When the Italian philosopher Giulio Preti directly confronted Foucault with the question, "Which Nietzsche do you like?" Foucault replied, "Obviously, not the one of Zarathustra, but the one of The Birth of Tragedy, of the Genealogy of Morals."
Foucault characterizes Histoire de la folie as a study composed "under the sun of the great Nietzschean inquiry." [...] According to Foucault, Nietzsche revealed the tragedy of the Western world to be the refusal of the tragic, and, therefore, the refusal of the sacred. (Foucault's Nietzschean Genealogy: Truth, Power, and the Subject, Michael Mahon, 200-).
Nietzsche [showed] that the tragic structure from which the history of the Western world is made is nothing other than the refusal, the forgetting and the silent collapse of tragedy. Around that experience, which is central as it knots the tragic to the dialectic of history in the very refusal of tragedy by history, many other experiences gravitate.
This selection is drawn from Golffings 1956 translation.
Comedy and Tragedy mask from a mosaic found at Hadrians Villa just outside of Rome, circa 2nd Century AD.
A Critical Backward Glance ('preface or epilogue')
-From music? Music and tragedy? The Greeks and dramatic music? The Greeks and pessimistic art? The Greeks: this most beautiful and accomplished, this thoroughly sane, universally envied species of man- was it conceivable that they, of all people, should have stood in need of tragedy… ?
[…] Is pessimism inevitably a sign of decadence, …weakened instincts… as it is now with us modern Europeans? Or is there such a thing as a strong pessimism? […] A penchant… for what is hard, terrible, evil, dubious in existence, arising from a plethora of health, plenitude of being? Could it be, perhaps, that the very feeling of superabundance created its own kind of suffering: a temerity of penetration, hankering for the enemy (the worth-while enemy) so as to prove its strength, to experience at last what it means to fear something? […]
Or one might look at it the other way round. Those agencies that had proved fatal to tragedy: Socratic ethics, dialectics, the temperance and cheerfulness of the pure scholar—couldn’t these, rather than their opposites, be viewed as symptoms of decline, fatigue, distemper, of instincts caught in anarchic dissolution? Or the “Greek serenity” of the later period as, simply, the glow of a sun about to set? […] And as for “disinterested inquirey,” so-called: what, in the last analysis, did inquiry come to when judged as a symptom of the life process? Might it be that the “inquiring mind” was simply the human mind terrified by pessimism and trying to escape from it, a clever bulwark erected against the truth? Something craven and false, if one wanted to be moral about it? Or, if one preferred to put it amorally, a dodge? Had this perhaps been your secret, great Socrates?
For the first time in history somebody had come to grips with scholarship—and what a formidable, perplexing thing it turned out to be! But the book, crystallizing of my youthful courage and suspicions, was an impossible book; since the task required fully matured powers it could scarcely be anything else. Built from precocious, purely personal insights, all but incommunicable; conceived in terms of art (for the issue of scholarly inquiry cannot be argued on its own terms), this book addressed itself to artists… . […] ... the question is still [now, sixteen years later] what it was then, how to view scholarship from the vantage of the artist and art from the vantage of life.
…as I look at it today my treatise strikes me as quite impossible. It is poorly written, heavy-handed, embarrassing. The imagery is both frantic and confused. …it lacks logical nicety and is so sure of its message that it dispenses with any kind of proof. Worse than that, it suspects the very notion of proof, being a book written for initiates… . […] Both the curious and the hostile had to admit that here [in this book] was an unfamiliar voice, the disciple of an unrecognized god, hiding his identity (for the time being) under the skullcap of the scholar… . […] What a pity that I could not tell as a poet what demanded to be told! […] …the Greeks will continue to remain totally obscure, unimaginable beings until we have found an answer to the question, “What is the meaning of the Dionysiac spirit?”
How… are we to define the “Dionysiac spirit”? […] Talking of the matter today, I would doubtless use more discretion and less eloquence; the origin of Greek tragedy is both too tough and too subtle an issue to wax eloquent over. […] Should we attribute the ever increasing desire of the Greeks for beauty, in the form of banquets, ritual ceremonies, new cults, to some fundamental lack—a melancholy disposition perhaps or an obsession with pain? […] What, in short, made the Greek mind turn to tragedy? […] What does the union of god and goat, expressed in the figure of the satyr, really mean? What was it that prompted the Greeks to embody the Dionysiac reveller- primary man- in a shape like that? Turning next to the origin of the tragic chorus: did those days of superb somatic and psychological health give rise, perhaps, to endemic trances, collective visions, and hallucinations? […] Was it not Plato who credited frenzy with all the superlative blessings of Greece? Contrawise, was it not precisely during their period of dissolution and weakness that the Greeks turned to optimism, frivolity, histrionics; that they began to be mad for logic and rational cosmology; that they grew at once “gayer” and “more scientific”? Why, is it possible to assume… that the great optimist-rationalist-utilitarian victory, together with democracy, its political contemporary, was at bottom nothing other than a symptom of declining strength, approaching senility, somatic exhaustion—it, and not its opposite, pessimism? […]
The reader can see now what a heavy pack of questions this book was forced to carry. Let me add here the heaviest question of all, What kind of figure does ethics cut once we decide to view it in the biological perspective?
