The Birth of Tragedy
**** Kaufmann, following the precedent of Crane Brinton’s Nietzsche (1965), George A. Morgan, Jr.’s What Nietzsche Means (1941) and the English version of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West (1926-28), translates “Apollinisch” as “Apollinian”—rather than “Apollonian.” Accordingly, here, Golffing’s “Apollonian” has been changed to “Apollinian.” ****
Much will have been gained for aesthetics once we have succeeded in apprehending directly—rather than merely ascertaining—that art owes its continuous evolution to the Apollinian- Dionysian duality, even as the propagation of the species depends on the duality of the sexes, their constant conflicts and periodic acts of reconciliation. I have borrowed my adjectives from the Greeks, who developed their mystical doctrines of art through plausible embodiments, not through purely conceptual means. It is by those two art sponsoring deities, Apollo and Dionysus, that we are made to recognize the tremendous split, as regards both origins and objectives, between the plastic, Apollinian arts and the nonvisual art of music inspired by Dionysus. The two creative tendencies developed alongside one another, usually in fierce opposition, each by its taunts forcing the other to more energetic production, both perpetuating in a discordant concord that agon which the term art but feebly denominates: until at last, by the thaumaturgy of an Hellenic act of will, the pair accepted the yoke of marriage and, in this condition, begot Attic tragedy, which exhibits the salient features of both parents.
To reach a closer understanding of both these tendencies, let us begin by viewing them as the separate art realms of dream and intoxication, two physiological phenomena standing toward one another in much the same relationship as the Apollinian and Dionysian. It was in a dream, according to Lucretius [De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things), v. 1169–82 (English TXT)], that the marvelous gods and goddesses first presented themselves to the minds of men. That great sculptor, Phidias, beheld in a dream the entrancing bodies of more than human beings, and likewise, if anyone had asked the Greek poets about the mystery of poetic creation, they too would have referred him to dreams and instructed him much as Hans Sachs instructs us in Die Meistersinger [III. ii]:
The poet’s task is this, my friend,
to read his dreams and comprehend.
The truest human fancy seems
to be revealed to us in dreams:
all poems and versification
are but true dreams’ interpretation.
The fair illusion of the dream sphere, in the production of which every man proves himself an accomplished artist, is a precondition not only of all plastic art, but even, as we shall see presently, of a wide range of poetry. Here we enjoy an immediate apprehension of form, all shapes speak to us directly, nothing seems indifferent or redundant. Despite the high intensity with which these dream realities exist for us, we still have a residual sensation that they are illusions; at least such has been my experience— and the frequency, not to say normality, of the experience is borne out in many passages of the poets. Men of philosophical disposition are known for their constant premonition that our everyday reality, too, is an illusion, hiding another, totally different kind of reality. It was Schopenhauer who considered the ability to view at certain times all men and things as mere phantoms or dream images to be the true mark of philosophic talent [The World as Will and Representation, I.1, 5]. The person who is responsive to the stimuli of art behaves toward the reality of dream much the way the philosopher behaves toward the reality of existence: he observes exactly and enjoys his observations, for it is by these images that he interprets life, by these processes that he rehearses it. He experiences not only the agreeable and friendly images with that universal understanding: but also the serious, the gloomy, the sad, the dark aspects of life, the sudden inhibitions, the teasing of chance, the fearful expectations, in short the whole “divine comedy” of life, including the Inferno, passes before him, not only as a game of shadows—since he participates in the life and suffering of these scenes—yet also not without that fleeting sense of their status as appearance; and I imagine that many persons have reassured themselves amidst the perils of dream by calling out, “It is a dream! I want it to go on.” I have even heard of people spinning out the causality of one and the same dream over three or more successive nights. All these facts clearly bear witness that our innermost being, the common substratum of humanity, experiences dreams with deep delight and a sense of real necessity. This deep and happy sense of the necessity of dream experiences was expressed by the Greeks in the image of Apollo. Apollo is at once the god of all plastic powers and the soothsaying god. He who is etymologically the “lucent” one, the god of light, reigns also over the fair illusion of our inner world of fantasy. The perfection of these conditions in contrast to our imperfectly understood waking reality, as well as our profound awareness of nature’s healing powers during the interval of sleep and dream, furnishes a symbolic analogue to the soothsaying faculty and quite generally to the arts, which make life possible and worth living. But the image of Apollo must incorporate that thin line which the dream image may not cross, under penalty of becoming pathological, of imposing itself on us as crass reality: a discreet limitation, a freedom from all extravagant urges, the sapient tranquillity of the plastic god. His eye must be sunlike, in keeping with his origin. Even at those moments when he is angry and ill-tempered there lies upon him the consecration of fair illusion. In an eccentric way one might say of Apollo what Schopenhauer says, in the first part of The World as Will and Representation [I:1, 3], of man caught in the veil of Maya: “Even as on an immense, raging sea, assailed by huge wave crests, a man sits in a little rowboat trusting his frail craft, so, amidst the furious torments of this world, the individual sits tranquilly, supported by the principium individuationis [principle of individuation] and relying on it.” [The World as Will and Representation, I:4, 63] One might say that the unshakable confidence in that principium has received its most magnificent expression in Apollo, and that Apollo himself may be regarded as the marvelous divine image of the principium individuationis, whose looks and gestures radiate the full delight, wisdom, and beauty of “illusion.”
In the same context Schopenhauer has described for us the tremendous awe which seizes man when he suddenly begins to doubt the cognitive modes of experience, in other words, when in a given instance the law of causation seems to suspend itself. If we add to this awe the glorious transport which arises in man, even from the very depths of nature, at the shattering of the principium individuationis, then we are in a position to apprehend the essence of Dionysian rapture, whose closest analogy is furnished by physical intoxication. Dionysian stirrings arise either through the influence of those narcotic potions of which all primitive races speak in their hymns, or through the powerful approach of spring, which penetrates with joy the whole frame of nature. So stirred, the individual forgets himself completely. It is the same Dionysian power which in medieval Germany drove ever increasing crowds of people singing and dancing from place to place; we recognize in these St. John’s and St. Vitus’ dancers the Bacchic choruses of the Greeks, who had their precursors in Asia Minor and as far back as Babylon and the orgiastic Sacaea. There are people who, either from lack of experience or out of sheer stupidity, turn away from such phenomena, and, strong in the sense of their own sanity, label them either mockingly or pityingly “endemic diseases.” These benighted souls have no idea how cadaverous and ghostly their “sanity” appears as the intense throng of Dionysian revelers sweeps past them.
