Marcel Detienne on translating "truth", from Masters of Truth in Archaic Greece
The philosophicoreligious circles of the late sixth century were thus deeply involved with the subject of Truth, the very Truth which, rightly or wrongly, Martin Heidegger regarded as the essential element of Greek philosophy and which was at the heart of philosophical discussion during the “overthrow of metaphysics” between the time of the Greeks and “our own time.” Few scholars of Antiquity or educated readers are aware of how carefully Heideggerians and “deconstructionists” have built a veritable wall to separate themselves from the explorations of Greek scholars. The Hellenists are perhaps at fault in not realizing that the only real innovator in Greek thought is Heidegger: still, these scholars continue to publish and publicize documents, texts if not whole works, from the diverse world of archaic Greece. The barrier seems insuperable. Even lucid critics of successive interpretations of Heidegger’s views on truth seem to accept at face value his notion of the “unconcealed” or the “deconcealed,” making no attempt to deconstruct it or set it alongside those archaic representations of Aletheia. André Doz, one of the boldest of those critics, as uninformed as the most obdurate of them about the discoveries at Olbia and Derveni, has written. “We ought to take a closer look at the word alethes.” On the other hand, many Greek scholars probably do not know that, for Heidegger and his disciples, the history of philosophy and hence the establishment of the meaning of Aletheia are part of the very history of being. Clearly, this does not make it any easier to initiate a debate on the modalities of concealment, oblivion, and memory in Greek thought and culture.
From the perspective I have adopted from the start, no etymology can be singled out as infallible (thank God). At least from Parmenides on, Greek philosophers recognized that to think it was necessary to debate and argue. When an etymology seems bad or fantastic no appeal to higher grounds can confer authority on it. In the context of the same inquiry, it is important to remember that it is partly because of the etymology of the word polis that the held of Politics is left out of the analyses offered by Heidegger and his followers, intent as the are on the “overthrow of metaphysics.” During a seminar, Heidegger once said (and later wrote) that the word polis comes from polein, an ancient form of the verb meaning “to be.” Such an etymology is entirely arbitrary; there is simply no convincing, verifiable “true meaning” for polis. Even so, there was no reason for such an elementary piece of information to inhibit thought on the polis from developing: if the city, or polis, is based on the verb “to be,” that in itself demonstrates that the polis must be the site of a total unveiling of Being. Thus, the city cannot have anything in common with “politics” in the trivial sense of to politikon. So, goodbye politics. The “philosophicoreligious” aspect was not even mentioned in connection with either the mundane world or the world of the Beyond.