In the preface… I claimed that art, rather than ethics, constituted the essential metaphysical activity of man… . As a matter of fact, throughout the book I attributed a purely esthetic meaning—whether implied or overt—to all process: a kind of divinity if you like, God as the supreme artist, amoral, recklessly creating and destroying, realizing himself indifferently in whatever he does or undoes, ridding himself by his acts of the embarrassment of his riches and the strain of his internal contradictions. Thus the world was made to appear, at every instant, as a successful solution of God’s own tensions… . […] …in its essential traits [That whole esthetic metaphysics] prefigured that spirit of deep distrust and defiance which, later on, was to resist to the bitter end any moral interpretation of existence whatsoever. It is here that one could find—perhaps for the first time in history-- … a philosophy which dared place ethics among the phenomena (and so “demote” it)… . […]
The depth of this anti-moral bias may best be gauged by noting the wary and hostile silence I observed on the subject of Christianity—Christianity being the most extravagant set of variations ever produced on the theme of ethics. No doubt, the purely esthetic interpretation and justification of the world I was propounding in those pages placed them at the opposite pole from Christian doctrine, a doctrine entirely moral in purport, using absolute standards: God’s absolute truth, for example, which relegates all art to the realm of falsehood and in so doing condemns it. […] From the very first, Christianity spelled life loathing itself, and that loathing was simply disguised, tricked out, with notions of an “other” and “better” life. A hatred of the “world,” a curse on the affective urges, a fear of beauty and sensuality, a transcendence rigged up to slander mortal existence, a yearning for extinction, cessation of all effort until the great “sabbath of sabbaths”—this whole cluster of distortions… had always struck me as… a sign of profound sickness, moroseness, exhaustion, biological etiolation. […]
As for morality… could it be anything but a will to deny life, a secret instinct of destruction,… a reductive agent—the beginning of the end?—and, for that reason, the Supreme Danger? Thus it happened that in those days, with this problem book, my vital instincts turned against ethics and founded a radical counterdoctrine, slanted esthetically, to oppose the Christian libel on life.
What a pity… that I did not yet have the courage (or shall I say the immodesty?) to risk a fresh language in keeping with the hazard, the radical novelty of my ideas, that I fumbled along, using terms borrowed from the vocabularies of Kant and Schopehauer to express value judgements which were in flagrant contradiction to the spirit or taste of these men!
Preface to Richard Wagner
Art is the supreme task and the truly metaphysical activity in this life... [where does this passage fit in?]
The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music
Much will have been gained for esthetics once we have succeeded in apprehending directly-- rather than ascertaining ['through logical reasoning']-- that art owes its continuous evolution to the Apollonian-Dionysiac duality,... their constant conflicts and periodic acts of reconciliation. [...] The two creative tendencies developed alongside one another, usually in fierce opposition, each by its taunts forcing the other to more energetic production, both perpetuating in a discordant concord that agon which the term art but feebly denominates: until at last, by the thaumaturgy of an Hellenic act of will, the pair accepted the yoke of marriage and, in this condition, begot Attic tragedy... .
To reach a closer understanding of these tendencies, let us begin by viewing them as the separate art realms of dream and intoxication, two physiological phenomena standing toward once another in much the same relationship as the Apollonian and the Dionysiac. It was in a dream, according to Lucretius, that the marvellous gods and goddesses first present themselves to the minds of men.
The fair illusion of the dream sphere... is a precondition of all plastic art... . Here we enjoy an immediate apprehension of form, all shapes speak to us directly, nothing seems indifferent or redundant. Despite the higher intensity with which these dream realities exist for us, we still have a residual sensation that they are illusions. [...] Men of philosophical disposition are known for their constant premonition that our everyday reality, too, is an illusion, hidding another, totally different kind of reality. It was Schopenhauer who [inspired by the Upanishads] considered the ability to view at certain times all men and things as mere phantoms or dream images to be the true mark of philosophic talent. The person who is responsive to the stimuli of art behaves toward the reality of dream much the way the philosopher behaves toward the reality of existence: he observes exactly and enjoys his observations, for it is by these images that he interprets life, by these processes that he rehearses it. Nor is it by pleasant images only that such plausible connections are made: the whole divine comedy of life, including its somber aspects, its sudden balking's, impish accidents, anxious expectations, moves past him, not quite like a shadow play-- for it is he himself, after all, who lives and suffers through these scenes-- yet never without giving a fleeting sense of illusion; and I imagine that many persons have reassured themselves amidst the perils of dream by calling out, "It is a dream! I want it to go on." [...] This deep and happy sense of the necessity of dream experiences was expressed by the Greeks in the image of Apollo. Apollo is at once the god of all plastic powers and the soothsaying god. He who is etymologically the "lucent" one, the god of light, reigns also over the fair illusion of our inner world of fantasy. ...our profound awareness of nature's healing powers during the interval of sleep and dream furnishes a symbolic analogue to the soothsaying faculty and quite generally to the arts... . But the image of Apollo must incorporate that thin line which the dream image may not cross, under penalty of becoming pathological, of imposing itself on us as crass reality: a discreet limitation, a freedom from all extravagant urges, the sapient tranquillity of the plastic god. His eye must be sunlike, in keeping with his origin. Even at those moments when he is angry and ill-tempered there lies upon him the consecration of fair illusion. ...one might say, of Apollo what Schopenhauer says, in the first part of The World as Will and Idea, of man caught in the veil of Maya:
Even as on an immense, raging sea, assailed by huge wave crests, a man sits in a little rowboat trusting his frail craft, so, amidst the furious torments of this world, the individual sits tranquilly, supported by the principium individuationis and relying on it.
One might say that the unshakable confidence in that principle has received its most magnificent expression in Apollo, and that Apollo himself may be regarded as the marvellous divine image of the principium individuationis, whose looks and gestures radiate the full delight, wisdom, and beauty of "illusion."
