Recently I sat down to read Heidegger’s little travel journal called Sojourns. Heidegger was not much of a traveler, it turns out. For most of his life he rarely left the southwestern region of Germany where he grew up, except to give lectures in other German cities. His five-year stint in Marburg at the beginning of his career must have felt like a kind of exile; beyond that his biggest trip seems to have been 10 days in Rome in 1935 to lecture on Hölderlin and the essence of poetry. (John Sallis mentions this trip in his Foreword to the book.) Basically he was a homebody. Perhaps that’s why the trip to Greece in 1962, at the age of 73, was a big event. The biggest trip of his life to date, and a trip to the land he had understood to be, in a special sense, the origin of it all. He wondered whether he would see there “the Greece of antiquity, and what was proper to it”. He wondered if he would find there the ancient gods of Greece, the gods who had “abandoned” us, whose flight had gone along with “the desolation of men’s dwellings, the emptiness of their work, the vanity of their deeds”. And above all his journey was predicated on the belief that:
The gods of Greece and their supreme god, if they ever come, will return only transformed to a world whose overthrow is grounded in the land of the gods of ancient Greece.
This passage in particular struck me, because it is the most explicit passage I know of in Heidegger to call for a transformed kind of polytheism based on the polytheism of the ancient Greeks. (Perhaps our readers will be able to locate others.) But more importantly, it echoes a passage in Melville that is the guiding motif of our book, a kind of Melvillean prophecy about what that transformation of the Greek gods will look like if and when it comes. Melville writes:
If hereafter any highly cultured, poetical nation shall lure back to their birthright, the merry May-day gods of old; and livingly enthrone them again in the now egotistical sky; on the now unhaunted hill; then be sure, exalted to Jove’s high seat, the great Sperm Whale shall lord it.
In a word, it is the goal of our book to say what it would be livingly to enthrone these ancient gods once again, and what their transformation will look like in our technological age. Heidegger didn’t find that vision in modern Greece, at least not if his travel journal can be believed. The kind of travel that can transform our understanding, and lure back the gods, is better done through the poets who sang those worlds than through a guided tour of the ruins they left behind.