Contest Passage 1

“My eyes, dear father, see a prodigy: … the towering pillars are so bright they seem as if they had been lit by blazing flames. Some god – of those gods who rule high heaven – must have come to us.”

See the previous post for rules of the contest. Good hunting!

About Sean D. Kelly

Sean Dorrance Kelly is the Teresa G. and Ferdinand F. Martignetti Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. He is also Faculty Dean at Dunster House, one of the twelve undergraduate Houses at Harvard. He served for six years as chair of Harvard's Department of Philosophy. Kelly earned an Sc.B. in Mathematics and Computer Science and an M.S. in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences from Brown University in 1989. After three years as a Ph.D. student in Logic and Methodology of Science, he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley in 1998. Before arriving at Harvard in 2006, Kelly taught at Stanford and Princeton, and he was a Visiting Professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. Sean Kelly's work focuses on various aspects of the philosophical, phenomenological, and cognitive neuroscientific nature of human experience. He is a world authority on 20th century European Philosophy, specializing in the work of Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He has also done influential work in philosophy of mind and philosophy of perception. Kelly has published articles in numerous journals and anthologies and he has received fellowships or awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEH, the NSF and the James S. McDonnell Foundation, among others. Fun fact: He appeared on The Colbert Show in 2011 to talk about All Things Shining. Sean Kelly lives at Dunster House with his wife, the Harvard Philosopher Cheryl Kelly Chen, and their two boys, Benjamin and Nathaniel.
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4 Responses to Contest Passage 1

  1. fullyfleshed says:

    I know this, embarrassingly enough, because of a smaller passage that occurs at the beginning of the book. Having worked in the wine trade while an undergrad, bacchanalian stories throughout history have gathered around me. This is from the Odyssey (Book XIX), where Ulysses and Telemachus remove the weapons from Ulysses’ hall, under the pretense of them being dirty and soiled from smoke and soot and of obviating the temptation of wine that often moves men to violence. It is when carrying out this task that Telemachus utters this to Ulysses. Returning (now) to the text, I see that after this exclamation, Ulysses silences Telemachus.

    It is much easier for me to understand this quote in the context of what occurs next. Ulysses silences Telemachus because, in vaguely phenomenological terms, the disclosure of the gods is their business alone. Intrusion or preemption by the mortals (as if they could institute a divine intervention) merely inflames situations and ultimately dissipates the coming of the gods. Ulysses, cognizant of this, operates under the inspiration and guidance of Athena/Minerva, not acting ahead of her inspiration, and goes on to test Penelope. Or at least that’s my speculation.

    But what does this quote mean on its own, without this following part of the text? What is Telemachus expressing here? At the very least, he is expressing his certainty of a divine presence. Something supernatural is being revealed in this procession, carrying the war-torn weapons and armor of his father. This wonderment is due to the brightness of the columns. His eyes see , his experience is of, something extraordinary in comparison to the other times he has seen these columns.

    I’m not familiar with this translation, but the word ‘prodigy’ seems to be laden here, and I wonder if the original word in Greek is similarly rich in meaning. Does Telemachus see the beginning of something, like one might see the future development in a prodigious child; or does he see in the bright columns a portent of the things to come; or again does he just stare in wonder at these blazing flames? I must admit, I have sympathy to the idea that Telemachus sees in these columns an omen, but the other meanings may just be the background to which this use of ‘prodigy’ stands out. Seeing the blazing columns, lit by the lamp that Athena/Minerva carries, is a seeing of these columns again as his father’s columns to be. He sees not only the possible eventuality of their reclamation, but a current sense of amazement and wonder as he sees them for the first time as possibly his father’s, and (presumably, eventually, rightfully) his.

    What would this make Athena’s involvement? What are the gods revealing here? Again, speculation, but perhaps sage reticence. A wise acknowledgment but not complete naming of the phenomenon. An allowing of things to play out, to develop, despite (or perhaps because of) the wonder and amazement that one feels in the presence of the divine possibility. This reading (of a reading) means that Telemachus’ expression is wisely cautioned by Ulysses’, who, urging the young’n off to bed, stops him from aborting the process of divine movement.

    But hey – just my two cents! I’m positive there is more to be said about the ‘blazing flames’ that I just haven’t quite yet figured out.

