Heaven and Earth
Festschrift to Honor Karsten Harries

Vol. 12, No. 1
August 2007


___Robert Hahn
  Heidegger, Anaximander, and the Greek Temple



A. Introduction: Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger on Greek Art

“Heidegger’s description of a Greek temple has to be understood as a rewriting of Hegel that, by understanding art as a presentation of the earth, challenges the way Hegel opposes spirit and earth and thus his understanding of the spirit’s progress.”[1] So writes Karsten Harries in The Ethical Function of Architecture. By rewriting Hegel in this manner, Heidegger offers a challenge to Hegel’s pronouncements on the future of art. For Hegel, art belongs to the past, and thus the ability of art to function “on the side of its highest vocation” is now and forever lost. Nietzsche, too, shares Hegel’s view that the original role that art played in antiquity has now been lost. For Nietzsche, it was the rise of Socrates’ optimism of reason, the view that all things could be known, that marks its decline. While Hegel and Nietzsche envision the future of art differently from Heidegger, what these thinkers share is a view of a primordial role that art, and architecture, in fact played in the past, in Greek antiquity.

Hegel’s view of the Greek temple must be understood in the context of spirit’s progress.  In the necessary and inexorable march of spirit’s struggle for disengagement and ultimately its freedom, Greek temple architecture becomes a historical marker on the way to it. The project of making a Greek temple proved to be a thoroughly human one; for Hegel: it illustrates the human struggle to overcome and dominate nature.

Architecture is the first pioneer on the highway toward the adequate realization of the Godhead. In this service it is put to severe labour with objective nature, that it may disengage it by its effort from the confused growth of finitude and the distortion of contingency. By this means it levels a space for the God, informs His external environment, and builds Him his temple, as a fit place for the concentration of Spirit, and its direction to the absolute objects of intelligent life. It raises an enclosure for the congregation of those assembled, as a defense against the threatening of the tempest, against rain, the hurricane, and savage animals. It in short reveals the will thus to assemble, and although under and external relation, yet in agreement with the principles of art.[2]

For Hegel, while the purpose of art and architecture is to serve the pursuit of truth, in history’s progress we are now far away from those pioneering days. In the pioneering days of history, art provided the truth of which Hegel speaks. That is, art functioned “on the side of the highest vocation,” which for Hegel means that it had achieved a level of freedom. When art reaches this point, it shares with religion and philosophy a mode in which the most profound interests of mankind are brought to consciousness, a mode in which spiritual truths find expression. In history’s progress, however, reason has now replaced art as the deliverer of truth, and art has been reduced to what Hegel calls “fine art.” For Hegel, this meant that art could no longer provide an essential and necessary way for the revelation of the truth that is decisive for our historical existence.

When Harries wrestles with the question of why this highest function should be denied to art today, he invites us to consider how reason has come to replace art as the deliverer of the most profound interests of mankind. With the Enlightenment, reason came to assume a place that leaves little room for art to offer what it did to the ancient Greek communities. Nietzsche blames the demise of art, in Hegel’s sense, on the naïve trust in reason to lead us to the good life. Hegel envisages the role of art for the ancients to be now lost, not as a deficiency but rather as an inexorable fact of reason’s progress in history. Thus, the appeal to reason explains the decline of the power of art; Nietzsche found the appeal to be naïve, and Hegel found it to be justified, but both saw the intervention of reason to undermine the role that art played in Greek antiquity.

Heidegger’s view of the Greek temple, Harries pointed out, must be seen as a rewriting of Hegel. In the rewriting, however, Heidegger offers a new vision. On the one hand, there is a new hope for the future of art and architecture, and on the other, there is a new view about the truth that is revealed by ancient enterprises. In “The Origin of the Work of Art,” Heidegger tells us that art first establishes “the truth that matters.” As Harries argues, such a view must seem hopelessly confused about both art and truth from a Hegelian or Nietzschean point of view.[3] After the Enlightenment, reason, not art, offers the truth that matters.  At most, art can furnish occasions for aesthetic enjoyment, a vacation from the business of life. As Hegel put it in the Lectures on Aesthetics, “…the fair days of Greek art…are over.” In the epilogue to “The Origin of the Work of Art,” Heidegger recites Hegel’s challenge: “Art no longer counts for us as the highest manner in which truth obtains existence for itself… [and] on the side of its highest vocation, [art is] something past.”[4]  In responding to Hegel on the future of art, Heidegger’s position at once challenges Hegel and Nietzsche’s view about the past of art, as well as the future. To see Heidegger’s view, we must get clear about what Heidegger means when he speaks of art as first establishing the truth that matters.

Heidegger’s truth is neither the one seized upon by Hegel nor by Nietzsche. In responding to Hegel’s challenge, Heidegger rejects Hegel’s view of truth, one that emerges in the historical opposition of spirit and earth. The truth revealed by the ancient Greeks was not, for Heidegger, as it was for Hegel, a truth for their time only, an early stage in the unfolding of truth’s ultimate character. For Heidegger, the full disclosure of truth was present already for those he calls the earliest of the earlycomers. For Hegel, Greek art represents the second of three stages in art’s historic development. Unlike the first stage, symbolic art, where spirit is imprisoned in matter, Greek art announces an advance to a second stage, the classical, in which spirit and matter are in balanced harmony. In Greek art, for Hegel, architecture becomes subordinated to sculpture, for in the sculpted image of the god, Hegel finds the perfect reconciliation of spirit and matter. In the third and highest stage of art, the romantic, spirit triumphs over matter. Hegel identifies this final stage with Christianity and the modern era. Because Christian religion identifies the dwelling of spirit within the individual, and not in nature as does Greek religion, the third stage of art cannot tie the sacred to the visible. The virtue of our own time consists in making visible whatever truth it can offer. Consequently, art can no longer count on the side of its highest vocation. Curiously, the height of art is achieved in the second of its three stages; the success of art, in Hegel’s own terms is coextensive with its spiritual deficiency. Art can count in its highest vocation only when it conceals a higher truth of being. While the classical stage, Greek art, reveals its truth profoundly, and reveals all it is capable of showing in this pre-Christian episode, it falls short of revealing the highest spiritual truth. Heidegger responded to Hegel by insisting that “Truth is the unconcealedness of that which is as something that is. Truth is the truth of Being.” And when the disclosure of Being takes place for the Greeks, the earliest of earlycomers, Heidegger concludes that the Greeks had already outdistanced the latest of the latecomers.

