Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy

ABQ Chapter 25, pp. 236-243


“…The continuous development of art is bound up with the Apollinian and Dionysian duality…” (236)


The two “perpetuate an antagonism… till eventually, …they appear coupled with each other…in Attic tragedy” (236-7).


Apollo: God of sculpture, dreams, illusion—every person is an artist; shining, higher truth, healing, brightness, “principium individuationis” (principle of individuation)  Key instrument is the lyre


Dionysus: God of music, intoxication, joy, ecstasy, self-forgetfulness, dancing, harmony, breaking down barriers; under this influence, a person “is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art” (238).

Key instrument is the pipe (flute)


“Only the curious blending and duality of the emotions of the Dionysian revelers remind us—as medicines remind us of deadly poisons—of the phenomenon that pain begets joy, that ecstasy may wring sounds of agony from us.” (239)


More (see bottom of 239) on how tragedy fuses these two, using symbols (the Apollinian) to express or reveal a deeper, darker world (the Dionysian). Apollo stands for the Olympian, lofty gods, and Dionysus for the suffering of mortals. Tragedy as art speaks of both of these things.


“…When danger to [man’s] will is greatest, art approaches as a saving sorceress, expert at healing. She alone knows how to turn these nauseous thoughts about the horror or absurdity of existence into notions with which one can live…” (241)  


[Art, in the form of the Apollinian and Dionysian] “can justify the existence of even the ‘worst world’.” (242)


So the wise old Greek might invite a visitor, “follow me to witness a tragedy, and sacrifice with me in the temple of both deities”. (242)