In the same context Schopenhauer has described for us the tremendous awe which seizes man when he suddenly begins to doubt the cognitive modes of experience, in other words, when in a given instance the law of causation seems to suspend itself. If we add to this awe the glorious transport which arises in man, even from the very depths of nature, at the shattering of the principium individuationis, then we are in a position to apprehend the essence of Dionysian rapture, whose closest analogy is furnished by physical intoxication. Dionysian stirrings arise either through the influence of those narcotic potions of which all primitive races speak in their hymns, or through the powerful approach of spring, which penetrates with joy the whole frame of nature. So stirred, the individual forgets himself completely. It is the same Dionysian power which in medieval Germany drove ever increasing crowds of people singing and dancing from place to place; we recognize in these St. John's and St. Vitus' dancers the Bacchic choruses of the Greeks, who had their precursors in Asia Minor and as far back as Babylon and the orgiastic Sacaea. There are people who, either from lack of experience or out of sheer stupidity, turn away from such phenomena, and, strong in the sense of their own sanity, label them either mockingly or pityingly "endemic diseases." These benighted souls have no idea how cadaverous and ghostly their "sanity" appears as the intense throng of Dionysian revellers sweeps past them.
Not only does the bond between man and man come to be forged once more by the magic of the Dionysian rite, but nature itself, long alienated or subjugated, rises again to celebrate the reconciliation with her prodigal son, man. The earth offers its gifts voluntarily, and the savage beasts of mountain and desert approach in peace. The chariot of Dionysus is bedecked with flowers and garlands; panthers and tigers stride beneath his yoke. [...] Now the slave emerges as a freeman; all the rigid, hostile walls which either necessity or despotism has erected between men are shattered. [...] ... as though the veil of Maya had been torn apart and there remained only shreds floating before the vision of mystical Oneness. Man now expresses himself through song and dance as the member of a higher community; he has forgotten how to walk, how to speak, and is on the brink of taking wing as he dances. [...] He feels himself to be godlike and strides with the same elation and ecstasy as the gods he has seen in his dreams. No longer the artist, he has himself become a work of art: the productive power of the whole universe is now manifest in his transport.... . ... accompanied by the cry of the Eleusinian mystagogues: "Do you fall on your knees, multitudes, do you divine your creator?"
We might picture how [one of these], in a state of Dionysiac intoxication and mystical self-abrogation, wandering apart from the revelling throng, sinks upon the ground, and how there is then revealed to him his own condition- complete oneness with the essence of the universe- in a dream similitude.
Throughout the range of ancient civilizations (leaving the newer civilizations out of account for the moment) we find evidence of Dionysiac celebrations which stand to the Greek type in much the same relation as the bearded satyr, whose name and attributes are derived from the he-goat, stands to the god Dionysos. The central concern of such celebrations was, almost universally, a complete sexual promiscuity overriding every form of established tribal law; all the savage urges of the mind were unleashed on those occasions until they reached that paroxysm of lust and cruelty... the "witches' cauldron" par excellence. It would appear that the Greeks were for a while quite immune from these feverish excesses which must have reached them by every known land or sea route. What kept Greece safe was the proud, imposing image of Apollo, who in holding up the head of the Gorgon to those brutal and grotesque Dionysiac forces subdued them. Doric art has immortalized Apollo's majestic rejection of all license. But resistance became difficult, even impossible, as soon as similar urges began to break forth from the deep substratum of Hellenism itself. Soon the function of the Delphic god developed into something quite different and much more limited: all he could hope to accomplish now was to wrest the destructive weapon, by a timely gesture of pacification, from his opponent's hand. That act of pacification represents the most important event in the history of Greek ritual; every department of life now shows symptoms of a revolutionary change. The two great antagonists have been reconciled. Each feels obliged henceforth to keep to his bounds, each will honour the other by the bestowal of periodic gifts, while the cleavage remains fundamentally the same. And yet, if we examine what happened to the Dionysiac powers under the pressure of that treaty we notice a great difference: in the place of the Babylonian Sacaea, with their throwback of men to the condition of apes and tigers, we now see entirely new rites celebrated: rites of universal redemption, of glorious transfiguration. [...] That terrible witches' brew concocted of lust and cruelty has lost all power under the new conditions. [...] For now in every exuberant joy there is heard an undertone of terror, or else a wistful lament over an irrecoverable loss. It is as though in these Greek festivals a sentimental trait of nature were coming to the fore, as though nature were bemoaning the fact of her fragmentation, her decomposition into separate individuals. [...] ... music had long been familiar to the Greeks as an Apollonian art, as a regular beat like that of waves lapping the shore, a plastic rhythm expressly developed for the portrayal of Apollonian conditions. Apollo's music was a Doric architecture of sound - of barely hinted sounds such as are proper to the cithara. Those very elements which characterize Dionysiac music and, after it, music quite generally: the heart shaking power of tone, the uniform stream of melody, the incomparable resources of harmony - all those elements had been carefully kept at a distance as being inconsonant with the Apollonian norm. In the Dionysiac dithyramb man is incited to strain his symbolic faculties to the utmost; something quite unheard of is now clamouring to be heard: the desire to tear asunder the veil of Maya, to sink back into the original oneness of nature; the desire to express the very essence of nature symbolically. [...] In order to comprehend this total emancipation of all the symbolic powers one must have reached the same measure of inner freedom those powers themselves were making manifest; which is to say that the votary of Dionysos could not be understood except by his own kind. It is not difficult to imagine the awed surprise with which the Apollonian Greek must have looked on him. And that surprise would be further increased as the latter realized, with a shudder, that all this was not so alien to him after all, that his Apollonian consciousness was but a thin veil hiding from him the whole Dionysiac realm.
In order to comprehend this we must take down the elaborate edifice of Apollonian culture stone by stone until we discover its foundations. At first the eye is struck by the marvellous shapes of the Olympian gods who stand upon its pediments, and whose exploits, in shining bas relief, adorn its friezes.