  2. Very nicely done, fullyfleshed! It turns out that our Director of Research Computing in the Humanities discovered a way to use google to find this passage, but I love the idea that it was your history in the wine trade that led you to it!

    You are certainly right that the passage that follows immediately is important. Specifically, Odysseus tells his son:

    Be silent; curb your thoughts; do not ask questions.
    This is the work of the Olympians.

    (Mandelbaum translation)

    The idea that the gods are a presence that can only be effective when one is not paying attention to them is ripe with phenomenological overtones. The discussion of the Temple of Aphaia, the goddess who withdraws, is probably relevant in this context (see Charles Spinosa’s interesting comments starting here). But gods are either withdrawing and leading you on when things are going well, or else they are shining and standing out, drawing attention to themselves (like the island of Delos, the manifest). As you say, it is the shining of the columns that draws Telemachus’ attention.

    Does anyone know of interesting passages in Heidegger where he discusses the relation between shining and the gods? I’ll wait for a few more comments before putting up the next contest piece.

    • Ed says:

      In response to your call for passages in Heidegger discussing the relation between shining and gods, I submit Heidegger’s essay, Aletheia (Heraclitus, Fragment B 16), which fascinatingly depicts the relationship between men, gods, and “the lighting” as thought by Heraclitus and the early Greeks. Please bear with these long excerpts… where Heidegger takes it is just so fascinating.

      The fragment is translated:
      “How can one hide himself before that which never sets?”

      Heidegger begins with the following interpretation:

      “Homer tells how Odysseus in the Phaeacian king’s palace, covered his head each time at the minstrel Demodocus’ song, whether happy or sad, and thus hidden from those present, wept…
      Accordingly, the Greek experience in the case of Odysseus does not proceed from the premise that the guests present are represented as subjects who in their subjective behavior fail to grasp weeping Odysseus as an object of their perception. On the contrary, what governs the Greek experience is a concealment surrounding the one in tears… which isolates him from the others….
      Typically Greek, this poetic vision of Odysseus weeping beneath his cloak makes clear how the poet feels the governance of presencing – a meaning of Being which, though still unthought, has already become destiny. Presencing is luminous self-concealing… Thus shying-away, and everything related to it, must be thought in the brilliant light of remaining-concealed.”

      Heidegger goes on to flesh out this experience of being through the mutual interdependence of self-revealing and self-concealing. And yet, the “never-setting” harkens to an “abode wherein every possible whither of a belonging-to rests. Thus the realm… is unique by virtue of the extent of its gathering reach. Everything that belongs in the event of a rightly experienced revealing grows upward and together in this realm.”

      This evokes a kind of Godhead to me. Heidegger further considers this deeper gathering realm of ‘being’ as Nietsche does… as ‘life’. But what was understanding of ‘life’? Here’s where I find it gets interesting…

      “The root, ζα, speaks… (it) signifies an intensification… but this intensification means neither a mechanical nor a dynamic increase. Pindar calls various locales, mountains, meadows, the banks of a river, ζαθεοç, especially when he wants to say that the gods, the shining ones who cast their gaze about, often permitted themselves actually to be seen here. They came to presence by appearing here. These locales are especially holy because they arise purely to allow the appearing of the shining one. So too does ζαμενήç (?) mean that which allows the imminent advance of the storm to billow up in its full presenceing.
      Zα- signifies the pure letting-rise within appearing, gazing upon, breaking in upon, and advancing, and all their ways. The verb ζήν means rising into the light. Homer says “to live, and this means to see the light of the sun.”” The Greek ζήν… must not be interpreted in either a zoological or a broader biological sense. What is named… lies so far from any biologically conceived animality that the Greeks could even call their gods ζωα(?). How so? Those who cast their gaze about are those who come into view.”

