Archive for November 2010

Numinous Foundations of Human Culture

High Acre - A Painting by Richard Moult
The Numinous Foundations of Human Culture

In your recently published autobiography, Myngath, you wrote that, and I quote – “a shared, a loyal, love between two people is the most beautiful, the most numinous, the most valuable thing of all.” Is that how you now feel about life?

Certainly. I have now reached the age when there seems to be a natural tendency to reflect on the past – to recall to one’s consciousness happy, treasured, moments from decades past, bringing as such recollections seem to do some understanding of what is important, precious, about life, about our mortal human existence.

One remembers – for instance – those tender moments of one’s child growing in the first years of their life – the moment of first walking, the first words, the time they feel asleep in your arms on that day when warm Sun and their joyful discovery of sand and sea finally wore them out… Or the tender moments of a love, shared, with another human being; perhaps evoked again by some scent (of a flower, perhaps) or by those not quite dreaming-moments before one falls asleep at night, or, as sometimes occurs with people of my age, in the afternoon after lunch or following that extra glass of wine to which we treat ourselves.

It is as if – and if we allow ourselves – we become almost as children again, but with the memories, the ability, to appreciate the time, the effort, the love, the tenderness, and often the sacrifice, that our own parents showed and gave to us but which we never really appreciated then in those moments of their giving. As if we wish we could be back there, then, with this our ageful understanding – back there, full of youth and unhampered by the ageing body which now seems to so constrain us. Thus, are we as if that, this, is all we are or have to give: this, our understanding, our now poignant understanding; this – perhaps a smile, a gesture, a look, a word, or those tears we might cry, silently, softy, when we are alone, remembering. Tears of both sadness and of joy; of memories and of hopes. Hopes that someone, somewhere, at some time, might by our remembering be infused, if only a little, with that purity of life which such ageing recollections seem to so exquisitely capture.

That purity which becomes so expressed, so manifest, if one watches – for example – a young loving mother cradling her baby. Look at her eyes, her face, the way she holds her hands. There is such a gentle love there; such a gentle love that artists should really try and capture again and again in music, in painting, in moving images, in words, in sculpture. And capture again and again so that their Art reminds us of that so very human quality, that so very fragile quality, which enables us – each, another separate human being – to be so gently aware of another person, and thus able for ourselves, if only for an instant, to feel that gentleness, that tenderness, in another. This tenderness, this love, should be captured and expressed again and again because such love is one of the foundations of human culture, and something we so often, especially we men, are so prone to forget when we allow ourselves to become subsumed with some abstraction, some idealistic notion of duty, or some personal often selfish emotion.

Thus are we reminded of the value, the importance, of human love, and the need for us to be empathic beings – to have and to develope our empathy so that we can shed our selfish self and the illusion of our separateness.

That sounds very much like some old hippy talking – preaching love and gentleness. But don’t you still uphold honour and surely that itself might sometimes require the use of force, of violence? Surely there is a contradiction, here – between such tenderness, such love, and such force?

Personally, I think there is no contradiction, only a natural human balance. One prefers love, gentleness, empathy, but one is prepared, if necessary, to defend one’s self and one’s loved ones from those who might act in a selfish, dishonourable, harmful, violent, way toward us in some personal situation.

This nature balance – an innate nobility – is possessed by many human beings, and has been, for millennia; which is why some people just naturally have a sense of fair-play and would instinctively “do the right thing” in some situations, for example if they saw two men (or even one man) battering a women in a public place or if they came across a group of yobs taunting an elderly disabled man. And it is this natural balance, this notion of fairness, which is another of the numinous foundations of human culture.

Thus, it is that, according to my understanding, it is personal love – with all its tenderness – combined with fairness, a sense of personal honour, and with the ability to empathize with other human beings, that are not only numinous, but which also express our culture, our social nature, and are the things we should value, treasure, and seek to develope within ourselves.

It is unfortunate, therefore, that our predilection for manufacturing and believing in abstractions has, over millennia, and especially in the past hundred or more years, detracted from these three noble virtues of personal love, personal honour, and empathy, and instead led to the manufacture of new types of living where some abstraction or other is the goal, rather than such virtues.

