54 Part I: Studies
“prior” to the human being – is “A-letheia,” as he will tell us in due course, but at the outset he has already clearly signaled the destination of his thinking.
To proceed, he calls upon “the goddess Athena” for “counsel and guidance.” This is not simply a polite rhetorical gesture to his Athenian hosts. The later Heidegger was deeply moved by the “invocation” to the gods or muses that opened the great poems of the ancient Greek poets such as Homer and Pindar. These ancient invocations honored the gods for their “wisdom” and expressed an abiding human humility to listen and learn – which Heidegger laments has been increasingly lost in the present “egoist” age.
The matter of the significance of “the gods” in the later Heidegger’s thinking is complex, but we should at least keep in view that he always insisted that “the gods” are never mere projections of the human being; that is, “the gods,” no less than we “mortals,” emerge from out of Being, the temporal-spatial emerging/ unfolding “way” (or ontological process) wherein and whereby all beings issue forth and come to be. Certainly, for Heidegger, the “gods” or “divinities” are not traditional onto-theological timeless entities, for they, too, are “temporal” as they emerge from out of the temporal way itself – Being – their “source.” Some recent readings of Heidegger – which are no more than variations of Husserl’s transcendental idealism – are entirely off the mark to suggest that for the later Heidegger the human being is the “source” of “Being,” and, accordingly, these readings are also mistaken in trying to settle the matter of “the gods” in his thinking by claiming them for the human being, that is, by claiming that “the gods” are only insofar as the human being is. Heidegger – at every turn – upends this kind of position. In this talk, not only does he “invoke” the goddess Athena, but he adds that even as we look to her for counsel and illumination on the core matter for thinking, we must ever keep in mind that “we cannot penetrate into the plenitude of her divinity” (136/119). What is more, he states, “We are only attempting to explore what Athena says to us about the provenance of art.” He recalls that our human task is to be attentive and listen to “what Athena says.” In other words, it is not simply humans who “say” and “speak”; the goddess “says” and “speaks,” too.