The forgetting in remaining hidden.
The Greek λήθη (and λανθάνομαι) only gets the meaning of forgetting
via the indirect manner of a specific derivation, whereby, however, the
objective sense is still present. What is decisive for this derivation is precisely
its origin in the fundamental meaning of remaining-hidden.
λανθάνω means that I am or remain hidden, to myself or to others. This
fundamental meaning of the word leads to a linguistic usage quite characteristic
of Greek, namely combination with a participle as we know this
from Homer (Odyssey VIII, 93, a verse which we still remember from
school): ἔνθ' αλλους μέν πάντας έλάνθανε δάκρυα λείβων. 'He remained
hidden to all the others as someone shedding tears'; we say, by contrast,
that he shed tears without anyone else noticing it. For the Greeks, remaining-
hidden stands in the foreground (it is expressed in the verbum finitum),
always as an existing state of affairs, as the character of the beings (also of
a particular human being). But we turn the state of affairs around into
something subjective, and express it by saying that the others did not
notice his weeping.
In this way the wisdom of language provides us with an important
testimony to the fact that the remaining-hidden and being-unhidden of
things and human beings (to themselves as to others) was experienced by
the Greeks as an occurrence of the beings themselves, and also belonged
to the fundamental experiences which determined the existence of
ancient man. λανθάνω ἥκων: I remain hidden as someone who comes; we
say: I come without anyone noticing. Thus the meaning of λανθάνομαι as
letting something be hidden to me, i.e. I let it withdraw, slide away from
me and be gone, I allow forgetting (being-gone) to come over something,
I do not turn towards it, I let it rest, I forget it. Only by way of this
modification do λανθάνομαι and λήθη come to have the meaning of forgetting in the sense of a subjective state of affairs (but precisely in the
meaning of being-gone).
Earlier: Iris Murdoch's entertainment
of these ideas.