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Giacinta Gandolfo

Mres Art: Theory and Philosophy

Nietzsche and The Birth Of Tragedy
The archetype of an oxymoronic and contrasting blend and alliance of Ionic and Doric columns dwells
under the same temple. The rhythmic line of the Doric curl unfolds itself in a (Dionysian) ritualistic
dance that alternates amid individual (Apollonian) principles of Ionic sober unity. The rebirth of
metaphysics and the Greek myth is staged in the musical word of the chorus, in the drunk realm of
plastic dreams that exists in the ecstatic rhapsody of harmony and oblivion.
In 1872 Friedrich Nietzsche contemplates the coupling of the two Greek art gods Apollo and Dionysus,
the instincts and the ideals they were made to instill, as a new model of values whose coexistence
would benefit the resurrection of the original Greek spirit, untied from the decadent vision acquired
throughout the ages.
Such marriage that Nietzsche proposes in the Birth of Tragedy originates from the concidentia
oppositorum principle: the vision grounds itself in the new reading of the origin of the Greek tragedy.
The unification of the art divinities sits under the re-evaluation of the study of the ancient tragedy that,
for the philosopher, is consumed in the commingling of the Dionysian and Apollonian essence, music
and language, at the base of the Attic tragedy.
Nonetheless, the retrospective reading of The Birth of Tragedy needs to be considered unique in its
temporal form: he would later discard his assertions in a 1886 preface for a re-edition, finding it an
impossible book today. I declare that it is badly written, clumsy, embarrassing, with a rage for imagery,
and confused in its imagery, emotional, here and there sugary to the point of effeminacytoo arrogant
to prove its assertionswildly enthusiastic. (Friedrich Nietzsche, An Attempt at Self Criticism.)
Considering The Birth of Tragedy in its temporal validity on a progressive line in Nietzsche's thought,
my attempt is to reflect on this early writing as a temple built on an heterogeneous principle, what I
will refer to as the alternation of the Ionic and Doric order under which the house of the art Gods sits.
Such alternation is the concidentia oppositorum, principle Nietzsche attempts to re-obtain in the
attentive analysis of the marriage between Apollo and Dionysus for his resurrection of the Greek
tragedy. However, the principle at times fails to appear as of possible coexistence between the
Apollonian and the Dionysian spirit: rarely the balance between the essence of the opponent spirits
succeeds in his dialectics. One prevails over the other, always ending up favoring the ecstatic
Dionysian ritual.
As the perpetuation of the heterogeneity, the philosopher will re-consider his former ideas, in his
progressive overcoming of the traditional values of his society, metaphysics, Christianity, democracy.
My interest will therefore focus on the affirmation of change, on the existing shifts that throughout
The Birth of Tragedy make visible the difficult coexistence of the two opposite principles, which set
as the starting point of his progressive unmasking of societal values to him contemporaneous.
I will first analyze the dichotomy that orchestrates between the constructed reconciliation of the light
and the dark, dreams and drunkenness. Apollo is plastic form, the sculptor god, glorious divine image
of the principium individuationis (ch1, p3); its collapsing opponent that awakes it is Dionysus, moved
by an ecstatic impulse of self-forgetfulness. The ionic unity of oneness always seems to fail in favor of
an unleashed orgiastic drive which grows and originates from the instinct music instills in Greek
Tragedy, not differently from the German production that surrounds Nietzsche. He breathes Richard
Wagner music, to whom he dedicates the forward of the book, and whose music production is at first
taken as example for a rebirth of tragedy.

