Skip over navigation

The Birth of Tragedy

Friedrich Nietzsche

Chapter 4

Chapters 2 & 3

Chapters 5 & 6

Summary

In his fourth section, Nietzsche uses the dream analogy to tackle the question of the naive artist, having defined naive to be "the complete absorption in the beauty of appearance." On the everyday level of experience, the waking life is far preferable to the dreaming life. However, "in relation to that mysterious substratum of our nature of which we are the phenomena," i.e. at the metaphysical level, the dream-state is preferable to the waking state.

It is only in the dream state that we can maintain a balance that will allow us to experience the Primal Unity. "The Truly-Existent and Primal Unity, eternally suffering and divided against itself, has need of the rapturous vision, the joyful appearance, for its continuous salvation…" The waking world represents one layer of appearance, for we can see everything around us in terms of symbols, and feel that there is another layer of meaning behind the material world. Thus the dream world is an "appearance of an appearance", i.e. a double layer of metaphor, and a particularly joyful and glowing one at that, for it is ruled by Apollo. Because the Primal Unity consists of an absolute knowledge of truth and suffering, it requires the dream state to counterbalance its effects.

A similar state of being is created in the naive work of art, which is also an appearance of an appearance. Nietzsche describes the artist Raphael's painting called "Transfiguration," which represents two states of appearance. In the lower half lie the bewildered, suffering disciples, who exist in the first level of appearance, that is, the material world. In the upper half of the picture we see represented "a new visionary world of appearances, invisible to those wrapped in the first appearance, a radiant floating in purest bliss, a serene contemplation beaming from wide-open eyes." This redeeming vision is possible only because of the suffering below, because it is only through suffering that man is forced to create such a world of appearance.

The two main precepts of Apollo were "know thyself" and "nothing in excess." But, in order to be faithful to this first rule, the Apollonian Greek would have had to look within himself and see the Dionysian suffering that lay at his core. "Despite all its beauty and moderation, his entire existence rested on a hidden substratum of suffering and of knowledge, which was again revealed to him by the Dionysian." Again, Dionysus and Apollo are paradoxically interdependent, despite their mutual opposition. This ongoing battle between the Apollonian and the Dionysian impulses did not result in a static middle ground, but in a constant push and pull. In some places, Dionysus was triumphant, in others, Apollo. Nietzsche describes the rigidity, rigor, and relentlessness of the "Doric state" in Greece as a state of Apollonian culture continually reinforcing itself against the Dionysian impulses threatening to overrun it. The Doric state was too extreme in its codes to have existed in a vacuum; it must have been reacting to a threatening force.

Analysis

Nietzsche uses this section to refine his conception of the epiphany that is reached when the Apollonian and the Dionysian come together in one art form. While he has not yet reached his main topic, Attic tragedy, he builds closer to it with his discussion of the different layers of appearance and how they are necessary for man in order to persevere in a world of suffering. Nietzsche shows that, not only do the Dionysian and Apollonian play off of each other, but they are also woven together at so many levels that it is difficult to speak of a separate 'Dionysian' and 'Apollonian' state. This may seem contradictory, as previously he has spoken of the 'Apollonian Greek' and the 'Dionysian Greek', but in this chapter he shows that the Dionysian Greek is really an Apollonian Greek who has seen and understood the suffering that lies beneath the veil of Apollonian appearance.

The further Nietzsche delves into his worlds of appearances, the more we see that he is influenced by a Christian mentality. He writes, "With his sublime gestures, he shows us how necessary is the entire world of suffering, that by means of it the individual may be impelled to realize the redeeming vision, and then, sunk in contemplation of it, sit quietly in his tossing barque, amid the waves." Such key words as "suffering" and "redeeming vision" are clearly designed to link his concepts with the Christian vision of redemption through suffering and contemplation of God. It is unclear whether this is Nietzsche's attempt to legitimate his philosophy, or whether he believes that the same archetypes are at work in Greek art and Christian theology.

In this section, Nietzsche also sets the stage for his discussion of Attic Tragedy with his portrayal of the Doric period of art and culture that immediately preceded the Attic period. The Doric, he writes, was rigidly Apollonian, and "definitely prim." Nietzsche paints a thoroughly distasteful picture of the Doric consciousness so that we may better appreciate the glory of Attic tragedy that is to follow. It is clear that he sees Doric art as one sided and unfulfilled, a cardboard-like state of mind that clearly has never partaken of the Primal Unity. He writes, "[W]e are now impelled to inquire after the final goal of these developments and processes, lest perchance we should regard the last-attained period, the period of Doric art, as the climax and aim of artistic impulses." Nietzsche's conception of art is highly teleological, for he sees Attic tragedy as the inevitable and glorious meeting of the Apollonian and Dionysian consciousness. He clearly implies that nothing before or since has ever been so great.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us