My own life – until quite recently – is an example of how a person can foolishly and unethically place abstractions before such virtues and thus cause suffering in others, and for themselves.

One reviewer of your autobiography wrote of it as a modern allegory; a story of personal redemption, but without God. Would you agree?

With my four-decade long love of abstractions I certainly seem to have been a good example of human stupidity and arrogance; of someone obsessed with ideas, and ideals, for whom love and personal happiness came second, at best. Someone who arrogantly, sometimes even fanatically, believed they were “doing the right thing” and who found or who made excuses for the suffering, both personal and impersonal, that he caused.

Even worse, perhaps, was that there were many times in my life when I understood this, instinctively, emotionally, and consciously, but I always ended up ignoring such understanding – at least until recently. So, in effect, that makes me a worse offender than many others.

So, yes – perhaps my life is one such allegory; one story of how a human being can return to the foundations of human culture, and thus embrace the numinous virtue of compassion, of ceasing to intentionally cause suffering, of considering that a shared and loyal love between two human beings is the most beautiful, the most precious, the most numinous, thing of all.

But without a religious dimension? That, surely, is the key here, and what makes your story so very interesting?

Certainly, a kind of redemption without a belief in conventional religion. But that is only my own personal conclusion, my own personal Way, which therefore does not necessarily mean it is correct. It is only my own Numinous Way, deriving from my own pathei-mathos, founded on empathy, compassion, honour, and where there is no need for some supreme deity, or some theology, or even for some belief in something supra-personal. Instead, I feel there is a human dimension here – a natural return to valuing human beings, born of empathy. That is, that what is important is a close, a personal and empathic, interaction between human beings, and a living in a compassionate and honourable way – rather than a religious approach, with prayer, with rituals, with notions of sin, of redemption by some some supra-personal deity, or some belief in some after-life and which after-life is ours if we behave in the particular ways that some religion or some Sage or teacher or prophet prescribes or describes.

Without, in particular, any texts or impersonal guidance or revelation – since we have all the guidance we need, or can have all the guidance we need, because of and with and through empathy; by means of developing empathy, and so feeling as others feel. Thus, we lose that egocentric – that selfish, self-contained – view of ourselves, and instead view, and importantly feel, ourselves as connected to, part of, other human life, other beings; we know, we feel, we understand, that they are us and that we are them, and that it is only the illusion of the self, the abstraction of the self, that keeps us from this knowing, this feeling, this understanding of ourselves as a nexion to all other Life.

Thus, there is – or seems to me to be – a natural simplicity here in this Way of Empathy, Compassion, and Honour: a child learning and maturing, to perchance develope into another type of human being who might perchance with others develope new, more loving, more empathic, more balanced, ways of social living, and thus a new type or species of human culture where abstractions no longer hold people in thrall.

Is this – in enabling this new culture – where you think artists have an important rôle to play?

Yes, artists and artisans as pioneers of a new type of human culture – artists and artisans of the Numinous who can presence, and thus express, in their works those things which can inspire us to be human, to be more human, and to value the numinous virtues of empathy, compassion, personal love, and personal honour.


David Myatt
2010 CE

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See also –  Myatt: The Culture of Arete


Heraclitus – Fragment 112

The Balance of Physis – Notes on λόγος and ἀληθέα in Heraclitus

Part One – Fragment 112

σωφρονεῖν ἀρετὴ μεγίστη, καὶ σοφίη ἀληθέα λέγειν καὶ ποιεῖν κατὰ φύσιν ἐπαίοντας. [1]

This fragment is interesting because it contains what some regard as the philosophically important words σωφρονεῖν, ἀληθέα, φύσις and λόγος.

The fragment suggests that what is most excellent [ ἀρετὴ ] is thoughtful reasoning [σωφρονεῖν] – and such reasoning is both (1) to express (reveal) meaning and (2) that which is in accord with, or in sympathy with, φύσις – with our nature and the nature of Being itself.

Or, we might, perhaps more aptly, write – such reasoning is both an expressing of inner meaning (essence), and expresses our own, true, nature (as thinking beings) and the balance, the nature, of Being itself.

