Heidegger on Heraclitus, gods and the stove:
The saying of Heraclitus (Fragment 119) goes: ethos anthropo daimon. This is usually translated: “A man’s character is his daimon.” This translation thinks in a modern way, not a Greek one. Ethos means abode, dwelling place. The word names the open region in which the human being dwells. The open region of this abode allows what pertains to the essence of the human being, and what in thus arriving resides in nearness to him, to appear. The abode of the human being contains and preserves the advent of what belongs to the human being in his essence. According to Heractlitus’s phraise this is daimon, the god. The fragment says: The human being dwells, in so far as he is a human being, in the nearness of god. A story that Aristotle reports (De partibus animalium, A, 5, 645 a17ff.) agrees with this fragment of Heraclitus. It runs:
The story is told of something Heraclitus said to some strangers who wanted to come visit him. Having arrived, the saw him warming himself at a stove. Surprised, they stood there in consternation – above all because he encouraged them, the astounded ones, and called to them to come in, with the words, “For here too the gods are present.”
The story certainly speaks for itself, but we may stress a few aspects.
The group of foreign visitors, in their importunate curiosity about the thinker, are disappointed and perplexed by their first glimpse of his abode. They believe they should meet the thinker in circumstances that, contrary to the ordinary round of human life, everywhere bear traces of the exceptional and rare and so of the exciting. The group hopes that in their visit to the thinker they will find things that will provide material for entertaining conversation – at least for a while. The foreigners who wish to visit the thinker expect to catch sight of him perchance at that very moment when, sunk in profound meditation, he is thinking. The visitors want this “experience” not in order to be overwhelmed by thinking but simply so they can say they saw and heard someone everyone says is a thinker.
Instead of this the sightseers find Heraclitus by a stove. That is surely a common and insignificant place. True enough, bread is baked here. But Heraclitus is not even busy baking at the stove. He stands there merely to warm himself. In this altogether everyday place he betrays the entire poverty of his life. The vision of a shivering thinker offers little of interest. At this disappointing spectacle even the curious lose thei desire to come any closer. What are they supposed to do here? Such an everyday and unexciting occurence – somebody who is chilled warming himself at a stove – anyone can find any time at home. So why look up a thinker? The visitors are on a verge of going away again. Heraclitus reads the frustrated curiosity of their faces. He knows that for the crowd the failure of an expected sensation to materialize is enough to make those who have just arrived leave. He therefore encourages them. He invites them explicitly to come in with the words, “Here too the gods come to presence.”
This phrase places the abode (ethos) of the thinker and his deed in another light. Whether the visitors understood this phrase at once – or at all – and then saw everything differently in this other light the story does not say. But the story was told and has come down to us today because what it reports derives from and characterizes the atmosphre surrounding this thinker. “Even here,” at the stove, in that ordinary place where every thing and every circumstance, each deed and thought is intimate and commonplace, that is, familiar, “even here” in the sphere of the familiar, is the case that “the gods come to presence.”
(Letter on Humanism, E270)