Not only does the bond between man and man come to be forged once more by the magic of the Dionysian rite, but nature itself, long alienated or subjugated, rises again to celebrate the reconciliation with her prodigal son, man. The earth offers its gifts voluntarily, and the savage beasts of mountain and desert approach in peace. The chariot of Dionysus is bedecked with flowers and garlands; panthers and tigers stride beneath his yoke. If one were to convert Beethoven’s “Hymn to Joy” into a painting, and refuse to curb the imagination when that multitude prostrates itself reverently in the dust, one might form some apprehension of Dionysian ritual. Now the slave emerges as a freeman; all the rigid, hostile walls which either necessity or despotism has erected between men are shattered. Now that the gospel of universal harmony is sounded, each individual becomes not only reconciled to his fellow but actually at one with him—as though the veil of Maya had been torn apart and there remained only shreds floating before the vision of mystical Oneness. Man now expresses himself through song and dance as the member of a higher community; he has forgotten how to walk, how to speak, and is on the brink of taking wing as he dances. Each of his gestures betokens enchantment; through him sounds a supernatural power, the same power which makes the animals speak and the earth render up milk and honey. He feels himself to be godlike and strides with the same elation and ecstasy as the gods he has seen in his dreams. No longer the artist, he has himself become a work of art: the productive power of the whole universe is now manifest in his transport, to the glorious satisfaction of the primordial One. The finest clay, the most precious marble—man—is here kneaded and hewn, and the chisel blows of the Dionysian world artist are accompanied by the cry of the Eleusinian mystagogues: “Do you fall on your knees, multitudes, do you divine your creator?” [Quote from Schiller's "Ode to Joy"] —
So far we have examined the Apollinian and Dionysian states as the product of formative forces arising directly from nature without the mediation of the human artist. At this stage artistic urges are satisfied directly, on the one hand through the imagery of dreams, whose perfection is quite independent of the intellectual rank, the artistic development of the individual; on the other hand, through an ecstatic reality which once again takes no account of the individual and may even destroy him, or else redeem him through a mystical experience of the collective. In relation to these immediate creative conditions of nature every artist must appear as “imitator,” either as the Apollinian dream artist or the Dionysian ecstatic artist, or, finally (as in Greek tragedy, for example) as dream and ecstatic artist in one. We might picture to ourselves how the last of these, in a state of Dionysian intoxication and mystical self-abrogation, wandering apart from the reveling throng, sinks upon the ground, and how there is then revealed to him his own condition—complete oneness with the essence of the universe—in a dream similitude.
Having set down these general premises and distinctions, we now turn to the Greeks in order to realize to what degree the formative forces of nature were developed in them. Such an inquiry will enable us to assess properly the relation of the Greek artist to his prototypes or, to use Aristotle’s expression, his “imitation of nature.” Of the dreams the Greeks dreamed it is not possible to speak with any certainty, despite the extant dream literature and the large number of dream anecdotes. But considering the incredible accuracy of their eyes, their keen and unabashed delight in colors, one can hardly be wrong in assuming that their dreams too showed a strict consequence of lines and contours, hues and groupings, a progression of scenes similar to their best bas reliefs. The perfection of these dream scenes might almost tempt us to consider the dreaming Greek as a Homer and Homer as a dreaming Greek; which would be as though the modern man were to compare himself in his dreaming to Shakespeare.
Yet there is another point about which we do not have to conjecture at all: I mean the profound gap separating the Dionysian Greeks from the Dionysian barbarians. Throughout the range of ancient civilization (leaving the newer civilizations out of account for the moment) we find evidence of Dionysian celebrations which stand to the Greek type in much the same relation as the bearded satyr, whose name and attributes are derived from the goat, stands to the god Dionysus. The central concern of such celebrations was, almost universally, a complete sexual promiscuity overriding every form of established tribal law; all the savage urges of the mind were unleashed on those occasions until they reached that paroxysm of lust and cruelty which has always struck me as the actual “witches’ cauldron.” It would appear that the Greeks were for a while quite immune from these feverish excesses which must have reached them by every known land or sea route. What kept Greece safe was the proud, imposing image of Apollo, who in holding up the head of the Gorgon to those brutal and grotesque Dionysian forces subdued them. Doric art has immortalized Apollo’s majestic rejection of all license. But resistance became difficult, even impossible, as soon as similar urges began to break forth from the deep substratum of Hellenism itself. Soon the function of the Delphic god developed into something quite different and much more limited: all he could hope to accomplish now was to wrest the destructive weapon, by a timely gesture of pacification, from his opponent’s hand. That act of pacification represents the most important event in the history of Greek ritual; every department of life now shows symptoms of a revolutionary change. The two great antagonists have been reconciled. Each feels obliged henceforth to keep to his bounds, each will honor the other by the bestowal of periodic gifts, while the cleavage remains fundamentally the same. And yet, if we examine what happened to the Dionysian powers under the pressure of that treaty we notice a great difference: in the place of the Babylonian Sacaea, with their throwback of men to the condition of apes and tigers, we now see entirely new rites celebrated: rites of universal redemption, of glorious transfiguration. Only now has it become possible to speak of nature’s celebrating an aesthetic triumph; only now has the abrogation of the principium individuationis become an aesthetic event. That terrible witches’ brew concocted of lust and cruelty has lost all power under the new conditions. Yet the peculiar blending of emotions in the heart of the Dionysian reveler—his ambiguity if you will—seems still to hark back (as the medicinal drug harks back to the deadly poison) to the days when the infliction of pain was experienced as joy while a sense of supreme triumph elicited cries of anguish from the heart. For now in every exuberant joy there is heard an undertone of terror, or else a wistful lament over an irrecoverable loss. It is as though in these Greek festivals a sentimental trait of nature were coming to the fore, as though nature were bemoaning the fact of her fragmentation, her decomposition into separate individuals. The chants and gestures of these revelers, so ambiguous in their motivation, represented an absolute novum in the world of the Homeric Greeks; their Dionysian music, in especial, spread abroad terror and a deep shudder. It is true: music had long been familiar to the Greeks as an Apollinian art, as a regular beat like that of waves lapping the shore, a plastic rhythm expressly developed for the portrayal of Apollinian conditions. Apollo’s music was a Doric architecture of sound—of barely hinted sounds such as are proper to the cithara. Those very elements which characterize Dionysian music and, after it, music quite generally: the heart shaking power of tone, the uniform stream of melody, the incomparable resources of harmony—all those elements had been carefully kept at a distance as being inconsonant with the Apollinian norm. In the Dionysian dithyramb man is incited to strain his symbolic faculties to the utmost; something quite unheard of is now clamoring to be heard: the desire to tear asunder the veil of Maya, to sink back into the original oneness of nature; the desire to express the very essence of nature symbolically. Thus an entirely new set of symbols springs into being. First, all the symbols pertaining to physical features: mouth, face, the spoken word, the dance movement which coordinates the limbs and bends them to its rhythm. Then suddenly all the rest of the symbolic forces—music and rhythm as such, dynamics, harmony—assert themselves with great energy. In order to comprehend this total emancipation of all the symbolic powers one must have reached the same measure of inner freedom those powers themselves were making manifest; which is to say that the votary of Dionysus could not be understood except by his own kind. It is not difficult to imagine the awed surprise with which the Apollinian Greek must have looked on him. And that surprise would be further increased as the latter realized, with a shudder, that all this was not so alien to him after all, that his Apollinian consciousness was but a thin veil hiding from him the whole Dionysian realm.
In order to comprehend this we must take down the elaborate edifice of Apollinian culture stone by stone until we discover its foundations. At first the eye is struck by the marvelous shapes of the Olympian gods who stand upon its pediments, and whose exploits, in shining bas-relief, adorn its friezes. The fact that among them we find Apollo as one god among many, making no claim to a privileged position, should not mislead us. The same drive that found its most complete representation in Apollo generated the whole Olympian world, and in this sense we may consider Apollo the father of that world. But what was the radical need out of which that illustrious society of Olympian beings sprang?