λέγειν [λόγος] here does not suggest what we now commonly understand by the term “word”. Rather, it suggests both a naming (denoting), and a telling – not a telling as in some abstract explanation or theory, but as in a simple describing, or recounting, of what has been so denoted or so named. Which is why, in fragment 39, Heraclitus writes:

ἐν Πριήνηι Βίας ἐγένετο ὁ Τευτάμεω, οὗ πλείων λόγος ἢ τῶν ἄλλων [2]

and why, in respect of λέγειν, Hesiod [see below under ἀληθέα] wrote:

ἴδμεν ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγειν ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα,
ἴδμεν δ᾽, εὖτ᾽ ἐθέλωμεν, ἀληθέα γηρύσασθαι [3]

φύσις here suggests the Homeric [4] usage of nature, or character, as in Herodotus (2.5.2):

Αἰγύπτου γὰρ φύσις ἐστὶ τῆς χώρης τοιήδε

but also suggests Φύσις (Physis) – as in fragment 123; the natural nature of all beings, beyond their outer appearance.

ἀληθέα – commonly translated as truth – here suggests (as often elsewhere) an exposure of essence, of the reality, the meaning, which lies behind the outer (false) appearance that covers or may conceal that reality or meaning, as in Hesiod (Theog, 27-28):

ἴδμεν ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγειν ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα,
ἴδμεν δ᾽, εὖτ᾽ ἐθέλωμεν, ἀληθέα γηρύσασθαι [3]

σωφρονεῖν here suggests balanced (or thoughtful, measured) reasoning – but not according to some abstract theory, but instead a reasoning, a natural way or manner of reasoning, in natural balance with ourselves, with our nature as thinking beings.

Most importantly, perhaps, it is this σωφρονεῖν which can incline us toward not committing ὕβρις (hubris; insolence), which ὕβρις is a going beyond the natural limits, and which thus upsets the natural balance, as, for instance, mentioned by Sophocles:

ὕβρις φυτεύει τύραννον:
ὕβρις, εἰ πολλῶν ὑπερπλησθῇ μάταν,
ἃ μὴ ‘πίκαιρα μηδὲ συμφέροντα,
ἀκρότατον εἰσαναβᾶσ᾽
αἶπος ἀπότομον ὤρουσεν εἰς ἀνάγκαν,
ἔνθ᾽ οὐ ποδὶ χρησίμῳ

It therefore not surprising that Heraclitus considers, as expressed in fragment 112, the best person – the person with the most excellent character (that is, ἀρετὴ) – is the person who, understanding and appreciating their own true nature as a thinking being (someone who can give names to – who can denote – beings, and express or recount that denoting to others), also understands the balance of Being, the true nature of beings [cf. fragment 1 – κατὰ φύσιν διαιρέων ἕκαστον], and who thus seeks to avoid committing the error of hubris, but who can not only also forget this understanding, and cease to remember such reasoning:

τοῦ δὲ λόγου τοῦδ᾽ ἐόντος ἀεὶ ἀξύνετοι γίνονται ἄνθρωποι καὶ πρόσθεν ἢ ἀκοῦσαι καὶ ἀκούσαντες τὸ πρῶτον [6]

but who can also deliberately, or otherwise, conceal what lies behind the names (the outer appearance) we give to beings, to “things”.

DW Myatt


[1] Fragmentum B 112 Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, ed. H. Diels, Berlin 1903

[2] ” In Priene was born someone named and recalled as most worthy – Bias, that son of Teuta.”


We have many ways to conceal – to name – certain things
And the skill when we wish to expose their meaning

[4] Odyssey, Book 10, vv. 302-3

[5] “ Insolence plants the tyrant. There is insolence if by a great foolishness there is a useless over-filling which goes beyond the proper limits. It is an ascending to the steepest and utmost heights and then that hurtling toward that Destiny where the useful foot has no use…” (Oedipus Tyrannus, vv.872ff)

[6] ” Although this naming and expression, which I explain, exists – human beings tend to ignore it, both before and after they have become aware of it.”  (Fragment 1)


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Heraclitus – Fragment 123

Φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ
Physis, Nature, Concealment, and Natural Change

The phrase Φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ – attributed to Heraclitus [See Note 1] – is often translated along the following lines: Nature loves to conceal Herself (or, Nature loves to hide).

