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The Birth of Tragedy

Friedrich Nietzsche

Chapters 11 & 12

Chapters 9 & 10

Chapters 11 & 12, page 2

page 1 of 2

Summary

Tragedy did not pass away in its natural time as arts before it had, but rather died a sudden and violent death by means of suicide. Euripides is said to have pulled the trigger. The art that followed was 'New Attic comedy' a degenerate form of tragedy. The poets of the New Comedy worshiped Euripides, responsible as he was for the birth of their genre.

Euripides was the first to bring the 'spectator' upon the stage. The 'spectator' represented the common man of the 'real' world, not the Apollonian dream-state that existed in Aeschylus and Sophocles. Furthermore, Euripides's actors are very well spoken, and he boasted that he taught the common man to speak. The language of tragedy was no longer that of the drunken satyr, but of the common man. A new 'Greek Cheerfulness' came into play, but this time it was not an Apollonian appearance coming to the rescue of the man overwhelmed by Dionysian suffering. This was the fickle cheerfulness of the slave. The later conception of Greek 'cheerfulness' was based entirely upon this new phenomenon, wiping out the memory of tragedy's earlier, more serious undertones.

Although Euripides put the common man upon the stage, he did not do it for love of the public. In fact, whereas Aeschylus and Sophocles had always maintained the people's favor, Euripides drew a good deal of criticism in his day. Euripides was not concerned with the reaction of the public because he considered himself superior to the masses. He yielded to only two of his spectators. One of these spectators was himself as 'thinker,' as the man who was so puzzled by his predecessors that he decided to oppose his conception of tragedy to the traditional one.

It was the work of the second spectator, Socrates, which motivated Euripides in his battle to drive Dionysus out of tragedy. This new, un-Dionysian art was to be based on morality alone. For, Dionysus was a foreign influence and one not to be trusted. As demonstrated by the character of Pentheus in Euripides's ##Bacchae,## even the most intelligent adversary of Dionysus is unwittingly enchanted by him. Late in his life, Euripides attempted to recant, but it was too late. The spirit of Socrates had triumphed.

Once Dionysus had been struck from the tragic stage, only the 'dramatized epos,' a purely Apollonian form, remained. The actor in this new tragedy is unable to blend with his form, stuck forever in a calm state of contemplation. Because he plans his action before he takes it, the Euripidean actor can never be a pure artist. But, in his attempt to imitate passions, the Euripidean actor also alienates himself from the Apollonian dream-state. Thought replaces intuition, and passions replace ecstasies, so that both Apollo and Dionysus are shunned and art is denied.

These new tendencies embodied "esthetic Socratism," which stated that "To be beautiful everything must be intelligible," as the counterpart to the Socratic maxim: "Knowledge is virtue." In order to facilitate the intelligibility of the drama, Euripides introduced the prologue. The purpose of this element was to explain the history leading up to the drama, so that the audience would not be distracted from the "pathos" of the play by its efforts to figure out the relationships between characters. Both Aeschylus and Sophocles had designed their opening scenes such that all relevant information would be divulged, but Euripides went further. He rebelled against the old idea that the poet must be unconscious and bereft of reason in order to compose. Euripides, as the mask of Socrates, championed the cause of the rational poet.

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