Whoever approaches the Olympians with a different religion in his heart, seeking moral elevation, sanctity, spirituality, loving kindness, will presently be forced to turn away from them in ill-humored disappointment. Nothing in these deities reminds us of asceticism, high intellect, or duty: we are confronted by luxuriant, triumphant existence, which deifies the good and the bad indifferently. And the beholder may find himself dismayed in the presence of such overflowing life and ask himself what potion these heady people must have drunk in order to behold, in whatever direction they looked, Helen laughing back at them, the beguiling image of their own existence [Goethe's Faust, I, 2603-4: "Having taken this potion, you will soon see Helen in every woman"]. But we shall call out to this beholder, who has already turned his back: Don’t go! Listen first to what the Greeks themselves have to say of this life, which spreads itself before you with such puzzling cheerfulness. An old legend has it that King Midas hunted a long time in the woods for the wise Silenus, companion of Dionysus, without being able to catch him. When he had finally caught him the king asked him what he considered man’s greatest good. The daemon remained sullen and uncommunicative until finally, forced by the king, he broke into a shrill laugh and spoke: “Ephemeral wretch, begotten by accident and toil, why do you force me to tell you what it would be your greatest boon not to hear? What would be best for you is quite beyond your reach: not to have been born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best is to die soon.”
What is the relation of the Olympian gods to this popular wisdom? It is that of the entranced vision of the martyr to his torment.
Now the Olympian magic mountain opens itself before us, showing us its very roots. The Greeks were keenly aware of the terrors and horrors of existence; in order to be able to live at all they had to place before them the shining fantasy of the Olympians. Their tremendous distrust of the titanic forces of nature: Moira [fate], mercilessly enthroned beyond the knowable world; the vulture which fed upon the great philanthropist Prometheus; the terrible lot drawn by wise Oedipus; the curse on the house of Atreus which brought Orestes to the murder of his mother: that whole Panic philosophy, in short, with its mythic examples, by which the gloomy Etruscans perished, the Greeks conquered—or at least hid from view—again and again by means of this artificial Olympus [Mittelwelt der Olympier]. In order to live at all the Greeks had to construct these deities. The Apollinian need for beauty had to develop the Olympian hierarchy of joy by slow degrees from the original titanic hierarchy of terror, as roses are seen to break from a thorny thicket. How else could life have been borne by a race so hypersensitive, so emotionally intense, so equipped for suffering? The same drive which called art into being as a completion and consummation of existence, and as a guarantee of further existence, gave rise also to that Olympian realm which acted as a transfiguring mirror to the Hellenic “will.” The gods justified human life by living it themselves—the only satisfactory theodicy ever invented. To exist in the clear sunlight of such deities was now felt to be the highest good, and the only real grief suffered by Homeric man was inspired by the thought of leaving that sunlight, especially when the departure seemed imminent. Now it became possible to stand the wisdom of Silenus on its head and proclaim that it was the worst evil for man to die soon, and second worst for him to die at all. Such laments as arise now arise over short-lived Achilles, over the generations ephemeral as leaves, the decline of the heroic age. It is not unbecoming to even the greatest hero to yearn for an afterlife, though it be as a day laborer. So impetuously, during the Apollinian phase, does man’s will desire to remain on earth, so identified does he become with existence, that even his lament turns to a song of praise.
It should have become apparent by now that the harmony with nature which we late comers regard with such nostalgia, and for which Schiller has coined the cant term “naïve” [Friedrich Schiller: Über naïve und sentimentalische Dichtung (On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry) (1795)], is by no means a simple and inevitable condition to be found at the gateway to every culture, a kind of paradise. Such a belief could have been endorsed only by a period for which Rousseau’s Emile was an artist and Homer just such an artist nurtured in the bosom of nature. Whenever we encounter “naïveté” in art, we are face to face with the ripest fruit of Apollinian culture—which must always triumph first over titans, kill monsters, and overcome the somber contemplation of actuality, the intense susceptibility to suffering, by means of illusions strenuously and zestfully entertained. But how rare are the instances of true naïveté, of that complete identification with the beauty of appearance! It is this achievement which makes Homer so magnificent, who, as a single individual, stood to Apollinian popular culture in the same relation as the individual dream artist to the oneiric capacity of a race and of nature generally. The “naïveté” of Homer must be viewed as a complete victory of Apollinian illusion. Nature often uses illusions of this sort in order to accomplish its secret purposes. The true goal is covered over by a phantasm. We stretch out our hands to the latter, while nature, aided by our deception, attains the former. In the case of the Greeks it was the “will” wishing to behold itself in the work of art, in the transcendence of genius; but in order so to behold itself its creatures had first to view themselves as glorious, to transpose themselves to a higher sphere, without having that sphere of pure contemplation either challenge them or upbraid them with insufficiency. It was in that sphere of beauty that the Greeks saw the Olympians as their mirror images; it was by means of that aesthetic mirror that the Hellenic “will” opposed suffering and the somber wisdom of suffering which always accompanies artistic talent. As a monument to its victory stands Homer, the naïve artist.
We can learn something about that naïve artist through the analogy of dream. We can imagine the dreamer as he calls out to himself, still caught in the illusion of his dream and without disturbing it, “This is a dream, and I want to go on dreaming,” and we can infer, on the one hand, that he takes deep delight in the contemplation of his dream, and, on the other, that he must have forgotten the day, with its horrible importunity, so to enjoy his dream. Apollo, the interpreter of dreams, will furnish the clue to what is happening here. Although of the two halves of life—the waking and the dreaming—the former is generally considered not only the more important but the only one which is truly lived, I would, at the risk of sounding paradoxical, propose the opposite view. The more I have come to realize in nature those omnipotent formative tendencies and, with them, an intense longing for illusion, the more I feel inclined to the hypothesis that the original Oneness, the ground of Being, ever suffering and contradictory, time and again has need of rapt vision and delightful illusion to redeem itself. Since we ourselves are the very stuff of such illusions, we must view ourselves as the truly non-existent, that is to say, as a perpetual unfolding in time, space, and causality—what we label “empiric reality.” But if, for the moment, we abstract from our own reality, viewing our empiric existence, as well as the existence of the world at large, as the idea of the original Oneness, produced anew each instant, then our dreams will appear to us as illusions of illusions, hence as a still higher form of satisfaction of the original desire for illusion. It is for this reason that the very core of nature takes such a deep delight in the naive artist and the naive work of art, which likewise is merely the illusion of an illusion. Raphael, himself one of those immortal “naive” artists, in a symbolic canvas has illustrated that reduction of illusion to further illusion which is the original act of the naive artist and at the same time of all Apollinian culture. In the lower half of his Transfiguration, through the figures of the possessed boy, the despairing bearers, the helpless, terrified disciples, we see a reflection of original pain, the sole ground of being: “illusion” here is a reflection of eternal contradiction, begetter of all things. From this illusion there rises, like the fragrance of ambrosia, a new illusory world, invisible to those enmeshed in the first: a radiant vision of pure delight, a rapt seeing through wide open eyes. Here we have, in a great symbol of art, both the fair world of Apollo and its substratum, the terrible wisdom of Silenus, and we can comprehend intuitively how they mutually require one another. But Apollo appears to us once again as the apotheosis of the principium individuationis, in whom the eternal goal of the original Oneness, namely its redemption through illusion, accomplishes itself. With august gesture the god shows us how there is need for a whole world of torment in order for the individual to produce the redemptive vision and to sit quietly in his rocking rowboat in mid sea, absorbed in contemplation.