The sphere of dreams is appearance of appearance, the mimesis of a nave artist, a contemplative state
whose second visionary world is not disclosed to everyone. The light of Apollo is ethical measure,
static and plastic ionic order: it is the vertical I that does not fail in a ritualistic self-forgetfulness. The
music of Dionysus is primordial pain - conscious of a world of pictures and symbols- growing out of
his state of mystical self-abnegation and oneness (3, 15). It is the world of doric columns: colored,
that unfolds itself in the rhythmic alternation of the musical curve of its own capital. Dionysus is will
to come, unrestricted spirit, not yet disclosed to the mind, freed from the purely contemplative, and
passive frame of mind realm of Apollonian dreams. In this respect, Nietzsche detects music as the
immediate language of the will: state under which man feels unconstrained from values imparted by
society. The immediacy makes possible the self-forgetfulness, as the moment in which external values
are unleashed from pre-existent moral and ethical component, what will be then called by Sigmund
Freud the Superego. And again, the truly Dionysian music presents itself as a general mirror of the
universal will: the conspicuous event refracted in this mirror expands at once for our consciousness to
the copy of the external truth (ch17, p62).
The needle often tends to oscillates towards the resurrected realm of music in song and in dance man
expresses himself as a member of a higher community [] he feels himself a god, [] he is no longer
an artist, he has become a work of art(ch1, p4).
The drunk image of Dionysus lends itself to degeneration and transformation, self-annihilation, idea
that opposes itself to the oneness of the static I of the god of Light. Transformation contemplates in
itself a shift, the coexistence of a possible diversion, that represents in itself a sort of concidentia
oppositorum. Dionysus is in fact the deity that represents a dual aspect: he is the god who brought new
life and ecstasy, and the god who influenced the fate of the soul. (Ernest L. Abel, Intoxication in
mythology: a worldwide dictionary of gods, googlebooks.) In the Greek tradition he donated wine to
men, letting them indulge in forgetfulness, leading them to sing; he fostered joy in banquets,
simultaneously stimulating love and madness and violence that, within sacrifice, was the instrument of
mediation between men and gods. His epiphanies were characterized by polymorphism: he was a bull,
a lion, a snake, a goat, barbarian and and the same time Greek, young and old, in feminine in his attire
and flowing hair. (Encyclopdia Britannica Online, Dionysus)
The same Nietzsche refers to this double nature of the god in different terms: as chorus he is fellowsufferer and at the same time the sage who proclaims truth from out the heart of Nature(ch8, pp27,
Conversely, the figure of Apollo and the ideals he brings with himself are resurrected and re-evaluated
by Nietzsche uniquely as a counter-action of Dionysus absurd and excessive tendencies. Seldom the
philosopher seems to bring back and elevate the dream-like figure of the god to balance the burden
triggered by the orgiastic self-annihilation of Dionysian tragic rituals, and as the text progresses, such
interaction slowly fades.
If in the first chapter Apollo is regarded as responsible of making life possible and worth living , by
the end of the book he gradually becomes Dionysus' s fragile sibling, eventually capable of speaking
his brother's language, already understood as intrinsic in Dionysus. (ch 21, pp,81)
The realm of Apollo is contemplative, like the metaphysical world he seeks to overcome. He is elevated
light, balanced in his world of images, in an ideal paradisiac universe that dispels suffering (ch16,
p59). The image of Apollo acts as a sort of paladin of democracy, he sets the boundaries of
justice(ch9, p33), he is peaceful calm that tends to withdraw itself into the shell of logical
schematism (ch4, p49). Apollo remains through the text as the nave artist, and never a work of art. In
the excessive destruction of Dionysus, Apollo plays like the eternalized father that re-creates order and
establishes redemption in appearance(ch8, p27). Apollo exists in the realm of images, essential in
Plato's philosophy, which Nietzsche strongly dismisses for he is responsible of having directed life to

an abstract and unreal world, context that does not fail to include Christianity. ((In his future writings
he will broadly develop the idea that This model has produced repression and sickness in the
contemporary man ))
The rationality of the reason in Apollo acquires a more a more moralistic tendency: it is not release, it is
pure principium individuationis which the philosopher since the beginning of the book opposes to
Dionysus as a principle he seeks to surpass. Apollo is ionic firmness that rests in its plastic form, he
survives in its deep consciousness without indulging under the external flux, he looks up to disclose the
higher truth, [] healing and helping in sleep and dreams(ch1, p3).
Considering later assertions developed in 1888 as part of The Will to Power as Art , Nietzsche sees the
Apollonian ideal as quite image, classic, simplification, abbreviation, concentration (Philosophers on
Art, 65) wrapped in his eternal contemplation that endures; this very image is opposite to the
victorious will, corresponding to an increase in strength and the accomplishment of becoming more
beautiful(POA, 65), proper of the Dionysian intoxication. This condition embodies power, as well as
the harmony between potent desires: the philosopher here speaks in physiological terms: strength as a
feeling of dominion in the muscles, as suppleness and pleasure in movement, as dance, as levity ...
(POA, 65). This physical image grounds itself in the spirit of music which, not differently from the
exalted feeling of power, alters the sensation of time and space. This late quotations clearly embody the
progression of Nietzsche's ascent climax towards the chance to capture the opposition between the
rational and the irrational, from which in turn derives the exaltation of the Dionysian essence as a
chance to realize the Will to Power.
Although the above mentioned passages belong to a progressive development in Nietzsche's
philosophy where the main focus has already shifted towards a more and more nihilist vision of man, it
is possible to detect such interpretation already in The Birth of Tragedy. I will now proceed by
referring to the early text along with later ones in order to clarify the evolution of Nietzsche's shifts.
In later writings he analyzes the sober, the weary the exhausted, the dried up (e.g., scholars),
antonyms to the Dionysian characteristics, as something that can receive absolutely nothing from art,
because they do not possess the primary artistic force, the pressure of abundance (PON, 66).
In this respect, the example he uses to clarify his description, scholars, finds its counterpart in The
Birth of Tragedy with the belief that knowledge kills action( ch7, p23). Again, the evaluation of the
Dionysian ideal is described through its opponent, its antagonist, which, even though served with
different terms, falls under the definition Nietzsche gives to the Apollonian spirit.
With the passing of time, the same figure of Apollo is either touched in concordance with its opponent,
in fragments included in The Will to Power as Art, or avoided in favor of the adjectives that describes
it as to reinforce its opposite Dionysian intoxication.
As the Dionysian spirit prevails, it favors and fosters itself in an orchestra that progresses towards the
overcoming of traditional values through an active nihilism that unfolds in the final desire for power.
With active nihilism Nietzsche intends the attitude that, originated from the demolition of
metaphysical commitments that suppressed the life force , proposes itself as a creator of new tables of
values through their transvaluation.
This very idea grows directly and progressively from the figure of Dionysus as element that through its
intoxication, affirms himself through spontaneity, human instinct, that will become itself Will to
Power. Dionysus's realm will increasingly represent the life force of the overman in its complete
freedom, precisely through the intoxication accomplished in music and dance.
Moreover, the previously mentioned idea of active nihilism does not justify the value of existing
traditional models to give meaning to reality, because these are nothing but the fruit of the Apollonian

