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The Veil of Isis: An Essay on the History of the Idea of Nature

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Nearly twenty-five hundred years ago the Greek thinker Heraclitus supposedly uttered the cryptic words "Phusis kruptesthai philei." How the aphorism, usually translated as "Nature loves to hide," has haunted Western culture ever since is the subject of this engaging study by Pierre Hadot. Taking the allegorical figure of the veiled goddess Isis as a guide, and drawing on t Nearly twenty-five hundred years ago the Greek thinker Heraclitus supposedly uttered the cryptic words "Phusis kruptesthai philei." How the aphorism, usually translated as "Nature loves to hide," has haunted Western culture ever since is the subject of this engaging study by Pierre Hadot. Taking the allegorical figure of the veiled goddess Isis as a guide, and drawing on the work of both the ancients and later thinkers such as Goethe, Rilke, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger, Hadot traces successive interpretations of Heraclitus' words. Over time, Hadot finds, "Nature loves to hide" has meant that all that lives tends to die; that Nature wraps herself in myths; and (for Heidegger) that Being unveils as it veils itself. Meanwhile the pronouncement has been used to explain everything from the opacity of the natural world to our modern angst. From these kaleidoscopic exegeses and usages emerge two contradictory approaches to nature: the Promethean, or experimental-questing, approach, which embraces technology as a means of tearing the veil from Nature and revealing her secrets; and the Orphic, or contemplative-poetic, approach, according to which such a denuding of Nature is a grave trespass. In place of these two attitudes Hadot proposes one suggested by the Romantic vision of Rousseau, Goethe, and Schelling, who saw in the veiled Isis an allegorical expression of the sublime. "Nature is art and art is nature," Hadot writes, inviting us to embrace Isis and all she represents: art makes us intensely aware of how completely we ourselves are not merely surrounded by nature but also part of nature.


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Nearly twenty-five hundred years ago the Greek thinker Heraclitus supposedly uttered the cryptic words "Phusis kruptesthai philei." How the aphorism, usually translated as "Nature loves to hide," has haunted Western culture ever since is the subject of this engaging study by Pierre Hadot. Taking the allegorical figure of the veiled goddess Isis as a guide, and drawing on t Nearly twenty-five hundred years ago the Greek thinker Heraclitus supposedly uttered the cryptic words "Phusis kruptesthai philei." How the aphorism, usually translated as "Nature loves to hide," has haunted Western culture ever since is the subject of this engaging study by Pierre Hadot. Taking the allegorical figure of the veiled goddess Isis as a guide, and drawing on the work of both the ancients and later thinkers such as Goethe, Rilke, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger, Hadot traces successive interpretations of Heraclitus' words. Over time, Hadot finds, "Nature loves to hide" has meant that all that lives tends to die; that Nature wraps herself in myths; and (for Heidegger) that Being unveils as it veils itself. Meanwhile the pronouncement has been used to explain everything from the opacity of the natural world to our modern angst. From these kaleidoscopic exegeses and usages emerge two contradictory approaches to nature: the Promethean, or experimental-questing, approach, which embraces technology as a means of tearing the veil from Nature and revealing her secrets; and the Orphic, or contemplative-poetic, approach, according to which such a denuding of Nature is a grave trespass. In place of these two attitudes Hadot proposes one suggested by the Romantic vision of Rousseau, Goethe, and Schelling, who saw in the veiled Isis an allegorical expression of the sublime. "Nature is art and art is nature," Hadot writes, inviting us to embrace Isis and all she represents: art makes us intensely aware of how completely we ourselves are not merely surrounded by nature but also part of nature.

30 review for The Veil of Isis: An Essay on the History of the Idea of Nature

  1. 5 out of 5

    Katelis Viglas

    "Nature loves to hide". The history of notion of nature in Western Thought. The main division of the book is between orphic and prometheic attitude of mind; the first is based on the respect toward nature; in the second, the violent and hostile exploitation of it, throught technique, magic and mechanical experiment is included. In the orphic category the revelation of nature's secrets comes through reason, poetry and Art. The modern agony made the relation with nature more emotional, ambivalent, "Nature loves to hide". The history of notion of nature in Western Thought. The main division of the book is between orphic and prometheic attitude of mind; the first is based on the respect toward nature; in the second, the violent and hostile exploitation of it, throught technique, magic and mechanical experiment is included. In the orphic category the revelation of nature's secrets comes through reason, poetry and Art. The modern agony made the relation with nature more emotional, ambivalent, provoking terror, admiration and pleasure. The opening to mystery was still included in the revelation of Isis's statue in the 19th cent. But, according to Hadot, in contemporary world, we aren't talk anymore about the mystery of nature and Isis has gone with her voile to the land of dreams. Even Martin Heidegger transferred the mystery of nature to the mystery of Being. At the end of the book, the writer proposes, repeating the words of Holderling, that we must become one with all living creatures and come back, throught the happy oblivion of self, to the Whole of Nature.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Wilder