For Hegel, however, history had not yet grown up in the time of the Greeks. The consequence of this historical view is that the full truth of Being remained partially concealed. The Greeks revealed the depths of being, but only so far as the historical progress of spirit made possible. When Heidegger reflects upon the success of the Greek temple, he envisages the way it unconceals truth, the truth of Being. It is this idea, thought through as alêtheia,[5] which leads him to discuss the Greek temple, and also the early Greek philosophers – but he never does so together. This is a somewhat surprising result.  Particularly in the case of Anaximander, the oversight is telling. To be sure, Heidegger is aware of Anaximander as a philosopher. Yet his reading of Anaximander’s to xreon in light of that unconcealedness of the truth of Being that is seen in the “Same” may do more to bring Anaximander into the orbit of the Seins-geschick than create a genuine encounter.

If so, Heidegger may be guilty of being arbitrary in his interpretation. How might he respond to such a charge? In Being and Time, Heidegger’s explication of authenticity drives him to explain how choices are not merely arbitrary.[6] To escape the charge of arbitrariness, he must supply an appropriate source of guidance to justify our responsible choices. Heidegger rules out appeals to God or pure practical reason, essences or norms as adequate justification for our choices. His view of authenticity rests, instead, on the claim that “the sole authority which a free existing can have” is that “of revering the repeatable possibilities of existence.”[7] This view invests Heidegger’s relation to the philosophy of the past. His strategy is, as Harries put it, to invest the past, the Presocratics, with such an authority.[8] Now, in fact, in the period of archaic and early classical Greece, philosophy and temple building emerge contemporaneously. And in separate discussions by Heidegger, both the Presocratics and the temple come to assume formidable stature in the process of revealing the nature of Being, the truth that matters. It is surprising, however, that Heidegger never put them together. I shall now argue that they do indeed come together, and in a manner most decisive, in the person of Anaximander.

B. Heidegger, Anaximander, and the Origins of Greek Philosophy

Heidegger’s studies of Presocratic philosophy are not the work of an historian of philosophy. By this I mean Heidegger was not particularly concerned with historiography,[9] now the usual business of the historian of philosophy. Heidegger turned to explore the early Greek thinkers not merely to be informed of the “facts” of what happened in the past. Instead, the matters that interested Heidegger are the future-projected acts, a future in which the past and the present stand in mutual appropriation. Heidegger was not concerned, then, with the merely “factual” but rather the “authentically “actual” history.[10] His concern was not with the historiographer’s past (Vergangenheit), that which is no longer around (nicht mehr vorhanden), but instead, with the past that is still somehow around (noch vorhanden), the past that is still not finished with us because we are not finished with it. Heidegger studied the earliest of the earlycomers because he came to regard them as having out distanced the latest of the latecomers. The truly historical is therefore not the past but rather the present (Gegenwart); it is not the “has been” of the past which is over and done with, but rather the “has been” of the present (dagewesene), that which is still around. In the essays on the early Greek philosophers, then, Heidegger addressed what he regarded as the truly historical; because it truly had been, it is yet. In “The Origin of the Work of Art” he pursues the same theme; his concern, again, is with the truth that matters most.

Heidegger’s essays on the Greek philosophers address “the truly historical” and not the merely historiographical. As such, he is not concerned to debate the minutiae of the earliest philosophers any more than was Aristotle; instead, his aim is to reveal the truth of Being. In encountering Heidegger, then, we must grant him this much.

In his essay on Anaximander, Heidegger expressed his approach to ancient Greek philosophy.

If we so stubbornly insist on thinking Greek thought in Greek fashion it is by no means because we intend to sketch an historical portrait of Greek antiquity, as one of the great past ages of man, which would be in many respects more accurate. We search for what is Greek neither for the sake of the Greeks themselves nor for the advancement of scholarship. Nor do we desire a more meaningful conversation simply for its own sake. Rather, our sole aim is to reach what wants to come to language in such a conversation, provided it come of its own accord. And this is that Same which fatefully concerns the Greeks and ourselves, albeit in different ways. It is that which brings the dawn of thinking into the fate of things Western, into the land of evening. Only as a result of this fatefulness (Geschick) do the Greeks become Greeks in the historic [Geschichtlich] sense.[11]

Heidegger’s exploration of Presocratic philosophy attempted to trace out the fateful history of being, and in the process traced out historically the origins of philosophy. In ancient Greece itself, according to Heidegger, we witness not only the origins, but also the decline, the dawn and the twilight; in the very origins we find the keys to understanding the decline of the west. Heidegger’s exegesis was not a social history; for Heidegger, what is historical (die Geschichte) proves to be something fateful (das Geschicklich).  The decline of the west was part of the fate of being itself. To grasp Being in a Heideggarian way we must come to terms with the primordial moments in which there was a fundamental accord between being and thinking, a fundamental belonging together of Being and beings:  they are the Same. That accord is signaled, according to Heidegger, by Anaximander’s xreôn, Heraclitus’ logos and alêtheia, and Parmenides’ eon.[12] Only with Plato’s formulation of being as idea, does there arise a fundamental rupture between the two, between the subject and object, between the thinker and what is thought, between the unity and plurality of being. In this rupture, in this lack of accord, philosophy, as it has come to be known in the West, begins. In this sense, philosophy becomes a basically remedial activity; it is born of the inauthentic but fateful separation of the knower and the known, and takes as its project the overcoming of it. Philosophy arises as the search of the knower for its proper object, once the original accord has been cast asunder. It arises only when consciousness has become disconnected; only then does the subject become aware of its separation from its object, only then, in fact, does this become its defining character. The separation is no small gulf, no simple lacuna that can be easily spanned. Instead, with this rupture, an abyss appears. And the consciousness of this abyss, arising from this separation of subject and object, is no mere contingent fact. Instead, this ontological rupture is inherent in the fate of being itself.  In the pre-Platonic world, “being” and “thinking” are still experienced as the same, and Being and beings still belong together. Authentic thinking appears as the very act of “presencing” (Anwesende), what is “present” (Anwesen). Being was grasped as the presencing of what is present, and so becomes taken up in thought. But all this changed, fatefully, with Plato.