spirit, therefore not correspondents to the actual essence of man, understood as Dionysian,
(inextricably linked to values of vitality and power inherent to his earthly natures).
As he had previously stated it in the The Birth of Tragedy In the collective effect of tragedy, the
Dionysian once again dominates. Tragedy closes with a sound which could never emanate from the
realm of Apollonian art. And the Apollonian illusion thereby reveals itself as what it really is- the
assiduous veiling during the performance of the tragedy of the intrinsically Dionysian effect: which,
however, is so powerful, that it ends by forcing the Apollonian drama into a sphere where it begins to
talk with Dionysian wisdom, and even denies itself and its Apollonian conspicuousness. (ch 21,
The dominating quality of Dionysus exists in its double nature which corresponds to the concidentia
oppositorum principle: Dionysus speaks the language of Apollo (ch 21, pp81), completes himself
because he is himself life and death, he has become the work of art. Dionysus embodies the double,
and as such he does not require the bright and clear balance of his opposite, because as he himself is
constructed on antonyms, the Apollonian counterpart is already disclosed to his eyes. Dionysus is
doric in his distinct quality of indulging in a rhythmic curve while
resting on the firm and sober I
column. The ecstasy is therefore represented by the commingling of the opposites, that is Dionysus. It
is exalted Will to Power, knowledge that surpasses metaphysics and moral values to which the
ordinary man is convicted.
The Dionysian wisdom has made possible the understanding of the tragic myth (ch22, p82), in the same
way he will understand the true essence of things detached from conditionings, rules, and obligations
arising from religious beliefs or from metaphysical entities.
In his spirit he is a double spirit, mobile, over conformity, capable of getting lost in a ritualistic and
intoxicating dance to become his opposite. The enchant of the commingling of Apollonian and
Dionysian collapses precisely in the failed "double" quality of the pure and bright god, who fights
against the monsters of darkness, without indulging in their own knowledge.
From the construction of The Birth of Tragedy arises an crescent appeal to the god of the tragedy, in its
original Greek meaning, well detached from the one conferred to him by the world surrounding the
philosopher, who mistakenly saw the god Apollo as chief architect of Greek tragedy.
From that very world Nietzsche feels the urge to combat against the history and the tradition external to
him, resurrecting the unification of the opposites at the base of the Attic tragedy. Each gear constitutes
a gravid element for the overcoming of preconceptions, basted in a constant oscillation intoxication of
will to power and complete surpassing of the moral tradition.

Christopher Kul-Want, Philosophers on Art from Kant to the Postmodernists: A Critical Reader, (New
York: Columbia University Press, 2010)
Ernest L. Abel, Intoxication in mythology: a worldwide dictionary of Gods, Rites, Intoxicants and
Places, (Jefferson: McFarland &Co, 2006), accessed January 3, 2015.
Encyclopdia Britannica Online, s. v. "Dionysus", accessed January 12, 2015.
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy (New York: Dover Thrift Editions, 1995)
Friedrich Nietzsche, An Attempt at Self Criticism, 3. accessed December 30, 2014.