If this apotheosis of individuation is to be read in normative terms, we may infer that there is one norm only: the individual—or, more precisely, the observance of the limits of the individual: moderation in the Hellenic sense. As a moral deity Apollo demands self-control from his people and, in order to observe such self-control, a knowledge of self. And so we find that the aesthetic necessity of beauty is accompanied by the imperatives, “Know thyself,” and “Nothing too much!” Conversely, excess and hubris [Selbstüberhebung] come to be regarded as the hostile spirits of the non-Apollinian sphere, hence as properties of the pre-Apollinian era—the age of Titans —and the extra-Apollinian world, that is to say the world of the barbarians. It was because of his Titanic love of man that Prometheus had to be devoured by vultures; it was because of his extravagant wisdom which succeeded in solving the riddle of the Sphinx that Oedipus had to be cast into a whirlpool of crime: in this fashion does the Delphic god interpret the Greek past.
The effects of the Dionysian spirit struck the Apollinian Greeks as “titanic” and “barbaric”; yet they could not disguise from themselves the fact that they were essentially akin to chose deposed Titans and heroes. They felt more than that: their whole existence, with its temperate beauty, rested upon a base of suffering and knowledge which had been hidden from them until the reinstatement of Dionysus uncovered it once more. And lo and behold! Apollo found it impossible to live without Dionysus! The elements of “titanism” and “barbarism” fumed out to be quite as fundamental as the Apollinian element! And now let us imagine how the ecstatic sounds of the Dionysian rites penetrated ever more enticingly into that artificially restrained and discreet world of illusion, how this clamor expressed the whole excess of nature—delight, grief, knowledge—even to the most piercing cry; and then let us imagine how the Apollinian artist with his thin, monotonous harp music must have sounded beside the demoniac chant of the multitude! The muses presiding over the illusory arts paled before an art which enthusiastically told the truth, and the wisdom of Silenus cried Woe! Woe! against the serene Olympians. The individual, with his limits and moderations, forgot himself in the Dionysian vortex and became oblivious to the laws of Apollo. Excess revealed itself as truth, and contradiction, a delight born of pain, spoke out of the bosom of nature. Wherever the Dionysian voice was heard, the Apollinian norm seemed suspended or destroyed. Yet it is equally true that, in those places where the first assault was withstood, the prestige and majesty of the Delphic god appeared more rigid and threatening than before. The only way I am able to view Doric art and the Doric state is as a perpetual military encampment of the Apollinian forces. An art so defiantly austere, so ringed about with fortifications—an education so military and exacting—a polity so ruthlessly cruel—could endure only in a continual state of resistance against the titanic and barbaric menace of Dionysus.
Up to this point I have developed at some length a theme which was sounded at the beginning of this essay: how the Dionysian and Apollinian elements, in a continuous chain of creations, each enhancing the other, dominated the Hellenic mind; how from the “Iron” Age, with its battles of Titans and its austere popular philosophy, there developed under the aegis of Apollo the Homeric world of beauty; how this “naive” splendor was then absorbed once more by the Dionysian torrent, and how, face to face with this new power, the Apollinian code rigidified into the majesty of Doric art and contemplation. If the earlier phase of Greek history may justly be broken down into four major artistic epochs dramatizing the battle between the two hostile principles, then we must inquire further (lest Doric art appear to us as the acme and final goal of all these striving tendencies) what was the true end toward which that evolution moved. And our eyes will come to rest on the sublime and much lauded achievement of the dramatic dithyramb and Attic tragedy, as the common goal of both urges; whose mysterious marriage, after long discord, ennobled itself with such a child, at once Antigone and Cassandra.
We are now approaching the central concern of our inquiry, which has as its aim an understanding of the Dionysian-Apollinian spirit, or at least an intuitive comprehension of the mystery which made this conjunction possible. Our first question must be: where in the Greek world is the new seed first to be found which was later to develop into tragedy and the dramatic dithyramb? Greek antiquity gives us a pictorial clue when it represents in statues, on cameos, etc., Homer and Archilochus side by side as ancestors and torchbearers of Greek poetry, in the certainty that only these two are to be regarded as truly original minds, from whom a stream of fire flowed onto the entire later Greek world. Homer, the hoary dreamer, caught in utter abstraction, prototype of the Apollinian naive artist, stares in amazement at the passionate head of Archilochus, soldierly servant of the Muses, knocked about by fortune. All that more recent aesthetics has been able to add by way of interpretation is that here the “objective” artist is confronted by the first “subjective” artist. We find this interpretation of little use, since to us the subjective artist is simply the bad artist, and since we demand above all, in every genre and range of art, a triumph over subjectivity, deliverance from the “I” and the silencing of every personal will and desire; since, in fact, we cannot imagine the smallest genuine art work lacking objectivity and disinterested contemplation. For this reason our aesthetic must first solve the following problem: how is the “lyrical poet” at all possible as artist—he who, according to the experience of all times, always says “I” and recites to us the entire chromatic scale of his passions and appetites? It is this Archilochus who most disturbs us, placed there beside Homer, with the stridor of his hate and mockery, the drunken outbursts of his desire. Isn’t he—the first artist to be called subjective—for that reason the veritable non-artist? How, then, are we to explain the reverence in which he was held as a poet, the honor done him by the Delphic oracle, that seat of “objective” art, in a number of very curious sayings?
Schiller has thrown some light on his own manner of composition by a psychological observation which seems inexplicable to himself without, however, giving him pause. Schiller confessed that, prior to composing, he experienced not a logically connected series of images but rather a musical mood (“With me emotion is at the beginning without dear and definite ideas; those ideas do not arise until later on. A certain musical disposition of mind comes first, and after follows the poetical idea” [Schiller to Goethe: March 18, 1796]). If we enlarge on this, taking into account the most important phenomenon of ancient poetry, by which I mean that union— nay identity—everywhere considered natural, between musician and poet (alongside which our modern poetry appears as the statue of a god without a head), then we may, on the basis of the aesthetics adumbrated earlier, explain the lyrical poet in the following manner. He is, first and foremost, a Dionysian artist, become wholly identified with the original Oneness, its pain and contradiction, and producing a replica of that Oneness as music, if music may legitimately be seen as a repetition of the world; however, this music becomes visible to him again, as in a dream similitude, through the Apollinian dream influence. That reflection, without image or idea, of original pain in music, with its redemption through illusion, now produces a second reflection as a single simile or example. The artist had abrogated his subjectivity earlier, during the Dionysian phase: the image which now reveals to him his oneness with the heart of the world is a dream scene showing forth vividly, together with original pain, the original delight of illusion. The “I” thus sounds out of the depth of being; what recent writers on aesthetics speak of as “subjectivity” is a mere figment. When Archilochus, the first lyric poet of the Greeks, hurls both his frantic love and his contempt at the daughters of Lycambes, it is not his own passion that we see dancing before us in an orgiastic frenzy: we see Dionysus and the maenads, we see the drunken reveler Archilochus, sunk down in sleep—as Euripides describes him for us in the Bacchae, asleep on a high mountain meadow, in the midday sun—and now Apollo approaches him and touches him with his laurel. The sleeper’s enchantment through Dionysian music now begins to emit sparks of imagery, poems which, at their point of highest evolution, will bear the name of tragedies and dramatic dithyrambs.