In an essay on Heraclitus, Heidegger wrote:

“…thinking…has more at stake than a securing of objective truth – in the sense of valid propositions. Why is it that we are ever and again so quick to forget the subjectivity that belongs to every objectivity? How does it happen that even when we do note that they belong together, we still try to explain each from the standpoint of the other, or introduce some third element that is supposed to embrace both subject and object? Why is it that we stubbornly resist considering even once whether the belonging-together of subject and object does not arise from something that first imparts their nature to both the object and its objectivity, and the subject and its subjectivity, and hence is prior to the realm of their reciprocity?[13]

In the earliest Greek philosophers, then, Heidegger contends that there was still a primordial connection between subject and object. For human being, that is authentic human being or Dasein, this connection played out in terms of the sameness of being and thinking. Heidegger claimed they are to auto, the Same. This does not mean that being and thinking are identical. Instead, to say that being and thinking are the same means that they belong together primordially. So long as we grasp “being” as presencing, thinking and being converge. In the essay on Anaximander he puts it this way: “Thinking does not originate; it is, when Being presences;[14] in the essay on Parmenides, “Thinking first becomes thinking when it thinks on being.”[15]

In Heidegger’s essay “Building Dwelling Thinking,” the connection between thinking and the presencing of Being is announced in terms of the fourfold. For thinking to arise, we must know how to dwell. Only when we know how to dwell, that is how to be, can we build meaningfully. Even in the title to the essay, Heidegger’s refusal to separate his terms by commas shows that “thinking” is inextricably interwoven with both building and dwelling. When we build authentically, Heidegger claims we bring together earth and sky, divinities and mortals, experienced as the oneness of the fourfold. Since Heidegger explains dwelling as a “staying within the fourfold…a preserving of the fourfold in its essential being, its presencing,”[16] some have wondered how genuine dwelling is still possible.[17] If genuine dwelling is called into question, however, so must genuine thinking. Heidegger confronts this issue in just the same way he confronts the decline of Being in the west, fatefully traced to Plato’s conception of Being as idea. Since the original accord has long since been ruptured between Being and beings, a presencing of Being that appears as authentic thought, the problem arises about how the original unity might yet be regained. What is clear by Heidegger’s phrasing of the problem is that genuine thinking was once possible, and thus so was genuine dwelling and building. As Anaximander and the early Greek philosophers had been in accord with the Being of beings, the Greek temple also displays such an accord. The success of Greek temple, and indeed all authentic art and architecture, rests for Heidegger on an understanding of the true meaning of the earth. The earth shows us how Being reveals itself as fundamentally undisclosable. In “The Origin of the Work of Art” Heidegger says the earth “remains itself only when it remains undisclosed and unexplained. Earth thus shatters every attempt to penetrate into it…The earth appears openly cleared as itself only when it is perceived and preserved as that which is by nature undisclosable, that which shrinks from every disclosure and constantly keeps itself closed up.”[18]  In “The Anaximander Fragment” Heidegger describes alêtheia as “this concealing of its essence and its essential origin…characteristic of Being’s primordial illumination.”[19] Across the early Greek tradition, then, the experience of truth shares with the experience of the earth, a fundamental sameness in disclosing the undisclosable nature of Being. In discussing Anaximander and the early Greek philosophers, Heidegger maintains that “The oblivion of Being is oblivion of the distinction between Being and beings.”[20] The oblivion of the distinction means the forgetting of the disclosure of that which remains forever undisclosed in its disclosure. The experience of the earth, the grounding of our being-in-the-world, is, for Heidegger, pivotal to the early Greeks’ original accord.

When Karsten Harries explores these themes in The Ethical Foundations of Architecture, he traces the problem of determining the reciprocity between dwelling and building to Heidegger’s reminiscences on the Black Forest farmhouse.[21] But, perhaps, Harries wonders, our understanding must presuppose an even more primordial building.  If “dwelling” names the “relationship between man and space,” this primordial building must mean “space”, but space understood as a placing of persons and things. This leads him to follow the analogy between human building and divine creation, for God is the archetypal architect. If we have lost the primordial meaning of dwelling, a meaning inextricably connected with the primordial meaning of building, perhaps the place to look for insight is an understanding of the archetypal building as the representation of the cosmos itself? Harries points out that the medieval understanding of the Church was grasped as a representation of the cosmos.[22] And the view of buildings as cosmogonic acts is also not unique, as Mircea Eliade has shown.[23] If we follow Harries’ lead, shall we come to see the primordial house as the cosmos itself, and the stages of construction to be cosmogony or cosmology? Can the case be made for the Greek temple? Did the archaic Greeks experience the temple as a representation of the cosmos?  In it, did they envisage cosmogony, or cosmology? Can the case be made for Anaximander who reckoned the size and shape of the cosmos – like no other earlier Greek of whom we know – in earthly proportions, and expressed the cosmic architecture in cosmological stages, and by means of architectural techniques? Might it be that, in Anaximander, the disclosure of the undisclosurable earth is already announced? In Anaximander, shall we come to see the interweaving of two central Heideggarian themes, ontological and architectural? And if so, what of the fate of Heidegger’s argument?

C. Heidegger, the Greek Temple, and the Fourfold

Heidegger’s description of a Greek temple can be understood as a rewriting of Hegel. Heidegger’s presentation of the earth challenges the way Hegel opposes spirit and earth and thus his understanding of the spirit’s progress. The interpretation of earth suggests how the ancient Greeks experienced the truth of Being. The ground of the building is the earth, but Heidegger warns us that this is not be taken merely as the idea of a mass of matter deposited somewhere, or even as a planet. “Earth is that whence the arising brings back and shelters everything that arises without violation. In the things that arise, earth is present as the sheltering agent.”[24] Remarkably, Heidegger employs almost exactly this parlance in “The Anaximander Fragment” when he identifies Being itself. He says “…it becomes manifest that Being, as the presencing of what is present, is already in itself truth, provided that we think the essence of truth as the gathering that clears and shelters.”[25] Thus, when Heidegger describes the Greek temple in terms of the earth, we must think together in its revealing opacity, the fitting together of Being and truth. And so, Heidegger describes the Greek temple:

