Skip over navigation

The Birth of Tragedy

Friedrich Nietzsche

Chapter 16

Chapters 13–15

Chapter 16, page 2

page 1 of 2


Tragedy could not live without the spirit of music. Music, in turn, can provide for the rebirth of tragedy. In contrast, the greatest opposition to the tragic worldview is modern "optimistic science," which is the descendent of Socratic thought. However, there are indications that the rebirth of tragedy may now be possible.

The main points of the essay so far can be briefly summarized in this manner: Art is not derived from one exclusive principle, but rather from the conjunction of the two worlds of art represented by Apollo and Dionysus. Apollo is the transfiguring genius of the principium individuationis, through which alone redemption in appearance can be attained. The spell of individuation is then broken by the mystic cry of Dionysus, who leads the way to the innermost heart of things.

Richard Wagner is the only one to have recognized this antithesis. He has shown music to have a different character from all other arts, in that it is not a copy of the phenomenon, but a copy of the will itself, and thus is one step closer to the world. Others have misunderstood music to be an art delighting in beautiful forms. This essay has endeavored to show the opposite, that it is the only art to transcend the forms of appearance. The study of the Greeks up until this date has entirely misunderstood the point.

Schopenhauer, in his "World as Will and Idea," provides key insight into the relationship between music and image and concept. Music, regarded as an expression of the world, is a universal language that speaks directly to the world. Music is not a copy of the phenomenon, but rather a copy of the will itself. Melodies are an abstraction of the 'actual,' the real world. The universality of music is opposed to the universality of concepts. Whereas concepts are 'universalia post rem' (universality after the fact), music gives the 'universalia ante rem' (universality before the fact), and the real world 'universalia in re' (universality in itself). The composer achieves an expression of the will not by conscious intention by means of his conceptions, but through a direct knowledge of the nature of the world unknown to his reason. The use of reason, and the abstraction of the conceptual, places man in the world of inadequate imitation. The composer uses his intuition to avoid this plight.

Dionysian art exercises two kinds of influence on the Apollonian art faculty. Firstly, music is able to access the 'symbolic-intuition' of Dionysian universality, and provide the medium through which this symbolic image may emerge in its highest significance. Music thus gives birth to tragic myth. Secondly, music strives to express its nature in Apollonian images.

If one fails to see the connection between music and tragedy, then one misses the point of the tragic essence entirely. "For, it is only through the spirit of music that we can understand the joy involved in the annihilation of the individual." If we were conscious only of the world of images, then the vision of the tragic hero's death would be cause for sorrow. However, through music we are able to access the Dionysian universality and become aware that the hero is only phenomenon, and the eternal life of his will cannot be destroyed by his death. Whereas Apollonian art tries to console us with the idea of the eternity of the beautiful image, Dionysus provides us with a far more redemptive truth.

More Help

Previous Next
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!