Now the Olympian magic mountain opens itself before us, showing us its very roots. The Greeks were keenly aware of the terrors and horrors of existence; in order to be able to live at all they had to place before them the shining fantasy of the Olympians. Their tremendous distrust of the titanic forces of nature: Moira, mercilessly enthroned beyond the knowable world; the vulture which fed upon the great philanthropist Prometheus; the terrible lot drawn by wise Oedipus; the curse on the house of Atreus which brought Orestes to the murder of his mother: that whole Panic philosophy, in short, with its mythic examples, by which the gloomy Etruscans perished, the Greeks conquered - or at least hid from view - again and again by means of this artificial Olympus. In order to live at all the Greeks had to construct these deities. The Apollonian need for beauty had to develop the Olympian hierarchy of joy by slow degrees from the original titanic hierarchy of terror, as roses are seen to break from a thorny thicket. [...] The same drive which called art into being as a completion and consummation of existence, and as a guarantee of further existence, gave rise also to that Olympian realm which acted as a transfiguring mirror to the Hellenic will. The gods justified human life by living it themselves - the only satisfactory theodicy ever invented.
Whenever we encounter "naïveté" in art, we are face to face with the ripest fruit of Apollinian culture-- which must always triumph first over Titans, kill monsters, and overcome the somber contemplation of actuality, the intense susceptibility to suffering, by means of illusions strenuously and zestfully entertained. But how rare are the instances of true naïveté, of that complete identification with the beauty of appearance! It is this achievement which makes Homer so magnificent-- Homer, who, as a single individual, stood to Apollonian popular culture in the same relation as the individual dream artist to the oneiric capacity of a race and of nature generally. The naïveté of Homer must be viewed as a complete victory of Apollonian illusion. Nature often uses illusions of this sort in order to accomplish its secret purposes. The true goal is covered over by a phantasm. We stretch out our hands to the latter, while nature, aided by our deception, attains the former. In the case of the Greeks it was the will wishing to behold itself in the work of art, in the transcendence of genius; but in order so to behold itself its creatures had first to view themselves as glorious, to transpose themselves to a higher sphere, without having that sphere of pure contemplation either challenge them or upbraid them with insufficiency. It was in that sphere of beauty that the Greeks saw the Olympians as their mirror images; it was by means of that aesthetic mirror that the Greek will opposed suffering and the somber wisdom of suffering which always accompanies artistic talent. As a monument to its victory stands Homer, the naïve artist. We can learn something about that naïve artist through the analogy of dream. We can imagine the dreamer as he calls out to himself, still caught in the illusion of his dream and without disturbing it, "This is a dream, and I want to go on dreaming," and we can infer, on the one hand, that he takes deep delight in the contemplation of his dream, and, on the other, that he must have forgotten the day, with its horrible importunity, so to enjoy his dream. Apollo, the interpreter of dreams, will furnish the clue to what is happening here. Although of the two halves of life- the waking and the dreaming- the former is generally considered not only the more important but the only one which is truly lived, I would, at the risk of sounding paradoxical, propose the opposite view. The more I have come to realize in nature those omnipotent formative tendencies and, with them, an intense longing for illusion, the more I feel inclined to the hypothesis that the original Oneness, the ground of Being, ever suffering and contradictory, time and again has need of rapt vision and delightful illusion to redeem itself.
If this apotheosis of individuation is to be read in normative terms, we may infer that there is one norm only: the individual- or, more precisely, the observance of the limits of the individual: sophrosyne. As a moral deity Apollo demands self-control from his people and, in order to observe such self-control, a knowledge of self. And so we find that the aesthetic necessity of beauty is accompanied by the imperatives, "Know thyself," and "Nothing too much." Conversely, excess and hubris come to be regarded as the hostile spirits of the non-Apollonian sphere, hence as properties of the pre-Apollonian era- the age of Titans- and the extra-Apollonian world, that is to say the world of the barbarians.
The effects of the Dionysian spirit struck the Apollonian Greeks as titanic and barbaric; yet they could not disguise from themselves the fact that they were essentially akin to those deposed Titans and heroes. They felt more than that: their whole existence, with its temperate beauty, rested upon a base of suffering and knowledge which had been hidden from them until the reinstatement of Dionysos uncovered it once more. And lo and behold! Apollo found it impossible to live without Dionsysos. The elements of titanism and barbarism turned out to be quite as fundamental as the Apollonian element. And now let us imagine how the ecstatic sounds of the Dionysian rites penetrated ever more enticingly into that artificially restrained and discreet world of illusion,... and then let us imagine how the Apollonian artist with his thin, monotonous harp music must have sounded beside the demoniac chant of the multitude! [....] The individual, with his limits and moderations, forgot himself in the Dionysian vortex and became oblivious to the laws of Apollo. [...] Wherever the Dionysian voice was heard, the Apollonian norm seemed suspended or destroyed. [...] The only way I am able to view Doric art and the Doric state is as a perpetual military encampment of the Apollonian forces. An art so defiantly austere, so ringed about with fortifications--an education so military and exacting--a polity so ruthlessly cruel--could endure only in a continual state of resistance against the titanic and barbaric menace of Dionysus.
....from the Iron Age, with its battles of Titans and its austere popular philosophy, there developed under the aegis of Apollo the Homeric world of beauty;... this "naive" splendor was then absorbed once more by the Dionysian torrent,... face to face with this new power, the Apollonian code rigidified into the majesty of Doric art and contemplation.
