(Heraclitus) was called by the epithet ‘The Obscure.’ ” However, we can find nothing special in the fact that the thinker Heraclitus was called ‘The Obscure,’ [20] since each thinker who truly is a thinker easily (and often) attains a reputation for ‘lack of clarity’ and ‘obscurity.’ The crowd happily agrees with this reputation, since they feel insulted in the face of whatever they do not immediately understand, and retaliate by describing the thinker as ‘unclear.’ Often this reputation for ‘lack of clarity’ (where, incidentally, thinkers are safest) also carries with it the suspicion that the thinkers themselves seek to portray their thoughts as ‘difficult’ and as ‘obscure’ as possible, in order that they may appear ‘mysterious’ and ‘important.’

(Schopenhauer, whose work was Nietzsche’s downfall, demonstrated that he is not a thinker through his self-indulgent rant concerning Schelling and Hegel and their lack of clarity. Nevertheless, we should give Schopenhauer his proper due as an accomplished novelist who, in the middle of the last century, imparted to the Germans only a pale notion of what ‘philosophy’ is.)

This widespread opinion concerning the thinking of the thinker—namely, that it deliberately sheaths itself in obscurity—has an old and famous example in the view that the Roman author Cicero voiced regarding Heraclitus ‘The Obscure.’ Since, to be sure, the Romans have notoriously grasped nothing beyond this from the thinking of the Greeks, the opinion of Cicero’s concerning Heraclitus is hardly surprising. Cicero believes 9 that Heraclitus has purposefully written so opaquely. The German thinker Hegel, who after all must have known something about the essential nature of a thinker, has already given the definitive reply to this opinion of Cicero’s in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy.10 Hegel there says that such intentionality (as Cicero has imputed to Heraclitus) would be very vapid indeed, were it true, but that it is in fact nothing but Cicero’s own vapidity that he forces upon Heraclitus. But then Hegel himself, immediately following the aforementioned remark, gives the following judgment concerning Heraclitus’s obscurity: [21] namely, that it is probably a consequence of the careless combining of words and unrefined language.

We are tempted to reject this explanation of Hegel’s as being no less ‘vapid.’ However, we must keep in mind that Hegel in his time (i.e., the time of Goethe and Humboldt and classicism), but also in accordance with the Occidental tradition of the time, held the thinking and saying of Plato as the paradigm of classical Greek philosophy. However, at the same time, Hegel still placed Aristotle over Plato with regard to speculative power and profundity. Regarding Aristotle, Hegel says the following in the same lectures:11 “There is certainly a lack in Aristotle of Plato’s beautiful form, of his sweetness of language (the chatting) [one could almost say:



9 De Natura Deorum, I, 74..

10 Hegel, Sämtliche Werke (Glockner), XVII, 347..

11 Ibid., XVIII, 314.


Two stories concerning Heraclitus    17

Heraclitus (GA 55) by Martin Heidegger