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Aristophanes, the Greek comic playwright, mocked both Socrates and Euripides. Modern men, unwilling to accept his scathing portrayal of Socrates, have demonized Aristophanes instead. Socrates and Euripides were also grouped together at the Delphic oracle, as they were listed as the wisest of men. At the heart of Socrates's wisdom was his conviction that he 'knew nothing.' All around him, however, he found men who lived by instinct alone, which to Socrates constituted not insight, but illusion. Socrates then saw it as his duty to correct this existence, and irreverently went about destroying centuries of Greek culture.
One key to the character of Socrates is the phenomenon, which he calls his 'daemon,' or divine voice. When his intellect failed him, he would listen for this voice, which would invariably dissuade him from some action. Thus, the instinctive wisdom of Socrates acted only to hinder, never to create. He made it a point only to create through consciousness, never through instinct. This excess of the logical nature renders him a 'non-mystic,' i.e. the complete opposite of the man who is ruled by instinct alone. Athens could not put up with such a troubling force, and would have condemned him to exile, but Socrates seems to have arranged for his own death sentence. 'The dying Socrates' then became the new ideal of noble Greek youths.
When Socrates beheld tragedy, he saw only a thing devoid of sense and repugnant to the thoughtful mind. Tragedy was unsuitable for the philosopher both because it did not 'tell the truth,' and because it was addressed to the common man, who has 'no great understanding.' Socrates considered tragedy to be "one of the seductive arts which portray only the agreeable, not the useful," and demanded that his students abstain from its patronage. Plato tried to obey, burning all his poems, but yet was forced by circumstance to then create a new art form that was closely related to the old disgraced forms. This art form, the platonic dialogue, was the prototype of the novel.
In the platonic dialogues, Socrates was the virtuous hero. His precepts were: "Virtue is knowledge; man sins only from ignorance; he who is virtuous is happy." In this new art form, the chorus was accidental and easily cast aside. Furthermore, optimistic dialectic (the theme of the new art) drove music out of tragedy "with the scourge of its syllogisms." Socrates was not, however, the sole enemy of art. There were other forces at work that preceded him. At the end of his life, Socrates even took up the practice of music, compelled by a dream-vision.
For the most part, however, Socrates championed the ideal of the 'theoretical man', who delights in unveiling the truth wherever possible. Whereas, centuries later, Lessing said that Socrates cared "more for the search after truth than for truth itself," Socrates maintained implacable faith in the power of knowledge. He was under the illusion that, "with the clue of logic, thinking can reach to the nethermost depths of being, and thinking can not only perceive being but even modify it." The one purpose of this activity was to make existence seem intelligible, and therefore justified.
With his push for ever-greater understanding, Socrates incited a frenzy of knowledge seeking that stretched across the world. This movement put science on the pedestal on which it still stands. Socrates had such an enormous effect on Greek culture and all that followed that we should see him as the turning point of universal history. However, there comes a point where science can no longer explain the world and logic bites its own tail. This leads to a new form of perception, that is the 'tragic perception,' which, in order to be endured, requires art to soothe its inflamed consciousness.
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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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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