Seminar in Le Thor 1966 [18-20]

“This κόσμος here, insofar as it is the same for everyone and everything, none of the gods and no man has brought forth, it always already was and it is and will be: inexhaustible living fire [ἀλλ᾽ ἦν ἀεὶ καὶ ἔστιν καὶ ἔσται πῦρ ἀείζωον], kindled in measures and in measures going out.”

We are already stopped by a first difficulty: how should the adverb ἀεί, which we have translated as “always already,” be understood? Is it meant as an “eternal world,” in the sense of Aristotle and the scholastics? Does it mean aeternitas? Or sempiternitas? We are reminded of Braque: “The everlasting versus the eternal.” And furthermore: “The everlasting and the sound of its source.”29 However, the adverb appears related only to the imperfect ἦν, which is solely in reply to “has not brought it forth.” It means that this world here has not been made, since it was already there at all times. Accordingly, the meaning is to be sought more in the direction of the eternal, since the everlasting is only first uttered afterwards, by means of the present [Präsens] and the future that follows upon it, and particularly by means of the second ἀεί in ἀείζωον, inexhaustible living. Here, however, eternity does not dominate time—something which, incidentally, is not explicitly called into question, but of which it is simply said that as far as one may go back, this “world” was already there. In “will be” there is an echo that corresponds precisely to the “is.”30

We have said “world.” This immediately calls to mind the idea of a great Whole. The effort to determine this will lead much later to Kantian “cosmology” along with the antinomies that develop from this—and then, even further, to the expeditions of space travelers (“cosmonauts”). Does Heraclitus really speak about this?

1) The verb κόσμέω, to which κόσμος belongs, means: to bring into an order. Without question, not in the sense of a mere distribution, but according to the way things belong to each other in the midst of a “common presence” (“commune présence31), as day and night are joined to one another in the manner we saw. In this regard, κόσμος does not name something that would be larger than the other things and inside of which they all would find their space, but a way of being. Diels was also quite right when, in his presentation of the poem of Parmenides in 1897, he remarked, “For the philosophers of the fifth century, from Heraclitus on, κόσμος does not mean ‘world.’”32

2) κόσμος is also just as much what the German word “Zier” [adornment] says: the gleam, the radiance, which was originally the same word as Zeus. By this, the light of Heaven is addressed. In this sense as well, the Cretans named those who shined at the head of the state κόσμοι.

3) There is yet a third meaning, quite common to Homer, that of decoration. It is also familiar to Pindar, for example, when he calls upon the “golden victory.” Decoration as well as gold should not shine only

29 Georges Braque, Le jour et la nuit: Cahiers 1917–1952 (Paris: Gallimard, 1952), pp. 26, 30.

30 Cf. Martin Heidegger and Eugen Fink, Heraklit, pp. 93–112. Heraclitus Seminar, pp. 56–67.

31 Originally the title of a poem in the collection Le marteau sans maître (Paris: José Corti, 1945). See 1, note 13.

32Hermann Diels, Parmenides (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1897), p. 66.