dawn of Western Philosophy, trans., D. F. Krell & F. A. Capuzzi. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984. Four fragments from these pre-Socratics dominate Heidegger’s thinking in the four essays contained in this collection. These are: “The Anaximander Fragment” (Anaximander, Fragment B 1), “Logos” (Heraclitus, Fragment B 50), Moira (Parmenides, B VIII, 34-41), “Aletheia” (Heraclitus, Fragment B 16).
  21. Thomas Sheehan, “Kehre and Ereignis: A Prolegomenon to Introduction to Metaphysics, in: G. Fried & R. Polt (eds.) A Companion to Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.
  22. Martin Heidegger. Contributions to Philosophy, trans. P. Emad and K. Maly. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999. See Gregory Fried. Towards a Polemical Ethics: Between Heidegger and Plato. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2022.
  23. Martin Heidegger, “Plato’s Doctrine of Truth,” in: W. McNeill (ed.) Pathmarks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  24. Martin Heidegger. Introduction to Metaphysics, trans., G. Fried & R. Polt. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.
  25. William McNeill. The Time of Life: Heidegger and Ethos. Albany: SUNY Press, 2006.
  26. Martin Heidegger, “Letter on Humanism,” in: D. Krell (ed.) Basic Writings. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1993.
  27. Martin Heidegger, “Hölderlin and the Essence of Poetry,” in: K. Hoeller (trans.) Elucidations of Hölderlin’s Poetry. New York: Humanity Books, 2000.
  28. Martin Heidegger, “…Poetically Man Dwells…” in: A. Hofstadter (trans.) Poetry, Language, Thought. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.
  29. Martin Heidegger, “What Are Poets For?” in: A. Hofstadter (trans.) Poetry, Language, Thought. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.
  30. For an in-depth and stimulating study of “light” and “radiance” in Heidegger’s philosophy of Being, see: Richard Capobianco. Heidegger’s Being: The Shimmering Unfolding. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2023.
  31. Martin Heidegger, “Remembrance,” in: K. Hoeller (trans.) Elucidations of Hölderlin’s Poetry. New York: Humanity Books, 2000.
  32. James M. Magrini, “The Holy in Heidegger’s Reading of Greek Tragedy: Necessity, Measure, and Law,” in: R. Capobianco (ed.) Heidegger and the Holy. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2023.
  33. Heidegger, “Hölderlin and the Essence of Poetry.”