The hermeneutics of ancient Greek marbles

In the Smithsonian Magazine article, True Colors, we get the chance to imagine and reproduce the true colours of the ancient Greek sculptures and temples. These sculptures and temples were indeed painted with intense colours, despite the bright reflective white color of the marble that is characteristic of them today.

In this context, Martin Heidegger’s phenomenological account of an ancient Greek temple, given in his essay on the origin of the work of art [Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes] (1935-37), could be taken to be factually inadequate or misleading, as Heidegger seems to ignore the fact that the marble of these artworks were colourful. (Comments of this nature were made concerning his hermeneutic-phenomenological description of Van Gogh’s artwork depicting the peasant’s shoes, where commentators have noted how Heidegger got his facts wrong).

Here is a characteristic phrase in Heidegger’s essay that is factually inadequate: “The radiance and glow of the stone, themselves shining only by grace of the sun, first bring the light of day, the expanse of the sky, and the darkness of night, to appear in relief. The secure towering-up of the temple makes visible the invisible space of air.”

However, if one focuses on such factual inadequacies in order to discredit the whole hermeneutics of the Heideggerian text, one misses the essential character and contributions of his hermeneutic: one misses the ontological difference.

But anyway, even on the factual level we can still retort that Heidegger, in the text, always already maintains that these marbles manifest themselves as something that has been, as something belonging to the past. In Heidegger’s own words: “World-withdrawal and world-ruin are never to be reversed. The works are no more the works they were. They themselves perhaps are what encounters us there, but they themselves are those who have been [Gewesenen]. As having been, they stand before-and-against us in the domain of tradition and conservation. From now on they remain only as such objects-standing-against-us [Gegenstände]“.



About Christos Hadjioannou
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