The cosmic symbolism of music resists any adequate treatment by language, for the simple reason that music, in referring to primordial contradiction and pain, symbolizes a sphere which is both earlier than appearance and beyond it. Once we set it over against music, all appearance becomes a mere analogy. So it happens that language, the organ and symbol of appearance, can never succeed in bringing the innermost core of music to the surface.
[A valuable] insight into the significance of the chorus was furnished by Schiller in the famous preface to his Bride of Messina, where the chorus is seen as a living wall which tragedy draws about itself in order to achieve insulation from the actual world, to preserve its ideal ground and its poetic freedom.
Schiller used this view as his main weapon against... the illusionistic demand made upon dramatic poetry. [....] Schiller was not content to have what constitutes the very essence of poetry merely tolerated as 'poetic license'.
It is certainly true, as Schiller saw, that the Greek chorus of satyrs, the chorus of primitive tragedy, moved on ideal ground, a ground raised high above the common path of mortals. The Greek has built for his chorus the scaffolding of a fictive chthonic realm and placed thereon fictive nature spirits. ...the world of tragedy is by no means a world arbitrarily projected between heaven and earth; rather it is a world having the same reality and credibility as Olympus possessed for the devout Greek ["It grew out of the poetical aspect of real life" (the preface of Schiller's Bride of Messina)]. The satyr, as the Dionysiac chorist, dwells in a reality sanctioned by myth and ritual. [...] ...the cultured Greek felt himself absorbed into the satyr chorus ['as a lamplight by daylight'], and in the next development of Greek tragedy..., all that separated man from man gave way before an overwhelming sense of unity which led back into the heart of nature.
For the Greek the satyr expressed nature in a rude, uncultivated state... . ...a prophet of wisdom born out of nature's womb; a symbol of the sexual omnipotence of nature, which the Greek was accustomed to view with reverent wonder. [...] Our tricked-out, contrived shepherd would have offended him, but his eyes rested with sublime satisfaction on the open, undistorted limnings of nature. Here archetypal man was cleansed of the illusion of culture, and what revealed itself was authentic man, the bearded satyr jubilantly greeting his god. Before him cultured man dwindled to a false cartoon. Schiller is also correct as regards these beginnings of the tragic art: the chorus is a living wall against the onset of reality ecause it depicts reality more truthfully and more completely than does civilized man, who ordinarily considers himself the only reality. Poetry does not lie outside the world as a fantastic impossibility begotten of the poet's brain; it seeks to be the exact opposite, an unvarnished expression of truth, and for this reason must cast away the trumpery garments worn by the supposed reality of civilized man. The contrast between this truth of nature and the pretentious lie of civilization is quite similar to that between the eternal core of things and the entire phenomenal world. [...] The idyllic shepherd of modern man is but a replica of the sum of cultural illusions which he mistakes for nature. The Dionysiac Greek, desiring truth and nature at their highest power, sees himself metamorphosed into the satyr.
Enchantment is the precondition of all dramatic art. In this enchantment the Dionysiac reveler sees himself as satyr, and as satyr, in turn, he sees the god. In his transformation he sees a new vision, which is the Apollonian completion of his state. And by the same token this new vision completes the dramatic act.
Thus we have come to interpret Greek tragedy as a Dionysiac chorus which again and again discharges itself in Apollonian images. [...] This substratum of tragedy irradiates... a vision on the one hand completely of the nature of Apollonian dream-illusion and therefore epic, but on the other hand, as the objectification of a Dionysiac condition, tending toward the shattering of the individual and his fusion with the original Oneness.
Whereas we... find it hard to conceive how the chorus of the Greeks should have been older [and thus] more central than the dramatic action proper...; and whereas we have never been quite able to reconcile with this position of importance the fact that the chorus was composed of such lowly beings as-- originally-- goatlike satyrs; and whereas, further, the orchaestra in front of the stage has always seemed a riddle to us-- we now realize that the stage with its action was originally conceived as pure vision and that the only reality was the chorus, who created that vision out of itself and proclaimed it through the medium of dance, music, and spoken word. Since, in this vision, the chorus beholds its lord and master Dionysos, it remains forever an attending chorus; it sees how the god suffers and transforms himself.
It is Apolo who tranquilizes the individual by drawing boundary lines, and who, by enjoining again and again the practice of self-knowledge, reminds him of the holy, universal norms. But lest the Apollonian tendency freeze all form into Egyptian rigidity,... the Dionysiac flood tide periodically destroys all the little circles in which the Apollonian will would confine Hellenism.
…the one true Dionysos appears in a multiplicity of characters [on the Greek stage]… . The god ascends the stage in the likeness of a striving and suffering individual. That he can appear at all with this clarity and precision is due to dream interpreter Apollo, who projects before the chorus its Dionsiac ondition in this analogical figure. Yet in truth that hero is the suffering Dionysos of the mysteries. He of whom the wonderful myth relates that as a child he was dismembered by Titans now experiences in his own person the pains of individuation, and in this condition is worshiped as Zagreus. We have here an indication that dismemberment—the truly Dionysiac suffering—was like a separation into air, water, earth, and fire, and that individuation should be regarded as the source of all suffering, and rejected. […] Every hope of the Eleusinian initiates pointed to a rebirth of Dionysos, which we can now interpret as meaning the end of individuation… . […]
I have said earlier that the Homeric epic was the poetic expression of Olympian culture, its victory song over the terrors of the battle of the Titans. Now, under the overwhelming influence of tragic poetry, the Homeric myths were... transformed and show in this metamorphosis that since then the Olympian culture has also been overcome by an even deeper philosophy. The contumacious Titan, Prometheus, now announced to his Olympian tormentor that unless the latter promptly joined forces with him, his reign would be in supreme danger.[...] Thus we find the earlier age of Titans brought back from Tartarus and restored to the light of day. A philosophy of wild, naked nature looks with the bold countenance of truth upon the flitting myths of the Homeric world: they pale and tremble before the lightening eye of this goddess, until the… Dionysiac artist forces them into the service of a new divinity. The Dionysian truth takes over the entire realm of myth as symbolic language for its own insights, which it expresses partly in the public rite of tragedy and partly in the secret celebrations of dramatic mysteries, but always under the old mythic veil. […] It is the sure sign of the death of a religion when its mythic presuppositions become systematized, under the severe, rational eyes of an orthodox dogmatism, into a ready sum of historical events, and when… the feeling for myth withers and its place is taken by a religion claiming historical foundations. This decaying myth was now seized by the newborn genius of Dionysiac music, in whose hands it flowered once more, with new colors and a fragrance that aroused a wistful longing for a metaphysical world. […] It was through tragedy that myth achieved its profoundest content, its most expressive form.