A building, a Greek temple, portrays nothing. It simply stands there in the middle of the rock-cleft valley. The building encloses the figure of the god, and in this concealment lets it stand out into the holy precinct through the one portico. By means of the temple, the god is present in the temple. This presence of the god is itself an extension and delimitation of the precinct as a holy precinct. The temple and its precinct, however, do not fade away into the indefinite. It is the temple work that first fits together and at the same time gathers around itself the unity of those paths and relations in which birth and death, disaster and blessing, victory and disgrace, endurance and decline acquire the shape of destiny for human being. The all-governing expanse of this open relational context is the world of this historical people. Only from and in this expanse does the nation first return to itself for the fulfillment of its vocation.[26]

There is much to say about Heidegger’s description, but for now let us focus on his claim that the Greek temple “portrays nothing.” The description he provides is initially acceptable. The building of monumental Greek temples, an invention of the archaic period, follows long intervals of time in which sites were sacred.  In Ionia, prior to the archaic period, there were no monumental Greek temples. The sacred precincts in Samos, Ephesus, and Didyma were holy places long before the building of these special houses. Sacred altars, often connected to sacred trees or groves signaled the dwelling places of Hera, Artemis, and Apollo.  In the archaic period, a small structure was, at first, built to house a sacred icon. In Samos, for example, Hera was presented as a plank of wood from the sacred Lygos tree. In front of it, for countless generations, sacrifices were made. The trees and the bloodstained altar indicated the presence of the god. With temple building, the god comes to life as a plank of sacred wood or statue, and the house is built to protect it. In the later seventh or early sixth century BCE, more permanent stone constructions on monumental scale were introduced and the unique dipteral form was adopted in Ionia. The temples were, no doubt, places of assembly, and they proved to be a means whereby the disparate elements in the community were organized through regularity of worship. But did they portray nothing? Or is Heidegger’s interpretation here arbitrary? How shall we decide the issue?

In the mid-sixth century, at the same time that Anaximander wrote the first philosophical book in prose (c. 548-7 BCE), the architects, alone of the archaic Greeks of whom we know, wrote prose treatises.[27] We know of these treatises only by their echoes in later writers. Vitruvius, writing hundreds of years later, mentions the prose books by Theodorus, architect of the temple of Hera in Samos (c. 575 BCE), and Chersiphron and Metagenes, architects of the temple of Artemis in Ephesus (c. 560 BCE), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The contents of these books can at best be conjectured, but there is good reason to suppose that they contained not only the rules of proportion for the various dimensions of the Ionic temple but also the techniques of construction. The architectural books, written in prose, were uniquely suited to explain difficulties that might be encountered in the construction process itself. When difficulties presented themselves at the quarries, or in the transport of weighty stones to the site, or in the installation of large blocks to great heights, rational accounts in prose, not mythopoesis couched in hexameter, was the chosen medium for the discourse. However, if the Greek temple portrayed anything, it is unlikely that we could discover much from the architects’ prose treatises, should the lost treatises ever be found. For there is no indication that these architectural books discussed the symbolic meaning of the temple or its parts. However, Anaximander’s prose book, rivaling the architects’, in that agôn civilization, gains illumination in this context. Could Anaximander’s book shed any light on the issue of what the Greek temple meant to the archaic communities that built them? Perhaps, after all, they portrayed something, not nothing.

In order for us to begin to see how the Greek temple and sacred architecture inspired Anaximander’s cosmic vision, we can profitably turn to the case for the Egyptian temple. The case for the mythological origins of the Egyptian temple is more accessible, and less speculative, than for the Greeks. The case has already been made that the products and techniques of the Egyptian architects inspired the archaic Greek architects, in the absence of any monumental building for hundreds of years in Greece. In the seventh century BCE when relations between Egypt and the Ionian Greeks became close, when the Egyptian Pharaohs hired Greek mercenaries from Ionia,[28] the Greeks were in a position to see multi-columned Egyptian temples first hand, and to learn how they were built. This is not to say that the Greek architects simply copied the Egyptians. This is certainly not true. Indeed, the Greeks created a unique and original architecture that suited their specific rituals and beliefs. But, those Greeks, who would have inspected the Egyptian architecture and learned their techniques, could not have escaped notice of the foundation scenes and mythological motifs that adorned the temple walls. One recurring motif concerning the origins of the Egyptian temple is the one that focuses upon the earth, a meaning that echoes Heidegger’s interpretation of it as that “whence the arising brings back and shelters everything that arises.”

The mythical origins of the Egyptian temple are to be derived from the bas reliefs on the enclosure walls of ancient temples. The story is far from clear but by appeal to the foundation scenes, two distinct stories can be reconstructed in broad outline. The older version is the Temple of the Falcon; the subsequent version is the Temple of the Sun-God. The Temple of the Falcon seems to deal with the creation of the earth and the making sacred of the sites where that happened. The Solar Temple, also founded in ancient mythical time, seems to have supplanted a site formerly occupied by the Falcon and Ptah. In the case of the Sun-Temple, creation had already taken place. Let us focus upon the earlier, original account of the origins of the temple, for in it we overhear the origins of creation itself.

The Falcon Temple reliefs describe the emergence of the päy-lands from Nun, the primordial ooze, the spirit of the waters. The scene is the emergence of virgin land from the receding flood. The annual inundation of the Nile, witnessed from time immemorial, produced the same recurring phenomena. Long before the water receded, reeds and lotuses began to sprout on the flooded plains. Slowly, mounds of mud appeared as the waters receded, and tender shoots continued to emerge from the muddy shore (päys). Here was the magical moment of creation, the appearance of the earth from the waters, witnessed year after year. As the sprouts continued to grow, there was a time when their growth was noted and marked by the appearance of a falcon, alighting on one of them. Perhaps such a time would have coincided with a change of season, a marker in time. Sometime later, the reeds would be strong enough to support a falcon, and by this time the floods were in retreat. As the reeds grew, they would be bundled together and wrapped in string to make a better perch for the falcon. Since the perch was itself a growing thing, it would have had obvious fertility connotations for the river people, and because of its shape, phallic associations. Subsequently, it became symbolized as the Djed pillar, a symbol of fertility and prosperity;[29] later this symbol was used coextensively with the Ankh, a symbol of life everlasting, by virtue of its eternal renewal.

