President Havel gave the following address in Aachen on May 15, 1996.
Recently, when I looked into how Europe got its name, I was surprised to discover that many see its primeval roots in the Akkadian word erebu, which means twilight or sunset. Asia, on the other hand, is believed to have derived its name from Akkadian asu meaning sunrise.
At first sight this discovery does not seem very auspicious. In our minds the word twilight has been traditionally linked with notions of end, extinction, defeat, ruin, or approaching death. In certain respects, the conventional connection makes sense: twilight is indeed the end of something. At the very least the end of one day and the hustle and bustle that filled it. But it does not mean defeat, doom, or the end of time. Far from it: it is merely a punctuation mark in the eternal cycle of nature and life, in which one thing ends simply in order that something else may begin.
For people this may mean that the time of work, which is largely physical and directed toward the world around us, has come to an end, to give way to a time of quiet contemplation, reflection, evaluation, introspection—in other words, of inwardly directed endeavor. From time immemorial people have taken the evening to reflect on what they have done during the day. They have paused to look at things in perspective, to gain strength and resolve for the day to come. In somewhat simplified terms, one may say that dawn and daylight are a time of hands, while twilight is a time of the mind.
The somewhat melancholy associations we tend to attach to the word twilight may be the typical consequence of the modern cult of beginnings, openings, advances, discoveries, growth, and prosperity, of a cult of industriousness, outward activity, expansion, and energy, that is, of the characteristically modern blind faith in quantitative indices. Dawn, daybreak, sunrise, “the morning of nations,” and similar words, phrases, or metaphors are popular these days, while notions like sunset, stillness, or nightfall carry for us, unjustly, only connotations of stagnation, decline, disintegration, or emptiness. We are unjust to twilight. We are unjust to the phenomenon that may have given Europe its name.
It is true that a particular phase in the history of Europe appears to be drawing to a close. The extraordinarily fortunate amalgamation of classical antiquity, Jewish religiosity, and Christianity, combined with the fresh energy of the so-called barbarian tribes, led eventually to unprecedented progress in Europe, and in the end has brought humanity countless gifts and left its stamp on the entire planetary civilization of our time. Europe seems to have introduced into human life the categories of time and historicity, to have discovered the idea of development, and ultimately what we call progress as well.
Centuries from now, all European history may seem to have been no more than a single day filled with vigorous activity, magnificent human endeavor, great discoveries of the…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only – subscribe at this low introductory rate for immediate access!
Unlock this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, by subscribing at the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue – that’s 10 issues online plus six months of full archive access for just $10.