The sculptor, as well as his brother, the epic poet, is committed to the pure contemplation of images. The Dionysian musician, himself imageless, is nothing but original pain and reverberation of the image. Out of this mystical process of un-selving, the poet’s spirit feels a whole world of images and similitudes arise, which are quite different in hue, causality, and pace from the images of the sculptor or narrative poet. While the last lives in those images, and only in them, with joyful complacence, and never tires of scanning them down to the most minute features, while even the image of angry Achilles is no more for him than an image whose irate countenance he enjoys with a dreamer’s delight in appearance—so that this mirror of appearance protects him from complete fusion with his characters—the lyrical poet, on the other hand, himself becomes his images, his images are objectified versions of himself. Being the active center of that world he may boldly speak in the first person ["Ich" sagen], only his “I” [Ichheit] is not that of the actual waking man, but the “I” dwelling, truly and eternally, in the ground of being. It is through the reflections of that “I” that the lyric poet beholds the ground of being. Let us imagine, next, how he views himself too among these reflections—as non-genius, that is, as his own “subject” matter, the whole teeming crowd of his passions and intentions directed toward a definite goal; and when it now appears as though the poet and the nonpoet joined to him were one, and as though the former were using the pronoun “I,” we are able to see through this appearance, which has deceived those who have attached the label subjective to the lyrical poet. The man Archilochus, with his passionate loves and hates, is really only a vision of genius, a genius who is no longer merely Archilochus but the genius of the universe, expressing its pain through the similitude of Archilochus the man. Archilochus, on the other hand, the subjectively willing and desiring human being, can never be a poet. Nor is it at all necessary for the poet to see only the phenomenon of the man Archilochus before him as a reflection of Eternal Being: the world of tragedy shows us to what extent the vision of the poet can remove itself from the urgent, immediate phenomenon.
Schopenhauer, who was fully aware of the difficulties the lyrical poet creates for the speculative aesthetician, thought that he had found a solution, which, however, I cannot endorse. It is true that he alone possessed the means, in his profound philosophy of music, for solving this problem; and I think I have honored his achievement in these pages, I hope in his own spirit. Yet in the first part of The World as Will and Representation [I.3, 51] he characterizes the essence of song as follows: “The consciousness of the singer is filled with the subject of will, which is to say with his own willing. That willing may either be a released, satisfied willing (joy), or, as happens more commonly, an inhibited willing (sadness). In either case there is affect here: passion, violent commotion. At the same time, however, the singer is moved by the contemplation of nature surrounding him to experience himself as the subject of pure, unwilling ideation, and the unshakable tranquillity of that ideation becomes contrasted with the urgency of his willing, its limits, and its lacks. It is the experience of this contrast, or tug of war, which he expresses in his song. While we find ourselves in the lyrical condition, pure ideation approaches us, as it were, to deliver us from the urgencies of willing; we obey, yet obey for moments only. Again and again our willing, our memory of personal objectives, distracts us from tranquil contemplation, while, conversely, the next scene of beauty we behold will yield us up once more to pure ideation. For this reason we find in song and in the lyrical mood a curious mixture of willing (our personal interest in purposes) and pure contemplation (whose subject matter is furnished by our surroundings); relations are sought and imagined between these two sets of experiences. Subjective mood—the affection of the will—communicates its color to the purely viewed surroundings, and vice versa. All authentic song reflects a state of mind mixed and divided in this manner.”
Who can fail to perceive in this description that lyric poetry is presented as an art never completely realized, indeed a hybrid whose essence is made to consist in an uneasy mixture of will and contemplation, i.e., the aesthetic and the non-aesthetic conditions. We, on our part, maintain that the distinction between subjective and objective, which even Schopenhauer still uses as a sort of measuring stick to distinguish the arts, has no value whatever in aesthetics; the reason being that the subject—the striving individual bent on furthering his egoistic purposes—can be thought of only as an enemy to art, never as its source. But to the extent that the subject is an artist he is already delivered from individual will and has become a medium through which the true subject celebrates his redemption in illusion. For better or worse, one thing should be quite obvious to all of us: the entire comedy of art is not played for our own sakes—for our betterment or education, say—nor can we consider ourselves the true originators of that art realm; while on the other hand we have every right to view ourselves as aesthetic projections of the veritable creator and derive such dignity as we possess from our status as art works. Only as aesthetic phenomenon can the world be justified to all eternity—although our consciousness of our own significance does scarcely exceed the consciousness a painted soldier might have of the battle in which he takes part. Thus our whole knowledge of art is at bottom illusory, seeing that as mere knowers we can never be fused with that essential spirit, at the same time creator and spectator, who has prepared the comedy of art for his own edification. Only as the genius in the act of creation merges with the primal architect of the cosmos can he truly know something of the eternal essence of art. For in that condition he resembles the uncanny fairy tale image which is able to see itself by turning its eyes. He is at once subject and object, poet, actor, and audience.
Scholarship has discovered in respect of Archilochus that he introduced folk song into literature, and that it was this feat which earned him the unique distinction of being placed beside Homer. Yet what does folk song represent in contrast to epic poetry, which is wholly Apollinian? Surely the perpetuum vestigium [permanent vestige] of a union between the Apollinian and the Dionysian. Its tremendous distribution, as well as its constant proliferation wherever we look, attests the strength of that dual generative motive in nature: a motive which leaves its traces in folk song much the way the orgiastic movements of a nation leave their traces in music. Nor should it be difficult to show by historical evidence that every period which abounded in folk songs has, by the same token, been deeply stirred by Dionysian currents. Those currents have long been considered the necessary substratum, or precondition, of folk poetry.
But first of all we must regard folk song as a musical mirror of the cosmos, as primordial melody casting about for an analogue and finding that analogue eventually in poetry. Since melody precedes all else, it may have to undergo any number of objectifications, such as a variety of texts presents. But it is always, according to the naive estimation of the populace, much superior in importance to those texts. Melody gives birth to poetry again and again: this is implied by the atrophic form of folk song: for a long time I wondered at this phenomenon, until finally the following explanation offered itself. If we examine any collection of folk poetry—for example, Des Knaben Wunderhorn [The Youth's Magic Horn (1805-1808): a collection of folk songs assembled by the Romantic writers Achim von Arnim and Clemens von Brentano]—in this light, we shall find countless examples of melody generating whole series of images, and those images, in their varicolored hues, abrupt transitions, and headlong forward rush, stand in the most marked contrast to the equable movement, the calm illusion, of epic verse. Viewed from the standpoint of the epic the uneven and irregular imagery of folk song becomes quite objectionable. Such must have been the feeling which the solemn rhapsodists of the Apollinian rites, during the age of Terpander, entertained with regard to popular lyric effusions.