While it must certainly have been true that there were many sites in the primitive landscape where the newly appearing life emerged from mud mounds, there seems to have been one principal island, the highest ground, which was never flooded. Did the original gods live here? This might be so. Perhaps also parts of several of these päy-lands enclosed by reed fences and perches constructed within them, each became a sanctuary hut. Such huts were known to contain symbols of the ritual occasion. What is clear amidst all the obscurities is that the mythical origins of the Egyptian temple mirrored cosmological processes. Could Anaximander’s book offer the promise to begin to fill in what had been taken to be an unbridgeable lacuna in the preserved record concerning the Greek temple, its cosmological and symbolic meaning?

The case for the Greek temple, and Anaximander, must be seen within this ancient context.  While the Greek temple, new to archaic Greece, did not simply belong to their mythical past, Anaximander’s cosmic vision, relying on temple architecture, suggests cosmological and symbolic origins. For Greeks of the archaic period, such as Anaximander, the Greek temple portrayed something, not nothing. This new case offers promise but is still circumstantial. Judging from the literature on Anaximander, prior to a recent study,[30] no one would have guessed that among the several factors that drove his rationalizing prose and his cosmic imagination, the architects and their prose treatises were formidable influences. Now that case has been made, we shall explore it shortly in outline. But, let us see what might follow from it, if we accept for the moment the hypothesis that Anaximander’s exegesis of the architecture of the cosmos was driven by architectural techniques. If we accept the hypothesis, then, we might be able to overhear, as it were, discussions in his archaic community concerning the symbolic meaning of temple architecture.[31] If this is so, we might see a whole new horizon appear. Not only did the temple not “portray nothing” but it portrayed cosmology itself.  Furthermore, the meaning of earth, for Anaximander and his community was a primary consideration. The irony is that Heidegger may yet prove to be insightful about the importance of earth, a cosmological foundation “whence the arising brings back and shelters everything that arises,” while nevertheless being mistaken when he supposes it portrays nothing. This one point, however, might lead to a more general unraveling of Heidegger’s assessment of Anaximander, and perhaps the early Greek philosophers themselves. Thus, had Anaximander’s cosmology, a vision of cosmic architecture, been driven by temple architecture, a reconstruction of his vision might help to supply something that has otherwise escaped notice concerning the symbolic meaning of the temple.

When Homer speculates about the cosmos, he imagines the flat and round earth in the center, equidistant from the heights of the Heavens and the depths of Tartarus.[32] Hesiod shares the same imagery of the earth and the symmetry of cosmic extremes that places us in the middle.[33] What Hesiod adds, however, are numbers and proportions that allow us to begin to form a picture, that is, the broad outlines of the geometry of cosmic architecture. Hesiod tells us that the heights of heaven are so great that a heavy anvil would fall for nine days until it finally reached the earth on the tenth. The depths of Tartarus are equally distant, nine plus one anvil days below the gates of Hades.[34] How big is the earth in itself? Or, how big is the earth in relation to these cosmic dimensions of nine plus one? We do not hear anything from Hesiod about the size of the earth. The absence of earthly dimensions frustrates an attempt to produce the geometry of an architectural rendition.

This impediment to produce an architectural rendition is overcome by Anaximander.  To understand how Anaximander was able to supply what was missing, we must first turn to consider a central architectural technique being utilized in his own backyard. Monumental architecture requires a common measure. Temple building, especially out of stone, is inconceivable without it. In architectural planning, the common measure is known as the module. Once the architect identifies a module, the building is calculated in multiples or submultiples of it – the heights of the columns, architraves, geison and syma, the measurements of the stylobate itself. Vitruvius tells us that in Ionia the module was column diameter,[35] and there has been agreement among the architect-excavators throughout the twentieth century about it.[36] Once the column diameter had been specified in ancient units – feet or ells (i.e. cubits) – the rest of the building parts could be calculated in terms of rules of proportion. The archaic architects likely discussed these rules of proportion in the early prose treatises.[37] After many debates, the excavators working in Samos, Ephesus, and Didyma during the twentieth century attempted to reconstruct those original rules of proportion.[38] There is general agreement now that, for example, column height in the archaic Ionic temples to Hera, Artemis, and Apollo was nine or ten times the lower column diameter.[39] Since the column had a symbolic meaning for the ancient Greeks – Homer[40] and Hesiod[41] regard the column to separate heaven and earth, Pindar says the column joins heaven and earth[42] – it is not surprising that the architectural proportions echo the archaic poetic formula. Thus, as in Hesiod, the separation of earth and heaven is given in the formula ‘nine plus one.’ But, now, in temple architecture out of stone, there is a common measure, a module – column diameter – in terms of which the geometry of the whole picture gains clarity. The architecture of the house for the god, the cosmic and divine power, requires a module. How about cosmic architecture? Neither Homer nor Hesiod furnishes one.

Anaximander’s thought must be seen in the context of the on-going monumental projects in sixth century Ionia, if we are to grasp his cosmic architecture. Arguably, no activity, with the exception of war and its preparations, so consumed archaic Greek communities for so long a time, and so markedly transformed their landscape, indeed, their very horizons. The Greek architects produced thaumata, “objects of wonder.” It is this very experience of thaumazein, says Aristotle, with which philosophy begins.[43] Unlike Homer and Hesiod, Anaximander’s cosmic architecture identifies a module, and the whole cosmos is reckoned in proportions of it. Significantly, Anaximander’s module is the very same one that the architects in archaic Ionia identified when they set out to make their cosmic temples. For Anaximander the cosmic module is also column diameter. The cosmos, for Anaximander, is calculated entirely in terms of column diameter. Heidegger neglected completely the import of the words that Diels identified as genuinely by Anaximander: the shape of the earth was likened to a stone column, lithôi kioni tên gên prospherê.[44] When the shape is described to be cylinder-like, and the dimensions are identified as 3 x 1, the diameter is three times its depth, we can be confident that Anaximander imagined the shape of the earth to be likened to a column drum. Moreover, it is worthy of note, that Anaximander imagined the cosmos in terms of a column, an architectural element that not only had symbolic and cosmic meaning for his archaic culture but also had become the defining feature of the Greek temple. Anaximander’s identification of the earth as module, in shape and size like a column drum, brings together two communities of interests in his world. The poets had already envisaged the column as having symbolic and cosmic meaning, and the architects made use of column drums roughly 3 x 1 in size.[45] Anaximander’s cosmic architecture bridges these two worlds. He is able bridge them because he was part of both of them. His originality thus must be seen as emerging from a cluster of burgeoning archaic interests and enterprises.

