Nietzsche, Heraclitus, and Interpretation


Aporia Vol. 15 number 1—2005 / free ebook
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IN [his] proximity I feel altogether warmer and better than anywhere else. The affirmation of passing away and destroying,
which is the decisive feature of a Dionysian philosophy; saying Yes to opposition and war; becoming, along with a radical repudiation of the very concept of being—all this is clearly more closely related to me than anything else thought to date. The doctrine of the “eternal recurrence,” that is, of the unconditional and infinitely repeated circular course of all things—this doctrine of Zarathustra might in the end have been taught already by Heraclitus.1
So Nietzsche praised Heraclitus in his work Ecce Homo. Additionally, in a lecture first given in 1872, Nietzsche refers to Heraclitus’ self-glorification as “übermenschlich,”2 and in Twilight of the Idols he speaks of his Greek predecessor “with the highest respect.”3
Clearly, Nietzsche felt a strong affinity for Heraclitus. Recently, though, Gareth B. Matthews has argued that, with the exception of
Nietzsche, Heraclitus, and Interpretation Parmenides, Nietzsche treats the Presocratic philosophers “primarily as personalities,” and “discourages us from trying to discover what they found philosophically perplexing.”4 If this were correct, Nietzsche’s feelings toward Heraclitus would be based on the latter’s force of personality rather than on any similarity in philosophy. However, in addition to the above-quoted statement from Ecce Homo, Nietzsche discusses Heraclitus’ philosophical ideas in several passages, often
shedding great light on his own philosophy. One of the most interesting of such passages is found in Twilight of the Idols. After caustically mocking philosophers who have rejected the senses in hopes of arriving at “being,” he says:[…] / free ebook

Nietzsche is a thinker who presented much of his own philosophy as a response to other’s ideas, as exemplified by his interpretation
of and commentary on Heraclitus. Consequently, an examination of that interpretation provides us with insights into his own views. One such view, that interpretations are only acceptable if they are open to new experiences and do not profess to be absolutely true, has been addressed in this paper. It is likely, though, that Nietzsche’s understanding of Heraclitean philosophy could also shed light on such ideas as the will to power, the eternal recurrence, and the overman—all ideas that Nietzsche attributes to, or mentions in conjunction with,mHeraclitus.
Matthews’s claim that Nietzsche discourages us from engagingmwith the Presocratics on a philosophical level is simply false. Nietzsche
himself engages with them philosophically. He explains their ideas, responds to their ideas, and occasionally criticizes their ideas. In addition to clarifying his own views, his comments portray the Presocratics as profoundly interesting and relevant philosophers.
Works Cited
Bernays, Jacob, Gesammelte Abhandlung. Vol. 1. Edited by Hermann
Usener. Hildesheim, NY: G. Olms, 1971.
Crawford, Michael and David Whitehead. Archaic and Classical Greece: A Selection of Ancient Sources in Translation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
Kahn, Charles. The Art and Thought of Heraclitus: An Edition of the
Fragments withTranslation and Commentary. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979.
Marcovich, M. Heraclitus: Greek Text with a Short Commentary. Merida,
Venezuela: The Los Andes University Press, 1967.
Matthews, Gareth B. “Nietzsche on the Beginnings of Western Philosophy.” In Uses and Abuses of the Classics: Western
Interpretations of Greek Philosophy, edited by Jorge J. E. Gracia and Jiyuan Yu. London: Ashgate, 2004.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. In Basic Writings of
Nietzsche. Translated and edited by Walter Kaufmann.
New York: Random House, 1967.
———. Daybreak. Translated by R. J. Hollingsdale. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1982.
———. Ecce Homo. In Basic Writings of Nietzsche. Translated and edited
by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Random House, 1967.
———. Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks. Translated by Marianne
Cowan. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 1962.
———. The Pre-Platonic Philosophers. Translated and edited by Greg
Whitlock. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001.
———. Twilight of the Idols. In The Portable Nietzsche. Translated and
edited by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Penguin, 1954 / free ebook