    A history of tropes of nature in philosophy, circulating around the phrase “Nature loves to hide.” But hide what, and where? What we discover, more often than not, is nature’s blueprints, its screenplay if you will; the elaborate artistic practice known as DNA and RNA. Life’s three acts, it would seem, even to the ancients, are long foretold. The strongest dilator on this subject, not surprisingly, is Nietzsche.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rhys

    A thoughtful and elegant exploration of the idea of Nature. "Since Plato, the fruit of the contemplation of nature and its study had been called “greatness of soul.” For him, the soul that never ceases contemplating the totality of time and being could not contain within it any pettiness or baseness; it looked down upon human affairs from above and did not fear death." I enjoyed the discussion around the balance of the 'solemn attention' of those measuring the footsteps of Nature, and the 'sacred A thoughtful and elegant exploration of the idea of Nature. "Since Plato, the fruit of the contemplation of nature and its study had been called “greatness of soul.” For him, the soul that never ceases contemplating the totality of time and being could not contain within it any pettiness or baseness; it looked down upon human affairs from above and did not fear death." I enjoyed the discussion around the balance of the 'solemn attention' of those measuring the footsteps of Nature, and the 'sacred shudder' when in the presence of its unfathomability and inaccessibility. I also appreciated the 'decency' of discovering the 'truth' of Nature though leaving her veils on - by leaving alone its 'vital illusions': "We no longer believe that the truth is still the truth, if its veils are taken away from it. ... For us today it is a question of decency, that one doesn’t want to see everything it its nudity,..." [Nietzsche]

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ronan Johnson

    So the author was working on this beast for like 12 years, and it shows. A gateway drug into environmental aesthetics (and just environmental thought in general) that, like proper philosophy, is actually fun to read. Highly recommended.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ľuboš

    Hadot's extraordinary essay was very challenging to read. It took me nearly a year of (discontinuous) reading to bite through its three hundred pages. The sheer amount of referenced literature and analyzed sources is nearly inconceivable and so is the diversity of motives, theories and thoughts that he analyzes with unrivaled rigor of his long career. At some points I got lost (even repeatedly), sometimes I had to put the book away for a few weeks, because I was too overwhelmed with information. Hadot's extraordinary essay was very challenging to read. It took me nearly a year of (discontinuous) reading to bite through its three hundred pages. The sheer amount of referenced literature and analyzed sources is nearly inconceivable and so is the diversity of motives, theories and thoughts that he analyzes with unrivaled rigor of his long career. At some points I got lost (even repeatedly), sometimes I had to put the book away for a few weeks, because I was too overwhelmed with information. It seemed to me that the essay itself was withholding its secrets as if paying respect to Isis and her veil. Nevertheless, I'm compelled to give it the absolute rating, because all these troubles are mostly due to my lack of historical and philosophical knowledge. This is no popularizing book, it's an honest work of history and philosophy and it deals with a motive hardest to seize. After all, fysis kryptesthai filei.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Valaida

    Wonderful essay. I've learned a lot, it shattered my life! I was concerned though by the amount of time Pierre Hadot said he couldn't go deeper into the subjects he was writing about. Wonderful essay. I've learned a lot, it shattered my life! I was concerned though by the amount of time Pierre Hadot said he couldn't go deeper into the subjects he was writing about.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    La Naturaleza ama esconderse. Todo lo que nace tiende a desaparecer. La verdad hija del tiempo. Principales adagios que utiliza Hadot en perspectiva histórica y cultural, desde la antigüedad con Heráclito hasta el romanticismo alemán de siglo XVIII, con el propósito de exponer algunos contrasentidos y actitudes en relación con el velo y los secretos de la Naturaleza. Heredamos dos actitudes sobre estos secretos, una actitud prometeica (de Prometeo) y una actitud órfica (de Orfeo). La primera des La Naturaleza ama esconderse. Todo lo que nace tiende a desaparecer. La verdad hija del tiempo. Principales adagios que utiliza Hadot en perspectiva histórica y cultural, desde la antigüedad con Heráclito hasta el romanticismo alemán de siglo XVIII, con el propósito de exponer algunos contrasentidos y actitudes en relación con el velo y los secretos de la Naturaleza. Heredamos dos actitudes sobre estos secretos, una actitud prometeica (de Prometeo) y una actitud órfica (de Orfeo). La primera descifra los secretos de Isis o Artemisa, como diosas de la Naturaleza, con la observación, la experimentación y la representación matemática. También ejerce algún grado de violencia con una técnica desprovista de reflexión ética. La segunda, contempla los secretos con una experiencia estética y sublime. La primera actitud desea obtener una verdad científica. La segunda desea una verdad estética. ¿Cuál actitud entonces procura una verdad ascética, tan característica de la filosofía como ejercicio espiritual? Hadot insinúa que la actitud órfica también procura esta verdad y sugiere la experiencia de unidad con la Naturaleza y el Cosmos como aquel deseo sublime donde nos reconocemos como parte de una totalidad, como una de los tantos rostros de una Naturaleza pródiga en sus expresiones que son diversas e imprevisibles.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mariasole