Furthermore, Anaximander enlarges upon the work of the architects, by appealing to archaic poetic formulas. He reckons that the distances to the fiery wheels of stars, moon, and sun are to be reckoned in column-drum units.[46] Each wheel is exactly one earth-diameter thick,[47] – one module thick – just as we should expect of the architects setting out the stylobate in column-diameter units. When we try to reconstruct Anaximander’s cosmic architecture, we must rely upon only a few numbers, and so we must supply the missing ones if we have any hopes of reconstructing his picture. The description of the distances to the heavenly wheels is commonly given in the geometrical progression of 9, 18, 27. The wheel of the stars is reckoned to be distant from the earth by 9 earth diameters, the moon 18, and the sun 27, in the familiar scholarly presentations. The attribution of geometrical regularity is certainly correct, but these numbers alone are inadequate to explain how Anaximander imagined the cosmos. According to the tertiary testimony, the distance to the farthest wheel, the sun, is given in one doxographical report as 27 earth diameters[48] and in another as 28.[49] The only number that survives for the moon wheel identifies its distance as 19 earth diameters, not 18.[50]  Some scholars have tried to explain them as a manuscript corruption.[51] But, if we consider how the architects worked, these numbers make perfectly good sense. The first number is the measure to the inside of the wheel; the second to the outside of the wheel, and each wheel is precisely one module in size. Just as the architect would measure out on the stylobate a distance to the inside of the column base and then the outside – that is an intercolumnar measure, each column diameter being one module unit in length – so Anaximander imagined his cosmic architecture in column-diameter distances. Thus, Anaximander’s picture is this. The sun wheel is distant from the earth by 27 earth diameters to the inside of the wheel and 28 to the outside. The moon wheel is distant by 18 modules to the inside and 19 to the outside. No numbers at all survive for the star wheel, but from this reconstruction of the distances to the sun and moon, the conjecture of the star wheel as 9 modules to the inside and 10 to the outside is more than plausible. This is because the distances now appear to echo exactly the archaic formula also embraced by Hesiod: 9+1 to the stars, 9 + 9+1 to the moon, and 9 + 9 + 9+1 to the sun. Unlike Hesiod, however, Anaximander’s numbers are reckoned in modules – the architect’s module, that is, column diameter. In plan view, literally a horizontal cross-section through the plane of the earth, Anaximander’s cosmos is rendered below:[52]


We thus have a perfect illustration of the architects’ technique for building their monumental architecture of the cosmic forces. If we follow this line of thought, we are grasping not only Anaximander’s architectural imagination but also, at the same time, overhearing his contemporaries, and perhaps the archaic architects themselves as they might have explained how they worked.

In this initial description, however, we are still missing a central point. The point is that the original meaning of Anaximander’s cosmology is cosmic architecture. Just as the archaic architects would have discussed the stages by which the cosmic and divine house is to be built in their prose books, so also Anaximander, the cosmic architectural historian, described the stages by which the house that is the cosmos was built, in his prose book. In the beginning was the apeiron, an undifferentiated stuff.[53] At the same time, motion is eternal.[54] An all-encompassing hot and dry fire, like “bark around a tree” (note the cylindrical, not spherical, model – Anaximander’s cosmos is a great and sacred tree) surrounded a cold and wet earth at its center.[55] The fire was somehow separated off into wheels, and due to evaporation from the wet earth, caused by the surrounding fire, the evaporated mist somehow came to encase each of the cosmic wheels.[56] What we see as the sun is not a round body at all but rather an opening in the farthest wheel.[57] The compressed air or mist hides the fiery wheel, and the sun, moon, and stars prove to be puncture holes in those fiery wheels; the fire radiates through these holes as through the nozzle of a bellows.[58] Anaximander’s cosmic architecture, then, is the imaginative picturing of cosmology.  Here is our clue that the Greek temple portrayed something, not nothing.

Anaximander’s cosmos is alive; scholars routinely refer to his hylozoistic universe. The holes in the heavenly wheels through which the fire appears are said to be ekpnôe or “breathing holes,” and not simply openings.[59] The mechanism for transmission of the fire is likened to a blacksmiths’ bellows – prêstêros aulos[60] – and we know from archaeological evidence, Hephaistos’ bellows appear as two large lungs (made of animal skins).  Anaximander’s cosmos is alive by means of its everlasting fire-breathing mechanism.[61]

Finally, we find those testimonies anachronistic that suggest Anaximander imagined the cosmos within a spherical frame, that a sphere of fire first surrounded the cold moist earth,[62] and that he had constructed a globe.[63] Before Aristotle, the model of the cosmos that predominated was cylindrical, not spherical; echoes of this are presented in Pherecydes of Syros’ book, datable to the mid-seventh century B.C.E. Anaximander’s cosmos is a great, living, and growing tree. The testimony that the original fire that surrounded the earth was like “bark around a tree” makes the picture unmistakably clear.[64] Anaximander imagined the cosmos, in orthographic projections other than plan, as his construction of a seasonal sundial – requiring the plotting of changes in the altitude of the sun – certainly confirms. To imagine the cosmos in elevation, looking across the cosmos from outside of the cosmos, the universe appears as a series of virtual cylinders, one inside the other. The heavenly wheels rise and fall on these virtual cylinders, without changing their angle of inclination.[65] In a three-dimensional view, very different from a plan or aerial view, Anaximander’s cosmos appears as a cosmic axle, a spindle, and its overall shape is cylindrical. This fits well within the context that Anaximander imagined the shape of the earth as an architectural element, a column drum, that had both symbolic and cosmic significance for his community. The stone architecture replaced the earlier wooden architecture, in which the columns were trees. And since Anaximander’s cosmos is conceived in terms of these tree segments, it makes sense to imagine Anaximander’s living cosmos as a great cosmic tree.[66]