      Heidegger then casts the Hericlitian construal of “fire” as “ever-enduring rising”, what “already rests in itself before gods and men… what abides in itself and thus preserves all coming…. “World is enduring fire, enduring rising…”

      “In the meantime, we have seen that never entering into concealment is the enduring rising out of self-concealing. In this way does the world fire glow and shine and meditate. If we think it as lighting, this includes not only the brilliance, but also the openness wherein everything, especially the reciprocally related, comes into shining. Lighting is therefore more than illuminating, and also more than laying bare. Lighting is the meditatively gathering bringing-before into the open. It is the bestowal of presencing…

      “How then could anyone remain hidden before it, that is, hidden before the lighting? Without giving a reason the form of the question rejects such a possibility

      Heidegger questions “who” the “anyone” is and suggests a fascinating possibility…

      “…because a thinker is speaking here, particularly that thinker who abides near Apollo and Artemis, his speaking could be a dialogue with those who cast their gaze on things, and could co-signify in “anyone”, the gods…
      …Fragment 53… mentions mortals and immortals together when it says… the setting apart-from-each-other (the lighting), manifests some of those present as gods, others as men, and brings some forward into appearance as slaves and others as free. This says: the enduring lighting lets gods and men come to presence in unconcealment in such a way that none of them could remain concealed; not because he is observed by someone, but because – and only because – each comes to presence. The presencing of gods, however, is other than that of men… the gods are those who look into the lighting of what is present, which concerns mortals after their own fashion, as they let what is present lie before them in its presence and as they continue to take heed of it.
      The lighting not only illuminates what is present, but gathers it together and secures it in advance in presencing But of what sort is the presencing of gods and men? They are not only illuminated in the lighting, but are also enlightened from it and toward it. Thus they can, in their way, accomplish the lighting (bring it to the fullness of its essence) and thereby protect it. Gods and men are not only lightened by a light… so that they can never hide themselves from it in darkness; they are luminous in their eseence. They are alight; they are appropriated into the event of lighting, and therefore never concealed. On the contrary, they are re-vealed… entrusted to the lighting that keeps and shelters them. According to their essence, they are trans-posed to the concealing of the mystery, gathered together, belonging to the Logos.

      There you have it, a holy trinity of the lighting, the gods, and mortals from the early Greek perspective. I’d appreciate any further elucidations or comments on this essay. Do you find Heidegger’s depictions of these elements here consistent here with his other depictions? Can we say that when gods “cast their gaze on things” they, themselves, are “coming into view”?


  3. Dean Rose says:

    Here’s a quote from Page 138 of “The Ister” course translated by McNeill & Davis:

    “This German poet, however, precisely if he intimates the essence of
    becoming homely and knows its law, must before all else venture into the
    foreign, so as to let “the fire” come toward him and at the same time to
    learn in the foreign land how the fire became the quiet shining of the gods.”

    It feels to me in the given “contest” passage that Telemachus is getting attuned to the presence of the goddess, with his father acting as something of a mediator. Odysseus can see and speak with the goddess as she comes into and out of presence – in fact in the preceding sentence Athena is lighting the entire space
    with her radiance (or a lamp if one prefers). But the goddess is seemingly concealed from the boy, though her presence is revealed to him by this illumination. The passage appears to me to be describing something of a “middle ground”, with differing regions available to Athena, Odysseus and Telemachus.

    Following a podcast-past suggestion from Dreyfus, I found a few other translations of the same passage which were helpful to me..

    The Fagles translation of this passage renders:

    ..and Pallas Athena strode before them,
    lifting a golden lamp that cast a dazzling radiance round about.
    “Father,”, Telemachus suddenly burst out to Odysseus,
    “Oh what marvel fills my eyes! Look, look there –
    all the sides of the hall, the handsome crossbeams, pinewood rafters,
    the tall columns towering – all glow in my eyes like flaming fire!
    Surely a god is here – one of those who rule the vaulting skies!”
    “Quiet” his father, the old soldier, warned him.
    Get a grip on yourself. No more questions now.
    It’s just the way of the gods who rule Olympus.
    Off you go to bed. I’ll stay here behind
    to test the women, test your mother too.

    From A.T. Murray (Perseus Digital Library

    …and before them Pallas Athena, bearing a golden lamp, made a most beauteous light. [35]
    Then Telemachus suddenly spoke to his father, and said:
    “Father, verily this is a great marvel that my eyes behold;
    certainly the walls of the house and the fair beams2
    and cross-beams of fir and the pillars that reach on high,
    glow in my eyes as with the light of blazing fire. [40]
    Surely some god is within, one of those who hold broad heaven.”
    Then Odysseus of many wiles answered him, and said:
    “Hush, check thy thought, and ask no question; this, I tell thee,
    is the way of the gods that hold Olympus. But do thou go and take thy rest
    and I will remain behind here, [45] that I may stir yet more the minds
    of the maids and of thy mother; and she with weeping shall ask me of each thing separately.”

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