The death of Greek tragedy... created a tremendous vacuum that was felt far and wide. ...[there] could be heard ringing now through the entire Greek world these painful cries: "Tragedy is dead! And poetry has perished with it! Away with you, punny, spriritless imitators! Away with you to Hades... !"
The death struggle of tragedy had been fought by Euripides, while the later art is known as the New Attic comedy [Editors note: characterized by its concern with the everyday world rather than the mythic]. Tragedy lived on there in a degenerate form, a monument to its painful and laborious death.
Euripides sat in the theatre pondering, a troubled spectator. In the end he had to admit to himself that he did not understand his great predecessors. But since he looked upon reason as the fountainhead of all doing and enjoying, he had to find out whether anybody shared these notions of his… . […] In this tormented state of mind, Euripides discovered his second spectator—one who did not understand tragedy and for that reason spurned it.
Before giving a name to that other spectator, let us stop a moment… . […] Euripides basic intention… is to eliminate from tragedy the primitive and pervasive Dionysiac element, and to rebuild the drama on a foundation of non-Dionysiac art…. .
Euripides himself, towards the end of his life, propounded the question of the value and significance of this tendency to his contemporaries in a myth. Has the Dionysiac spirit any right at all to exist? Should it not, rather, be brutally uprooted from the Hellenic soil? Yes, it should, the poet tells us, if only it were possible, but the god Dionysos is too powerful: even the most intelligent opponent , like Pentheus in the Bacchae, is unexpectedly enchanted by him, and in his enchantment runs headlong to destruction. […] …a poet who all his life had resisted Dionysos heroically, only to end his career with a glorification of his opponent and with suicide… . The Bacchae acknowledges the failure of Euripides dramatic intentions when, in fact, these had already succeeded: Dionysos had already been driven from the tragic stage by a daemonic power speaking through Euripides. For in a certain sense Euripides was but a mask, while the divinity which spoke through him was neither Dionysos nor Apollo but a brand new daemon called Socrates. Thenceforward the real antangonism was to be between the Dionysiac spirit and the Socratic, and tragedy was to perish in the conflict. […]
Let us now look more closely at the Socratic tendency by means of which Euripides… conquered Aeschylean tragedy. […] One it was no longer begotten by music, in the mysterious Dionysiac twilight, what form could drama conceivably take? Only that of the dramatized epic, an Apollonian form which precluded tragic effect. […] …the power of the epic Apollonian spirit is such that it transfigures the most horrible deeds before our eyes by the charm of illusion, and redemption through illusion.
The Euripidean prologue may serve to illustrate the efficacy of that rationalistic method. Nothing could be more at odds with our dramaturgic notions than the prologue in the drama of Euripides. To have a character appear at the beginning of the play, tell us who he is, what preceeded the action, what has happened so far, even what is about to happen in the course of the play—a modern writer for the theatre would rejet all this as a wanton and unpardonable dismissal of the element of suspense. […] But Euripides reasoned quite otherwise. According to him, the effect of tragedy never resided in epic suspense, in a teasing uncertainty as to what was going to happen next. It resided, rather, in those great scenes of lyrical rhetoric in which the passion and dialectic of the protagonist reached heights of eloquence. Everything portended pathos, not action. […] The tragedy of Aeschylus and Sophocles had used the subtlest dvices to furnish the spectator in the early scenes, and as if by chance, with all the necessary information. They had shown an admirable skill in distinguishing the necessary structural features and making them accidental. […]
With regard to his poetic procedure, which was both critical and creative, he must often have felt that he was applying to drama the opening words of Anaxogoras’ treatise: “In the beginning all things were mixed together; then reason came and introduced order.” And even as Anaxogoras, with his concept of reason, seems like the first sober philosopher in a company of drunkards, so Euripides may have appeared to himself as the first rational maker of tragedy. Everything was mixed together in a chaotic stew so long as reason, the sole principle of universal order, remained excluded from the creative act. Being of this opinion, Euripides had necessarily to reject his less rational peers. Euripides would never have endorsed Sophocles’ statement about Aeschylus—that this poet was doing the right thing, but unconsciously; instead he would have claimed that since Aeschylus created unconsciously he couldn’t help doing the wrong thing. […] Euripides set out, as Plato was to do, to show the world the opposite of the “irrational” poet: his esthetic axiom, “whatever is to be beautiful must be conscious” is strictly parallel to the Socratic “whatever is to be good must be conscious.” We can hardly go wrong then in calling Euripides the poet of esthetic Socratism. But Socrates was precisely that second spectator, incapable of understanding the older tragedy and therefore scorning it, and it was in his company that Euripides dared to usher in a new era of poetic activity. If the old tragedy was wrecked, esthetic Socratism is to blame, and to the extent that the target of the innovators was the Dionysiac principle of the older art we may call Socrates the god’s chief opponent, the new Orpheus who, though destined to be torn to pieces by the maenads of Athenian judgement, succeeded in putting the overmastering god to flight.
