College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

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eternal return, aion, Nietzsche, Heraclitus, Eleusinian mysteries


This work concerns Friedrich Nietzsche’s conception of the eternal return of the same. By tracing the development of this notion in his thinking and its place in the tragic worldview, this essay will attempt to clarify the peculiar ethos presented by the concept. My analysis will primarily focus on revealing the intrinsic relationship between eternal return and the tragic worldview through a historical analysis of the Greek discourses on recurrence, with a particular emphasis on Heraclitus and the Greek mystery cults. As I shall demonstrate, one would have ground to trace the thought of eternal return to the Heraclitean fragment B52, which, through the notion of αἰών, asserts the ever-youthful and ever-repeating cycles of existence. To Heraclitus, mortal life demonstrates the belonging-together of life and death, joy and sorrow, and the ultimate rule must be sought in this recurrence of the selfsame. Against the Eleusinian mysteries of his time that promise a blessed afterlife, Heraclitus, like Nietzsche, constantly asserts the necessary attachment of life to death and strictly adheres to the Delphic proclamation, ‘know thyself,’ as an affirmation of mortality and finitude. To him, just like Nietzsche, one cannot overlook the certainty and the promise of death, which is the veiled promise of Apollonian religiosity. In the end, both eternal return and the Heraclitean αἰών come forward as the recognition of the recurrent and necessarily finite character of existence, which lies at the heart of the tragic worldview.

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