In folk poetry we find, moreover, the most intense effort of language to imitate the condition of music. For this reason Archilochus may be claimed to have ushered in an entirely new world of poetry, profoundly at variance with the Homeric; and by this distinction we have hinted at the only possible relation between poetry and music, word and sound. Word, image, and idea, in undergoing the power of music, now seek for a kind of expression that would parallel it. In this sense we may distinguish two main currents in the history of Greek verse, according as language is used to imitate the world of appearance or that of music. To understand more profoundly the significance of this distinction, let the reader ponder the utter dissimilarity of verbal color, syntax and phraseology in the works of Homer and Pindar. He then cannot fail to conjecture that in the interval there must have sounded the orgiastic flute notes of Olympus, which, as late as Aristotle’s time, in the midst of an infinitely more complex music, still rouses men to wild enthusiasm, and which at their inception must have challenged all contemporaries to imitate them by every available poetic resource. I wish to instance in this connection a well-known phenomenon of our own era which our modish aestheticians consider most exceptionable. We have noticed again and again how a Beethoven symphony compels the individual hearers to use pictorial speech—though it must be granted that a collocation of these various descriptive sequences might appear rather checkered, fantastic, even contradictory. Small wonder, then, that our critics have exercised their feeble wit on these musical images, or else passed over the phenomenon—surely one worthy of further investigation—in complete silence. Even in cases where the composer himself has employed pictorial tags in talking about his work— calling one symphony “Pastoral,” one movement “Brook Scene” and another “Jolly Concourse of Peasants”—these tropes are properly reducible to purely musical elements rather than standing for actual objects expressed through music. It is true that such musical representations can neither instruct us much concerning the Dionysian content of music nor yet lay claim to any distinctive value as images. But once we study this discharge of music through images in a youthful milieu, among a people whose linguistic creativity is unimpaired, we can form some idea of how atrophic folk song must have arisen and how a nation’s entire store of verbal resources might be mobilized by means of that novel principle, imitation of the language of music.
If we are right in viewing lyric poetry as an efflorescence of music in images and ideas, then our next question will be, “How does music manifest itself in that mirror of images and ideas?” It manifests itself as will, using the term in Schopenhauer’s sense, that is to say as the opposite of the aesthetic, contemplative, unwilling disposition. At this point it becomes necessary to discriminate very clearly between essence and appearance—for it is obviously impossible for music to represent the essential nature of the will; if it did, we would have to banish it from the realm of art altogether, seeing that the will is the non-aesthetic element. Rather we should say that music appears as the will. In order to express that appearance through images the lyrical poet must employ the whole register of emotions, from the whisper of love to the roar of frenzy; moved by the urge to talk of music in Apollinian similitudes [Gleichnissen], he must first comprehend the whole range of nature, including himself, as the eternal source of volition, desire, appetite. But to the extent that he interprets music through images he is dwelling on the still sea of Apollinian contemplation, no matter how turbulently all that he beholds through the musical medium may surge about him. And when he looks at himself through that medium he will discover his own image in a state of turmoil: his own willing and desiring, his groans and jubilations, will all appear to him as a similitude by which music is interpreted. Such is the phenomenon of the lyric poet. Being an Apollinian genius, he interprets music through the image of the will, while he is himself turned into the pure, unshadowed eye of the sun, utterly detached from the will and its greed.
Throughout this inquiry I have maintained the position that lyric poetry is dependent on the spirit of music to the same degree that music itself, in its absolute sovereignty, needs neither image or concept, though it may tolerate both. The poet cannot tell us anything that was not already contained, with a most universal validity, in such music as prompted him to his figurative discourse. The cosmic symbolism of music resists any adequate treatment by language, for the simple reason that music, in referring to primordial contradiction and pain, symbolizes a sphere which is both earlier than appearance and beyond it. Once we set it over against music, all appearance becomes a mere analogy [nur Gleichniss]. So it happens that language, the organ and symbol of appearance, can never succeed in bringing the innermost core of music to the surface. Whenever it engages in the imitation of music, language remains in purely superficial contact with it, and no amount of poetic eloquence will carry us a step closer to the essential secret of that art.
At this point we need to call upon every aesthetic principle so far discussed, in order to find our way through the labyrinthine origins of Greek tragedy. I believe I am saying nothing extravagant when I claim that the problem of these origins has never even been posed, much less solved, no matter how often the elusive rags of ancient tradition have been speculatively sewn together and ripped apart That tradition tells us in no uncertain terms that tragedy arose out of the tragic chorus [Aristotle: Poetics, iv, 1449a] and was, to begin with, nothing but chorus. We are thus bound to scan the chorus closely as the archetypal drama, disregarding the current explanations of it as the idealized spectator, or as representing the populace over against the noble realm of the set. The latter interpretation, which sounds so grandly edifying to certain politicians (as though the democratic Athenians had represented in the popular chorus the invariable moral law, always right in face of the passionate misdeeds and extravagances of kings) may have been suggested by a phrase in Aristotle [Politics, iii. 8. 6, 1284b], but this lofty notion can have had no influence whatever on the original formation of tragedy, whose purely religious origins would exclude not only the opposition between the people and their rulers but any kind of political or social context. Likewise we would consider it blasphemous, in the light of the classical form of the chorus as we know it from Aeschylus and Sophocles, to speak of a foreshadowing of a “constitutional popular representation,” though others have not stuck at such blasphemy. No ancient polity ever embodied constitutional popular representation in praxi [in practice], and one dares to hope that ancient tragedy did not even “foreshadow” it.
Much more famous than this political explanation of the chorus is the notion of A. W. Schlegel [Über dramatische Kunst und Literatur (On Dramatic Art and Literature) (1808)], who advises us to regard the chorus as the quintessence of the audience, as the “ideal spectator.” If we hold this view against the historical tradition according to which tragedy was, in the beginning, nothing but chorus, it turns out to be a crude, unscholarly, though dazzling hypothesis—dazzling because of the effective formulation, the typically German bias for anything called “ideal,” and our momentary wonder at the notion. For we are indeed amazed when we compare our familiar theater audience with the tragic chorus and ask ourselves whether the former could conceivably be construed into something analogous to the latter. We tacitly deny the possibility, and then are brought to wonder both at the boldness of Schlegel’s assertion and at what must have been the totally different complexion of the Greek audience. We had supposed all along that the spectator, whoever he might be, would always have to remain conscious of the fact that he had before him a work of art, not empiric reality, whereas the tragic chorus of the Greeks is constrained to view the characters enacted on the stage as veritably existing. The chorus of the Oceanides think that they behold the actual Titan Prometheus, and believe themselves every bit as real as the god. Are we seriously to assume that the highest and purest type of spectator is he who, like the Oceanides, regards the god as physically present and real? That it is characteristic of the ideal spectator to rush on stage and deliver the god from his fetters? We had put our faith in an artistic audience, believing that the more intelligent the individual spectator was, the more capable he was of viewing the work of art as art; and now Schlegel’s theory suggests to us that the perfect spectator viewed the world of the stage not at all as art but as reality. Oh these Greeks! we moan; they upset our entire aesthetic! But once we have grown accustomed to it, we repeat Schlegel’s pronouncement whenever the question of the chorus comes up.
The emphatic tradition I spoke of militates against Schlegel: chorus as such, without stage—the primitive form of tragedy—is incompatible with that chorus of ideal spectators. What sort of artistic genre would it be that derived from the idea of the spectator and crystallized itself in the mode of the “pure” spectator ["Zuschauer an sich"]? A spectator without drama is an absurdity. We suspect that the birth of tragedy can be explained neither by any reverence for the moral intelligence of the multitude nor by the notion of a spectator without drama, and, altogether, we consider the problem much too complex to be touched by such facile interpretations.
An infinitely more valuable insight into the significance of the chorus was furnished by Schiller in the famous preface to his Bride of Messina [Über den Gebrauch des Chors in der Tragödie (On the Use of the Chorus in Tragedy), published as the preface to his play Die Braut von Messina (The Bride of Messina) (1803)], where the chorus is seen as a living wall which tragedy draws about itself in order to achieve insulation from the actual world, to preserve its ideal ground and its poetic freedom.
