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The Birth of Tragedy

Friedrich Nietzsche


Chapters 2 & 3

page 1 of 3

Chapters 2 & 3

Chapters 2 & 3

Chapters 2 & 3

Chapters 2 & 3


After describing the opposing states of Dionysus and Apollo, Nietzsche writes that these two systems represent artistic energies "which burst forth from nature herself, without the mediation of the human artist." These states exist a priori of any particular individual or culture; they are rather the "art-states of nature," of which every artist is an "imitator." Again, Nietzsche presumes that the Greek model is the only one, and that the state of mind for the Greeks is relevant to all of us.

In an attempt to discern the origins of these art-impulse archetypes, Nietzsche makes a vague attempt to analyze Greek dreams, but quickly moves on to a discussion of the Dionysian Greek as a progression from the Dionysian barbarian. The Dionysian Greek was protected from the wild destructive ecstasies of the Dionysian barbarian by the influence of Apollo. The "reconciliation" between Apollo at Delphi and Dionysus was "the most important moment in the history of the Greek cult." However, the power of Dionysus was not defeated, but transformed. For the first time, the destruction of the individual ends not in annihilation, but becomes an artistic phenomenon in the form of music and dancing.

There is a strong distinction between Apollonian and Dionysian music. The former was composed of merely suggestive tones, whose wave-beats of rhythm "were developed for the representation of Apollonian states." Apollonian music was structural, and played no active role. Dionysian music, on the other hand, is defined by its power to evoke emotional states. "In the Dionysian dithyramb man is incited to the greatest exaltation of all his symbolic faculties." When he hears Dionysian music, man is compelled to dance, and in dancing he exercises new symbolic powers that were restrained before.

While this activity must have seemed completely foreign to the Apollonian Greek at first, he soon would have had the nagging feeling of familiarity. For it is only the Apollonian veil that hides the Dionysian world from the Apollonian Greek. The Dionysian world is all around him, but it is shrouded in glowing beauty that the Greeks in their miserable existence felt necessary to drape around themselves. This glowing beauty is both comforting and limiting, and Dionysus mercilessly tears it aside so that we may confront our own primordial natures.

When one first encounters the Greeks, one is stunned by their vision of unflagging beauty, and must wonder what source could produce such joy. The truth is quite the opposite, however, as the Greeks created a world of beauty for their gods in the face of the misery that existed on earth. For, "How else could this people, so sensitive, so vehement in its desires, so singularly constituted for suffering, how could they have endured existence, if it had not been revealed to them in their gods, surrounded with a higher glory?" The Greeks, more than any other people, were susceptible to the perception of suffering, and thus were forced to create a particularly dazzling shield to ward it off.

The complete absorption into the beauty of appearance is called 'the naive in art.' Homer, the ultimate naive artist, populates his world with heroes who strive to reach the glory of the gods, and who revel in Olympian illusions. Olympus did not serve as a source of moral retribution, but rather as a model of glory in which Homeric heroes saw their mirrored images. Nature veils the true goal with a phantasm, an Apollonian illusion (as represented here by the Olympian gods): "and while we stretch out our hands for the latter, Nature attains the former by means of your illusion."

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I don't agree with this review of Nietzsche

by john2054, July 26, 2015

This is a powerful and influential book. Dealing with philsophy, geneology and anthropology. Nietzsche does a good job at combing the macro philosophies of his time, with the micro interpretations of the detail of these stories and songs. None of which this reviewer picks up upon. So then this review gets a fail from me!


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John V. Karavitis has just listened to an audiobook of The Birth of Tragedy.

by JohnVKaravitis, May 15, 2016

I just finished listening to an audiobook of The Birth of Tragedy, and now I found my way to SparkNotes! I'm glad to have a chance to dig deeper into this famous philosophical work, and I wouldn't have been able to do this if it weren't for SparkNotes! Many thanks, and keep up the great work! John V. Karavitis

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