The fact that the aims of Socrates and Euripides were closely allied did not escape the attention of their contemporaries. We have an eloquent illustration of this in the rumor, current at the time in Athens, that Socrates was helping Euripides with his writings. […] It is certainly significant in this connection that Socrates, being a sworn enemy of the tragic art, is said never to have attended the theatre except when a new play of Euripides was mounted.
Who was this man who dared, singlehanded, to challenge the entire world of Hellenism... which commands our highest reverence? Who was this daemon daring to pour out the magic philter in the dust? this demigod to whom the noblest spirits of mankind must call out:
With ruthless hand
You have destroyed
This fair edifice:
It falls and decays!
We are offered a key to the mind of Socrates in that remarkable phenomenon known as his daimonion. In certain critical situations, when even his massive intellect faltered, he was able to regain his balance through the agency of a divine voice, which he heard only at such moments. The voice always spoke to dissuade. The instinctual wisdom of this anomalous character manifests itself from time to time as a purely inhibitory agent, ready to defy his rational judgement. Whereas in all truly productive men instinct is the strong, affirmative force and reason the dissuader and critic, in the case of Socrates the roles are reversed: instinct is the critic, consciousness the creator. Truly a monstrosity! Because of this lack of every mystical talent Socrates emerges as the perfect pattern of the non-mystic, in whom the logical side has become, through superfetation, as overdeveloped as has the instinctual side in the mystic.
Let us now imagine Socrates' great Cyclops' eye-- that eye which never glowed with the artist's divine frenzy-- turned upon tragedy.
I exemplify the use of poetry:
To convey to those who are a bit backward
The truth in a simile
The fact is that for Socrates tragic art failed even to "convey the truth," although it did address itself “to those who were a bit backward," which is to say to non-philosophers... . Like Plato, he reckoned it among the beguiling arts... . His success was such that the young tragic poet Plato burned all his writings in order to qualify as a student of Socrates.
Plato has furnished for all posterity the pattern of a new art form... in which poetry played the... subordinate role with regard to dialectic philosophy as that same philosophy was to play for many centuries with regard to theology. This, then, was the new status of poetry, and it was Plato who, under the pressure of daemonic Socrates, had brought it about.
The Apollonian tendency now appears disguised as logical schematism... . Socrates [is] the dialectic hero of the Platonic drama... . [...] ...the optimistic element in... dialectics... sees a triumph in every syllogism and can breathe only in an atmosphere of calm, conscious clarity. Once that optimistic element had entered tragedy, it overgrew its Dionysiac regions and brought about their annihilation… . Consider the consequences of the Socratic maxims: “Virtue is knowledge; all sins arise from ignorance; only the virtuous are happy”—these three basic formulations of optimism spell the death of tragedy. […] Aeschylus’ transcendental concept of justice [is] reduced to the brash and shallow principle of poetic justice with its regular deus ex machina.
[…] Optimistic dialectics took up the whip of its syllogisms and drove music out of the tragedy. It entirely destroyed the meaning of tragedy... .
It appears that this despotic logician had from time to time a sense of void, loss, unfulfilled duty with regard to art. In prison he told his friends how, on several occasions, a voice had spoken to him in a dream, saying "Practice music, Socrates!" ...in order to unburden his conscience he finally agreed, in prison, to undertake that music which hitherto he had held in low esteem. In this frame of mind he composed a poem on Apollo and rendered several Aesopian fables in verse. What prompted him to these exercises was something very similar to that warning voice of his daimonion: an Apollonian perception that, like a barbarian king, he had failed to comprehend the nature of a divine effigy, and was in danger of offending his own god through ignorance. These words heard by Socrates in his dream are the only indication that he ever experienced any uneasiness about the limits of his logical universe. He may have asked himself: "Have I been too ready to view what was unintelligible to me as being devoid of meaning? Perhaps there is a realm of wisdom, after all, from which the logician is excluded? Perhaps art must be seen as the necessary complement to rational discourse?”
...the influence of Socrates [is] like a shadow cast by the evening sun, ever lengthening into the future... .
...Socrates... [is] the prototype of an entirely new mode of existence. He is the great exemplar of that theoretical man whose significance and aims we must now attempt to understand.
...we find a deep seated illusion, first manifested in Socrates: the illusion that thought, guided by the thread of causality, might plumb the farthest abysses of being and even correct it. This grand metaphysical illusion has become integral to the scientific endeavour and again and again leads science to those far limits of its inquiry where it becomes art- which, in this mechanism, is what is really intended.
...Socrates... strikes us as the first who was able not only to live under the guidance of that instinctive scientific certainty but to die by it, which is much more difficult.
...a common net of knowledge was spread over the whole globe... the monumental pyramid of present-day knowledge,... Socrates [is] the vortex and turning point of Western civilization.
...Socrates represents the archetype of the theoretical optimist, who, strong in the belief that nature can be fathomed, considers knowledge to be the true panacea and error to be radical evil. To Socratic man the one noble and truly human occupation was that of laying bare the workings of nature, of separating true knowledge from illusion and error.
Whoever has tasted the delight of a Socratic perception, experienced how it moves to encompass the whole world of phenomena in ever widening circles, knows no sharper incentive to life than his desire to complete the conquest, to weave the net absolutely tight. To such a person the Platonic Socrates appears as the teacher of an entirely new form of "Greek serenity" and affirmation. [...] ...science, spurred on by its energetic notions, approaches irresistibly those outer limits where the optimism implicit in logic must collapse. For the periphery of science has an infinite number of points. Ever noble and gifted man has... come up against some point of the periphery that defied his understanding... . When the inquirer, having pushed to the circumference, realizes how logic in that place curls about itself and bites its own tail, he is struck with a new kind of perception: a tragic perception, which requires, to make it tolerable, the remedy of art.