Schiller used this view as his main weapon against commonplace naturalism, against the illusionistic demand made upon dramatic poetry. While the day of the stage was conceded to be artificial, the architecture of the set symbolic, the metrical discourse stylized, a larger misconception still prevailed. Schiller was not content to have what constitutes the very essence of poetry merely tolerated as poetic license. He insisted that the introduction of the chorus was the decisive step by which any naturalism in art was openly challenged. This way of looking at art seems to me the one which our present age, thinking itself so superior, has labeled “pseudo-idealism.” But I very much fear that we, with our idolatry of verisimilitude, have arrived at the opposite pole of all idealism, the realm of the waxworks. This too betrays a kind of art, as do certain popular novels of today. All I ask is that we not be importuned by the pretense that such art has left Goethe’s and Schiller’s “pseudo-idealism” behind.
It is certainly true, as Schiller saw, that the Greek chorus of satyrs, the chorus of primitive tragedy, moved on ideal ground, a ground raised high above the common path of mortals. The Greek has built for his chorus the scaffolding of a fictitious state of nature and placed thereon fictitious beings of nature. Tragedy developed on this foundation, and so has been exempt since its beginning from the embarrassing task of copying actuality. All the same, the world of tragedy is by no means a world arbitrarily projected between heaven and earth; rather it is a world having the same reality and credibility as Olympus possessed for the devout Greek. The satyr, as the Dionysian chorist, dwells in a reality sanctioned by myth and ritual. That tragedy should begin with him, that the Dionysian wisdom of tragedy should speak through him, is as puzzling a phenomenon as, more generally, the origin of tragedy from the chorus. Perhaps we can gain a starting point for this inquiry by claiming that the satyr, that fictitious being of nature, stands to cultured man in the same relation as Dionysian music does to civilization. Richard Wagner has said of the latter that it is absorbed by music as lamplight by daylight [in Wagner's essay Beethoven (1870)]. In the same manner, I believe, the cultured Greek felt himself absorbed into the satyr chorus, and in the next development of Greek tragedy state and society, in fact all that separated man from man, gave way before an overwhelming sense of unity which led back into the heart of nature. The metaphysical solace—with which, I wish to say at once, all true tragedy sends us away—that, despite every phenomenal change life is at bottom indestructibly joyful and powerful, was expressed most concretely in the chorus of satyrs, beings of nature who dwell behind all civilization and preserve their identity through every change of generations and historical movement.
With this chorus the profound Greek, so uniquely susceptible to the subtlest and deepest suffering, who had penetrated the destructive agencies of both nature and history, solaced himself. Though he had been in danger of craving a Buddhistic denial of the will, he was saved by art, and through art life reclaimed him.
While the transport of the Dionysian state, with its suspension of all the ordinary barriers of existence, lasts, it carries with it a lethargical element in which everything that has been experienced by the individual is drowned. This chasm of oblivion separates the quotidian reality from the Dionysian. But as soon as that quotidian reality enters consciousness once more it is viewed with loathing, and the consequence is an ascetic, abulic state of mind. In this sense Dionysian man might be said to resemble Hamlet: both have looked deeply into the true nature of things, they have gained knowledge and are now loath to act. They realize that no action of theirs can work any change in the eternal condition of things, and they regard the imputation as ludicrous or debasing that they should set right the time which is out of joint. Knowledge kills action, for in order to act we require the veil of illusion—such is Hamlet’s doctrine, not to be confounded with the cheap wisdom of Jack the Dreamer, who through too much reflection, as it were a surplus of possibilities, never arrives at action!— What, both in the case of Hamlet and of Dionysian man, overbalances any motive leading to action, is not reflection but knowledge, the apprehension of truth and its terror. Now no comfort any longer avails, desire reaches beyond the transcendental world, beyond the gods themselves, and existence, together with its glittering reflection in the gods and an immortal Beyond, is denied. The truth once seen, man is aware everywhere of the ghastly absurdity of existence, comprehends the symbolism of Ophelia’s fate and the wisdom of the wood sprite Silenus: nausea invades him.
Then, in this supreme jeopardy of the will, art, that sorceress expert in healing, approaches him; only she can turn his fits of nausea into imaginations with which it is possible to live. These are on the one hand the sublime, which subjugates terror by means of art; on the other hand the comic, which releases us, through art, from the tedium of absurdity. The satyr chorus of the dithyramb was the salvation of Greek art; the threatening paroxysms I have mentioned were contained by the intermediary of those Dionysian attendants.
The satyr and the idyllic shepherd of later times have both been products of a desire for naturalness and simplicity. But how firmly the Greek shaped his wood sprite, and how self-consciously and mawkishly the modern dallies with his tender, fluting shepherd! For the Greek the satyr expressed nature in a rude, uncultivated state: he did not, for that reason, confound him with the monkey. Quite the contrary, the satyr was man’s true prototype, an expression of his highest and strongest aspirations. He was an enthusiastic reveler, filled with transport by the approach of the god; a compassionate companion re enacting the sufferings of the god; a prophet of wisdom born out of nature’s womb; a symbol of the sexual omnipotence of nature, which the Greek was accustomed to view with reverent wonder. The satyr was sublime and divine—so he must have looked to the traumatically wounded vision of Dionysian man. Our tricked out, contrived shepherd would have offended him, but his eyes rested with sublime satisfaction on the open, undistorted limnings of nature. Here archetypal man was cleansed of the illusion of culture, and what revealed itself was authentic man, the bearded satyr jubilantly greeting his god. Before him cultured man dwindled to a false cartoon. Schiller is also correct as regards these beginnings of the tragic art: the chorus is a living wall against the onset of reality because it—the satyr chorus—depicts reality more truthfully and more completely than does civilized man, who ordinarily considers himself the only reality. Poetry does not lie outside the world as a fantastic impossibility begotten of the poet’s brain; it seeks to be the exact opposite, an unvarnished expression of truth, and for this reason must cast away the trumpery garments worn by the supposed reality of civilized man. The contrast between this truth of nature and the pretentious lie of civilization is quite similar to that between the eternal core of things and the entire phenomenal world. Even as tragedy, with its metaphysical solace, points to the eternity of true being surviving every phenomenal change, so does the symbolism of the satyr chorus express analogically the primordial relation between the thing in itself and appearance. The idyllic shepherd of modern man is but a replica of the sum of cultural illusions which he mistakes for nature. The Dionysian Greek, desiring truth and nature at their highest power—he sees himself metamorphosed into the satyr.