Such a translation is somewhat inaccurate, for several reasons.

First, as used here, by Heraclitus, the meaning of Φύσις is rather different from his other usage of the term, as such usage is known to us in other fragments of his writings. For the sense here is of Φύσις rather than φύσις – a subtle distinction that is often overlooked; that is, what is implied is that which is the origin behind the other senses, or usages, of the term φύσις.

Thus, Φύσις (Physis) is not simply what we understand as Nature; rather, Nature is one way in which Φύσις is manifest, presenced, to us: to we human beings who possess the faculty of consciousness and of reflexion (Thought). That is, what we term Nature [See Note 2] has the being, the attribute, of Physis.

As generally used – for example, by Homer – φύσις suggests the character, or nature, of a thing, especially a human being; a sense well-kept in English, where Nature and nature can mean two different things (hence one reason to capitalize Nature). Thus, we might write that Nature has the nature of Physis.

Second, κρύπτεσθαι does not suggest a simple concealment, some intent to conceal – as if Nature was some conscious (or anthropomorphic) thing with the ability to conceal Herself. Instead, κρύπτεσθαι implies a natural tendency to, the innate quality of, being – and of becoming – concealed or un-revealed.

Thus – and in reference to fragments 1 and 112 – we can understand that κρύπτεσθαι suggests that φύσις has a natural tendency (the nature, the character) of being and of becoming un-revealed to us, even when it has already been revealed, or dis-covered.

How is or can Φύσις (Physis) be uncovered? Through λόγος (cf. fragments 1, and 112).

Here, however, logos is more than some idealized (or moralistic) truth [ ἀληθέα ] and more than is implied by our term word. Rather, logos is the activity, the seeking, of the essence – the nature, the character – of things [ ἀληθέα akin to Heidegger’s revealing] which essence also has a tendency to become covered by words, and an abstract (false) truth [ an abstraction; εἶδος and ἰδέα ] which is projected by us onto things, onto beings and Being.

Thus, and importantly, λόγος – understood and applied correctly – can uncover (reveal) Φύσις and yet also  – misunderstood and used incorrectly – serve to, or be the genesis of the, concealment of Φύσις. The correct logos – or a correct logos – is the ontology of Being, and the λόγος that is logical reasoning is an essential part of, a necessary foundation of, this ontology of Being, this seeking by φίλος, a friend, of σοφόν. Hence, and correctly, a philosopher is a friend of σοφόν who seeks, through λόγος, to uncover – to understand – Being and beings, and who thus suggests or proposes an ontology of Being.

Essentially, the nature of Physis is to be concealed, or hidden (something of a mystery) even though Physis becomes revealed, or can become revealed, by means such as λόγος. There is, thus, a natural change, a natural unfolding – of which Nature is one manifestation – so that one might suggest that Physis itself is this process [ the type of being] of a natural unfolding which can be revealed and which can also be, or sometimes remain, concealed.

Third, φιλεῖ [ φίλος ] here does not suggest “loves” – nor even a desire to – but rather suggests friend, companion, as in Homeric usage.

In conclusion, therefore, it is possible to suggest more accurate translations of the phrase Φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ. All of which correctly leave Φύσις untranslated (as Physis with a capital P), since Φύσις is the source of certain beings [or, to be precise, Physis is the source of, the being behind, our apprehension of certain beings] of which being Nature is one, and of which our own, individual, character, as a particular human being, is another.

One translation is: Concealment accompanies Physis. Or: Concealment remains with Physis, like a friend. Another is: The natural companion of Physis is concealment.

Or, more poetically perhaps, but much less literally, one might suggest: Physis naturally seeks to remain something of a mystery.

DW Myatt


[1]  Fragmentum B 123  – Fragmente der Vorsokratiker ed. H. Diels, Berlin 1903. An older reference for the text, still sometimes used, is Fragment 10 [Epigrammaticus] (cf. GTW Patrick, after Bywater; et al). If the first letter of φύσις is not capitalized, then the phrase is φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ

Heraclitus flourished c. 545 – 475 BCE.

[2] Nature can be said to be both a type of being, and that innate, creative, force (that is, ψυχή) which animates physical matter and makes it living.


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