If we imagine, for the moment, a cross-section of a tree, with concentric rings, and then project that plan view into three dimensions, the cylindrical, not spherical form pops out. Below, we have a reconstruction of Anaximander’s cosmos, after Couprie, in a three-dimensional projection:[67]




How does this new reading of Anaximander square with Heidegger’s vision, either of Anaximander or art and architecture? In the Epilogue to “The Origin of the Work of Art,” Heidegger asks us to reflect again on Hegel’s pronouncement that art can no longer count on the side of our highest vocation. Is it still possible for art to function as an essential and necessary way in which truth happens which is decisive for our historical existence?[68] If art can no longer provide this truth, the question certainly remains why this is so. But, according to Heidegger, the truth of Hegel’s judgment has not yet been decided. No final verdict has been given. Why? Because “behind this verdict,” says Heidegger, “there stands Western thought since the Greeks, which thought corresponds to a truth of beings that has already happened.”[69] Thus, for Heidegger, there is still a promise for the future because there was such a happening of truth in the past. For Hegel, the happening of the truth in the past was not the highest truth of being, just the highest truth available at that stage in history’s progress. And so, there is no need for Hegel, as there is for Heidegger, to seek a return to this philosophical Garden of Eden, this original and primordial accord.[70] For Heidegger, who does not subscribe to the particular historical progress that Hegel identifies, the fact of Presocratic philosophy is the testimony to the highest truth of all time, since it is the truth of Being in all of its obfuscating disclosure. Since there was, long ago, a primordial accord for the earliest of earlycomers, there may still be yet a revival for the latest of the latecomers. But, what if Heidegger is mistaken in his attribution of this accord, named for Anaximander as to xreon (and for Heraclitus alêtheia, Parmenides eon, and so forth), Heidegger’s project seems to collapse. Perhaps, however, the new reading of Anaximander is not as devastating as it first seems. Heidegger’s interpretation of the early Greek thinkers rests on the question of how Being presences. If the new interpretation of Anaximander does not undermine Heidegger’s assessment of how Being presences, perhaps no radical revision is called for. But, perhaps not.

The fragment of Anaximander testifies to a vision of nature’s self-regulating mechanism. There is a cosmic justice that appears in the cycles of nature. The justice appears, not as an arbitrary or contingent fact, but rather as to xreon, as “necessity” itself. Human being, and human meaning, find a place in this context. But Anaximander’s cosmic vision is not the self-unfolding of Dasein, a truth that is revealed in human being. The truth for Anaximander reaches outward, it announces the origins of cosmology in which humans seek to grasp what is absolutely external to ourselves, while, at the same time, it affirms our capacity to do so. Anaximander invites us to reject a vision of Dasein’s self-disclosure, and embrace instead the metaphysically real that is outside myself.

Anaximander thus offers an example of a "Denken" which lacks "Geborgenheit". For Anaximander deconstructs the dome of the universe under which "Dasein" felt safe and "geborgen". His universe is no longer the warm cover of the mantle of the heavens, nor the safety of the goddess arching over mankind, but the unfathomable depth of the circling celestial bodies, wheels of cosmic fire somehow separated off from a more original, more primordial fire. The cosmos is not a dome, and not spherical, but is rather cylindrical, containing cylinders within cylinders. The cosmos is a living, growing – perhaps fire-breathing – tree. What then of Heidegger’s project in the light of the new horizon that appears from our re-thinking of Anaximander and the Greek temple?



[1] Karsten Harries, The Ethical Function of Architecture [henceforth, EFA] Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 1997, p. 353.

[2] Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Aesthetik, 1937, 12:125., Trans. F.P.B. Osmaston, in Selections from The Philosophy of Fine Arts,” in Philosophies of Art and Beauty, ed. Albert Hofstadter and Richard Kuhns Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1976, p. 439.

[3] Harries, EFA, p. 354.

[4]Hegel, Vorlesungen, Osmaston p. 388; Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art” [henceforth, OAW], in Poetry, Language, and Thought, Trans. A. Hofstadter, New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1975, p. 80.

[5] Cf. Martin Heidegger, “The Anaximander Fragment” [henceforth AF], in Early Greek Thinking, Trans. D.F. Krell and F. Capuzzi, New York: Harper and Row, 1975, pp. 26, 36, et alia, in addition to the usual citation in the Heraclitus essays.

[6] Harries, EFA, p. 209.

[7] Heidegger Sein und Zeit [henceforth, SZ] pp. 391; Being and Time [henceforth, BT], Trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson, New York: Harper and Row, 1962, p. 443.

[8] Harries, EFA, p. 209.

[9] Heidegger, AF, p. 50.

[10] Cf. SZ, p. 378, “Die Bedeutung von ‘Geschichte’ im Sinne von Geschichtswissenschaft (Historie) schalten wir vorläufig aus.” Cf. Also SZ, p. 20, 375, 381; WP, p. 18, ID, p. 52; VA, p. 29l WD, p. 90; HW, pp. 300ff.

[11] Heidegger, AF, p.50.

[12] Cf. SZ, p. 378, “Die Bedeutung von ‘Geschichte’ im Sinne von Geschichtswissenschaft (Historie) schalten wir vorläufig aus.” Cf. Also SZ, p. 20, 375, 381; WP, p. 18, ID, p. 52; VA, p. 29l WD, p. 90; HW, pp. 300ff.

[13] Heidegger, “Aletheia” in Early Greek Thinking, Trans. D.F. Krell and F. Capuzzi, New York: Harper and Row, 1975.

[14] Heidegger AF, p. 40.

[15] Cf. SZ, p. 378, “Die Bedeutung von ‘Geschichte’ im Sinne von Geschichtswissenschaft (Historie) schalten wir vorläufig aus.” Cf. Also SZ, p. 20, 375, 381; WP, p. 18, ID, p. 52; VA, p. 29l WD, p. 90; Hw, pp. 300ff.

[16] Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking” in Poetry, Language, and Thought, Trans. A. Hofstadter, New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1975, p. 150.

[17] Harries, EFA, p. 158.

[18] Heidegger, OWA, p. 47.

[19] Heidegger, AF, p. 26.

[20] Heidegger, AF, p. 50.

[21] Harries EFA, p. 157ff.

[22] Harries, EFA, p. 158.