Such are the dispositions and insights of the reveling throng of Dionysus; and the power of these dispositions and insights transforms them in their own eyes, until they behold themselves restored to the condition of genii, of satyrs. Later the tragic chorus came to be an aesthetic imitation of that natural phenomenon; which then necessitated a distinction between Dionysian spectators and votaries actually spellbound by the god. What must be kept in mind in all these investigations is that the audience of Attic tragedy discovered itself in the chorus of the orchestra. Audience and chorus were never fundamentally set over against each other: all was one grand chorus of dancing, singing satyrs, and of those who let themselves be represented by them. This granted, Schlegel’s dictum assumes a profounder meaning. The chorus is the “ideal spectator” inasmuch as it is the only seer, the seer of the visionary world of the proscenium [Visionswelt der Scene]. An audience of spectators, such as we know it, was unknown to the Greeks. Given the terraced structure of the Greek theater, rising in concentric arcs, each spectator could quite literally survey [übersehen] the entire cultural world about him and imagine himself, in the fullness of seeing, as a chorist. Thus we are enabled to view the chorus of primitive proto-tragedy as the projected image of Dionysian man. The clearest illustration of this phenomenon is the experience of the actor, who, if he is truly gifted, has before his eyes the vivid image of the role he is to play. The satyr chorus is, above all, a vision of the Dionysian multitude, just as the world of the stage is a vision of that satyr chorus: a vision so powerful that it blurs the actors’ sense of the “reality” of cultured spectators ranged row on row about him. The structure of the Greek theater reminds us of a lonely mountain valley: the architecture of the stage resembles a luminous cloud configuration which the Bacchae behold as they swarm down from the mountaintops; a marvelous frame in the center of which Dionysus manifests himself to them.
Our scholarly ideas of elementary artistic process are likely to be offended by the primitive events which I have adduced here to explain the tragic chorus. And yet nothing can be more evident than the fact that the poet is poet only insofar as he sees himself surrounded by living acting shapes into whose innermost being he penetrates. It is our peculiar modem weakness to see all primitive aesthetic phenomena in too complicated and abstract a way. Metaphor, for the authentic poet, is not a figure of rhetoric a representative image standing concretely before him in lieu of a concept. A character, to him, is not an assemblage of individual traits laboriously pieced together, but a personage beheld as insistently living before his eyes, differing from the image of the painter only in its capacity to continue living and acting. What is it that makes Homer so much more vivid and concrete in his description than any other poet? His lively eye, with which he discerns so much more. We all talk about poetry so abstractly because we all tend to be indifferent poets. At bottom the aesthetic phenomenon is quite simple: all one needs in order to be a poet is the ability to have a lively action going on before one continually, to live surrounded by hosts of spirits. To be a dramatist all one needs is the urge to transform oneself and speak out of strange bodies and souls.
Dionysian excitation is capable of communicating to a whole multitude this artistic power to feel itself surrounded by, and one with, a host of spirits. This process of the tragic-chorus is the primary dramatic phenomenon: projecting oneself outside oneself and then acting as though one had really entered another body, another character. This constitutes the first step in the evolution of drama. This art is no longer that of the rhapsodist, who does not merge with his images but, like the painter, contemplates them as something outside himself; what we have here is the individual effacing himself through entering a strange being. It should be made clear that this phenomenon is not singular but epidemic: a whole crowd becomes rapt in this manner. It is for this reason that the dithyramb differs essentially from any other kind of chorus. The virgins who, carrying laurel branches and singing a processional chant, move solemnly toward the temple of Apollo, retain their identities and their civic names. The dithyrambic chorus on the other hand is a chorus of the transformed, who have forgotten their civic past and social rank, who have become timeless servants of their god and live outside all social spheres. While all the other types of Greek choric verse are simply the highest intensification of the Apollinian musician, in the dithyramb we see a community of unconscious actors all of whom see one another as enchanted.
Enchantment is the precondition of all dramatic art. In this enchantment the Dionysian reveler sees himself as satyr, and as satyr, in turn, he sees the god—that is, in his transformation he sees a new vision, which is the Apollinian completion of his state. And by the same token this new vision completes the dramatic act.
Thus we have come to interpret Greek tragedy as a Dionysian chorus which again and again discharges itself in Apollinian images. Those choric portions with which the tragedy is interlaced constitute, as it were, the matrix of the dialogue, that is to say, of the entire stage-world of the actual drama. This substratum of tragedy irradiates, in several consecutive discharges, the vision of the drama—a vision on the one hand completely of the nature of Apollinian dream-illusion and therefore epic, but on the other hand, as the objectification of a Dionysian condition, tending toward the shattering of the individual and his fusion with the original Oneness. Tragedy is an Apollinian embodiment of Dionysian insights and powers, and for that reason separated by a tremendous gulf from the epic.
On this view the chorus of Greek tragedy, symbol of an entire multitude agitated by Dionysus, can be fully explained. Whereas we who are accustomed to the role of the chorus in modem theater, especially opera, find it hard to conceive how the chorus of the Greeks should have been older, more central than the actual “action”—although we have clear testimony to this effect—and whereas we have never been quite able to reconcile with this position of importance the fact that the chorus was composed of such lowly beings as, originally, goatlike satyrs; and whereas, further, the orchestra in front of the stage has always seemed a riddle to us—we now realize that the stage with its action was originally conceived as vision and that the only “reality” was the chorus, who created that vision out of itself and proclaimed it through the symbolism of dance, music [Tones], and spoken word. Since, in this vision, the chorus beholds its lord and master Dionysus, it remains forever an attending chorus, it sees how the god suffers and transforms himself, and it has, for that reason, no need to act. But, notwithstanding its subordination to the god, the chorus remains the highest expression of nature, and, like nature, utters in its enthusiasm oracular words of wisdom. Being compassionate as well as wise, it proclaims a truth that issues from the heart of the world. Thus we see how that fantastic and at first sight embarrassing figure arises, the wise and enthusiastic satyr who is at the same time the “simpleton” ["der tumbe mensch"] as opposed to the god. The satyr is a replica of nature in its strongest tendencies and at the same time, a herald of its wisdom and art. He combines in his person the roles of musician, poet, dancer and visionary.
It is in keeping both with this insight and with general tradition that in the earliest tragedy Dionysus was not actually present but merely imagined. Original tragedy is only “chorus” and not “drama” at all. Later an attempt was made to demonstrate the god as real and to bring the visionary figure, together with the transfiguring frame, vividly before the eyes of every spectator. This marks the beginning of “drama” in the strict sense of the word. It then became the task of the dithyrambic chorus so to excite the mood of the listeners that when the tragic hero appeared they would behold not the awkwardly masked man but a figure born of their own rapt vision. If we imagine Admetus brooding on the memory of his recently departed wife Alcestis, consuming himself in a spiritual contemplation of her form—how a figure of similar shape and gait is led toward him in deep disguise: if we then imagine his tremor of excitement, his impetuous comparisons, his instinctive conviction—then we have an analogue for the excitement of the spectator beholding the god, with whose sufferings he has already identified himself, stride onto the stage. Instinctively he would project the shape of the god that was magically present to his mind onto that masked figure of a man, dissolving the latter’s reality into a ghostly unreality. This is the Apollinian dream state, in which the daylight world is veiled and a new world—clearer, more comprehensible, more affecting than the first, and at the same time more shadowy—falls upon the eye in ever changing shapes. Thus we may recognize a drastic stylistic opposition: language, color, pace, dynamics of speech are polarized into the Dionysian poetry of the chorus, on the one hand, and the Apollinian dream world of the scene on the other. The result is two completely separate spheres of expression. The Apollinian embodiments in which Dionysus assumes objective shape, are no longer “an eternal sea, a changing weaving, a glowing existence,” [Goethe's Faust I, 505–7] as is the case with the music of the chorus, no longer those powers deeply felt by the enthusiast, but which he is incapable of condensing into a clear image. The adept no longer obscurely senses the approach of the god: the god now speaks to him from the proscenium with the clarity and firmness of epic, as an epic hero, almost in the language of Homer.
Read Full Post »