    E' un libro eccezionale, che condensa quasi 2500 anni di storia partendo dalla citazione di Eraclito "la natura ama nascondersi" e analizza la trasformazione di tale concetto attraverso il susseguirsi del pensiero filosofico. Della classicità si ripercorrono i tratti più salienti dell'idea della natura per i presocratici e da Platone in poi. Si vedrà come la frase è stata usata per difendere le idee pagane nei primi tempi dell'impero romano cristiano, come la Natura diventa un involucro dove la E' un libro eccezionale, che condensa quasi 2500 anni di storia partendo dalla citazione di Eraclito "la natura ama nascondersi" e analizza la trasformazione di tale concetto attraverso il susseguirsi del pensiero filosofico. Della classicità si ripercorrono i tratti più salienti dell'idea della natura per i presocratici e da Platone in poi. Si vedrà come la frase è stata usata per difendere le idee pagane nei primi tempi dell'impero romano cristiano, come la Natura diventa un involucro dove la Divinità nasconde i suoi segreti e gli approcci di filosofi e artisti hanno utilizzato per il loro disvelamento, che l'autore suddivide in prometeici e orfici, i primi tendono ad usare la meccanica, i secondi l'arte e i discorsi razionali. Fino a giungere ai filosofi romantici, per poi concludere con Nietzche e Heidegger. Non è un testo facile, ma con tanta buona pazienza si può andare avanti senza problemi. Il professore Hadot ha creato un'opera per il vasto pubblico su un tema complesso e meraviglioso, posso solo lontanamente immaginare lo sforzo e la dedizione che lo hanno impegnato per tanti anni. Chapeau!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Minäpäminä

    Like it says on the tin, it's a history of an idea. Very much a springboard for further studies, but excellent as such. It's mostly quotations but they seem to be carefully chosen. I do feel it could've been either a 100 pages shorter or longer; either more in-depth or more concise. The basic distinction Hadot makes is between a Promethean and an Orphic attitude towards nature, the former seeking to subjugate and use nature for the good of mankind, while the latter acts toward nature with awe and Like it says on the tin, it's a history of an idea. Very much a springboard for further studies, but excellent as such. It's mostly quotations but they seem to be carefully chosen. I do feel it could've been either a 100 pages shorter or longer; either more in-depth or more concise. The basic distinction Hadot makes is between a Promethean and an Orphic attitude towards nature, the former seeking to subjugate and use nature for the good of mankind, while the latter acts toward nature with awe and reverence, cultivating an aesthetic relationship with it. To use Martin Buber's terminology, the Promethean relationship is an I-It, while the Orphic is an I-Thou.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kavie

    !!!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    wow do i want to hide away to read this ...

  12. 4 out of 5

    I-kai

    given up on finishing it. I think reading half of it was enough; the book gets a bit repetitive from the discussion of Bacon onwards, and I just couldn't continue.... given up on finishing it. I think reading half of it was enough; the book gets a bit repetitive from the discussion of Bacon onwards, and I just couldn't continue....

  13. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Lopez

  14. 5 out of 5

    Adam

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ivan Loginov

  16. 4 out of 5

    Francisca

  17. 5 out of 5

    José Uría

  18. 4 out of 5

    John Ervin

  19. 5 out of 5

    Stevie

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bobby George

  21. 4 out of 5

    Finja

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jason

  23. 5 out of 5

    Roy Heidelberg

  24. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

  25. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tamara Mikoto

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kris

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ciro

  29. 5 out of 5

    Claire Hou

  30. 4 out of 5

    Yuli

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