[23] Cf. Mircea Eliade, Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return, trans. Willard R. Task (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1959), pp. 76ff.

[24] Heidegger, OWA, p. 42.

[25] Heidegger, AF, p. 37.

[26] Heidegger, OWA, pp. 41-42.

[27] It is important to note that Pherecydes of the 7th century BCE also is credited with a prose treatise. But, since he became regarded as a theologos, not phusiologos like Anaximander, it is Anaximander who enjoys recognition as the first philosophical writer in prose. In archaic Greece, the only other evidence we have for prose writing is in terms of legal inscriptions. In the sixth century, however, Anaximander and the architects, alone, are recognized for the earliest prose books.

[28] Herodotus, Histories 1.56 et alia.

[29] The Djed pillar also came to be associated with the backbone of god Osiris, the cosmic vertebrae.

[30] Hahn, Anaximander and the Architects: The Contributions of Egyptian and Greek Architectural Technologies to the Origins of Greek Philosophy [henceforth, A&A], Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 2001.

[31] Cf. Hahn, A&A, ch.2-F for an exploration of the theories concerning the symbolic meaning of the Greek temple and its parts.

[32] Cf. Homer, Iliad 8,13016; 18,607ff; 21, 194ff; 14,200ff.  Cf. also Kirk-Raven, The Presocratic Philosophers, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1957, p. 10.

[33] Hahn, A&A, ch.4.

[34] Hesiod, Theogony 722-726; cf. also the 9+1 formula at 775-805.

[35] Vitruvius, The Ten Books on Architecture, Trans. M.H. Morgan, New York: Dover Press, 1960, III,3.7.

[36] Burkhardt Wesenberg, Beiträge zur Reconstruktion griechischer Architektur nach literarischen quellen, Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Athenische Abteilung, 9 Beiheft, 1983, pp. 23ff. Where Wesenberg traces out the reception of the module and theory of proportions from Krischen’s 1921 work, and following.

[37] J. J. Coulton, Ancient Greek Architects at Work, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1977, p. 24. For discussion of how the rules of proportion worked, cf. pp. 64-67.

[38] Cf. Wesenberg, 1983, pp. 23-36ff.  Wesenberg traces the discussion from Krischen and investigates the problem of determining where, precisely, on the tapering column, the column diameter – the module – is to be measured.

[39] Cf. Wesenberg, 1983, esp. 29ff, but for the criticism, cf. Gruben 1996.

[40] Homer, Odyssey, 1,53.

[41] Hesiod, Theogony, 517ff.

[42] Pindar, Pythian Odes, 1,39ff.

[43] Aristotle, Metaphysics A.

[44] H. Diels and W. Kranz, Die fragmente der Vorsokratiker, Berlin: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1935, DK 12B5.

[45] Cf. Hahn, A&A, ch. 3-D.

[46] I have already argued that the numbers must be distances to the wheels, not sizes of them, cf. A&A, ch.4. While I certainly do acknowledge that the testimony from Aetius and Hippolytus – plasiona – suggests size of, not distance to, the heavenly wheels, I regard the testimony to arise from either a corruption or misunderstanding. Anaximander was the first of the Greek philosophers to grasp the very idea of cosmic space, that is, depth in the cosmos. He places the stars so distant that only poetic formula could express the great expanse that separates us from them. The moon is not merely farther than the extraordinarily distant stars but extraordinarily more distant than them. And the sun lies behind the moon, which in turn lies behind the stars, at distances so incomprehensible that they can only be indicated by proportions and poetry.

[47] Cf. DK 12A11, Aetius II,25,1: “The sun is equal to the earth….”

[48] Cf. DK 12A22, Hippolytus, Ref. 1,6, 4-5. – heptakaieikosaplasiona.

[49] Cf. DK 12A21, Aetius, II,20,1 – oktôkaieikosaplasiona.  But, cf. also in Aetius II, 21, 1 where the number 27 is also given. The scribe (so it has been conjectured by M.L. West, Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient, Oxford, 1972, pp. 86,n.3) saw ‘9’ for the star wheel, but his eye ran on to the distance of the moon wheel, and wrote ‘19’ rather than ‘18’. Then, another scribe who saw ‘18’ for the moon wheel, let his eye run ahead to corrupt ‘27’ as ‘28’.

[50] Aetius II,25,1.

[51] West, op cit. p. 86,n.3. 

[52] Cf. Hahn, A&A, ch.4 for reconstructions of the 3-dimensional views of Anaximander’s cosmos. They present completely different pictures that Anaximander imagined. Cf. also c.4 for the argument that Anaximander was capable of imagining in plan view. The fact that he is credited with the first map of the inhabited earth is proof positive of this capacity. The map, worked in bronze or carved in wood, could only have been in  plan view.

[53] DK 12A9, 12A10, 12A11.

[54] DK 12A11.

[55] DK 12A10.

[56] Aristotle, Physics 187a20ff; DK 12A9, 12A10; DK 12A22 and 12A21. Cf. also the commentaries by Holscher 1970, and Lloyd 1970.

[57] Literally, the opening is an ekpnoê or “breathing hole,” on the authority of Hippolytus Ref. 1,6.3.

[58] DK 12B4; 12A21.

[59] Hippolytus Ref. I, 6,4.

[60] DK 12B4. Diel’s rightly regarded the expression as genuinely Anaximandrean.

[61] The anticipation of Heraclitus is obvious here.

[62] DK 12A10, on the authority of Psuedo-Plutarch, is mistaken.

[63] DK 12A1, on the late authority of Diogenes Laertius, and in the Suda, are mistaken.

[64] DK 12A10, hôs tên dendrôi phloion.

[65] Cf. West, op. cit., p. 85-86; cf. also Couprie 1998.

[66] This ideal of a the tree as cosmos is the one embraced by Pherecydes who, in the seventh century BCE wrote a prose treatise on the marriage of Zas and Chthoniê.

[67] By kind permission of Dirk Couprie, cf. also Hahn A&A, ch.4.

[68] Heidegger, OWA, p. 80.

[69] Heidegger, OWA, p. 80.

[70] Cf. Heidegger, OWA, p. 51 where he insists that this recognition is not a call for a revival of Greek philosophy, as such.



Vol. 12, No. 1
August 2007