The chances are that almost every one of us, upon close examination, will have to admit that he is able to approach the once-living reality of myth only by means of intellectual constructs. Yet every culture that has lost myth has lost, by the same token, its natural, healthy creativity. Only a horizon ringed about with myths can unify a culture. The forces of the imagination and Apollonian dream are saved only by a horizon ringed about by myth from indiscriminate ramblings. The images of myth must be the daemonic guardians, ubiquitous but unnoticed, presiding over the growth of the child's mind and interpreting to the mature man his life and struggle. [...] Over against this, let us consider abstract man stripped of myth, abstract education, abstract mores, abstract law, abstract government; the random vagaries of the artistic imagination unchanneled by any native myth; a culture without any fixed and consecrated place of origin, condemned to exhaust all possibilities and feed miserably and parasitically on every culture under the sun. Here we have our present age, the result of a Socratism bent on the extermination of myth. Man today, stripped of myth, stands famished among all his past and must dig frantically for roots, be it among the most remote antiquities. What does our great historical hunger signify, our clutching about us of countless other cultures, our consuming desire for knowledge, if not the loss of myth, of a mythic home, the mythic womb? Let us ask ourselves whether our feverish and frightening agitation is anything but the greedy grasping for food of a hungry man. And who would care to offer further nourishment to a culture which, no matter how much it consumes, remains insatiable and which converts the strongest and most wholesome food into "history" and "criticism"?
All our hopes centre on the fact that underneath the hectic movements of our civilization there dwells a marvellous ancient power, which arouses itself mightily only at certain grand moments and then sinks back to dream again of the future [c.f. Jung on Wotan]. Out of this subsoil grew the German Reformation, in whose choral music the future strains of German music sounded for the first time. Luther's chorales, so inward, courageous, spiritual, and tender, are like the first Dionysiac cry from the thicket at the approach of spring. They are answered antiphonally by the sacred and exuberant procession of Dionysiac enthusiasts to whom we are indebted for German music, to whom we shall one day be indebted for the rebirth of German myth.
I realize that I must now conduct the sympathetic reader to a mountain peak of lonely contemplation where he will have few companions, and I would call out to him by way of encouragement that we must hold fast to our luminous guides, the Greeks. [...]
...people had to destroy the firmament of myth in order to be able to live detached from their home soil, unrestrained in a wilderness of thought, custom, and action. But now that metaphysical drive still tries to create,... in the Socratism of science which pushes forward into life. But on the lower steps this very drive led only to a feverish search, which gradually lost itself in a pandemonium of myths and superstitions from all over the place, all piled up together, in the middle of which, nonetheless, the Hellene sat with an unquenched heart, until he understood to mask that fever with Greek cheerfulness and Greek negligence, in the form of Graeculus, or to plunge completely into some stupefying oriental superstition or other. [...] ...Greek tragedy declined through a curious sundering of the two sources that nourished it, a process which went hand in hand with the degeneration of the Greek national character and which should make us consider how inextricably bound up with one another are art and the people, myth and custom, tragedy and the commonwealth. The disappearance of tragedy also spelled the disappearance of myth. Heretofore the Greeks had felt an instinctive need to relate their experience at once to their myth, indeed to understand it only through that connection. In this way even the immediate present appeared to them sub specie aeternitatis and in a certain sense as timeless. The commonwealth, as well as art, submerged itself in that timeless stream in order to find respite from the burden and avidity of the immediate moment. [...] Only by [giving "to quotidian experience the stamp of the eternal"] can it express... the metaphysical meaning of life. The opposite happens when a nation begins to view itself historically and to demolish the mythical bulwarks that surround it. The result is usually a definite secularization, a break with the unconscious metaphysic of its earlier mode of existence, with all the accompanying dismal moral consequences. Greek art, and specifically Greek tragedy, were the factors preventing the destruction of myth; they too had to be destroyed if one were to live recklessly, out of touch with the native soul, in a wilderness of thought, custom, and action. Even so, the metaphysical urge endeavoured to create for itself a weaker embodiment through the intense Socratism of science, but on that pedestrian plane it led only to a feverish search, dissipating itself by degrees in a pandemonium of myths and superstitions collected at random. In the midst of these the Greek remained unsatisfied, until he finally learned to dissemble, as Graeculus, his fever under Greek jollity and frivolity or else to drug himself in some crass oriental superstition.
Today we experience the same extravagant thirst for knowledge, the same insatiable curiosity, the same drastic secularization, the nomadic wandering, the greedy rush to alien tables, the frivolous apotheosis of the present or the stupefied negation of it, and all sub specie saeculi- like symptoms, pointing to a comparable lack in our own culture, which has also destroyed myth. It seems scarcely possible to graft an alien myth onto a native culture without damaging the tree beyond repair in the process. Occasionally the tree proves strong and healthy enough to eliminate the foreign element after a prolonged struggle, but as a rule it must wither or continue in a state of morbid growth. We have a sufficiently high opinion of the pure and vigorous substance of the German spirit to entertain the hope that it will eliminate those elements grafted on it by force and remember its own true nature. [...] But no one should think that such battles can be fought without one's household gods, one's mythic roots, without a true 'recovery' of all things German. And if the German should despond in his endeavour to find his way back to his lost homeland, whose familiar paths he has forgotten, he has only to listen to the call of the Dionysiac bird, which hovers above his head and will show him the way.