This saying about humanity grasps it from the most extreme limits and the most abrupt abysses of its Being. This abruptness and ultimacy can never be seen by eyes that merely describe and ascertain something present at hand, even if a myriad such eyes should want to seek out human characteristics and conditions. Such Being opens itself up only to poetic-thoughtful projection. We find no delineation of present-at-hand exemplars of humanity, no more than we find some blind and foolish exaltation of the human essence from beneath, from a dissatisfied peevishness that snatches at an importance that it feels is missing. We find no glorified personality. Among the Greeks there were no personalities yet [and thus nothing suprapersonal either].54 The human being is τὸ δεινότατον, the uncanniest of the uncanny. The Greek word δεινόν and our translation call for an advance explication here. This explication is to be given only on the basis of the unspoken prior view of the entire ode, which itself supplies the only adequate interpretation of the first two verses. The Greek word δεινόν has that uncanny ambiguity with which the saying of the Greeks traverses the opposed con-frontations of Being.
On the one hand, δεινόν names the terrible, but it does not apply to petty terrors, and does not have the degenerate, childish, and useless meaning that we give the word today when we call something “terribly cute.” The δεινόν is the terrible in the sense of the overwhelming sway, which induces panicked fear, [115|159] true anxiety, as well as collected, inwardly reverberating, reticent awe. The violent, the overwhelming is the essential character of the sway itself.55 When the sway breaks in, it can keep its over whelming power to itself.
54. In parentheses in the 1953 edition.
55. There is a close etymological connection among das Gewaltige (the violent), das Überwältigende (the overwhelming), and das Walten (the sway). See walten in German-English Glossary.