§22 The historically grounding spirit [168-169]

lange haben

Das Schikliche wir gesucht, ...

Now come, fire!

long have

We sought what is fitting. ...

Yet these words too, and those of the other hymns, would in large part n:main closed off from us in their essential truth were it not for the fact that the letters we have mentioned have been preserved, the letters in which Hölderlin expresses himself concerning what is our own and what is foreign in our history.3 Here we cite only one part of Hölderlin's letter of December 4 1801, to Böhlendorf:

Wir lernen nichts schwerer als das Nationelle frei gebrauchen. Und wie ich glaube, ist gerade die Klarheit der Darstellung uns ursprünglich so natürlich, wie den Griechen das Feuer vom Himmel.

We learn nothing with greater difficulty than the free use of the national. And as I believe, precisely the clarity of presentation is originarily as natural to us as was the fire from the heavens to the Greeks. (V, 319)

These words would certainly also require some explication. Here we note only what is most essential. For the Greeks, what is their own is "the fire from the heavens," that is, the light and the glow of that which determines the arrival and proximity of the gods. Yet in order to appropriate this as their own, the Greeks had to pass through something foreign, namely through the "clarity of presentation." They had to be alienated and taken hold of by the latter so as with its aid first to bring the fire into the still radiance of pure lucidity. Through that which was foreign to them, the serene ability to grasp oneself, what was properly their own first became their property. From out of the rigor of poetizing, thoughtful, formative grasping, they were first able to come to encounter the gods in a lucidly ordered presence. Such was the Greeks' building at the essential ground or the πόλις. The weakness of the Greeks lay in their inability to grasp themselves in the face of the excess of destiny and its destinings [Schickungen]. From out of the power of the fire, that is, of what was orginarily "natural" to them, they had an excess of fate [Schicksal]. It became their greatness to have learned the ability to grasp themselves (V, 258), so as thereby first to be ··at home" in what was their own.

3. Cf. the lecture course of winter semester 1941/42: (Gesamtausgabe, vol. 52, p. 22ff., p. 130ff., and p. 180.